Over the years I’ve spent countless hours listening to hunting guides discuss the challenges they face when working for successful hunts. The most common concern I hear is that too many hunters are not physically prepared for the rigors of hunting the rugged terrain and high altitude of Colorado. Lack of physical preparation not only reduces the likelihood of a successful outing, but often turns what could be a rewarding experience into a miserable slog. Fortunately, most hunters can be ready to meet the physical requirements with some basic planning, preparation and awareness.
Before choosing a hunt, each hunter would do well to complete an honest evaluation of his or her level of physical fitness. I don’t know anyone who is as young as he or she used to be and it’s often challenging to maintain a regular exercise routine. Although a visit to the doctor is a great idea, it’s not a requirement for determining whether one is in shape for a few days on the trail. Throw on a backpack weighted with twenty pounds or so and go for a brisk two to three-mile walk. Were you able to complete the walk? How do you feel during and after the walk? The answers to these questions will give you an idea of where you stand. You’ll then have a realistic idea of where you’re starting as you begin to look forward.
With your current level of physical fitness in mind, determine the kind of hunt you are prepared to or willing to prepare to take on. Are you capable of hiking five grueling uphill miles through difficult terrain at 10,000 feet or is sitting on a log 50 yards from camp more your speed? Maybe you’re somewhere in between. Keep in mind that transforming your physical condition is not something you can do in a day. That extreme wilderness hunt might just have to wait until next year.
Do the research necessary to find out where and when you can find a suitable hunting opportunity. Contact an outfitter in the area you’d like to hunt. Ask for information about the characteristics of the terrain, the range of altitude, the degree of difficulty of the trails in the area and the likely weather conditions. Find how much hunters typically walk each day, the number of hours spent in the field and whether hunters travel by horse or mule. Gather the information you need to determine the level of physical fitness you need to attain to give yourself the best opportunity for a successful hunt and begin to prepare a plan for reaching that fitness level.
Your timing and approach to creating and implementing a fitness plan will vary based on you and your objectives. If you are already in good physical condition, you might just need two or three weeks to ensure that you are prepared for the higher altitude. If you need to take a breather after climbing a flight of stairs, you’ll want to consider a three to six-month plan. Hunters who are self-motivated and somewhat knowledgeable of basic fitness principles will likely find innumerable online sources for basic fitness plans designed specifically for hunters. Those with limited knowledge of fitness principles who benefit from an occasional pat on the might want to enlist the services of a personal trainer. Whatever your approach, keep some basic guidelines in mind:
• Keep your plan simple. You’re not preparing for a triathlon or the CrossFit championships. You just want to be able to spend a few consecutive days engaging in moderate to mildly rigorous physical activity at higher altitudes.
• Start slow. It’s important to start slow and focus on improving daily, especially if you are not already in good physical condition.
• Create a plan that improves your stamina, strength, balance and flexibility. Keep in mind that you’re not likely to find any paved trails with handrails while hunting in Colorado. Hiking and riding through challenging terrain is not simply a matter of good cardiovascular conditioning. You might be required to pull yourself up a steep incline, negotiate slippery rocks or scramble through downed trees. Simply climbing into a saddle requires some strength, balance and flexibility.
• Plan for the days immediately prior to and during the hunt. A week to 10 days prior to your hunt, begin preparing for the altitude. Drink plenty of water. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. If possible, spend two or three days acclimating at an altitude close to where you’re hunting. Don’t throw it all away during your hunt. Get as much sleep as possible. Drink plenty of water. Don’t push yourself too hard on the first day or two. You might harvest an animal on day one, but don’t count on it. Be prepared for several days in the field. Be aware of the signs of altitude sickness including dizziness, headache, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath and increased heart rate.
By taking some time and energy to plan and prepare you’ll be ready to take on the physical challenges of hunting in Colorado and you’ll increase your chances of a successful hunt.
By David Schwartz
NWCO Hunting Guide