Weekend warriors and folks that burn vacation hours to hunt must capitalize on the finite number of days available.  All of us juggle hectic schedules so any time away from email inboxes and voicemails are to be treasured.  Hauling all your your gear on your back and trekking into the mountains is not without effort.  Sure, your truck or ATV is a great tool, but most of us rely on our own two legs for the bulk of our  transportation. Regardless of your current state of fitness or mental toughness, a bit of fitness can go a long ways, especially if you’re blessed with the chore of loading game bags off the mountain.  Here’s how you can start your journey to make the most of this coming fall.

Backpack – Whether you have a daypack or a 6500 + cubic inch backpack, it belongs on your back now.  Your shoulders, mid and lower back need to adapt to the stress of a loaded pack – it needs to feel comfortable and part of you.  Go ahead and dust off your hunting pack, load it up with at least half of the weight you’ll use in a few months.  Before and/or after work truck some miles, look for trails, wear your hunting boots, and find some uneven ground.  Early summer is the ideal time to test out any new gear and discover new hunting ground with your pack on.  If you don’t have much for elevation then find hills and do repeat trips.  Each week add more weight and gradually add distance.  If you can log a handful of miles each week with your pack on you’ll be better served when opening day arrives.  There is no substitute for hiking with weight on your back.  If you’re a family man, bring them along and make it a family hike.  There’s no excuse as to why you can’t keep your hunting pack coated in sweat for the next few months.

IMG_8735Be a Boy Scout – Separation is in the preparation.  Always be prepared for the worst when hunting.  Your pack is your lifeline. Make sure that when you’re doing inventory of gear this summer that you pay close attention to some key items.  My hunting partner is my 56-year-old father. We always carry two game bags each, a Havalon knife with extra blades, fire starter kit, first aid kit, and a compact digital camera.  The last thing you want to do in bear/wolf country is leave your trophy on the ground while you hike back for game bags.  Not only is this is a total waste of a precious commodity called energy, but a lot of our best hunts take place during warm weather.  Never let meat have a chance to spoil – get that hide off quickly and get those quarters near good air-flow to procure nature’s candy (wildgame meat).  Havalon knives or ones like them are so amazing at getting the animal diced up in moments, plus they are very light and compact, you can’t beat them in my opinion.  A fire starter kit basically means waterproof matches and some form of tinder.  I admit I’ve been lost in the woods without a GPS and had to stay over night – thank God I made a fire because as you know, it can get cold in the mountains at night.  The warm fire kept me warm and sane which helped me gather my wits at first light.  Plus, there are many times when you’re soaked to the bone with rain gear on and only a fire can remedy this dangerous juxtaposition.  A first aid kit is a small insurance policy in case you twist an ankle or knee, cut yourself, or other mishaps.  Remember, being in shape helps you hunt harder and longer, but you also owe it to your partner and his family to get each other out of the mountains safely.  That’s something that many of us don’t pay mind to, but if your partner goes down in the backcountry are you able to get them out to safety — food for thought!  Lastly, carry a camera so you can capture the memories that keep your hunting addiction alive for the rest of the year.  I don’t want to see a picture of you and your trophy in the back of your truck – take a handful of photos including vistas, meadows, wallows, elk trails, base camp, spike camp, backpacking, calling, sunsets, sunrises, and of course grip and grins.

Your fitness and your backpack make the perfect marriage.  Your fitness gets you where you need to go and the pack hauls all the necessary gear to allow you to perform at your best.  Selecting the best pack for your budget is a must, and keeping the dust off of it is critical to make the most of each fall.  Pull your pack out of storage and lace up your boots – fall is just around the corner.  By adding weight to the pack each week, you will start to move the needle towards a very fulfilling and successful hunting season.