Tag Archives: preparation

Shaping Up for Bowhunting

Getting in Shape for Backcountry Hunting

To succeed with today’s trophy bucks you need to start hunting where other hunters stop. The best hunters I know have no physical limits. They can get go anywhere the animals go, and then get the animal out after the shot.

If you want to spend more time hunting and less time recovering, you’ll need to put a pack on and literally run to the hills long before the season opens.

I won’t get into any specific work-out regimens here; just know that your regular work-out should include donning a heavy pack and doing some vertical hiking. In addition to cardio, a little weight training will do wonders to strengthen your back, legs, and core.

Cardio Training

Cardio training—aka high-endurance aerobics—is the best thing you can do to prepare for backcountry hunting. If your heart and lungs are sluggish, it won’t matter how big your biceps or quads are. Your cardiovascular system is what delivers necessary oxygen and nutrients to your muscles.

Any cardio-type exercise will help prepare you for the mountains, but if you’re planning an extreme pack-in hunt, you’ll need to change things up a bit. A daily jaunt on the treadmill won’t be enough.

For backcountry hunts I recommend starting a high-endurance aerobic exercise regimen at least two months in advance. Running, biking, swimming, and hiking are all good activities. Do at least one of these activities three times a week for a minimum of one hour.

You should get your heart rate up to 60-65 percent of your maximum heart rate, and then keep it there for at least one hour. If your goal is to become an “extreme wilderness athlete,” you’ll need to bump your heart-rate up to 70-85 percent of maximum heart rate, and then keep it there for a minimum of two hours.

Note: To figure out your “theoretic” maximum heart rate, simply subtract your age from 220. For example, if you are 30 years old, then your maximum heart rate is 190. To reach 85% of maximum heart rate, you simply multiply 190 by .85 (161.5 beats per minute). The only way to monitor your heart rate is with a fitness tracker. I use the cheap and effective Amazfit Band 5 Activity Fitness Tracker found on Amazon.

Again, it all depends on your style of hunting. If you’re sitting in a tree stand or ambushing a water hole, then you can get away with some pretty low-intensity training. A little jogging or cycling around the block a couple times a week would suffice.

Strength Training

After cardio, leg training should be your top priority. Your legs are the powerhouse of hiking and packing.

Trail running on uneven ground is an ideal exercise for your legs. In addition to intense cardio, running on uneven ground also strengthens the lower legs and joints. Like every joint in the body, the knees and ankles are surrounded by a vast network of tendons and muscles. Strengthening and tightening these joints also helps you to avoid injuries in the backcountry.

Trail running has the added benefit of preparing your body for high-altitude conditioning and endurance. This is especially important for low-landers since everything becomes more difficult with altitude.

Note:  If you are out of shape, trail running can be a very arduous workout. At the very least, you should begin with trail hiking, and work up from there. You’ll still get many of the same benefits of running.

Back and Core Muscles

Heavy packing relies on both your legs and your back. Dead-weight lifting and squats are the two best ways to condition your back and core.

In addition to weight training, hiking while wearing a heavy pack will help strengthen your back and core muscles. Taking extended scouting trips into the mountains is a great way to train while scouting for animals.


There’s no way around it; backcountry bowhunting requires you to be an athlete. Proper training for the backcountry means taking on a three-prong approach starting with cardio, then leg training, and finally back and core.

How to Conquer Buck Fever


What is Buck Fever?

Buck fever is a state of panic brought on by an intense hunting situation, followed by a huge adrenaline surge. It’s basically your body’s fight-or-flight reaction. If you’ve never experienced buck fever, then you either haven’t seen a 200-inch buck up close or you’re just one cool customer.

For the rest of us, buck fever is a very real and formidable foe. It still haunts me today! When that long-awaited moment of truth comes, when that giant buck finally steps into the open, I feel like a little kid trembling in my boots. This intense excitement is why I love bowhunting so much. Unfortunately it’s also the reason I still miss shots on big bucks.

On my second archery hunt back in the nineties, I had a true monsterbuck step out broadside at 35 yards. Sure enough I came completely unglued and proceeded to send my arrow into the dirt at his feet.

Today’s bows are consistent tack drivers. Unfortunately we let ourselves get in it the way of their performance. The ultimate goal in archery is to eliminate yourself as a variable, and the best way to do that is through diligent practice.

