Training One of the most enjoyable parts of a hunting trip is the adventure. It is a sense of living like a hunter used to off the land and in the wild. A hunt can be very frustrating if I am not in shape. Most of my hunting involves going straight uphill for miles on end, setting up a base camp, and then hiking out of base camp sometimes up to 15-20 miles a day round trip. While elk hunting which is usually starting at 8500 feet elevation and going to 12000+ feet elevation in archery season. Here in Alaska, early season deer hunting involved the same straight up hike but starting at sea level and until I reach the alpine at about 3000 ft, I blaze my way through thick alder, devil club, and blueberry bushes usually in the rain. Because I like these strenuous hunts, I also find them more enjoyable when I am in good shape. I try to stay in shape all year but sometimes in the winter I find it hard to do. I also can’t go out a week before a hunt and get in shape. I try to start cardio workouts or running at least two month before season. It is always that first run getting back into it that is the hardest after not running for a while. Once I break that ice of the first run it only gets easier. I also find it easier for me to run in the mornings while everyone is still sleeping. If I wait till after work I am usually too tired or too busy chasing kids to get a chance to run. By no means do I have to get into the shape of a super athlete or a marathoner to enjoy a strenuous hunt but I try to get cardiovascular fit. After months of running I find that even after hikes with lots of weight in my pack and at high elevations I get winded and I get tired, but I recover faster because I am in shape. I can stop for quick breather and then continue on. I also find it helpful to go on some extended hikes with hunting boots and pack to get use to the weight on your back as well. I found out one year that although I was in good shape and my legs were strong enough for the weight on my back, the weight of the straps on my shoulder and waist make me extremely sore for the rest of my hunt. I can deal with a little soreness in my shoulders and waist but if I wasn’t in shape I would have been dealing with burning lungs, cramping and sore legs, and a hurt spirit. Some of us hunters may need to join a gym or a running group so that it motivates us to get in shape for hunting season. But remember, went the wife asks why you are suddenly working out; just tell her you are doing it for her! Working out will also sharpen your mind for those long archery season days!
Practice Makes Perfect
Now with a nicely tuned bow comes the shooting practice. I like to practice at least two times a week if not more. It is relaxing to me and I enjoy doing it with my kids and friends. I have lived in some places with great ranges for bows, so it is exciting to go shoot. Practice shooting is good training for you arms, body, and mind. It helps develop the muscles to hold you bow comfortably. As I develop my shooting muscles it is easier to hold on a target for a better shot. Practice good shooting posture and technique. There is no sense in just going out and flinging arrows just to strengthen my shooting, I must also focus on every shot. Lots of practice also gives me the confidence I need to make that shot. I will also get know my comfortable range. This is very important because when that elk presents itself at 50 yards and I can’t get any closer because his harem of cows are looking my direction, than it is good to know that last week on the range I made every shot that distance. I will also know that I might not be comfortable at this range and risk losing a $10 carbon arrow or worse yet chasing a wounded elk three quarters of the way across Wyoming. I have heard of archery education classes where the instructor will ask someone what their comfortable shooting range is. If that person says 40 yards then the instructor sets up a steel target with a hole in the middle usually the size of a dinner plate. If they hit the hole with their first shot, they either got lucky or that is really their comfortable shooting range. If they don’t hit the hole in the middle of the steel then they lose an arrow. I practice from 10 yards to 50 yards and I usually will shoot a few arrows at 60 and 70 yards but I know that I would never take a 60 or 70 yard shot in the field. The 60-70 yards shots help me focus and when I get to a 30 yard shot it is like I am on top of the target.
I like to practice uphill, downhill, and cross hill shots. Hunting in the west usually always requires one of these shots. Practicing different positions like standing, kneeling, sitting, also help to simulate real hunting. It is also important to shot at different times of the day. I once found out I could not see though my peep if I was shooting towards the sun in the morning or evening. I made some small adjustments to my peep and can now see in all shooting light situations.
One mistake that can happen is shooting too much. Shooting too much or continuing to shooting after your too tired can result in bringing back old bad habits or developing new bad habits.
