Most people have a stereotypic image of a hunter…and it is not favorable. He (never she) is overweight, smokes cigarettes, wears blaze orange clothing several sizes too small, drinks Budweiser (before, during and after the hunt) and shoots his rifle at anything that moves. He rarely gets out of his truck and usually fires his weapon while seated behind the wheel with his barrel sticking out the window. If this hunter does use his legs, it is only when he walks a few steps to his deer stand…where he sits all day long taking naps.
For the record, I have never known a hunter who fits this image. The men…and women…who are my fellow hunters take personal training seriously and would never think of shooting at anything that moves. These hunters go after their quarry on foot, climbing up mountains and going down canyons, often hiking many miles at high elevations. While I have hunted with a muzzleloader, rifle and shotgun, my preferred method of hunting is with bow and arrow. Rarely have I taken a deer or elk beyond 40 yards with my bow. Many were taken between 10 and 20 yards. To do this, you must be able to get close enough without being detected by animals that are always on high alert for danger…usually in the form of a predator. This is no easy task. Once the big game animal is down, then it must be quartered out and carried back to a truck or base camp that could be several miles away. If you’ve never done this, then you have no idea how physically demanding it can be.
Training for the hunt has become a year round discipline for me…and a growing number of both male and female hunters across the country. Today’s serious bowhunter is really a hunter-athlete who knows that legs and lungs must be in top shape if one is to go far into the woods or high upon the mountain without growing weary…or just plain quitting.
I spend 45 minutes, five days a week, doing intense weight training at the local gym. I do not lift for bulk…and at my age, certainly not for looks. I lift for overall strength and functionality.
I wake up every morning no later than 4:30 a.m. and hike in the mountains behind my house for at least 1.5 hours…often wearing my backpack loaded with 50 lbs. It is dark on this side of the mountains, so I start out with my headlamp as I await the rising of the sun. The only day I do not work out is Sunday when I am busy with my duties as senior pastor of Faith Lutheran Church.
This weight and cardio training regimen prepares me for the challenges of pursuing animals that never take a “day off” and can climb mountains with ease. Organizations such as Train to Hunt (www.traintohunt.com) and individuals such as Cameron Hanes (www.cameronhanes.com) and Zac Griffith (www.zacgriffith.com/train/) provide the advice and encouragement that many hunter athletes desire these days. That said, it is ultimately up to the individual hunter to get out of bed when most are still asleep and do the work required to be in top physical shape. True discipline is self discipline.
Some credit the movie “Hunger Games” with the recent increase of female hunters. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 11 percent of U.S. hunters were female in 2011…the latest year for which statistics are available. That represents an increase over the 9 percent reported in 2005. Manufacturers are now producing bows and camo clothing designed specifically for women. My daughter, Melinda, hunted with me in 2012 when we successfully harvested an elk. She carried over 120 lbs of meat in her pack as we hiked back to my truck that was parked over three miles away (read “Why Do You Hunt” posted on June 28).
Stereotypes are one thing…reality is another. There may be a few people who take to the woods or mountains shooting at anything that moves while seated in their vehicles. If you see or know of someone who does this, then every responsible hunter I know joins me in encouraging you to call the game and fish department in your state and turn them in. Doing this is illegal…and does not deserve to be called hunting. Here in New Mexico, you can contact the Department of Game and Fish to turn in those who are breaking the law (www.wildlife.state.nm.us/publications/documents/rib/2014/sections/6GeneralRules.pdf).
The fact of the matter is this: The majority of hunters…both male and female…do not take short cuts and do not break the law when they take to the fields, forests and mountains. They train year round…they are committed to fair chase ethics…and they respect the big game animals they pursue.
And when everything falls together and an elk or deer is successfully harvested, these hunters enjoy the original organic, free-range meat all winter long. They delight in sharing this bounty with their friends as well.
Befriend a hunter if you want to partake of this feast. Better yet….become a hunter yourself!