In order to prepare for elk hunting, you’re going to have to train more pre-hunt than you have for any other hunt. I’ve been told by those who hunt high country rams that sheep hunting is even worse, but it can’t be much worse than chasing elk at 13,000 feet. Been there. Done that. Got altitude sickness.
In fact, I thought I was in decent shape to go on my first elk hunt, and honestly, I was in decent shape for daily life, but I was in no way ready for an elk hunt.
The first day, when I had massive headaches and extreme fatigue, I realized that I should have done more to prepare.
What I’m about to tell you are some keys to what I do personally. It’s not rocket science, but there’s a science to it.
Start Getting In Shape At Least 10 Weeks Prior to Prepare for Elk Hunting
In fact, you’d be better off the further out you can go to get ready. [more on that if you want to click here about DIY elk hunting]
The brutal reality is that unless you live in high altitudes, you really won’t get your lungs ready for that type of cardiovascular shock. What you can do, however, is get your cardio built up for the heavy load demanded by thin air.
Work Hard On Strengthening Your Legs
Your legs are your horse. Exercises like walking lunges are magnificent for strengthening your quads and calves. Remember: you’re going to be toting a gun and a pack … in high altitude … and steep terrain. Your legs must be stronger, way, way stronger, than normal.
Talk With Your Outfitter
A good outfitter will be ahead of you on this, but you’d be surprised at how many outfitters are just not on top of it when it comes to instructing beginners to prepare for elk hunting. They don’t think about it because they do it all the time. You do it once in a lifetime, or a few times in your hunting journey, so outfitters just carry a different mindset.
Ask the outfitter about the terrain you’ll be hunting. Ask about what the “normal” day looks like in his opinion? Ask him about the overall steepness of the terrain you’ll encounter. Don’t be afraid to quiz him, after all, you’re paying him. He works for you now. So don’t be shy.
Long Walks In Your Pack And Boots Matter.
Before I go elk hunting, especially in the last 30 days leading up to the hunt, I’ll take 45 minute, fast walks in my neighborhood with my boots and pack. It’s more than just a cardio workout.
There’s two key reasons you want to walk in your boots and pack.
One is to break your boots in.
I cannot stress this enough: prepare and take 2 pair of boots on the hunt. Your feet will love you for it. After a few days in the same boots your feet will be really, really sore from wearing on the same spots having to climb steep terrain that goes with the territory of elk hunting. I promise you, it’ll blow your mind at how much of a difference it makes to swap boots every day
The other reason you want to walk in your pack is that it prepares your shoulders and back for carrying a pack. This is something so many people never think of because preparing your back is just not really on your radar.
Unless you’re a hardcore backpacker or back country hiker, your back and shoulders aren’t ready for that sort of abuse. A 20 pound pack may not sound like much, but toss in thin air and 4 days of extreme hiking and it’ll feel like concrete!
I always throw in some sort of weight into my pack, and try and get that to 20lbs or so. It’ll do wonders for preparing your body for the load of a pack.
If Your Outfitter Uses Horses: BEWARE
This is why you have to communicate so well with outfitters.
I had a great friend of mine who went on an elk hunt once that demanded he ride a horse into base camp. He said it was nothing short of awesome riding the horse through the high country.
That is, until the next day.
He said he literally could not walk. Which meant he could not hunt. His inner-thighs were so sore from gripping that saddle that he couldn’t walk at all. Can you imagine the disappointment?!
The next Fall he went back, and about 30 days prior to the hunt, he found a friend of a friend who would let him ride a horse around a pasture one day a week. He said the different was stunning in terms of how his body was ready for the riding trip.
I would make sure that you have no cotton in your gear system. There’s an axiom that outfitters and dedicated elk hunters use out west and it goes like this, “Cotton will get you killed.”
It’s true. Cotton holds zero heat once wet, and wet comes more likely from sweat than rain. When cotton gets wet, you’re going to chafe.
I own no cotton hunting gear; not for elk hunting, duck hunting, or any hunting. Synthetic gear is the only way to go. Think about it: if it’s cotton it takes forever to dry out and you can’t wear it the next day if you had to do so. Stay synthetic. You’ll never regret it.
Hydrate For Elk Hunting About One Week Out.
Near the T-minus 7 day mark, I’ll start pounding water and eating more protein. My goal is to be incredibly hydrated to prepare for elk hunting and stay that way until the hunt is done.
As I’ve said in the previous elk hunting blogs, elk hunting is nothing short of amazing; but, the average hunter, myself included, doesn’t do it every year. So, just stay ahead of the game and you’ll be in great shape for the hunt of a lifetime.