"Our bodies and minds are tools to use in the woods, and training hones these tools -- simple as that."
Improved fitness made the wilderness smaller for me and big bucks like this far easier to reach. Never underestimate the value of a sound body in bowhunting.
WHAT I AM ABOUT TO WRITE will likely have you either nodding your head in whole-hearted agreement or shaking it in disgust, while possibly muttering, "Here we go again." When the topic of hunting fitness comes up, I see very little middle ground.
To the guys who like to offer up the same old tired statement, "You don't need to be able to run a marathon to kill with a bow," I agree. You don't need to do a lot of things to kill animals with a bow, but one thing I do know: The better shape you are in, the better your chances are for staying 100 percent committed, mentally and physically, to your bowhunting goals.
I've obsessed about mountain bowhunting so much, for so long, I feel like the comparisons and similarities I've concocted are valid and worth sharing. In my opinion, mountain bowhunting is not that much different from other performance sports like basketball, football, and running. I think the ultimate performance endeavor, bare-knuckles bowhunting, is evolving and progressing in much the same way as these other sports.
A few decades back, professional football players wore leather helmets, and I remember seeing an old NFL locker room photo in which the players looked like they could have been talking politics or, at six feet, 175 pounds, they could have been insurance salesmen talking about the benefits of higher deductibles. Compare that with images of NFL players today. Beasts! Solid muscle and track-star fast, they rewrite the record books with ever-increasing skills -- and definitely no leather helmets.
Basketball, same deal. Have you ever seen old footage of Bob Cousy dribbling a basketball and shooting? I have, and I don't remember ever seeing him touch the ball with his left hand. No disrespect intended, because during his day he was The Man, but his shot reminded me of my wife's when she is out shooting hoops with our boys. Yes, the game has evolved big time.
Running, same deal. Pretty much every single running record is broken every few years. And in my favored sport, ultramarathon running, guys are running faster and farther every year.
Now, back to my point: Similar raise-the-bar performances are happening right now in the sport many of us eat, breath, and sleep -- bowhunting. The question is, are you going to participate in this advancement or just get out the Nikwax to treat your leather helmet?
In shooting a segment for Bowhunter TV, I work out on a rowing machine, one of many tools I use to stay in shape.
VIRTUALLY EVERY PASSIONATE hunter about my age has heard of Fred Bear, and so far as I know, Fred was the first world famous bowhunter. After Fred was Chuck Adams, who redefined how bowhunting success was measured as he has killed five official Pope and Young world record animals and 100-plus others that qualify for the record book. And, just like in the mainstream sports, I can promise you there are bowhunters out there who have the ability to push the envelope higher yet.
These days, bowhunters are shooting better than ever; have access to much better equipment than ever before; and, thanks to the Internet and other media, are better students of the game. But many would-be hunting phenoms have an Achilles' heel -- lack of conditioning. The best equipment in the world is not a Band-Aid for being ill-prepared and out of shape. The rugged country that elk and deer call home has broken the spirits of many so-called men, and it will continue to do so season after season. Count on it.
So, maybe you aren't a trendsetter or the next great bowhunter. Still, the curve is moving upward, based largely on the fact that people are achieving more physically, for longer periods of life.
I think the longer part of that sentence is the most important. When you are young, you generally have great physical ability by virtue of youth alone, but inexperience and a lack of maturity often negate the advantages of that physical ability, resulting in unfilled tags. With each passing year, your hunting knowledge and skills increase, and if you can sustain or even improve your physical condition and ability, you create the perfect get-that-taxidermist-on-speed-dial storm.
While many bowhunters are realizing the benefits of staying physically fit, not everyone is on board. I suppose that's all right because being in shape is not mandatory in order to buy an elk or deer license or to kill a bull or buck. Many bowhunters have proved that.
But I don't get the head shakers, the guys who are overly critical of training for hunting by saying physical conditioning has little or nothing to do with killing big game? Our bodies and minds are tools to use in the woods, and training hones these tools -- simple as that. The better the tools you pack into the mountains -- pack, sleeping bag, stove, bow, binoculars, body, mind -- the more success you'll have.
THE OTHER DAY I was rereading one of my favorite books of all time, "Hunting with the Bow and Arrow," by Dr. Saxton Pope. Written in 1923, it details the adventures of Pope and his friend Art Young. On page 181, it reads, "We also began preparing ourselves for the contest. Although habitually in good physical condition, we undertook special training for the big event." In this case, he and Young were preparing for a grizzly bowhunt. Pope continues, "By running, the use of dumbbells and other gymnastic practices, we strengthened our muscles and increased our endurance." On page 206, regarding the tough backcountry hunt, he writes, "We were there to win and nothing else mattered," adding later, "We were trained down to rawhide and sinew, keyed to alertness and ready for any emergency."
As a young up-and-comer years ago, I quickly dismissed those few sentences, but, now, "trained down to rawhide and sinew€¦" resonates with me. That is some hardcore stuff. If Pope and Young realized the benefits of being fit back in the 1920s, well, that's good enough for me, and I think it has made a huge difference in my success. While I filled tags back in my earlier days of bowhunting, I wasn't nearly as successful in the mountains as I am today. You can draw your own conclusions from that, but it does make me think, what if?
RECENTLY I COMPLETED the Western States Endurance Run, 100 miles through California's Sierr
a Nevada, in 22 hours, 41 minutes. I've often asked myself, Why am I drawn to do things like run 100 miles?
I believe it goes back to the intimidation I felt when I hunted Oregon's Eagle Cap Wilderness (ECW) as a young, solo adventurer. Measuring roughly 60 miles by 30 miles, the ECW is Oregon's largest wilderness area, and with its granite crags and bottomless canyons, no doubt the roughest. To me, an inexperienced young bowhunter, that seemed immense and overwhelming. Scary, if the truth were known.
Since running my first marathon some years ago, I've often thought, What if I could run across the entire ECW -- through the rivers and creeks, up drainages, and over mountains€¦ If I could do that, I could do anything.
Well, now I can, and that gives me confidence to face all my doubts and fears and beat them regardless of the obstacles that stand in my way. I would bet the same holds true for you and many other bowhunters. Starting way back when, the better shape I got in, the smaller the Eagle Cap Wilderness seemed to me. And now it seems quite manageable.
Do you have any hunting country you'd like to make smaller, any hills you'd like to flatten out? Right now is the time to start getting "trained down to rawhide and sinew€¦" I'll see you on the trail.