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Elk Training 101

Two hunters kneeling by a downed elk

Before attempting any of these workouts, consult your physician and adjust the exercises to fit your current fitness level.

In the 1972 blockbuster Jeremiah Johnson, Bear Claw Chris Lapp tells a newbie mountain man, “Can’t cheat the mountain, Pilgrim.” So true. Maybe you learned this first hand. Maybe you called it quits on day six of a 10-day hunt last season. Maybe you couldn’t climb that distant ridge. Maybe you broke down packing a bull out. I’ve been there.

Whether you’re planning a return trip to the Rockies or making your maiden voyage, nothing will make your hunt more enjoyable and successful like being in top physical shape. Easier said than done. If you had your tail-end kicked by the mountain, you’ve promised yourself a spring and summer of training. Now you have to commit to it.

I’m not talking about running 100-mile ultras or competing in an Iron Man. I’m simply suggesting the development of a solid off-season training program that will boost your cardio abilities as well as your top-to-bottom strength.

Do You!

Whether you like to work out or not, you have an activity in your mind that sucks less than others. My beautiful bride, for instance, despises running. She loves to swim. For this reason, the bulk of her get-in-shape exercises are done in the pool.

Man running down a dirt road

As for me, I love to swim but am terrible at it. Running is my jam. For this reason, most of my train-to-hunt efforts are done on the trails and blacktop.

Mix It Up

When developing your training regimen, it’s important to remember to mix things up. Doing this keeps your body and mind fresh. Bike 15 miles every day for weeks and you will get bored and frustrated. Fast. When it comes to cardio, I recommend a combination of running, hiking, biking and swimming. Yes, focus on what you do best, but be sure to incorporate other activities as well.

Get Jacked

COVID-19 has put a huge dent in gyms, but you will need to sprinkle plenty of strength exercises into your get-fit routine. Get creative and have fun. Load a pack with weight and hit the hills. Do some box jumps in the backyard followed by pushups and planks.

Grab a log, toss it across your shoulders and do some walking lunges. The key is building the legs, back and shoulders. These are muscles you will need to help you cover terrain, tote a hefty pack and get a broken-down bull out of the backcountry.

Too Much Too Soon

One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is trying to do too much too soon. This is a recipe for injury. Take your time and build up slowly. Listen to your body. If it’s telling you not to do the eight-mile run you had planned, make an adjustment. Go swim a mile or bike 20. Also, and this is crucial: You must work in rest days. The body needs time to recover. Rest days should be spent focusing on good nutrition, hydration and lots and lots of stretching.

To date, I’ve completed a pair of 100-mile ultramarathons in the mountains. I’ve run road marathons and more 10K and half-marathon races than I can count. I don’t tell you this to brag. I tell you this because I have some solid experience. Side of my running, I spend weeks in the western mountains each year, and the to-come workouts are some of my favorite elk preppers.

Four For Four

Head to your nearest track or jump in your vehicle and measure a quarter-mile loop. You will be running 16 laps (four miles) and after each lap, you will perform 25 pushups. When you finish, you will have completed four miles and 400 pushups. This one is a grind, but it will build your legs, back, chest, core and shoulders.

Run It, Pack It

Measure out a one-mile loop. I always recommend running on dirt when you can. The goal for the first mile is to go at a pace that is about 70 percent of your lactic burn pace. Lactic burn pace is all out. We want to stay about 30 percent below that.

two men carring backpacks on a dirt road

After the mile run, toss on a pack loaded with 50 pounds and speed walk the mile loop. After you clip off a mile, do 20 walking lunges with the pack on. Now drop the pack and run another mile at 60 percent of your lactic burn. Strap the pack back on and hit another mile with 20 walking lunges at the end. Drop the pack and crush one more mile at 50 percent of your lactic burn. Toss on the pack and speed-walk one more mile, and then finish with 20 walking lunges.

Seize This Opportunity

Now is the time! In just a few short months you’re going to be matching wits with a public-land bull. Can you beat him on his home court? Only time will tell, but a prepared body and mind usually comes out of the mountains toting tasty meat and a set of antlers for the wall.

Elk with Terminal Ascent packing overlay

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