Hunting is physically demanding, and a successful season starts with keeping your fitness up in the off-season. The physical demands of hunting vary according to the terrain and prey, so your training regime should reflect the challenges you will face.
We’ve compiled a list of the top workouts to try for specific types of hunts along with a list of tips to keep in mind when creating a general hunting fitness regime.
Small Game Hunts
Small game hunts often include rabbits, foxes, coyotes, turkeys, doves, ducks and pheasants. This hunting typically involves remaining still and silent in a blind or stand for long periods. It can also include long walks on mostly flat terrain with hunting dogs.
Once you’ve made the kill, retrieving the game is relatively easy, although carrying a 25-pound tom can get tiring. To keep up your form in the off-season so you can comfortably complete the hunt, we recommend mostly low-intensity, endurance-based workouts, coupled with a strength program.
- Hiking: Hiking is a great option to help you prepare for small game hunts. Long walks through nature are an enjoyable way to build cardiovascular strength. As a bonus, try taking hikes in the areas you’ll hunt when the season comes around. This way, you’ll familiarize yourself with the terrain while getting a workout.
- Biking: Biking is another low-impact cardiovascular exercise that builds the lower body and core strength necessary for lugging heavy gear over long distances. You can try indoor or outdoor cycling and easily control the intensity of your workout to build up your fitness gradually.
Whitetail Deer Hunting
Whitetailed deer is the most popular big game hunted in the United States, especially in the East. Hunters typically hunt from a stand, although some use the still hunting technique. Either way, whitetail deer hunting requires walking and dragging up to 300-pound animals back to a vehicle.
Hiking and biking are still great workouts to prepare for a white-tailed deer hunt, but with larger animals and firearms, you’ll need to include more resistance workouts to build strength and develop muscle tone. Along with your whitetail deer hunting gear, here are some recommended exercises to prepare you for your expedition.
- Free Weights: Barbells, kettlebells and dumbbells are a staple in any gym and affordable to purchase for a home workout. These tools help you strengthen your arms, legs and core by adding resistance to your squats, presses and curls.
- Bodyweight Exercises: If you’re new to strength training or don’t want to bother with equipment, you can rely on bodyweight exercises to strengthen your muscles. Push-ups, sit-ups, air squats and planks are just some of the bodyweight exercises you can incorporate into your full-body workout regime.
Other North American Big Game Hunting
Mule deer, elk, moose, caribou, bears, cougars, bison, mountain goats, and sheep round out the North American big game list. This type of hunting occurs in the backcountry throughout the West. Still hunting is the most popular technique for these types of hunts.
If you’re planning this type of hunt, you’ll need to prepare your body to walk long distances while carrying big game hunting gear over rough terrain. If the hunt is successful, you’ll also need to drag or load animals ranging from 200 to 2,000 pounds. You’ll need to build up your cardio, muscular strength and endurance to prepare you for these challenging hunts.
If you’ve booked this type of hunt, chances are you’ll be heading to the mountains. Mountain hunts can last for days and you’ll most likely need to trek over steep inclines and rugged terrain. The following low equipment workouts provide excellent preparation for the rigors of a mountain hunting expedition.
- HIIT: High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a time-efficient way to spike your heart rate and build your muscles. HIIT workouts include sprints, bodyweight exercises and weights for a full-body workout that targets cardio and strength goals. Each set should last for 20-90 seconds, where you push yourself to your maximum limit to raise your heart rate. Ensure you take a short break of 30 seconds between each set and 1 minute between each circuit.
- Endurance Challenges: Western hunts require a steady exertion for hours on end. Half-marathon, triathlon and Spartan races are endurance-based races that help you build the stamina necessary for a long hunt. Incorporate long runs, bikes or swims to your training plan, or enter an endurance race to keep you motivated during the hunting off-season.
- Rowing: For an exercise that combines cardio and strength training, try out a rowing machine. Most gyms have rowing machines that target your legs, arms and core for a full-body workout that prepares you for a challenging hunt. You can incorporate high-intensity rows of shorter distances into a HIIT routine or take a steady-state row as part of your endurance training.
- Heavy pack Calisthenics: You can put your hunting backpack to use in the offseason with these workouts that are designed for hunters. Fill your backpack with something heavy, like books, bricks or bags of sand, and get started with your favorite calisthenics. Running, squats, push-ups and pullups will be much more challenging with the added resistance.
Movements That Help Any Hunt
There are several exercises any type of hunter would do well to incorporate into a workout routine. These functional exercises mimic motions you’ll have to perform on a hunt and will prepare your body appropriately.
- Tire Drags: Attach a heavy tire to a harness and lean into the load to drag it. This action is similar to what you will experience on a long ascent. Start with a short 100-yard drag and work up to 1,000 yards, followed by jump squats to mimic your descent's action.
- Step-Ups: Set up a platform between knee and hip-height. Step onto the platform and then step down, making sure to alternate the leading foot with each step. Add weights such as kettlebells or a barbell to increase the resistance and raise your heart rate.