As the season is drawing near, I always find it good to shoot with any equipment that might affect my shooting. I shoot with gloves, face mask, day pack, and wearing the boots that I would be hunting in. It is also good to shoot with the jacket or shirt you may be wearing. I shoot with a forearm guard mostly to keep any clothing out of the string on release. Now that I have developed the strength to pull and hold my draw because I have been shooting all summer, it is time to practice that one shot that counts. When I get to the range, I pick a first shot that might be similar to a real archery hunt. I skip warming up and I hike to a target at the range while working up my heart rate whether its jumping jacks, pushups, light jog, whatever. I then set up for a shoot at a target at an angle or distance that I haven’t shot from and I make one shot. This is as close to real hunting as I can simulate. That one shot has to hit the boiler room of the target, just like the comfortable shooting range I mentioned. This is as close to real simulation that I can get in the preseason. If you shoot with a partner, try having your shooting partner set up your one shot. If you are like me and have to travel to the archery range to shoot, I usually go back and shoot through the course but making that first shot is all that matters. If you have a place to shoot at your home try picking up your bow and doing the same one shot simulation that I do at the range but simply do the shot in the morning, before you get in the truck to go to work, after your training run, or when you get home from work.
After I have practiced all summer I also make sure to leave myself enough time before season to switch over to the broadheads that I plan on using during the season. When I changed bows and went to a carbon arrow I found that my arrow flew differently with broadheads. That season I was so frustrated because when I thought I should shoot a couple of broadheads the night before my big hunt, I found that my broadheads flew higher than my field tips so I had to re-adjust my sights and I lost most of the confidence that I gain throughout my summer of practice.
So when practicing throughout the summer, remember to practice often but not too much, practice real hunting simulations with cloths you might be wearing, and remember to give yourself enough time to shoot if you change things up before the season.
This is the first in a 4 part series from our friend Greg Stopher. Greg’s an ex Rocky Mountain fishing and hunting guide who currently resides in Juneau, Alaska.
It’s never too early to start preparing for the upcoming archery season. All hunters should train for their upcoming season by working out, making hunting preparation, loading their own shells, and finally going out the range before season opens and sighting in the old rifle. In addition, bow hunters need to prep for the upcoming season a little differently. When I was younger and in shape playing football, running track, and baseball I really didn’t need to train for a hunting season. My brothers, father, and I would get our bow out throughout the summer and shoot consistently once or twice a week. As I have aged and like many of us got into a comfortable routine at work, we need to find time to actually train for the hunting season. Here are a few tips to get ready for archery season.
The bows of today are highly tuned pieces of machinery that can be very complicated to work on, as well as older bows who need their maintenance. Finding a manual for your bow or a good reliable bow tuner can be a work in itself. When I lived in Colorado I had a bow shop where I bought my bow; this guy really knew his stuff. All I had to do was stop by with my bow and “voila,” tuned and ready to shoot. This bow shop owner also helped me with my shooting technique and helped me become a better shooter. This was especially helpful when I moved from my older, more forgiving bow to a new fast-shooting, lightweight, highly tuned bow of today. With a good local bow shop I could get my bow tuned, get shooting technique advice, and as always; talk about hunting. There was not much of a need for me to have a lot of bow tuning equipment with a good local bow shop around. All I needed was some allen wrenches for sights, and string wax. The allen wrenches and wax are also good to carry in your hunting pack as well.
Now I reside in Alaska and have not yet found a reliable bow shop or bow tuner. There are probably some good ones, most likely not advertised and run out of their garage, but I haven’t found them yet. I shot at the outdoor range throughout the year and still I don’t run into anyone. In this case, I have had to do a lot of bow tuning myself. This actually works out well for me now, tuning my own bow that is. I normally hunt miles, if not hundreds of miles, from any type of civilization which is often hard to find a bow shop away from home in the wilderness. I also get to learn everything about my bow. I bought a cable bow press that works great and I can do most things to my bow with just a few tools. I also carry an extra sting, allen wrenches, and wax with on extended hunts in case anything should happen. I can find my bow manual online and from there I can tune the bow without much help from anyone. Most tuning involves string maintenance, sights, knocks, or the cables on a bow. So, know your bow either through a pro shop professional or just by learning it yourself to keep it tuned up and shooting properly.