Hunting Pleasure

Physical fitness might not be your bag, but it certainly could affect your bag.

Some readers have questioned some of our columns in Bowhunter, in particular Fit to Hunt, by Dan Staton. These readers say they're not into physical fitness and don't want to read about it (see Between Bowhunters, page 10).

Some readers have responded similarly when I've written about running marathons and ultramarathons. My latest was on October 10, 2009, when I ran LeGrizz 50-mile road race at Hungry Horse Reservoir in Montana, finishing in 10 hours, 22 minutes. Big deal, you say. Who cares?

Well, I understand that reaction, and I understand that I'm probably the only one -- except perhaps my wife -- who does care. Still, I know that physical fitness has huge relevance, especially for bowhunters.

In The Wild Side (page 72), I tell about celebrating my 40 years of bowhunting. When I first hunted Oregon's Hart Mountain in 1969, I was 24 years old, fresh out of the U.S. Army, fit and physical. Still, I can recall climbing the mountain in the dark at 3 a.m. and pausing frequently, sweat pouring off my head, chest heaving, and asking myself, Why am I doing this? It was painful.

In 2009, exactly 40 years later, at age 64, I climbed the same mountain at 3 a.m. for nine days straight, yet I never stopped in submission to pain, never questioned why I was there, and climbed the 2,000 vertical feet as fast or faster than in my youth. In short, I hunted harder and enjoyed it more.

I've seen the same trend in all of my hunting. Pursuing elk as a young man, I always had to take days off to rest. Physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted, I would spend every third or fourth day of a two-week hunt in camp to recover.

During the past 10 years, I have not taken a hunting day off to rest. On a two-week hunt, I want to milk every moment of hunting time possible out of those two weeks, and I simply won't burn daylight in camp. Most significantly, I have not felt the need to.

That could be partly because, through experience and maturity, I've learned to pace myself and to use my energy more efficiently. In reality, however, I've worked hard to maintain my health and physical fitness. Age adjusted, I'm in better shape now than I was in my 30s and 40s, and that translates to pure hunting pleasure, age be hanged.

My desire is that all of you would know such pleasure. And lest you think I'm writing this purely for old folks, you miss the point. Yes, I encourage all of you 60, 70, and 80-year-olds to hit the gym, the roads, the swimming pool, the treadmill, the bike, the walking path, the weight room -- whatever it takes to stay fit.

But this message is for you younger folks, too, because health in old age rides on lifestyle in young age. If you want to be hunting hard when you're 60 and 70, build a base in your 30s and 40s. To reinforce this concept, we have added a new column, Bleed, by Cameron R. Hanes (page 12), who loves to punish himself in the gym, on the roads, and in the mountains. Cam has run a number of ultramarathons, including the Bighorn Mountain 100-mile trail run. In his early 40s, Cam can hunt long and hard, and because of his lifestyle, he'll be doing the same as a senior citizen.

I can't make you read Dan Staton's Fit to Hunt or make you care whether Cam Hanes or I run another ultra trail race. Nor can I promise that a physical fitness program will bring you long life and hunting success. But here's what I do know: In 1969, at age 24, I went on my first bowhunt ever, at Oregon's Hart Mountain. Exactly 40 years later, in 2009, at age 64, I hunted the same place in the same way. The only difference was that, in 2009, I hunted harder and enjoyed it more. Yes, to reach that goal I have spilled gallons of sweat in training over the years, but, without hesitation, I can say it was worth every ounce.

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