- Turkish Get-Up: Hold a kettlebell, dumbbell or anything else heavy over your head with one arm as you move from a lying position to sitting, then kneeling and then standing. Return to the ground and then switch hands.
General Fitness Tips
Regardless of the type of hunt you’re anticipating, we created some general tips to help you start a successful hunting fitness regime.
Make a plan and stick to it.
It’s easy to rush into a fitness regime and then fall off the bandwagon within a few weeks. You can plan for inevitable motivation lags by writing out your goals and the workouts you’ll incorporate to achieve them.
You can start every week or month by scheduling specific workouts into your calendar. Try to incorporate exercises into your daily or weekly routine so you develop a habit. Don’t put off a workout or skip days when you simply don’t feel like going to the gym, but stay flexible because some circumstances will unavoidably change your schedule.
Do what you enjoy.
The best way to stick with a long-term workout routine is to ensure it’s something you enjoy. If you enjoy cycling but hate jogging, don’t feel the need to lace up your running shoes every other day.
You might not instantly fall in love with every hunting workout, but you can probably incorporate tricks to make exercise more enjoyable. Listening to a good playlist, taking your workout outside or exercising with a friend or pet can help you look forward to your workout each day.
Mix it up when you can.
Each hunt presents new physical challenges, so your workout routine should be no different. Incorporate a variety of exercises so you’ll stay motivated and be ready to surmount any obstacle the next hunt throws at you.
A well-rounded workout routine is also essential to its efficacy. It’s important to include variety in the type, intensity and duration of your workouts to reduce the risk of injury and give your muscles time to recover. You should include rest days, high-intensity work and steady-state workouts into each week of exercises.
Incorporate strength training.
All hunting requires you to have the strength to keep a mounted firearm steady or pull back a powerful bowstring, so strength training is an essential element of any hunting-oriented workout program.
Bicep curls, presses, squats and sled pulls are some of the best strength exercises for hunting. Barbells and dumbbells help you get started, but if you don’t have access to those tools, you can get creative to reach the same end. You can lift books, bricks, children, hay bales and logs to workout from your home.
Don’t neglect your core.
It’s easy to forget about working your core strength when you’re preparing for a hunt that will have you on your feet all day. Though core workouts don’t receive the glory of leg days and upper body workouts, they are crucial for success in functional exercise.
In addition to functional hunting gear, you’ll need strong abs and back muscles to keep you stable as you hike over rugged terrain, bend and haul or aim and fire. Regularly training core muscles also helps prevent back injuries common to mountain hunters and heavy lifters.
Sit-ups and planks target your abdominals specifically, but push-ups and pullups also strengthen your abs while targeting other muscles. Deadlifts, squats and rows work your back muscles as well as legs or arms. It’s best practice to engage your core while performing any exercise to keep your body stable and avoid injury.
Set a goal.
It’s hard to stay motivated to head to the gym every day without a specific goal in mind, especially if hunting season is months away. Make the reason you exercise more tangible by booking your dream hunting trip or putting your next journey to the backcountry on the calendar.
Creating short-term, fitness-based goals can also help to keep you on track. It’s a good idea to max-out in a single-rep squat or time yourself over a certain distance every couple of weeks so you can track your progress. You might also consider entering a local 10K or triathlon to add a fun challenge to your workout regime.
Do it with a friend.
Working out with a friend or group can help keep you accountable and motivated. Your hunting group is a great place to start a search for a gym buddy, but you can also turn to your spouse or a friend.
Exercise classes can provide another form of peer motivation with the added benefit of instructing proper technique. CrossFit gyms often include group classes in the membership fee and promote friendly competition between members.
Your workouts won’t improve your upcoming hunting season if they cause injuries. Stick to a safe workout plan by completing exercises with proper form and use the right equipment like helmets and sneakers.
You can avoid overuse injuries by mixing up your workouts and allowing your body to rest and recover. Also, remember to include stretches before and after your workout and perform warm-up exercises before more intense workouts.
How you fuel your body has a significant impact on the efficacy of your workouts. Include a balance of carbohydrates, fats and proteins into your diet to build muscle and ensure your body can keep up with the rigors of hunting-training. For bonus points, eat your wild game meat from your last hunt as a source of lean protein.
Elevate your performance with the right equipment.
Training for a hunt will take you far in planning for a successful trip, but you can further elevate your progress by using the right equipment. Proper training gear can reduce your risk of injury.
It is equally important to have the proper equipment for the hunt itself. You can be in tip-top shape, but your hunt will suffer if your hunting gloves can’t keep you warm or if your boots don’t support your ankles. After months of training, invest in performance hunting gear to keep you safe on the hunt.
Train Like There’s No Off-Season
When it comes to hunting, you need sufficient fitness to deal with the challenges the environment throws at you. Depending on the hunt you’re preparing for, you may need to invest more or less time and energy into a workout routine that will get your body up to the task. Use our tips and exercise suggestions to inspire your hunting workout routine.
To keep you comfortable during your off-season training sessions, browse our collection of hunting lifestyle apparel. For more information about how you can stay in top shape for your next hunt, explore our blog.