Get Mountain Ready for Elk Season

I reached full draw on one of the two bulls that had been bugling continuously during my 40-minute non-stop pursuit in pouring rain along steep, muddy Idaho slopes. Unfortunately, I missed the 6x6 completely. While I didn’t fill my tag, my body did everything I asked of it, which put me in a position where success was reachable.

Most elk hunting happens in terrain with two directions: up and down. Flatlander folks like me can’t hit the elk woods and expect to hunt it effectively without preparation. I’ve trained diligently before every elk hunt, and that has helped me maneuver into shooting range of elk many times despite unforgiving terrain and high elevations.

Your body is arguably your most important tool for an elk hunt. Do you want to be huffing, puffing and groaning under the weight of your pack two days in, or would you rather chase bulls day in and day out, incurring only subtle signs of wear and tear? To do the latter, here are some training tips you should consider before September.


Every human varies in skill, build and health. Some exercises we’ll discuss might not be suitable for you, and you shouldn’t do them without a doctor’s or certified personal trainer’s blessing. I’m simply covering key exercises that have helped me to hunt stronger.

Obviously, a certified personal trainer also can help you modify exercises, as necessary, or even help you develop a workout plan tailored toward your goals and limitations. Further, a certified trainer can teach you correct form. This will help you circumvent most injuries. Who wants to tear a muscle a month before an elk hunt? Not me.

A Rock-Solid Platform

Legs are your platform. Negotiating mountain terrain is difficult, especially when toting a meat-laden backpack. Further, the steeper the terrain, the quicker your legs will tire. Strong legs don’t make the going easy; they make the going possible day after day.

Squats aren’t my favorite, but they’re superior for platform building. While I’ve done squats with a barbell in a squat rack, I prefer to do jump squats for the endurance aspect. I jump from the lowest point of the squat for the best plyometric effect. I jump up onto a platform about 15-20 inches high, squat, and then jump back down and squat. I usually hold a weighted ball during this exercise.

Jogging on a treadmill at its full incline will also strengthen your legs. If you don’t have a gym membership but live near hills, consider loading your elk pack and then hiking or running up and down them. Focus really hard on your breathing rhythm, as this becomes especially important during the hunt with the addition of adrenaline.

Tighten Up Your Core

Visit the gym, and it’s apparent that many folks — guys, mostly — focus on arms and chest and forsake the core. Your core connects your legs to your upper body. A weak core can instigate poor posture. This will multiply with the addition of a heavy pack. Core strength helps you do everything better. Without it, you’re very susceptible to pain and injury.

Want to know how strong your core is? If your personal trainer permits, try a plank hold. You’ll know immediately if your core is strong or weak. If weak, your back will sag. If strong, keeping your back table-flat won’t feel impossible.

From basic sit-ups to plank holds to balancing the cat, dozens of exercises can target core strength. If possible, try to incorporate a mix of different core exercises with slightly different motions to maximize the benefits.

Build That Back

It’s a given that back muscles engage to draw a bow and shoot with impeccable execution and mechanics. They become even more important when hauling a heavy pack around the mountains for a week or longer. My favorite back exercises are the seated row and lat pulldown.

In the seated row, you pull a weighted cable with a row-grip attachment toward your chest, engaging the latissimus dorsi and rhomboids. Various other muscles will naturally tighten, but the back muscles do the lion’s share.

In the lat pulldown, using a wide-grip lat-pulldown bar attached to a cable machine, you pull the bar down with your back virtually upright — you’re lifting too much weight if you must lean back for more leverage. Pull the bar down until it touches your sternum, and focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together, which will help you use the correct muscles. Using your arms as the primary muscles means your form is skewed or that you’re lifting too heavy.


From burpees to treadmill running, cardio exercises improve endurance and augment lungpower — crucial attributes for elk hunting. Cardiovascular exercises elevate your heart rate, and in time, you’ll probably find that you can go farther and faster with less exhaustion. That’s endurance.

While a treadmill’s incline capability doesn’t match the mountains, it is good training, nonetheless. Running on a flat treadmill just won’t cut it. Like I said earlier, if you have hills nearby to run, that’ll set a more realistic stage. The point is to make your training difficult, because elk hunting is difficult.

Hunt Stronger

Finally, don’t forget to incorporate stretching into your workout schedule. This is an underutilized step that can make a big difference in your mobility and athleticism. Also, don’t overlook nutrition. Wilderness Athlete has you covered with numerous products that can fuel your body and enhance performance for fitness and elk hunting.

I train in order to feel better, look better and to take care of the body God gave me. Plus, I want to be a machine in the elk woods. Elk hunting is one of the most demanding and active bowhunts there is, and regular fitness training can make all the difference.

Now, it’s up to you to meet with a certified personal trainer who can help you develop a complete workout program specifically for your goals, body, health conditions and physical abilities. You’ll be glad that you did come September in the Rockies.


Mountain 1

No gym membership? Wear your pack and hike the hills. (Photo by Becca McDougal)