Fitness Prep For Hunting Season
Just a quick intro to Mark and Jeff Skousen. We are twin brothers that live in Utah. We both have 5 kids and busy careers. We have been hunting together from a young age and have had a lot of success over the years because of hard work, dedication, and being in top shape. For us, preparing for hunting season is a 365 endeavor. Just as the four seasons come and go each year, we likewise break our fitness training into a calendar cycle. There is nothing really scientific to our approach, but the end goal is to be in elk shape come September. It is no secret that our preferred weapon and species is bowhunting Elk. So, every available moment from the end of August through the end of September is spent in the mountains chasing elk.
We realize that not everyone has the time or circumstances to dedicate this much energy to hunting, so wherever you land on the spectrum, our intent is to provide you with a couple of different approaches to being in great mountain shape for the fall. One approach will focus on using gym equipment and one approach will focus on doing exercises from your home or even a hotel room if your job requires you to travel.
To set the stage for how we approach fitness, it is helpful to see the year from a high level and then we will get more granular when it comes to specific workouts.
Our hunting season usually wraps up around the end of November. Occasionally we will have a late season cow elk hunt that pushes into December but not usually. Coming out of fall we are usually in recovery mode as we put on a lot of hiking and hunting miles from September through November. The focus then for December, January, and February is to rebuild muscle and maintain a cardio base. We love snow biking, snow shoeing, and skiing to keep a decent fitness level over the winter months. This also includes some lifting and other fitness movements that we will get to later.
During the months of March, April, and May we are ramping up intensity in our workouts. Several times a week we are doing weighted pack workouts in the hills that are close to our houses. Spring bear, turkey and shed hunting are great warm up opportunities to maintain a good mountain fitness foundation.
June, July, and August are our pre-season training months. Usually, the weather is warmer and we are spending a lot more time outdoors in the units that we will be hunting in the fall. We are typically spending 4-5 days a week mountain biking and heavy pack hiking during these months. I will say we taper the mountain biking a little during the month of August to avoid an accidental shoulder injury if we happen to go down on the bike. Pulling a #70 lbs. bow back is hard to do with a bum shoulder.
So, this brings us full circle back to hunting season. What sneaks up on a lot of hunters, who are in good shape from a cardio perspective, is the fact that they haven’t been carrying heavy loads or side hilling on a mountain. This can lead to sore shoulders, back, and feet. Our fitness program focuses on full body movements with compound exercises with a good amount of cardio. For us there is a balance between just packing on a bunch of muscle and staying lean enough to be nimble in the mountains. Let’s dive into some of the workouts.
Gym workout from Mark’s perspective
The advantage of the gym workout is there is usually a little more equipment available to add variety to a workout. For the past several years I have been following the MTNTOUGH Fitness Lab Backcountry Hunter workout program. This program was built by passionate hunters like us who want to be in top physical condition for the fall hunting seasons. They offer a broad range of digital fitness programs that are tailored for you depending on the season and your ability to access a gym. I have listed below just a few workouts from some of the programs. This is all done with the convenience of an app on your smart phone.
Warmup – (I do this every time)
- Row - 500m
- High Knees - 30 sec
- Butt Kicks - 30 sec
- World's Greatest Stretch - 30 sec
- Overhead Lunge - 30 sec
- Walk Out Push-ups - 30 sec
- Lateral Lunge - 30 sec
- Floor Wipers - 30 sec
Backcountry Hunter Preseason prep (Sample Workout)
- 4 rounds
- Deadlift – 10
- Weighted (plate) pushups – 10
- Single Leg RDL’s – 10 each leg
- Bent Over Row - 10
Backcountry Hunter Postseason Strength (Sample Workout)
The 36s – 9 total rounds
- Squats – 12
- Pull-ups – 12
- Cardio (Skierg, Rower, Assault Bike) – 12 Cals
- Squats – 6
- Pull-ups – 6
- Cardio (Skierg, Rower, Assault Bike) – 24 Cals
- Squats – 3
- Pull-ups – 3
- Cardio (Skierg, Rower, Assault Bike) – 30 Cals
Interval Workout – Row Machine (Sample Workout)
Complete the following Intervals – rest for the amount of time it takes to complete the interval
During the rest, complete 10 Ground to Shoulders OR 10 Squat jumps.
- Max Laps (40yds is 1 lap)
- High-low Farmer Carry – 8 min
*Men: 50-55lbs High; 55-60lbs low
*Women: 25lbs high; 35lbs low
Suitcases – 20
Ball Plank Reaches – 20 (10 each arm)
Lateral Lunges – 20 (10 each side)
Having a variety of different cardio machines as well as sufficient bars, weights and racks is necessary to accomplish most of these exercises.
Home workout from Jeff’s perspective
About a year ago, with the onset of Covid-19, I had to rethink my workout routine a bit because all of the gyms closed down. Prior to that, Mark and I would meet at the local rec center at 5am on M,W,F to do our sessions together. But due to Covid, I came up with a home routine that has worked very well for me over the past year. Everyone is at different levels of fitness. What I do may be too advanced or not advanced enough for you but my goal each week is to do a HIT workout with a circuit/cardio routine on M,W,F and hiking with a pack or ride my mountain bike on T, Th, and Sat.