How to Practice for Buck Fever

  • The most effective way I’ve found to practice for buck fever is by getting your heart rate up during practice sessions. You can do this by sprinting to and from your target. Start by shooting one arrow and then sprint to the target, pull the arrow, and sprint back. Shoot again and repeat. This will quickly get you’re your heart rate and breathing up. Do this exercise repeatedly until you are a huffing, puffing wreck. I’ll admit, this kind of practice isn’t very fun, but it’s the best way to prepare for buck fever.
  • Shooting competitively is another way to practice for buck fever. Every major city in the country has archery clubs and regular competitions. Shooting competitively and publicly puts the pressure on and ups the excitement level, especially when competing for money and prizes. Just like other adverse conditions practice, learning to shoot well under pressure is a valuable skill.
  • While hunting there are a few ways to cope with buck fever. First, try to slow your breathing. If you have time before the shot, take a few deep breaths and exhale slowly. Second, avoid getting tunnel vision. Tunnel vision is basically where you lose situational awareness because you’re hyper-focused on one thing, like the deer’s incredible rack. Instead, take a second to expand your view. Look around for any other deer that you might have missed. Whatever you do, don’t rush the shot. Most bowhunting scenarios play out slowly, and rushing things just causes mistakes.
  • When the shot finally comes together, put all your focus into following through. Hunters under pressure usually miss low because they “drop the bow” on the shot. Instead, focus on keeping your sight pin on target until the arrow hits. Keeping equal palm pressure across the bow’s grip also helps with follow through.
  • One more tip:  When a buck suddenly appears at close range, it’s common to misjudge the buck’s size amidst all the excitement. This can lead to shooting a buck you aren’t happy with. For this reason I refuse to pull an arrow until I’ve judged the buck and I’m sure he’s a shooter. Pulling an arrow creates momentum, and when you combine momentum with excitement it leads to smaller bucks, or worse, missing the big one.


These are the best methods I’ve found to practice and prepare for buck fever situations. Buck fever might be an incurable affliction, but it also means you’re passionate about hunting, and that’s a good thing.

Good luck out there!

Best Pre-Hunt Preparation: The 3D Archery Range

Preparing for the Hunt at the 3D Archery Range

With the Utah archery hunt just weeks away, it’s time to get serious about pre-hunt preparation. Over the years we’ve discussed several ways to prepare for the hunt; things like exercise, scouting, mediation, and shot execution. But nothing gets you ready for real-life hunting like the 3D archery range.

What is a 3D range?

A 3D range is simply a series of life-size, foam animal targets set up in a natural environment. The targets are roughly the same size and shape as real animals. Just like regular square targets, 3D targets have a series of concentric circles overlaying the vitals, but are nearly impossible to see at any distance. This aids in proper shot placement while allowing you to score your shot.

Fun for the whole family:
Russell and his son harvest some foam.

How is a 3D range beneficial?

How is it NOT!? A good outdoor range is set up in a life-like manner so that some shots are uphill or downhill, through brush and trees, and at various random yardages. Add to that odd angles, wind, bugs buzzing around your head, uneven terrain, sun in your eyes, back lit targets, and sweltering heat…well it’s a recipe for a real-life hunting experience! And that’s why it’s so crucial to try the 3D range at least once before the hunting season begins. It’s also a ton of fun for everyone.

Jerry missed high and right…

What can I expect to learn at the 3D range?

Right away you might be disappointed by your lack of shooting skills; and that’s the point. Most people start the summer by shooting on flat ground at square targets with bright bullseyes. That might be fine for sighting in your bow, but over time it does more harm than good. That’s because you’re training your mind to shoot under very predictable conditions.

The 3D range–on the other hand–mimics adverse conditions that you will certainly find in the woods, and therefore trains your mind to expect the unexpected, a skill that’ll prove invaluable afield.

Esther nails a 55 yard bison bullseye.

How can I maximize my 3D experience?

The most effective way I’ve found to maximize your 3D experienc e is to shoot two arrows per target. The first arrow should be shot  by estimating the distance without a rangefinder. The second arrow is shot after verifying the distance with a rangefinder. This method really helps rain your eye to judge distances for situations where there’s no time to range the animal before the shot.

You should also shoot from various body positions like standing, kneeling, or even squatting to keep your arrow from hitting an overhanging branch.

For the best possible experience, hit the range with a buddy or two, and be sure to keep score. After teaching archery for four years, I’ve found the best way to tighten up an arrow grouping is to engage in a little competition. Pride might be enough to ignite a fierce competition, but toss a few bucks in and watch the competition soar.

Splitting arrows on a wolf target.


No matter what city you live in, there’s likely a 3D range nearby.  If you don’t have access to a range, you can always purchase a few 3D targets from any outdoor retailer. 3D targets are quite expensive, but having one or two on hand will prove invaluable for your hunting skills.

I suggest visiting a few different ranges, and then concentrate on the most challenging one. For best results bring some friends and really push yourself. Shooting the 3D range is the most effective way I’ve found to improve shooting skills before entering the woods.

Hunting Checklist

My Hunting/Camping Checklist

I just got back from an impromptu deer scouting trip, and right away I’m inspired to share my personal “hunting checklist.” My wife and I were in a hurry to get out-of-town, so naturally we forgot several things. I won’t make this mistake during my actual hunt, believe me!

