Whitetail Shape: Does Fitness Have Its Place?
October 07, 2016
In the last decade the bowhunting industry has been besieged by a new wave of hunters. Instead of the typical, middle-aged, soft-in-the-middle crowd we are used to seeing, the new hunters look like they are straight out of elite endurance-racing crowd.
This is because many of them are. At the forefront of this movement is Cameron Hanes, a freak-of-nature bowhunter who happens to run 200-mile trail races in his spare time.
Influence and Impact
Love him or hate him, you can't deny that Hanes has had an incredible impact on a lot of bowhunters, especially the western crowd. While very, very few people could ever reach his level of athleticism, it's impossible to not be inspired by his willingness to strive to be better and to encourage others to do so as well.
Hanes has literally altered the course of life (for the better) for many of his followers and that's pretty powerful, commendable stuff right there. No one has done a better job of solidifying the idea that fitness and bowhunting success are as tightly connected as they really are, or at the very least, can be.
Despite this, I still hear a lot of complaints about the fitness focus when it comes to outdoor media. It seems that a lot of hunters don't want to hear how many chin-ups you have to do to arrow an elk. Fair enough, I guess, but the reality is if you're going out west to hunt, the better shape you're in the better you'll do, all other things being equal.
In other words, take two hunters who possess the exact same hunting skills and savvy. Now, imagine one hunter is 30 pounds overweight and not exactly in marathon-running shape, and the other is lean, fit, and can pound out the miles without red-lining his heart rate. The latter will be better off, every time.
This isn't to say that you have to be in shape to hunt western critters. Plenty of hunters, young and old, prove that each year. It's not necessary. It certainly doesn't hurt, however.
As much as most of us understand this, the fitness craze hasn't caught on in the whitetail woods. There are several reasons for this, the most obvious is that a lot of whitetail bowhunts are about as strenuous as getting up from the couch to grab a bag of potato chips from the kitchen. I felt this way for a long time, until I was dragging out a buck in the end of November and had a humbling epiphany.
The deer, a small Minnesota buck that happened to make a very bad decision to walk by a frustrated hunter who had had enough of treestand time, weighed maybe 130 pounds field dressed. Not exactly heavyweight material. After I gutted the buck I had to drag him through a wetland about 400 yards to my truck.
During that drag, the reality that I was terribly out-of-shape hit me several times. Having to take a rest every 50 yards was embarrassing and by the time I had that buck in the back of my truck I had decided it was time to change my lifestyle. The drinking had to go, because while I loved it (and was pretty good at it), I was hitting the whiskey way too hard to be healthy.
I also realized I needed to exercise. My wife and I got gym memberships and started running. It sucked. A lot. I hate running as many, many of us do. At first I couldn't stand it but over time I started to just despise running. And then, after maybe six months I set the goal of running 10 miles at one time. It took me a while to get there, but after hitting that goal I realized that the four- or five-mile runs didn't seem so bad.
It was at that time that I started lifting and working on my core as well. Within a year, it became a way of life and in general, I felt a heck of a lot better than I had in a long time. For years I lived with lower back pain, the result of a car accident, and after getting in shape and strengthening my core it disappeared. I honestly never believed it would.
Throughout all of this I started to realize something else about life - I was enjoying scouting and hunting a lot more.
Deer Demand Activity
Much of the labor involved in whitetail hunting happens out of season. By the opener, a lot of us have our stands hung and are content to sit them over and over. This is a necessary evil if you're stuck hunting small parcels, but isn't the case if you've got some room to roam.
Every year I hunt public-land whitetails on big chunks of ground, and I always end up hanging and taking down multiple stands. Quite often, I find myself lugging in an entire stand setup more than a mile to sit a single evening. It's not as hard as carrying out an elk quarter from the backcountry, but it's not as easy as we view most whitetail hunting.
Feeling physically up to the challenge of hanging multiple stands, dragging out a buck that dies in a distant swamp, or simply speed scouting in between sits is important to whitetail success. We often look for the magic product that is going to ensure filled tags, but it doesn't exist.
For most of us, especially those of us who hunt pressured ground, the ticket to killing deer is simply to work hard. If you're on public land, it often boils down to working harder than the other hunters.
It's anticlimactic, I know, but it is true.
And it doesn't require that you be able to run 100-mile endurance races in the mountains. It might be nothing more than working up to a 5K (3.1) miles, or something a little more intense. The point is that to be a better hunter, you've got to be willing to work at it.
Some people will say they don't care about it that much, and that is just fine. To me, I enjoy hunting a lot more when I do the work necessary to have awesome sits where I'll witness good deer activity. In my world, that means putting in some sweat equity before and during each hunt.
If that sounds like something you're interested in, it might be time to pick up a gym membership. Or maybe just start biking a few nights a week, or taking an every-other-morning jog, or fill-in-the-black with some type of activity.
It may seem like a stretch to equate running 15 miles a week to killing more whitetails, but they are related more closely than most of us believe and might, just might, help us have a better time in the woods and if we're really lucky, fill a few more tags.