By Dan Staton MS, CSCS
Fitness Editor

No matter how you slice it, killing an 8+ year old bull elk with a bow is challenging.  This animal is sharp, and may only allow you to get a glimpse of it from a trail camera photo or through a high-power spotting scope.  So how are you supposed to put yourself into position for an ethical close range shot?  Well, you’re not going to close the deal with the aid of an ATV or mountain elevator.  You’re going to do it with sweat equity and work performed by your mountain engines called your legs.  Keep in mind you’ll have your weapon with you and your backpack loaded down with water, food, and supplies. 

If you’re like me, you’re also doing this on public ground with an over-the-counter tag, which implies competition from other hunters.  Elk can be found undisturbed in some stashes of public turf, but if they get bumped which they will, they’re going to head to higher or harder to get to country.  This can mean leaving public and going to private ground where they’re safe from you, or often times down into the deep dark crevasses of the mountain also known as hell holes.  So now you really have to put the miles on your boots and hunt delicately to insure a potentially fatal opportunity.  So if you are indeed hungry enough to hunt the blue collar variety of mountain wapiti, you best not leave the trailhead overweight or out of shape.  Here’s how to employ fitness into your elk hunting portfolio to better the odds of sticking a mountain monarch bull.

Elk have gained my respect as some of the toughest animals in North America.  The elk don’t take a day off, everything they do involves survival.  They feed, water, and hide from predators like yourself, everyday of their existence.  A bull’s senses trample ours, his muscles by design make the mountains flat, and his instinct provides him with cunning survivorship.  I subscribe to the theory that you shouldn’t start getting into elk shape a few weeks or months before hunting season. And, to be consistently successful on DIY, OTC elk hunts, fitness needs to be a year round commitment and should include a variety of exercises that will simulate the actual hunt.  Workouts year round need to evolve, they need to change, your body must continually adapt.  You will employ a variety, such as mountain biking, hiking with a pack, and body weight exercises for lifting.  You can also start working out at your closest CrossFit gym, where you will be tested mentally and physically every time.  Buy one of those P90X or Insanity DVDs and burn through the workouts.  Your specialty is not specializing, you’re never settling into a routine, as it is our main enemy.  Routine spells plateau.  Bottom line is to be consistent, have sweat drip off your forehead daily from a different form of exercise.  There’s no magic bullet of elk shape, just time put in with many different angles of stimulus.

There are hunters that make me jealous; but more that do not.  I do not covet your landowner tag that would double as a down payment on a house.  Your private ranch you get to hunt where the animals know nothing of hunting pressure does not excite me.  Now, if you drew a premium limited entry tag, then good on you for earning the opportunity, but if you’re the Governor’s tag holder I cannot relate.  You see, blue collar hunting is a thing of beauty.  Anyone with enough heart and go ahead can hunt the same elk.  A mature bull is simply harder to locate and even harder to put on the ground.  What more motivation do you need?  To taste success on public ground means effort and discipline.  Both are not readily available one month out of the year.  Effort means hiking in further, sleeping less and scouting more.  It means sweating 365 days a year and constantly tuning and shooting your equipment.  Discipline is simple, do what you have to do to meet your goal head on, often times not what you want to do.  Sleeping in is easier than waking up before work to get your training session in.  Pulling up to the fast food drive thru is easier than preparing your meals beforehand.  Watching TV is easier than shooting your bow after a long day of work.  Not scouting is cheaper than burning a tank of gas and some rubber on your boots.  Discipline and effort define public ground blue collar hunting, and fitness is just one of those caveats of a bigger picture.

So to all my fellow blue collar public land scrappers out there, good luck on your hunt this year.  If you read this piece right after the archery season and could relate, then continue the course and maintain your fitness.  Stay sharp, stay disciplined, and do not lose focus.  Never give up, never feel sorry for yourself.  Eliminate the word routine from your vocabulary and consistently put the work in.  Your reward is just around the corner.