As I approached turning 50, I contemplated doing an African hunt. I started researching and talking to outfitters about hunting in Africa. I narrowed it down to two very well-respected African outfitters who offered bow hunting safaris. I was close to pulling the trigger, figuratively at least, when I stumbled upon a hunter perched precariously on a mountain ledge near a small tent.
I read about his story about mountain goat hunting and the challenges it offered. Suddenly, it occurred to me that I needed to do a goat hunt before I got old. Africa would be a nice hunt later in life when I slowed down some, but for now I needed a challenge.
I scrapped my Africa plans and started researching mountain goat hunting. There was one reoccurring bit of advice – get in shape. Fortunately for me, I heeded that advice, but somehow, I missed the part about “mountain” in “mountain goat.” I guess it just didn’t sink in that we’d be climbing to the top of the mountain everyday. The top was at 8,000 feet and it would take about 2 -2 ½ hours of climbing to get to the point where we could begin glassing and hunting.
As it turns out, I was in good enough shape to complete the hunt, but I learned a lot about conditioning for mountain hunting. I think what I learned can probably be applied to other types of hunts, especially those at elevation.
For me, the key to getting in shape was finding “carrots” to keep me motivated. The carrots I found were running races. The idea of competing in a race kept me off the couch and motivated to go out and run. I ended up doing a half-marathon on an extremely hilly course in Kansas City, Missouri that is rated as one of the toughest in the nation.
While I’d like to report to say I smoked it, I can’t – it was hot and humid and the race kicked my butt. Still, I finished and got a half-marathon under my belt. The physical conditioning I gained from the race was helpful, but not near as much as the mental conditioning. I had to muster up an inner strength to keep running after mile 12 and that inner strength helped me when my quads started to burn on the climb up or across the mountain.
The running helped my overall conditioning and to build a good base, but I added hiking with a back pack filled with lead bags bringing the weight of my back pack to about 60 pounds. This is the training that was most beneficial for me. The ability to maximize oxygen is important, but leg strength is just as important. I did find that I should have focused on this part more, but as the hunt progressed my leg strength gained quickly and I was able to climb longer without breaks.
In addition to the hiking I did walks on the treadmill with the back pack and the elevation setting on maximum incline. I would do 30 minutes at 3 mph, but in hindsight, I really have done at least an hour each session.
I was in shape to complete the hunt, but in reality I wish I was in better shape so it wouldn’t have hurt as much as it did at times.
Anyone planning a mountain hunt should be in tip top shape and really focus not only on aerobic conditioning, but building leg strength and endurance.
Here is the program I would recommend starting at least a year in advance of your hunt.
Daily 4 sets of 25 jumping jacks to get you warm.
4 sets of 25 sit ups to strengthen your core which is the key to overall conditioning.
Alternate days of hiking with progressively heavier back pack with running.
Trail running is ideal because it is easier on the body and adds some challenges such as steep hills to your run. Start out with the distances that you can handle and gradually add distance and speed.
A treadmill is a good training tool because you can see how fast you are running and do “intervals.” Intervals will improve your distance and your speed. Run at a speed that gets you breathing hard for 30 seconds and then reduce the speed to a walk or jog to recover. Repeat for 30 minutes.
You can substitute stair climber days for hiking if you have access to a stair climber if not find stadium bleachers, parking garage or building stairs to climb. Start off without a back pack and as you improve your conditioning add it.
Finish with stretches for upper and lower body.
This may seem like a lot to do each day, but it will pay off and make your hunt more enjoyable and more successful. The more ground you can cover the more likely you are to get a shot.