By Bob Barteck, USA member and IAFF Local 425 Alumni
An hour before daylight on a crisp November morning, the steam from our breath is illuminated by our head lamps in an eerie haze. As usual, my hunting partners and fellow firefighters, Jason Joling and Matt Feder, and I are the only ones at the entrance to this remote piece of public land in Northern Wisconsin. It’s cold, but we’re stripped to our t-shirts as we prep our equipment for the mile+ hike to our chosen hunting spots. Experience has taught us that, in a few minutes, we’ll be sweating as we tote our heavy packs, stands and bows in for an all-day sit in the prime of the rut.
The hunting was worth the work, and Matt’s keen archery skills produced a 220 lb., 8-point bruiser. As the sun faded in the west, Jason and I were surprised to find that Matt had single-handedly hauled his buck and all his equipment more than a mile back to the truck. It was obvious his hundreds of hours of physical training had prepared him well. While this is no high altitude sheep hunt or backcountry western hunt, the logistics of moving equipment and venison over a long distance required us to be in good shape.
Often sportsmen fail to prepare themselves for the physical demands of their hunting adventures. Midwestern and eastern hunters wanting a successful hunt in the western mountains must dedicate themselves to a physical conditioning program. Not coming home with a trophy isn’t the only thing at risk. Every year, we read news stories about hunters who push their physical limits and end up hurt or worse. As a 20-year paramedic, I can tell you first-hand that hunters who neglect physical conditioning put themselves at great risk of suffering a cardiac event or other acute medical conditions while in the field. Paddling your duck skiff or scaling an oak tree is no time to test your fitness level.
Here are a few tips to help you prepare for a healthy fall season
Start Today: Stop procrastinating! Write down some simple fitness goals that you would like to achieve before opening day. Post them in several spots to remind yourself frequently what you’re working towards. Self-discipline is required, so commit yourself mentally.
Do the Math: Losing or maintaining your weight is not a complicated problem to solve. Simply put, your caloric intake needs to equal or be less than your calories spent. Today, we have lots of options to help do these calculations. I use myfitnesspal.com. I enter my meals and snacks, then add my daily exercise into the free website. The program then calculates calories burned as compared to calories consumed and helps me eat and exercise every day.
Get a Physical: An annual physical is invaluable to your health. Your physician can help you set healthy fitness goals and find the best path to reach them. Developing a working relationship with your physician will help you stay fit to hunt many falls to come.
Recruit a Buddy: Exercising with your spouse or a friend will increase your enjoyment and motivation. Years ago, I met with a neighbor every morning at 5:30 a.m. for a 30-minute run. Knowing he was waiting for me gave me the motivation I needed to get out of bed on days I would have slept in.
Keep it Fun: Keep exercise fun. I never do the same thing two days in a row. Currently, I’m training for a local triathlon. I enjoy it because training varies between swimming, running and biking. I also make time for resistance training three to four days a week. What you do for exercise doesn’t matter; just get out and get moving.
Buy a Bib: Buying a bib number for a local 5K run or short distance triathlon provides even more incentive to train. Knowing I have to run a race gives me a huge amount of motivation to tie on the running shoes and prepare. The hard physical training provides motivation to eat right too.
Learn Some New Recipes: Get out of your rut and find healthier ways to cook all that delicious and healthy wild game in your freezer. Venison is high in protein and low in fat (as long as you don’t wrap it in bacon). Cut your dry, aged venison steaks thick, marinate them in zesty Italian dressing and grill them low and slow to medium well. Serve with a salad out of your garden and you’ve got a delicious, guilt-free meal that you hunted and gathered yourself!
Soon those daydreams of fall days in the field will be a reality. Good physical conditioning is just as important as sighting in your bow or scouting a new hunting spot, and it will help maximize your enjoyment and success. So get out and get fit for fall!
The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance website is designed to provide valuable articles about hunting, fishing and conservation for members of AFL-CIO affiliated labor unions and all sportsmen and sportswomen who appreciate hunting and fishing and want to preserve our outdoor heritage for future generations. If you would like your own story from the outdoors to be considered for our website, please email us at USAmembers@unionsportsmen.org.