Dreaming of that moment when you squeeze the trigger on the ram of your dreams? While this moment may be a month, or a year away, now is the time to begin preparing to make it happen.
Mountain hunting is a physical sport, but it's about more than being physically fit. Being mentally prepared can make the difference between a miserable camping trip and a successful hunt to remember forever.
The best place to start is to pull together quality gear and learn how to use it. From your boots, to your backpack, to your rifle or bow - learn it, use it, get proficient with it. It really doesn't matter what time of year it is, it's always better to prepare early than the alternative. Hike with your rifle/bow and a pack - figure out what's most comfortable for long distances. I won't tell you what kind of boots to wear - every person is different. They just need to fit well and offer ample ankle support.
Personally I use a large external frame pack because I can distribute the weight well between my shoulders and hips while allowing air flow behind my back. I also carry a rifle on a sling. Sometimes I will carry it in my hands, sometimes I will hook the sling into my SlingHook on my pack shoulder strap. I never pack my rifle away in my backpack - I don't plan to be lunch for a bear or mountain lion any time soon.
Getting fit is hugely important if you've never experienced a strenuous hunt before. Sometimes weightlifting and other strength training exercises are overlooked when thinking about backpack hunting. These workouts however can be extremely helpful to get a jump on things. If you strengthen your tendons, ligaments, and muscles, you will be less likely to injure yourself later. If you are doing it right, backcountry hunting will push you beyond what you thought your limits were and any areas of weakness will become apparent quickly. Why not learn your weaknesses before you head out on the hunt of a lifetime?
Strengthening your lower body with exercises such as leg press, squats, and lunges are excellent ways to help prepare your legs for the mountains. Cycling your workouts in 3-week segments between strength (high weight, low reps), muscle building/endurance (medium weight, high reps), and recovery (low weight-high reps) will give you strength, keep you from getting injured, and even increase your cardiovascular fitness.
Upper body strength is just as important as lower body strength for backcountry hunting. Exercises like bench press, dumbbell presses (incline and vertical), rows, curls and tricep extensions are all helpful. When it comes to balance, climbing or belly crawling, you'll be glad you worked on your upper body.
During these workouts, do not neglect your core. Core strength brings you balance and comfort when in rough and steep terrain, you don't know you need it until you're out there. Carrying a heavy pack across rough terrain is a whole body workout. Heavy packs are just as hard on the shoulders and lower back (core) as they are on the legs.
Honestly, any exercise is better than nothing, but total body workouts are best. When it comes to packing heavy loads over uneven terrain and long distances, you'll need strength and stamina. Often hunters prepare only by ramping up cardio workouts - but this will not help you when you don a heavy pack. You will be very uncomfortable and not able to go far between rests.
Whether preparing for a fall sheep, alpine deer, or elk hunt, with all the time and money invested, you don't want to find yourself unable to climb that last ridge to get a good shot, or even worse, to not be able to pack him out.
Get your body in shape - but focus on your head. Do practice hikes with your gear. Don't be afraid to put a load on your back. You do not want to be surprised that first time you put on a pack loaded with meat. Go for an overnight stay or make it a few day trip. Push yourself. If you don't push yourself, you will never know your limits. I can speak from personal experience, they are WAY further out there than you ever thought.
Mountain hunting is not only for the most elite athletes like some gear heads make you think. I know ten year olds and 75 year olds that have killed Dall sheep. I'm not the best looking babe in a bikini, but I can pack 90 pounds off a mountain without a problem. I know what it takes, I know what to expect. I don't get too worked up when things don't go the way I expect. And when I trip and fall, I pull myself up and keep going.
So get out there and get your body moving. For the mental side of things, just know that you can do it. Don't whine, don't say "I can't". Seriously, tell yourself you can do it. You will be amazed what you're capable of.
We'll see you on the mountain!