A guest post by Pete in Alaska
So, you’ve saved and dreamed for years and done without, but… Finally… The planets aligned, you have a guide, purchased tickets, gear packed and you’re ready to go to Alaska for Kodiak, Caribou or Dall Sheep, maybe Africa for Kudo or Cape Buffalo, perhaps New Zealand for Targ, or some other equally remote and extreme environment for your dream hunt of a lifetime. All permits acquired, passport and medical records are in hand. You have your firearms and ammunition packed per airline regs and, if needed, to the requirements of the country to which you are going.
You’re ready to do 14 days on foot in the bush like you always wanted to do—Wait!!! What??? Fourteen days on foot? Really? You’re ready to do that? Oh, yeah you work out at the gym several times a week maybe run some, or even lift weights. However, if you think this is conditioning for such a hunt you may be about to spoil all your well laid plans and waste the hard-earned dollars you invested.
Your Dream Hunt: Alaskan Dall Sheep, up in the Wrangles/St. Alias Mountains
You are going to get dropped in an unnamed valley on an unnamed lake at 4,500 feet. You’re going to work your way to where the sheep are while hauling your gear, food, rifle, and ammo on your back. Perhaps, your trek will lead to altitudes of 10,000 feet in weather conditions that are far from predictable—in search of a full curl or better Dall Ram.
Yup, that’s the plan!
Let’s say you live under 1500 feet ASL, in an area that’s fairly flat in the East Coast Time Zone. The longest hunt you have been on was a week and you hunted off your Quads. You trailered the ATVs behind your 35-foot RV with a convenience store only 45 minutes away if you run out of ice or beer.
I am not disrespecting the RV hunt. It’s warm and dry, hot food and maybe a real shower every few days—all worthy perks. Being able to haul out your harvest on a Quad is wonderful. However, it in no way prepares you for a Dall Sheep hunt in Alaska that is 3,500 miles away; with a front door to base camp travel time of around 14 hours, 5 time zones and 8,500 feet of additional elevation. That scenario equates to much less oxygen to feed your starving, exhausted lungs and body.
You are expecting to start your climb into sheep country the next day? Wondering why your guide keeps looking at you out of the corner of his eye. You are wondering if the $10k you spent for this was a good idea… Altitude sickness, along with a host of other concerns that could occur and be life threatening or destroy your hunt, run through the back of your mind.
It is a fair bet you are in no condition for a hunt like this or even a hunt that is a shadow of this. You may very well have put your dream in the trash can by not spending a little time preparing your body and mind for this adventure, along with everything else. Even long-time Alaska hunters start getting ready for this kind of hunt in advance. They know it can easily be an 11 on a scale of 1 to 10—10 being “OMG, this is going to kill me.”
Getting to where the sheep are, finding your animal and getting a solid shot, while being oxygen deprived and after an uphill running sneak—that’s the easy part of your hunt! That’s when, the working part of the hunt starts and the clock is ticking. You have to get to your kill, often easier said than done hunting Dall, field dress it (possibly by flashlight) and pack it up and pack it out to base camp—on foot—in time to meet your scheduled return travel plans. Just to make it interesting, there are several other creatures who would gladly relieve you of this trophy too. Therefore, you have to keep an eye out for them as well.
If you have not prepped for this hunt, it will not end with good memories and you will not want to do it again. However, with just a little pre-hunt planning, training and conditioning will lay the groundwork for your hunt of a lifetime.
A Training Routine to Get You Ready for the Big Trip
Here are a few suggestions that may make your dream hunt have pleasant memories worth telling.
NOTE: Learn to stretch. Do so before doing any of the following. When hunting, stretch each morning too. Drink water, and learn what your pace is! OK . . . Here goes:
- Every morning start with 20 to 25 sit-ups and increase over several weeks until you can do at least three sets within 10 minutes. Jumping jacks, deep knee bends, side-to-side waist bends—same number, same set increase.
- If you’re going to be hunting at substantially higher elevations than where you live, even a 1,000 feet higher, invest in a high-altitude training mask. It will help train up your lungs and heart.
- Find a local quarter-mile track with bleachers. You don’t have to run; a fast steady walk is fine. Starting one hour each day, go around the track, up and down the bleachers twice and repeat until the hour is up. If you’re in OK-to-fair shape, you should be able to do about a mile and a half the first night. Oh, did I forget? Put on your hunting backpack with 10 pounds in it, increase by 5 pounds every seven days. In addition, get some 3- to 5-pound ankle weights, too. Top it off with a 4.5-foot 2-inch PVC tube. Be sure to cap one end and fill it with sand. It should weigh around 8.5 to 9 pounds (add water for more weight) and cap the other end. This is your training rifle. Carry it at port arms. In eight weeks, you will be far more ready to take on this hunt and enjoy it.
- In the week before you leave, start changing your daily time cycle to that of where you’re going—it’s all about acclimation.
- When training or on the hunt, eat six small meals per day and have a good breakfast. Eat a carbohydrate load in the evening and plan on burning a minimum of 2,000 to 2,500 calories each day.
- If possible, get an extra day or two at the front end of your hunt to rest and acclimate. Travel day one should take you 90 to 95% of the way with a good meal, hot shower and a good night’s sleep before heading to base camp on day two or three. The benefits of this break could be the difference between hunting or wasting several days in camp getting your act together.
The higher the physical demands of your hunt the harder you need to train. By “harder,” I mean how dedicated to your training you must be. Slacking off in your training will show up on the hunt. At the end of eight weeks, you will hunt with a lighter pack and carry a lighter rifle—both in your mind and perhaps in reality. You will make the climb and feel fine at the top, which is the point. I do this every year for hunting and ski season. It works only as well as you are willing to invest in it. Considering what you have already put into this dream hunt, (cash and time) don’t you think a little physical insurance is a no brainer?
Other Possible Positive Side Effects
Your significant other may be very pleased with the results too.