Get Fit for Western Whitetails
by Scott Haugen
One of the biggest challenges hunters face out West is being in shape. To me it’s amazing how many camps I’ve been to throughout the West where tags go unfilled for the simple reason hunters aren’t in good enough physical or mental shape.
Not all whitetail hunts out West take place on private farmlands or amid gentle river valleys. Some hunts find you at over 7,000 feet in elevation, rivaling the challenges incurred on some wilderness elk hunts. If you’re not prepared for such hunts, you’re in risk of not only going home with a tag in your pocket, but of experiencing serious health issues.
As a full-time outdoor writer and TV host, I work out regularly, year-round to stay in shape for all my hunts. My dedication to working out and the benefits from it were realized back in my high school and college football days, and have remained an important part of my life.
Even today, at 48, I still dedicate six days a week to working out, sometimes twice a day. I also eat a balanced diet, for that plays a crucial role in keeping my body in good condition.
Over the past two years I experimented with two different workout approaches, and want to share what I learned. It’s worth noting that five years ago I suffered two torn discs in my lower back. They nearly ended my career. Not a single doctor or surgeon I met with over the span of two years could help me nor offer any direction on how to fix my back and the complications that were becoming a part of my daily life.
Then, the third and final physical therapist I agreed to see changed my life. He performed a series of dry-needling treatments, which made the acupuncture sessions I’d endured seem like a pin prick. Though the acupuncture results didn’t last, the intense dry-needling treatments did. Four-inch long needles were poked into my legs, hips and back, driven to the bone to stimulate nerves that had seized-up.
The dry-needling physical therapist’s advice after each session: “Push yourself, start working out and strengthen that core, it’s the only way your body will heal, but you have to push through the pain.” He was right, and today I’m 90% healed.
Two years ago, when the dry-needling began, I started in on the P90-X workout routine. I’m not paid a dime to represent this company, but I am a firm believer in the program. Not only did my entire body benefit from this program, but my mind also experienced a stimulating resurgence.
Following the 90-day program, which I was totally committed to, my body, was in as good of shape as it’d been since my college football days. My approach was to trim down and get lean, rather than building bulk in muscle form.
Because I was unable to run more than a mile, due to my back injury, I invested in a Schwinn Airdyne bike to help build my cardio program. This is the stationary bike you see on NFL sidelines, and are 100% powered by your input. In other words, the harder you work, the harder the bike works you.
The Airdyne proved to be one of the most valuable workout tools I’ve ever used. Not only did it save my back from further injury, but it got me in the best cardio shape of my life, period.
Three to four days a week I rode the bike, for a total of 12–14 minutes each session. The first 30 seconds are spent warming up, peddling at a comfortable pace to get the body ready. The next 30 seconds finds me peddling and pumping as hard as I can, and then I let up for 30 seconds. I repeat the slow-fast peddling and pumping until my time is up.
The idea is to increase the heart rate, slow it down, and then speed it up again, until time runs out. This may be something you have to ease into, but you’ll be amazed at how quickly you step it up as the body gets in better shape.
Wear a heart monitor, to ensure your heart rate climbs above 160 beats per minute (bpm). I’m routinely over 170 bpm during the peak of the biking sessions.
That fall season, entering the woods after having stuck with P90X and the bike for three solid months, I was honestly in the best hunting shape of my life. Packing heavy loads in and out of the woods never felt better and those high-altitude climbs came easier than when I was 20 years younger.
The following year, after 6 months on the road, I started in again on P90X. During my time on the road-hunting and speaking at conventions and sport shows, I continued working out, but nothing near the intensity of what P90X and the stationary bike provided. With my busy schedule, my off-season goal is to maintain, and that’s even a challenge.
After the first three weeks back into P90X, I was amazed how good I felt, and how quickly I got back what I’d lost. So, I decided to step things up a notch. While I did P90X three times a week (mostly core work and cardio), I lifted heavy five days a week and extended my workout times.
Over the course of the next three months, I bulked-up and added 22 pounds to my 5’10” frame. For the first time in my life I tipped the scales at 200 pounds. I felt great, and was anxious to see how this change would treat me in the field.
The first thing I noticed when taking to the woods was a lack of flexibility. Getting off and on horses, simply walking and carrying out basic chores were much more challenging, and frustrating than anticipated. My back also reverted to hurting more, as the lack of leg and hip movement put severe strain on muscles and nerves.
As expected, I knew my flexibility would decline, but not to the point it did. I knew I’d suffer a bit of performance loss, but I’ll not bulk up like that again. It felt good getting 350-pounds up again on the bench press, something I hadn’t done for over 10 years, but it really didn’t benefit me in the field.
I did feel much stronger when riding horses, hauling heavy loads and working with downed animals, but that was the only plus. The downside, as expected, was a quickened loss of oxygen and fatigue. The cardio’ portion of my workout suffered and the increased muscle mass was a detriment. Two weeks in to four straight months of hunting, I knew I’d made a mistake in switching my workout routine.
For me, personally, the extra bulk and strength gained through intense lifting wasn’t worth the loss of flexibility, stamina and the better overall feeling I got from being devoted to the P90X program. I’m now in to my third year of intense workouts since suffering my back injury, and refocusing my routine.
In preparation for the coming hunting season, I’ve re-dedicated myself to strictly sticking with the P90X program and working three to four days a week on the stationary bike while maintaining a good diet. Flexibility routines will also be stepped-up, becoming an integral part of my routine. I’m excited to reach my goal of shedding 15 pounds and getting the body back in fine-tuned condition.
The rugged country out West shouldn’t be your training ground and is not the place to get your body in shape. That should all be taken care of months—or at the very least, weeks—prior to the hunt.
Before entering into any fitness program, consult with your physician to see what’s recommended. Intense workouts may not be for everyone, but rest assured there is something out there that will help get you in better hunting shape. The biggest downfall I see is people not pushing themselves hard enough.
When regularly talking with guides and outfitters throughout the West, they express how they wish clients would do two things: Be in better shape so they can get them into the areas where the animals are, and shoot better. You’ll be amazed at how being in shape will steady the body and increase shooting accuracy.
This off-season, dedicate yourself to getting your body in shape. There are some great programs on the market, you just have to find what works best for you; and have the desire, determination and dedication to see it through.