M, W, F Routine
Without the convenience of weights at the gym, I had to invest in a few items to create my own home workout gym. I had a couple of these things already but I think the following items allow me to do a lot of variety of compound lifts that build functional strength. My main goal with these exercises is to develop better stamina and endurance in the mountains. So, the compound exercises I focus on are exercises that use several muscles at once and build core strength, leg strength and shoulders so that I can pack out heavy loads. After I give a little explanation of the different exercises I do with the following equipment, I’ll share a few of the complete workouts I have come up with so you can play around with them.
The benefits and exercises you can do with a pull up bar are immense. Besides a basic pull up which involves most of the upper body muscles including the lats, traps, deltoids, pecs, biceps, forearms and triceps, a pullup bar can also be used to develop great core strength and develop your abs and lower back. And by simply changing your grip you can target a variety of different muscle groups. Plus, an added benefit is that pull up exercises are easy on the joints and tendons.
Several years ago, while doing so research on the web, I stumbled across the Mountain Tactical Institute. What caught my interest was they had developed specific workout plans for really any sport but also including backcountry hunters. From my research I discovered a variety of very functional exercises using a 70# sandbag that translated very well to my philosophy of training to hunt. Here’s and example of 5 great sandbag exercises along with videos for each: https://mtntactical.com/knowledge/5-great-sandbag-exercises/
- Sandbag Get up
- Sandbag Mutant Maker
- Sandbag All Fours Drag
- Sandbag Clean, Squat & Run
- Sandbag Kneeling Keg Lift
They also have sandbags for sale. I purchased the bag, then went to home depot and purchased some rubber playground bark and filled it per the instructions in their video. https://gear.mtntactical.com/collections/gear/products/sandbag
Step up or Box
A box is a perfect way to simulate stepping up on rocks and things you will do in the mountains. I like to hold weight over my head and step up or put on a hunting pack with weight in it and step up. These boxes are also great for box jumps and burpee box jumps which train explosive power when needed.
I love the bosu ball for building core strength and balance. I will perform everything from single leg (pistol) squats holding a 10-15 lbs. weight to push-ups to sit-ups etc. on the bosu ball. There are lots of good YouTube videos showing a variety of bosu ball exercises.
Dumbbells (A couple of different weights – one lighter and one heavier)
A good set of dumbbells can be used in so many ways for compound movements. One of my favorites is the single-arm dumbbell snatch and press. Basically, pick up a dumbbell from the ground using good squat form and then snatch it up and press it over your head. This compound exercise strengthens your shoulders, lower back, hamstrings, glutes and lats.
I love the row machine to incorporate a bit of cardio into the workout. In addition to doing a 5-minute warmup on the rower, I like to do short bursts of 30 seconds to 1 minute as part of my circuit training exercises. Another great cardio movement is the burpee. I always incorporate burpees or burpee box jumps into my workout.
Warmup – I do this every time
5 Continuous Sets
- 10 jumping Jacks
- 10 air squats
- 10 jump squats
EMOM – Every Minute on the minute
I love EMOMs when I’m looking for a quick high intensity workout. Each round will take about 45 seconds with a 15 second rest before you go again.
Duration of 20-30 mins
- 5 pushups
- 5 air squats
- 3 pull ups
- 6 lung jumps
- 3 sandbag burpees or 5 regular burpees if you don’t have a sandbag
Sample Full Body Workout Circuit – Complete 5-8 rounds
- Warmup -
- 20 Pushups – slow and methodical
- 8 Sandbag Burpees
- 10 Pullups – slow holding legs out front with core tight
- 5 Cals on the Rower (about 30 rows)
- 10 Single Leg Pistol Squats on the buso ball – holding 10 lbs weight
- 20 Box step ups – each leg
Sample Full Body Workout Circuit – Complete 5-8 rounds
- 10 Spider Man Pushups – as you perform the pushup bring your knee to your elbow
- 10 Sandbag Squats – Holding sandbag cradled in your arms (70# sandbag)
- 20 Dumbbell Snatch and press – 10/each arm
- 15 lung jumps
- 10 Hanging Toes to Bar (performed on pullup bar)
- 8 burpees
On my cardio days, I hit the mountains and hike with about 20 -30 lbs. on my back which is close to the weight I carry around when I’m hunting. Every week, I might go a little heavier just to get used to heavier weight. I like to wear my hunting boots and get me feet used to carrying the pack weight. Fortunately, I live right next to a mountain so I target about 1000-1600 vertical feet of elevation over 1 to 1.5 hours in the morning before work. I also love to mountain bike so I try and target 1-3 rides a week after work or on Saturday. I’m not much of a runner but trail running in the mountains is another very good cardio workout that will pay dividends in the fall.
The biggest thing about getting in elk shape is committing to do something every day that will make you bigger, faster, stronger. It will take several months to start seeing gains if you are just getting going. Just start and keep after it. When we feel like taking a day off, we remind each other that the bulls we are chasing in the fall don’t take a day off.
The last thing we will mention is that proper nutrition and supplements are vital to having the energy needed to sustain this kind of exercise program. We have all heard the saying, “you are what you eat”. We aren’t on any strict diets but we try and eat clean 75-80% of the time. We eat a lot of protein (elk) along with healthy carbs and a balanced diet. We also use some supplements like Mtn Ops especially when we are hunting. Bugle Berry is our favorite and seems to help kick up the energy levels on those long days of hiking and hunting in the fall.