By Greg McHale
I have competed extensively on the professional circuit of adventure racing. If you're not familiar with this sport, you may have heard of the EcoChallenge or the PrimalQuest races. Adventure racing consists of over-land races where small teams of racers paddle, bike, and trek while navigating between checkpoints. Races can be as short as a few hours to as long as 7–10 days. What this means in practice is that in adventure races, we push our bodies and minds to their absolute limits. Sleep comes in very few sessions of limited duration. The most challenging race I participated in was the Yukon Arctic Ultra, where I trekked alone for about 450 miles through the Yukon in the depths of winter.
Adventure racing has prepared me perfectly for my style of mountain hunting. When I know the sheep are 15 miles away, it's no problem to get up high and put on the mileage. When a stalk demands that I stay overnight on the mountain, I know that I've spent worse nights out many times before. As hard as a sheep hunt can be, I can assure you that I've pushed myself harder in many races.
Sleep is a luxury during an adventure race.
• Close the distance: Game is often easiest to find in the evening when they are up and feeding. If I spot game at a distance, it's usually time to move and move quickly to have a chance to take a shot before sunset.
• Get closer: Judging sheep and goats is not an easy proposition. If it's early in the hunt, I might be picky. If I'm looking for a "great" ram and not just a "good" ram may require getting closer. Having the fitness to move closer means I can take a safer route that takes me out of sight or in a direction dictated by the winds. If I am not fit, I may end up out of sight for too long, giving the animal a chance to walk out of sight.
• Go deep into the best country: Getting away from the easily accessed ranges requires putting in the effort. Every hunter would love to hunt from the road. Some hunters will go one range of mountains deep. Almost no one is willing to go further. You can earn a great trophy by moving further and faster than other hunters.
• Hunts can be long: A lack of endurance makes the 5th, 6th and 7th days of a hunt that much harder. The more tired you are, the warmer your sleeping bag will feel and the more tempting that second cup of coffee will be. These temptations will make getting moving that much more difficult.
and no end to the opportunities to sit back, slow down and soften up. I've made physical fitness a priority in my life, my routine. I can feel the dividends of this commitment every day, whether I'm chasing rams or going through the everyday.
Here I'm climbing up a ridge to get the best view of the billies. If I was slower and heavier, I might have chosen the easy road and stayed low. As it was, we had a perfect view of the basin and where the billies were.
I see a lot of hunters working on their strength. Yes, moving with 60, 70, 100 lbs on one’s back does require strength. However, too much “normal” strength training will build a lot of muscle in places that don’t help me as a hunter. It’s great to have big biceps and a studly chest. Still, those are massive detriments to my ability to move quickly and efficiently.
I have acquired my strength through my adventure racing training over the years and decades. As I get older, I do require some additional strength training in the gym to ensure I maintain a good balance of strength. However, you won't find me working the trap bar, doing heavy shoulder presses or even a lot of pushups. My experience has proven to me that my endurance, low body weight and lean muscle mass are the keys to getting an animal down.
As you dig into your winter training regime, build strength. However, don't go too far down that rabbit hole. Keep your body weight in check and make yourself into an endurance machine. You will suffer less in the hills, and I bet you will have more hunting opportunities to show for your diligence this winter. If you have a lot of body mass now, look at it as a multi-year effort to become leaner, lighter, and faster.
Click here to see one of McHale’s favorite workouts that can be done pretty much anywhere.