May 26, 2021
Editor’s note: This article is featured in the Midwest edition of June-July’s Game & Fish Magazine. Learn how to subscribe
I like food. I like beer. And exercising isn’t really my thing. Easily 30 pounds overweight, I knew I had a lot to do to get ready for my first elk hunt in the Bitterroot Mountains of Idaho.
At 33 years old, I was in the worst shape of my life and heading to one of the most extreme mountainous areas in the continental U.S. with my father, who is twice my age, and several friends.
I didn’t want my physical condition to hinder our hunt in any way, so I dedicated myself to a strict yet manageable plan and got in shape without overdoing it. My preparation made the difference between an enjoyable hunt and a hellish experience.
As a firefighter, I eat as most firefighters do: Bacon and eggs in the morning and a heaping serving for dinner. I knew that had to change, so I went to the Internet to find help and was bombarded with shortcuts to losing weight.
If you’re serious about getting in shape, there are no shortcuts. After shedding 28 pounds over the course of three months, my three biggest takeaways were:
- Water is great for you; drink lots of it
- Sugar is your enemy
- Food is energy, not a luxury
The most important change to my diet was lowering my sugar intake. Sugar is in everything from bread to salad dressing. Also, eating a lot of food at once slows your metabolism. Eating smaller meals helps keep your glucose in check and allows your body to become a fat-burning machine.
It was explained to me like this: Say you’re in a car traveling on a level surface behind a dump truck loaded with dirt. If some dirt blows off the top of the load or the truck drops a little at a time, your vehicle just goes over it and you move forward at the same speed. However, if it were to drop a bunch of dirt at once, it would slow your momentum tremendously.
In order for your body to burn food more efficiently, you need to stretch out your food consumption throughout the day. Small amounts at a time keeps your glucose levels low and allows your body to burn both stored energy (fat) and the energy from the food you’re eating.
Here is where most writers or influencers attached to the various outdoor fitness brands will tell you about online programs or supplements that will change your life. I don’t buy into products or miracle pills, just hard work. My workout was extremely simple but very effective, and only changed slightly over the course of 12 weeks.
I just walked. I would walk 2 to 3 miles a day three to five days a week and got my body into a new routine without causing it to think it was going to be too difficult.
I began rucking. Rucking is simply walking with weight on your back. For these four weeks I would ruck with 20 to 30 pounds on my back every other day for 3 to 5 miles. If you have young children, get yourself a child carrier and take them with you. I got the Thule Sapling Elite, and it was comfortable for both my 3-year-old and me. On days that my son did not join me, I used my hunting pack and filled it with books to keep the weight up.
I continued rucking but added some more weight on days when I walked without my son on my back. I went from rucking every other day to rucking daily, and made sure my walk had plenty of hills. On days that I was working at the firehouse, I did this on the treadmill and inclined the treadmill over 12 percent. I continued to do 3 to 5 miles daily with roughly 40 pounds on my back.
In my final two weeks, I loaded my pack with all the stuff I was going to carry on the hunt—everything from a full water bladder to my toothbrush. I rucked a minimum of 5 miles daily and made sure my route had plenty of inclines and declines.
After three months, I was down 28 pounds and had come to enjoy the difficulties of the ruck. I never lifted weights, I never did any box jumps or battle ropes. I didn’t run or do any cardio. Changing my habits, cutting sugar, drinking more water and rucking daily prepared me physically for the trip. Mental stamina came from within. Although there were days that it took us six hours to cover 2 miles of rugged, mountainous terrain while battling the smoke from nearby wildfires, I was determined.
I don’t mean to make this sound like a walk in the park, but everything I read prior to starting made me think I needed to do far more. My routine was enough because I was dedicated. Our first spike camp was 5 miles from base camp. Five miles in Pennsylvania is far different than 5 miles in the Bitterroots, especially with all of your food and gear on your back. With determination, you’ll be ready to conquer the mountains this fall.