How to Get in Hunting Shape


Let’s face it —  hunting can be hard on a body.

Have you ever started to feel the strain on your body that opening day of hunting brings on? Have you felt the aches and pains after a long day climbing mountain trails for elk or pounding the prairie for grouse or pheasants?

For me, the answer to those questions is a resounding, yes!

I wish it wasn’t that way.

You have no idea how fast a herd of elk can explode in the opposite direction when they get a whiff of my liniment on the second day of the hunting season.

As to asking my hunting partners for a rub-down massage, it would go something like this: “Hey, Walleye, can you rub my aching back? (pause) I can go where?”

In search of ways to eliminate some of that suffering and find out why the first hunting trip always seems to take such a toll on my body, I decided to seek out one of the top physical therapists in Missoula and find some answers.

I contacted Samantha “Sam” Schoeneman, from Alpine Therapy, to see what she had to say about it.

She said, “Hunting is a multi-physically demanding sport, requiring intense cardiovascular capacity for hiking and scouting, high levels of power for lifting or maneuvering heavy loads, and specific grace and precision for approaching the game and hitting the target.”

She went on to say: “Because of these demands on the body, if proper maintenance and preparation of the hunter’s body are not performed, serious injury and impaired performance could occur.”


I always associated getting ready for hunting season with getting my rifle sighted in and following my hunter’s checklist to make sure I had all the things I needed to have a successful and enjoyable hunt.

The only time my body came into account was when I was packing something to put in the pack.

Maintenance and preparation? I asked Schoeneman how I could start to get my body in “Hunting Shape”.

“Mix it up, maximize your workouts by training in intervals,” Shoeneman said. “Often, you’ll hike hard for short periods of time throughout the day, taking breaks for scouting and calling. That is why intervals makes sense.”

She suggests working from 30 seconds to a minute doing high-intensity cardio exercises, like trail running or mountain biking. Follow this up at a lower intensity for the same amount of time.

For many hunters, trying to fit a workout on top of everything else might be little tough. That is why this idea is good because it shortens workout times while keying in on the specific demands required in the hills.

As your conditioning improves, shoot for a 2 to 1 ratio. Work hard for two minutes, followed by one minute at lower intensity.

But Sam, what if I am really pressed for time?

“Then make your workout functional,” she said. “Choose exercises that mimic your activity.” Thus the name functional exercise.

“The neat thing with these exercises is that they work important, multi-joint muscles,” Shoeneman said. “Start with squats, as they work the hips, thighs, and buttocks. Then do steps and lunges to key in on your quadriceps and hamstring muscles.”

She also suggested that you add dead lifts to your exercise routine, as it will help strengthen your back and build power in the body trunk and lower limbs.

“You might even throw on your loaded back pack and hit the gym’s stair stepper or climb the M to imitate a day in the woods,” said Shoeneman.

Getting and staying in shape is a must for improving your performance on your weekend hunting trips. It is also a vital step in reducing the chances of injury and fatigue.

If you have any questions about your conditioning program or have been hampered by problems in the past, you may benefit by getting extra assistance. Talk with your physical therapist or personal trainer about ways to customize your conditioning program. Don’t ask your hunting partners for back massages.


Bio:  Mark Ward, aka Captain Catchem, is a Missoula resident and radio broadcaster on KGVO. Listen in on his Montana Outdoor Radio Show on Saturday mornings. You can also read Mark’s columns on When he’s not knee-deep in a trout stream or perched in a tree stand, you can catch him blogging regularly for Make it Missoula, too.