Going on an elk hunt for the first time was literally a dream come true. I grew up in the South, so elk hunting wasn’t even an option. The idea of chasing the big wapiti was absolutely surreal to me.
Then it all went wrong.
Way, way wrong. Why? Would you believe me if I told you it came down to nutrition?
I’ll never forget the feeling of knowing that my hunt was stunted on Day 1, and I was left wondering if I would even be able to finish.
Granted, I took all the advice I could get. I was drinking water. I had tried to get in better shape a few weeks out from the hunt.
The problem was that I didn’t start early enough. The bigger problem was that I had no idea how to eat properly while on an elk hunt. And there I sat, at over 12,000 feet, parked on a log with a massive headache and extreme nausea.
Here are four fundamentals that have honestly worked for me. And, I employ all four every day, on every hunt.
1. Drink Water
I know you know this. I know you’ve read it a million times, or you’ve heard other people who have been on an elk hunt talk about it. Your outfitter has preached to you about it. However, the brutal reality is that you must force yourself to drink far, far more water than you think you need.
Here’s a simple yet reliable test that has never failed in indicating whether or not I’ve been drinking enough water: if I’m not urinating about every hour during the hunt I’m under-hydrated.
2. Eat Protein
I had been told by a ton of elk hunters that you must eat well on a hunt. Here’s what nobody every told me: outfitters tend to feed you high carb diets! It’s just a cost thing. It protects their profit margins if they prepare meals like chili, spaghetti, pop tarts, etc.
One thing I’ve noticed is that there tends to be a ton of Man Cave snacks on an elk hunt. My brother, I can promise you this: Twizzlers and Doritos do not a make a meal, and yet you’ll find yourself eating them because they are fast and right there in front of you.
Looking back on it, my nutrition on an elk hunt is probably better than anything I eat on a normal, daily basis. In fact, I wish I had the daily discipline with food that I tend to have on an elk hunt.
Let me give you a fast contrast. As I said, every outfitter I’ve used in the past only offers high carb options. For about 3 years, I hosted a DIY elk hunt that accommodated 5 to 6 hunters (you can read more on that by clicking here). So, to keep costs down, I actually brought my mom along as the camp cook!
Guys loved her being around; I certainly love her being around, and she’s crazy dependable when it comes to whipping up great food.
Given that I hosted the elk hunt each year, I was able to control the nutrition. Therefore, we ate steak or chicken every night. And our side items were greens like grilled zucchini, asparagus, green beans, and other items more along the paleo concept.
For snacks we provided lots of peanut-based trail mixes, PB&J sandwiches, and fruit. Lots of fruit.
It was amazing to see how seasoned hunters that were experiencing their first elk hunt maintained stamina throughout the week, especially compared to what I’d seen in outfitter camps in my past.
3. Eat Often
I would encourage you to eat often on an elk hunt as that’s the aspect I’ve found works best for me. I find myself eating about every 2 hours because you’re out there from daylight to dark, especially if you’re on a DIY elk hunt. I tend to nap in the timber rather than hike back to camp for the day because I find that it just saves energy. So eat a lot, but eat right.
4. Drink Natural Protein
If you take anything away from this post, I pray that you grasp the importance of what I’m about to share with you because I learned this little trick from a fitness gym owner who was my cameraman in New Mexico years ago. All I can tell you is that it totally changed everything for me in terms of endurance on a week long elk hunt at high altitude.
David was and is a good friend, and he stays in crazy good shape for an endurance athlete. He brought along all natural protein shake powder, and I asked him “Why?”
He said, “We’re drinking 2 scoops of this with 10oz of water each night literally before we climb into our tents – watch and see what it does!”
The key was all natural. Many protein shakes have ingredients in them that are for energy boosts, etc. You don’t want that. You want to pay the extra money for the truly good stuff.
David went on to explain to me that because the lack of oxygen at high altitudes, combined with the climbing and total body workout you’re getting, your body is truly taxed in ways you’re normally not accustomed to (amen). He explained that natural protein shakes, taken before bed, give your body time to restore muscle mass as well as repair your body during sleep.
All I can say is that I don’t have the words to describe how much better I felt on that elk hunt in comparison to all the other elk hunt excursions I’d been on in the past.
Sam was an older fella in terms of who you’d normally see in an elk camp. Probably 60 years old at the time. Super nice guy. He was a returning client of the outfitter we were using.
The year before Sam almost died, no joke, when on an elk hunt with that outfitter. He told me all about it. I actually spoke with the outfitter about it, too, and he said that Sam would not hydrate much at all, and he just ate his normal diet. Everyone in camp did everything they could to press him on hydration and better nutrition beyond sandwiches and Doritos.
On day 3, Sam collapsed. Unconscious. At 11,500 feet.
His guide grabbed the satellite phone and called in a helicopter from Search & Rescue. Sam spent the next 4 days in a hospital in Albuquerque. The cause: dehydration and malnutrition. His body gave out … as if all of this is some big joke. It can be life and death, but it should never be that at all.
The elk hunt was ruined for both him and his son-in-law, not to mention all the extra medical bills that came along with his stubbornness.
Needless to say, when I met Sam, he was a different man. He came to camp in better physical shape. Sam was drinking a ton of water daily, eating better, and having a much better time obviously.
On day 3 Sam mentioned that he was not going to hunt that evening because he just wanted to pace himself. Nothing was wrong, he just was thinking about the entire hunt and wanted to endure it well.
I saw him just before we were leaving for the evening hunt, and I’ll never forget it. I said, “Hey Sam, let me fix you an all natural protein shake. I drink them every night right at bedtime. Nothing but good stuff in the powder. It’ll restore your muscle mass.”
I got back that evening at dark, and Sam walked right up to me and said, “Jason, I don’t know what was in that, but I went to nap at 11:30 after lunch and was hoping to sleep until about 3pm. I woke up at 1:30 and felt like I was 18 years old. I felt good. My mind was clear. Body felt great. What was in that thing?”
I let him know it was just protein pretty much, no weird junk. The reality was, Sam was engaging proper nutrition with great, healthy supplements.
An elk hunt is supposed to be fun, and it is fun. Never forget, however, that it’s hard work.
Keep your body in mind and ever present in how you operate on the hunt. Do that, and you’ll do great.