The Single Best Exercise for Hunters

Training for the 2021 hunting seasons can look very different for everyone. If you’re bowhunting elk in the west, you’re going to need to be in way better shape than the rifle hunter in the east.

However, no matter who you are or what you hunt, being in better shape can open up more opportunities for you or just make things more enjoyable. You’ll be able to hike further, especially in public lands, or you’ll be able to get your harvest out of the woods easier, especially in areas where you can’t take vehicles in. 

So what’s the best exercise one can do to get started?

Rucking. 

If you’re not familiar with rucking, it’s basically just walking with a weighted backpack. 

Militaries all over the world use rucking to get troops in shape, and there is a good reason for that. Rucking improves your cardio and strength at the same time while being less stressful on the joints than running. 

This means it’s perfect for everyone from the person just starting out to the super fit.

When you run, the force of impact on your joints is around 7-12 times your body weight every stride. So a 200 pound man will place 1,400 to 2,400 pounds of force with each stride. This is one reason running has a high injury rate. 

With rucking, it’s only 2-3 times your bodyweight with each stride, plus the weight of your backpack. So the 200 pound man with a 50 pound rucksack will place 500-750 pounds of force on their joints with each step. At the high end, it’s half the force of running with a very heavy rucksack, but the average is that running places about 3 times the force on your knees and joints. 

If you need to lose weight, rucking burns more calories than walking and almost as many as running. 

Other benefits of rucking include getting outside, which has been shown to decrease stress, decrease depression, increase creativity, boost the immune system and a host of other benefits. Rucking can be social, and some research shows that movement and exercise help people bond together and make things more fun. 

If you’re a lifter and worried about cardio “killing your gains” in the gym, rucking is low-intensity conditioning for the body. If you do it right and start slow, these workouts will improve your recovery and allow you to push harder in the gym while not taking away from your workouts (except maybe the first week or so). 

You can also use your ruck sessions for some scounting. Maybe you’re checking game cameras or just

Finally, maybe you’re not a hunter, but you like being prepared for when “shit hits the fan.”  Rucking is training if you ever have to carry a bug-out bag to “get out of dodge.” Theodore Roosevelt and JFK thought that every man should be able to walk 50 miles in 20 hours, doing it with a bag is even better. 

So how do you get started? 

All you need is a place to walk or hike and a backpack. 

At some point, you’ll want an actual “rucksack” or a backpacking backpack (I have Stone Glacier), but starting out, just a regular backpack you have laying around will do. 

Everyone’s first thought will be to throw 50 pounds in the bag, DON’T do that. Just like with weight lifting, you want to build up to that over time so you don’t injure yourself. 

So how much weight to get started?

10% of your body weight. Using our 200 pound man, that’s 20 pounds. If you’re 150 pounds, it’s 15 pounds. It doesn’t have to be exact, close enough is fine. 

What should you use for weights?

Depending on how much weight you need, when just starting out, a few books and two large water bottles might be enough. 

But you can use some weight plates, dumbbells, sandbags, bricks, a weight vest, or some rocks. They make weights for rucking that you can get on Amazon or visit GoRuck.

Each week, try to add 5 pounds until you reach 35-50 pounds. You don’t need to go above 50 pounds for training unless you’re training for the military (not the scope of this article). 

Starting out, aim for about 30 minutes of rucking. That’s going to be 1-1.5 miles for most people. Keep it to about 30 minutes, or a short trail, until you hit your goal rucksack weight. Then you can start increasing time/distance. 

While you can go rucking everyday, starting out you should shoot for 1-2 times per week. As you get in better shape, you can increase how often you ruck. 

A 12 week program would look like this for our 200 pound man example:

  • Week 1: 20lbs pack for 30 minutes
  • Week 2: 25lbs pack for 30 minutes
  • Week 4: 30lbs pack for 30 minutes
  • Week 5: 35lbs pack for 30 minutes
  • Week 6: 40lbs pack for 30 minutes
  • Week 7: 45lbs pack for 30 minutes
  • prWeek 8: 50lbs pack for 30 minutes
  • Week 9: 50lbs pack for 35-40 minutes
  • Week 10: 50lbs pack for 40-45 minutes
  • Week 11: 50lbs pack for 45-50 minutes
  • Week 12: 50lbs pack for 50-55 minutes

If you’re going for that 35 pound weight goal instead of 50, you’ll probably get there sooner than week 8. In that case, start increasing time/distance sooner.

You can keep increasing time each week until you reach a point where you don’t have anymore time to dedicate to rucking. Or maybe you can only go 1+ hours once a week, then read below.

If you don’t have time to get out for hour long hikes all the time, try keeping the time the same but increasing your pace so you cover more ground. So, if max you have is 45 minutes, find your baseline pace (use an app like AllTrails or OnX). Say it’s 30 minutes per mile with your pack. Try to reduce that to 28-29 minutes per mile the next week. You can keep doing this until you hit a pace that you know you can’t go any faster.

At the time this is being posted, we’re only 16 weeks away from the start of elk archery season in PA and 20 weeks away from the whitetail opener. So there isn’t a lot of time to be wasted if you want to be ready this fall. 

Following the above program is a good start. You might be able to go faster or need to slow things down depending on your current fitness level and joint health. If you want to really dialed in for this season will take a little more effort. If you really want to be ready, click below and sign up for a free 10-minute coaching call to see if you’re a good fit for our program.

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