by Terry Wieland
Except for the demented few, physical fitness is not the favorite topic either of hunters or editors of hunting magazines. In fact, it’s right up there with hunting ethics and “Fair Chase” on their list of Omigawdthiswillborethesocksoff stories.
However, speaking as one of the demented few, I feel the subject of physical fitness warrants periodic attention regardless of editorial vagary—and it doesn’t matter if the hunting in question involves nothing more than being dropped off by an ATV and climbing into a tree stand.
In actual fact, I think most hunters (and even a few fishermen) will agree that being physically fit before venturing into the great outdoors in pursuit of almost anything is a good idea. A great idea, even. Thing is, how do you do it?
And, when you’re past 50 (in years) and pushing 250 (in pounds) is it even possible?
These are all valid questions—some of which I remember pondering myself, leaning on the bar and sipping my fourth or fifth beer, back in 1990, shortly after I’d mailed off the cheque to Gary the Outfitter in Alaska, to nail down my longed-for backpack Dall sheep hunt in the Chugach Mountains.
At the time, I was not terribly out of shape, being a lifelong runner, but I was carrying a few extra pounds (25 to 30, actually) and had not done much backpacking for 10 or 15 years. I lived way out in the country, gyms were few and trainers fewer, so I was on my own and made it up as I went along.
First order of business: A good pack. I checked that box with an internal-frame “Camp Trails.” (They were good then; it’s still good.) Next, mountain boots: A pair of Meindl “Canadas” from Cabela’s took care of that. And honestly, equipment-wise, everything else is either optional or flexible. But not the pack, and not the boots. With those taken care of, I obtained a copy of the old Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) 5BX (Five Best Exercises) fitness program, and set out to run-backpack-and-calisthenic my way into shape to tackle the Chugach six months hence.
One thing I found enormously useful, but which I have never seen recommended anywhere, is keeping a detailed log of your fitness sessions. I just used a sheet of lined paper on a clipboard and recorded date, weight, activity (including distance or pack weight), and time. This not only allows you to see progress, it will induce guilt if you slack off, and give you personal ‘bests’ to aim for. I have a record of every single fitness session in the last 35 years. I began in the spring of 1988, preparing to hunt brown bears in Alaska, and just stuck with it, so with the Chugach in the offing, I was not starting from zero.