I’ve long admired athletes of all sports and levels.
I think a large part of it is their constant pursuit of excellence throughout the arc of their careers. As I pondered this recently, it led me to two questions:
1) Do hunters strive to get better?
2) What does a ‘better hunter’ mean?
When all is said and done, most of us could stand to be a little better than we are, despite how good we think we might be. Most of us become complacent with our situation and hunting habits. We hunt the same terrain, the same way, out of the same stand and get the same results year after year. While we may dream of something bigger and different, often we fall prey to the basic human trait of becoming content. There is nothing wrong with this, but if we desire something different than we have, we must take action and change our habits to initiate this change. It is not something that state game agencies, other hunters or hope can bring us.
What does better mean? There are lots of ways to define it. The ability to shoot bigger bucks, and perhaps more of them, is one definition that comes quickly to mind for the New England deer chaser. Maybe it means expanding where, how, or what you hunt. Who is better? The trapper who can identify every track in the woods and knows all those creatures’ habits to the point he can get one to set its foot right…there… and come home with fur to trade. What about the moose specialist or elk hunter or antelope guy? How about a sheep guide who doesn’t pull the trigger, but puts his clients in range of a nice Dall ram every 10 days during the season? What about the generalist who doesn’t care about antlers, but can sneak up to enough meat to fill his freezer every fall? The list goes on without answer.
In general, we must define ‘better’ only in relation to ourselves, not anyone else or some idealized version of a “pro” that permeates TV and social media. Who knows what combination of luck and skill it will take to produce success for each person? You often hear that luck is what happens when opportunity meets preparation; I believe that to be true. I focus on the physical training aspect of preparing for the hunt as I believe it is the variable we have the most control over and the one that takes the most effort, time and commitment to build up. I’m also talking about big picture ideas related to evaluating yourself in many other areas of your chosen pursuits. Finding a way to be better next season than you were in the last will be a challenge, but that is where improvement comes from.
Define what better means to you. If you have gone on guided elk hunts and want to try your luck in a do-it-yourself fashion that might be a challenge that requires you to get better, even if you struggle to shoot an elk the first couple of times you go. If you’ve shot the same forkhorn for 10 years out of the same stand on opening morning, maybe you want to tackle tracking a big buck down in the big woods. Once you have determined what you want, break down your hunting skill set with that goal in mind. It is important to be honest with yourself about performance. It isn’t enough just to think about it. To notice progress, you need to be able to measure it. This means that shot groups should be measured, hikes completed, strength standards evaluated, body composition analyzed, gear tested and survival skills reviewed. Figure out what is important to the way you hunt and work out a set of realistic tests and measures. Review it to see if it makes sense and then get to work. The goal is to identify where you are most deficient and improve that while maintaining proficiency in the other areas. This will raise the overall level of your performance and likely lead to increased success. The ultimate test of these skills will be in the woods in the fall, but knowing you have worked on all of it will pay dividends in your confidence when you get out on your adventure.
By way of example, if you can run 10 miles but can’t carry 20 pounds for 100 feet, your strength is a weak link. You should work on bringing that weakness up a notch or two. The problem is that we often like to do what we are already good at. This habit leads to diminishing returns over time. If you can shoot a MOA group at 300 yards and you spend all summer getting that to .75 MOA, you might have been better off using some of that time to do some hill walks with a 30# pack or learning to start a fire in less-than-ideal conditions. Doing the thing that you have not will yield more gains than adding work on something you are already doing.
Think about your own skills in relationship to some of the categories I’ve listed at the end of this article. While it is by no means exhaustive or all-inclusive for measurement, it is a starting point to generate some thought and self-evaluation based on the hunts you have planned for this year or those in years to come.
For the physical demands of the hunt, it is important to do a little more of whatever you are not currently doing. If you strength train like a madman all year long, but perform no endurance training, it is probably better to hike a bit rather than try to set a personal best in your deadlift. If you hike a lot but don’t ever carry weight, consider adding that. I’ve broken it down further below; take a look at your program with these additional factors in mind
Strength- Cover these bases with your training:
· Hinge (Deadlift)
· Loaded Carry
· Everything else: Core, flexibility, balance
Endurance- Consider these factors as they relate to your upcoming hunt
· Under load
· Consecutive days
Other important factors include looking at your body composition and overall nutritional status. Do these things line up with your hunting goals? There are some guys who will spend an extra $300 on a pack that weighs a couple ounces less, but will carry an extra 10 pounds of bodyweight into the woods.
Break down your hunt to determine what you should focus on physically. Consider that most hunts get harder as you go because the end, with an animal down, requires the hardest work. Get built up to the point that you can meet some minimum standards for performance and then add a layer of your specific hunt demands on top of that. Most of us focus solely on one aspect and lose the importance of the wide range of demands that hunting places on us mentally and physically.
Regardless of where you are in your hunting career, I guarantee you can get better at some aspect of it. I encourage you to find something to improve upon for next hunting season. Put your time in and work hard on it, knowing you’ll reap the rewards of your hard effort. I also know that sitting on the couch in February won’t make you a better hunter in November. Fight complacency and get better.
Stay after ‘em.
Strength and Conditioning Standards
Work on achieving all of these as a minimum:
· 3 mile walk in 50 minutes
· 200 vertical feet in 10 minutes with 45# pack
· 200# drag for 100 feet
· 10 getups without stopping with pack on
· Deadlift 200# for 5 reps
· Back Squat 200# for 5 reps
· 40 pushups or Bench Press 150# for 5 reps
· Overhead Press 95# for 5 reps
· 5 Pull-ups
Areas to consider for self-evaluation
· Bench shooting to 100 (Test your rifle, optics, and load)
· Multiple shot sequence offhand at close range
· Long range in field positions
· Archery skills
Animal Knowledge (general and specific)
· Reading sign- tracks, scat, etc
· Scouting- Signpost rubs, scrapes, wallows, topographic analysis
· Multiple Species- big game, small game
· Understanding habits- feeding, bedding, breeding
· Need more/ less
· Sufficient for demands of the hunt
· Appropriate optics- Scope, Binoculars, Spotting scope
· Fire starting
· Shelter building
· First Aid
· Obtain clean water
Navigation, Tags, Legal
· Map and compass
· Use a GPS, run the software
· All laws for hunting location
· Draw applications, preference points, etc
· Truck Skills- driving and mechanical
· Can you use a winch, chainsaw, come-a-long?
· Camping and packing equipment
· Disassemble, Service, Reassemble rifle, gear, etc