I am going to start off by saying if you truly believe you do not need to train with your bow and work on physical fitness to improve your future hunts and overall quality of life, this is not for you.
Off-season conditioning for me is preparing myself for my future hunts. It’s working on my cardio, building my strength, shooting my bow, and walking with a pack on my back for hikes. It does not have to be long or even daily to make your next trip out in the woods more enjoyable. But the more you put in, the more you will get out of it. I will break it down into three things I do weekly, if not daily, to help myself become the best provider I can be for my family with a longbow in my hand. So let's begin with shooting your bow, as it’s the most fun for me.
No matter what type of archery equipment you have, shooting your bow at 20 yards all day every day is not going to really improve your accuracy. Adding the right things into the mix will go a long way, and it will be surprising how much less you will actually shoot (which is the sad part). Training with your bow starts with a perfectly matched bow and arrow combination that is going to deliver that arrow to your animal in the most efficient way possible. Assuming your bows are tuned, I will jump into the deep end with how I practice to make my shooting as effective as possible. For the most part I shoot only one arrow at a time, as I feel it helps me think about my entire shot sequence with every shot. I shoot one arrow, hang my bow up, evaluate my shot, and retrieve it. This allows me to lose a bad habit I may have created and I will begin fresh again. When hunting with a bow, one shot is all we get so make that one count. I group by using the previous holes I have left in the target. Another thing I will do in the “off season” is join leagues throughout the winter and shoot Vegas and 3D tournaments. This is one way of putting pressure on your shots, and shooting a Vegas round will help you see how long you can stay consistent and how well your sequence is holding up. 3D tournaments offer visual cues that you will pick up on the animals, and adding elevation between you and the target can make judging distance tough. It’s not the real thing, but it’s as close as we can get. One big thing about the tournament season is the friends you make; you can always learn something new from different people you meet. The final point about how I practice is by getting my heart rate up by doing sprints or body exercises like burpees, and then shooting one shot at all positions. Standing, kneeling, and sitting down all create different plains on your shot and you should learn to manipulate your longbow or compound at different positions.
Staying in shape and improving my overall fitness is another key to getting ready for the off season. This is something we need to make time for. It’s tough, I know, but it is something that needs to be done. "Last year’s pack out was miserable," "there was a bull that crossed a ridge line," "can I make it to the top?"—these are all things we have said to ourselves, and with some type of physical fitness regime we can make it a possible instead of an impossible. I am doing the Train To Hunt workouts and I am a believer in them. If a paid workout plan isn't for you, then make the time to go the gym. You do not have to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger or be a marathon runner, but it will not only make you stronger and less winded in the end, it will help you live longer and hunt for years to come. The stigma of hunters is not what it used to be, and the ones that do get in shape will be out further than you looking at what nature really has to offer. Big animals statistically do not hang out by the roads. If you want that big one, you are going to have to put one foot in front of the other and go after it. And still have the energy to skin, quarter, and pack it out. This is the time to improve, be better today instead of waiting for tomorrow, and do not be that hunter who says “what if” when the time is right.
With being in shape and finally getting your animal comes the fun (but sometimes painful) part. All loaded up with meat and on the way back to the truck can be a pain and feel like eternity if you have never used your pack before the hunt. Here is a simple yet effective plan I use. I start off with getting a pack properly suited for my trip with enough room for meat in it and really learn how to wear it. Packs need to be fitted right. If they aren't, it can cause permanent damage to your body that could take you out of the hunt for a long time, if not forever. Once you have a pack that is fitted to you, it's time to practice. I start off fairly light, with roughly 30 pounds, and walk 3 miles twice for the first week. For the next 3 weeks I only add 10 pounds to my pack per week and keep the mileage the same. I strive to stay around the same time as I did with my 30 pound pack throughout the weeks. Once I reach 60 pounds for 3 miles I add 1 mile and then start over with 30 lbs. The goal is to walk and only walk. Running with a pack on your back can and will cause damage to your spine and knees in the long run. Stay upright, keeping the weight on your hips and stretch it out! I will do this until I hit 15 miles with 60 pounds and keep roughly a 16-18 minute mile pace. By then, it's time to hit the woods. You're stronger, you're leaner, and you have pushed yourself harder than most. When you look back at the ridge line that once felt impossible, it will be a great feeling.
So that’s about it. There really is no off season! While all of this is going on, I am researching my upcoming trips and seeking out what God and Mother Nature have given us. Putting meat on the table is the end goal for all of us, but the sights and sounds we come across in between is something most people will only dream of.