Bow hunter

Archers can strengthen their arm and back muscles by drawing their bows and holding back as long as possible.

Charles Johnson/Special to The Star

Several years ago, my wife mentioned to me I needed to get in shape. I replied that round is a shape.

While our definitions of shape were obviously different, I did understand the context to which she was referring. A few months later, my doctor said something about losing some weight.  I didn’t think it was possible for two women to be wrong about the same thing.

I did begin to cut back on certain foods, especially carbs. Whole grains, vegetables and lean meats became more of my go-to foods. I found myself spending more time reading product labels and less time in line at fast food joints. Slowly, a few pounds began to drop, and I did seem to have a little more energy.

As archery season approached, I set out a couple of targets and began to fling a few arrows. My bow appeared to be dragging. I could barely pull it back into shooting position. I had it checked and the cam axles lubricated. Nope, the bow was still tight. So, that left the problem with me — rather, my shooting muscles.

Fortunately, bow season was still about two months out, and I had time to build up some strength. I wanted make a smooth draw with little effort. I reduced the draw tension on my bow to below 60 pounds and began shooting a few arrows a day to rebuild my draw strength.

Inactivity and age can take their toll on a body. However, regular exercise can keep a body in shape. Whether chasing turkeys in the spring or dragging a buck in December, being in good physical condition can make hunting much more enjoyable.

A note of caution here: Before beginning any new diet or exercise routine, consult your doctor. 

Many hunters probably have been relaxing and sitting around over the summer. Some have picked up their bow and began archery practice for the upcoming season. However, most folks need a little more exercise and workouts to get in shape for hunting season.

“Get started by walking about five to 10 minutes a day,” said Lincoln resident Toni Harris, a licensed physical therapist assistant. “Start off slow and build up to longer walks. After a few days of walking, carry a backpack.”

There are many walking tracks around the area to begin your physical conditioning. Most tracks should have a sign that will let folks know the distance of each lap. Also, there are apps on smart phones that can keep track of the number of steps and distance walked.

Harris said low impact workouts on an elliptical machine or stationary bike are a good way to begin getting in shape. Also, a stair stepper or just climbing stairs are a good cardio workout. A stair climber or elliptical is better for the joints.

“Pushups against a wall or counter top is a good way to work the upper body,” said Harris. “Also, get in the pushup position and bring your knees to your chest.”

Another workout that can help hunters is extend both arms straight out parallel to the floor. Hold some type of weight in each hand. Try to hold both arms steady for at least thirty seconds to at least one minute. Try to increase your time each day.

Alternating workouts for upper body and legs can help to reduce soreness. Being sore is OK, but pain is not. If pain persists, stop the exercises and consult your doctor. Usually, the second day after a workout is probably when you’ll feel the most soreness.

After a couple of weeks, when you feel your body is ready to move on to other routines, lunges are great way to improve stability.

“With one foot forward, bend both knees, not over the toes,” said Harris. “Bend down then back up with feet together.”

As you progress wear the backpack again during this routine. Add some weight to your pack. Full water bottles, hand weights or even bags of cat litter can be used. Many hunters carry a tree stand and a backpack full gear on each hunting trip. The weighted pack helps build the back muscles.

Resistance bands are another tool to use for hunters to workout. The bands can be attached almost anywhere to begin conditioning arm and back muscles. Harris recommends hunters continue some of their exercise routines throughout the hunting season.

As your strength and stamina increase, hitting a hiking trail with a full pack will be a good test. Hunters in east Alabama are faced with steep hills and ridges. Getting in shape will prove beneficial in getting to and from the deer stand. Also, dragging out a buck will be a little easier.

A hunting tip from Melissa Bachman of Winchester is to practice shooting after a workout. This is more realistic to a hunting situation. Whether using a bow or rifle, the heavy breathing and increased heart rate will simulate what your body is going through when trying to make a shot.

As the season nears, hunters should put on the clothing, boots and gear they plan wear while hunting. A new pair of boots may need some break in time before opening day. Make sure outer clothing fits loose enough to allow for minimum resistance when moving.

“Remember to start off slow if you haven’t exercised in a while,” Harris said. “It is a good idea to continue workouts throughout the season. Usually three days a week should be enough to keep your body in shape.”

Before each outing, hunters should do some stretching exercises to loosen up their muscles. All athletes go through a warmup session to get loose and reduce the chance of an injury. Hunting can be strenuous at times and hunters should condition their bodies for the task.

There are a few good reasons to get in shape before hunting season — exercise can help improve your wellness and you will feel better.

Strength training in also important as we age. Adults loose around five to seven pounds of muscle every 10 years after age 20. Exercise and strength conditioning will help prevent muscles loose. And it may help rebuild some that has been lost.

Improving your physical condition can help meet the demands of hunting. Being in shape will allow hunters to be on stand longer without fatigue. And remain alert. Having muscles and joints in good condition help hunters overcome the stiffness of long periods in a stand.

Being fit can aid in making more accurate shots with bow or rifle. Muscles are not as tense and breathing is more relaxed. Also, being in shape you are less likely to get tired and bored while on stand.

You can fight off the urge to head back to camp early. And be in position when that buck appears.

Charles Johnson is the Star’s outdoor editor. You can reach Charles at