Physical Fitness for the Whitetail Nut
Think you're ready to drag that big buck off the mountain? If you're leery, here's how to get in shape for deer season.
Okay. Take off your clothes. Stand in front of a mirror, and let your gut go. Now take a good look at the horror show staring back at you and consider this: Couch spuds are 56 times more likely to have a heart attack during vigorous exertion–like scaling a ridge or dragging out a deer–than guys who are in reasonable shape. Even if you’re fairly thin and active, it pays to tune up before the season. We’re talking big bucks here, and you may have to hike farther or climb higher to score. Once you do, you’ll have more weight to haul. And if you’re in shape, you won’t nod off during the day from all the exertion and possibly miss your only chance at that buck. So here’s your regimen:
 Walk and Hike: You need a basic level of aerobic fitness so you don’t drop halfway through a 5-mile still-hunt. Your operative training maxim: Start low, go slow. First, establish a baseline. Walk briskly for 10 minutes on a flat surface. If this proves easy, wait a day and do the same except alternate 50 steps walking with 50 steps jogging. If this is a cake walk, wait another day and jog for 10 minutes.
Now with your baseline set, do your aerobic workout once every other day, gradually increasing both distance and intensity, adding no more than 10 percent per week. As you gain endurance, introduce some variety. Alternate bursts of speed with a slower “active recovery” pace. Throw in some hills. Your goal is to eventually either brisk-walk, walk-jog, jog, or run up to 30 minutes at a time.
 Work Out: Assuming you don’t have a gym membership, go with calisthenics. They cost nothing and can be very effective. Your legs are already getting a workout, so focus on your upper body.
Again, start low, go slow. For the chest and triceps, begin with knee push-ups, build up to classic push-ups, and eventually make these more difficult by putting on your pack and adding weight. For biceps and back, progress from modified chin-ups (bar at chest height, with feet on ground and body in piked position, underhand grip) to regular chin-ups. Eventually switch to an overhand grip. Also enhance abdominal strength with sit-ups. Don’t go all the way up–just curl to about a 45-degree angle. Make these progressively harder by holding a weight on your chest. For each, start with one set of 8 to 12 reps and move up to three sets.
Once you’ve achieved decent general conditioning, modify your workouts to tap the muscles you’ll actually use while you’re out in the field. Put on your hunting clothes and take a 30-minute hike over uneven wooded terrain. Slowly incorporate more hills. Then put on your pack and gradually increase its weight. If you can’t easily access a forest, go to the local high school and climb the bleachers on the diagonal.
Finally, of deer hunting’s physical challenges, by far the most taxing is dragging a buck. If you’ll do this yourself, you must train specifically for it now. Fill a burlap bag with a few rocks or some dirt and drag it a short distance. Over the weeks you’ve got left before the season, gradually add more rocks or dirt and more distance. When you can easily drag your tub o’ lard buddy (the guy with the body you used to have), you’ll be ready to drag out that 12-pointer.
Before You Start
Ask yourself these questions before
Have you ever been told you have heart problems?
Do you suffer frequent chest pains or have high blood pressure?
Do you often feel faint or dizzy?
Do you have a history of joint or bone problems?
Are there any other health concerns that could conceivably make exercising unsafe for you?