October 15, 2021
What started out as a manageable load now looks like an anchor. I was in agony. Every joint in my body ached. The Kifaru Hoodlum bag on my back was top notch, allowing me to easily adjust the weight balance between my hips and shoulders, but I was now at a point where it didn’t seem to matter where was the weight. Everything hurt and my body was angry.
My son, Lane, had taken a bull just below the woodland line, the story of which is described in this same issue of Bowhunter. What you won’t read in Lane’s story, however, is about the toll this bull took on his old father. I had driven this country a ton in my youth and had experienced similar brawls in the past, but it was then. Now I’m in my late 40s and discovering firsthand that pre-season physical preparation becomes more and more important as we get older.
We started out with heavy bags that morning, dropping a peak camp about halfway up an incredibly steep vertical climb. By picking up Lane’s bull that night, the weight of my bag and the tilt of the accent had already taken its toll. By the time we boned the meat and loaded it onto our packages, the night was over. The good thing was that the upcoming trip was all downhill; the bad thing was that the terrain was incredibly steep, and unbeknownst to me the path I chose through the darkness was full of dead ends. Every 10 meters of distance traveled meant covering 20 meters of ground; sometimes only to run into an impenetrable tangle in the beam of our headlamps, forcing us to turn around, go up the coast and find another route.
Ironically, I felt like I was in pretty good shape heading into this season. I was on a running kick, and instead of walking hills with a weighted backpack, I had run three to four miles, several times a week, throughout the summer. I figured this would be an adequate substitute for my normal routine, but while the running regimen was effective in building overall endurance, it was far from properly conditioning the muscles and joints used to carry a pack across terrain. steep.
I finally made it down the mountain that night, arriving at our peak camp around 2 a.m., but the ordeal exhausted me to the point of becoming pointless for a few days after – precisely when it was. my turn to try to ride a bull. To put it simply: I wasn’t ready for what the hunt ended up throwing on me. I fought the pain and made the most of the days ahead, but I was far from my best, and I’m determined not to let fatigue have such a big impact on my hunt. this year again.
While running to get in shape is definitely a worthwhile endeavor, when it comes to preparing for a western bow hunt, it is no substitute for a good old-fashioned cardio backpack regimen. And I’m not just talking about moose, sheep or mountain goat hunts. I’m talking about any western hunt. Whether you plan to spot and stalk antelopes in the prairie or chase muleys in the desert, if there is one thing you can plan to do while bow hunting in the west, it is to cover rough terrain with a little weight on your back. The weight will depend on what you are hunting and where you are hunting, and potentially whether the hunt is successful or not. Either way, you have to be prepared for it, and the best way to do that in my book is to throw some weight in a bag and find a hill.
Start with a light weight. I like to use sandbags that can be found in most hardware stores. I’m going to fill one with about 25 pounds of sand or gravel, put it in a bag, and start hiking some hills. If hills are scarce in your neck of the woods, a treadmill or gym step is a suitable substitute. Remember, conditioning your joints and muscles on the descent is just as important as training on the climb, so if you’re on a step board, turn around and walk down the stairs for a good portion of your workout.
As your body adjusts to the weight, add another 25 pound sandbag and do your best to find steeper terrain. Increase the weight of your bag from 25 to 50, then up to 75 pounds. The flatter the terrain you have to work on, the more important it is to push your limits with weight and distance. Try to get an hour of hard hiking several times a week.
A great tip to keep in mind is to constantly adjust the weight balance on your body. If your pack has load elevators (straps above the shoulders designed to relieve your shoulders and transfer it to your hips), don’t always use them. Let the weight hang off your shoulders until they tire, then engage the load elevators and transfer the weight to your hips until they start to feel it. Shifting the weight back and forth trains your shoulders and hips and keeps them from straining excessively, or even injuring themselves, under a heavy load of meat, if you suddenly find yourself in this situation.
Another quick tip that will increase the effectiveness of your cardio-backpacking workouts is the one I picked from publisher Curt Wells. That is, carrying a dumbbell to replicate the weight of your bow and alternate hands while carrying it. A five- to seven-pound arch doesn’t seem like much to carry, but that weight quickly adds up when combined with the weight of your backpack as you travel miles up and down hills.
Finally, don’t forget to wash your bag before going on a western adventure. Using the actual pack you plan to hunt with is a good policy. There’s no better way to become intimately familiar with your chosen rig, but forgetting to wash off a summer’s sweat of human sweat is a bad smell that western gaming won’t respond to well.