Since bowhunting deer is the most important thing I do each year, I’m very thorough in preparation. I’ve been compiling this list for more than twenty years and adding new new items each year.

Note:  Some items don’t apply for short trips, or every trip, but it is very important to have a checklist handy so you don’t forget anything.

Do I miss anything? Let me know.

hunting camping gear equipmentchecklist
Bowhunting and camping checklist


Pre-hunt Meditation


Pre-Hunt Meditation

Bowhunting success for general archery deer in Utah is about 20%. That’s about double what it was 20 years ago, mostly due to better equipment. Still, the average bowhunter is looking to harvest a deer only once every five years. That’s bleak!

Zenbowhunter.com is dedicated to raising those numbers for people looking to expand their outdoor knowledge and shooting skills.

Bowhunting success hinges upon five factors:

1. Luck: The truth is most big bucks are stumbled upon by chance, not skill. By improving your hunting skills, you also increase your luck.

2. Equipment: Having precision weaponry, optics, and gear certainly helps tightens your arrow groupings and reduces the chance of error. But it doesn’t contribute anything to actual hunting technique or woodscraft. These factors come through experience, scouting, and diligent study.

3. Technique: This is the actual hunting part: learning everything about your prey, then locating it, and finally executing a successful stalk. Humans are as much a part of nature as the deer are, so the goal is to reconnect with your natural predatory instincts and use it to your advantage.

4. Information: Learning your area through scouting, studying maps, and collecting data from your state’s wildlife division will help you pin-point deer concentrations, access, and what you can expect from your selected hunt area.

5. Expanding Consciousness through Meditation: I belioeve that this is what separates the consistently successful hunters from the rest. The “great unknown” is what Zen Hunting is all about; aka, turning the unknown into the known. You might call it “advanced hunting techniques” but it’s really just the process falling into the rhythm of nature, collecting data in the form of sign and clues, and following your natural predatory instincts. Zen meditation–whether formal or not–helps you achieve a higher state of awareness by expanding your consciousness.

Before entering the woods I begin to fall into a meditative state by focusing my energies on the upcoming hunt. I go about my work and other responsibilities in a seemingly normal way, but my real focus is  on the mountains. Phones ring, people talk, distractions arise, but nothing can assuage my focus.

Pre-hunt mediation can be a lot harder to achieve in this modern era, mainly due to constant distractions. Most people are just too busy and/or too distracted to relax and meditate. Between work, texts, emails, family, and the myriad of other responsibilities, we can’t seem to get in the zone.

Sure, we’re excited about the upcoming hunt, but we don’t really break free from the busy life until we pull out of the driveway and head for the hills. It will then take at least a few days of hard hunting to get into the rhythm of nature. By then, the hunt could be over!

Pre-hunt mediation might sound like a bunch of hippie-hogwash, but it has worked for me for many years. If you’ve stuck with me this far, then you’re in luck. I’m going to share a few techniques for getting into the rhythm of nature:

  • Spend some time in nature alone. Drive to the mountains and take a short hike. Spend some time sitting near water, trees, etc. Just sit and watch and listen. Take some photos. Taking pictures forces you to look for beauty in nature, which in turn helps you  connect with it.
  • Watch hunting videos and read hunting books and magazines. By observing how animals act and react to other hunters, it will help you prepare for similar encounters. It will also get you into the hunting mindset beforehand.
  • Study topo maps of your hunting area. Look at places you’ve had success before, and even places where you’ve failed. What are the differences? Can you find similar places on the map? Mark places where you’ve seen big bucks in the past. Deer are creatures of habit, so chances are there will be more there. Make a skeleton plan of your hunt; where will you be hunting on opening morning, and then where will you go from there?
  • Shoot daily. Even if you already shoot regularly, do it differently. Instead of just seeing your same old target, make up scenarios. Before you draw the bow, imagine a deer feeding along. Take a second to let the scenario play out. The deer is behind cover, it steps forward and looks the other way. Now shoot. On the next arrow imagine an elk, a bear, a rabbit, whatever. Just make it more realistic. Brain studies show that the subconscious mind has a hard time distinguishing between reality and make-believe. This exercise will put you into the hunter mindset. Plus it’s fun.

These are just a few of the methods I use to get into the spirit of hunting before I set foot in the woods. Establishing the hunter’s mindset ahead of time will contribute more to success than anything else you do.

The few hunters who have consistent success are the ones who don’t view bowhunting as a hobby or a sport, but a lifestyle. Make that commitment, set a goal, and view hunting a way of life. The numbers say your odds are 1-in-5, but you can beat the odds by putting  in a little extra effort. I truly believe that success in bowhunting is a decision, not luck.