This is a wide-ranging topic that can mean different things to each of us, depending on our current level of fitness and our desires to stay active in our hunting pursuits. It not only affects our time in the field, but also our overall general well- being and relationships with the ones we love. In this article, I will cover some of the actions and methods I have used to keep me active in the field into my late 60s. This is my personal journey after many years of trial and error. Hopefully those of you reading this are willing to commit, research, learn, and streamline your overall fitness journey. Please understand that the aging hunter is probably never going to compete with their 20 to 30-year-old self. I believe with a clear vision of an active future, we can be formidable. Be willing and eager to do something physical every day!
It’s important to note that the following has worked for me, and I urge everyone to be diligent in their research. Find a trainer, gym, or program that consistently works with older clients. My experience training with younger trainers was they could not understand that many of us may have a variety of injuries that hinder or halt our progress. If reaggravated injuries or extreme joint pain takes you out of the game, all results will be forfeited. I’ve learned to slow each movement in the gym down and concentrate on the mind/ muscle connection. If a movement causes pain, stop! Do not try to power through. If you are new to this and feel more comfortable at home, you can start with a few barbells and 10-20 lb. kettlebells. The benefit of starting with a trainer or gym is that you will learn what a proper workout is. In the beginning, enjoy the stiffness of your muscles and try to tie that to the exercise you’ve been doing. It will confirm progress.
The last several years, my daily exercise routine has been rucking three to five miles every day. It is basically hiking with a pack on. I generally have 20 pounds in my pack until July and then I up it to 35 pounds through hunting season. Rucking allows you to burn significantly more calories and activate more muscle groups than you will during a brisk walk. As hunting season approaches, I work myself up to several 100-yard stretches of jogging with the pack for cardio. I usually break these rucks in half, with half in the morning and half in the evening.
The morning hike is a great warm-up for my daily weight training workout. I recommend gradually increasing your mileage before increasing your ruck weight. My weight training is very simple. I generally spend about 35-45 minutes a day in the gym, six days a week, doing both pull and push exercises. I use enough weight that two to three sets to near failure on six to seven exercises is enough. In addition, I also add 50 or more squat thrusts with a barbell. Squats activate about 50% of the muscles in the body. Pull-ups are a very important part of my workout. If you can’t do a pull-up, try dead hangs. Hang for 10 to 30 seconds three times and completely relax your spinal column. Do this every day to increase hand, shoulder, and forearm strength as well as improve your posture.
If you have access to a treadmill, try walking backward with the speed set at 1+ mph and the treadmill elevated at least 10 degrees. This is excellent for strengthening your knees and activating upper leg muscles. Only do this on a treadmill that has handrails for safety. You will be very unstable at first.
Sarcopenia is the natural process of muscle loss as we age starting at about age 40. We can help offset Sarcopenia by lifting heavy things and getting the proper amount of protein.
I have received wonderful results from some of the contemporary and sometimes controversial views and studies on the human diet. The standard American diet and guidelines are not helpful to the aging hunter. Controlling the quality of food we consume is just as important, if not more important, than the movement or exercise we get. You cannot out exercise a bad diet! When starting this journey, one of my trainers gave me a very strict and detailed diet to follow. This included eating five or six smaller meals throughout the day that were heavy on carbs with some vegetables and fruits, very moderate protein, and zero fat. During the first 30 days, I remember being constantly hungry, and at the end of the “bootcamp,” my weight had changed very little. They operated on a “calories in-calories out” philosophy for weight loss. This philosophy is fine for weight loss if one stays satiated. Calories from a bag of chips or a bagel are not the same as calories from protein and butter. You don’t stay satiated eating carbs and sugars. Hence, we’ve become accustomed to snacking whenever we want. You will need to understand and research that burning carbs for energy never allows our body to access the fat cells we are looking to remove.
Several years of yo-yoing, bloating, and generally not feeling great, I was ready to try something new in terms of food and nutrition. This is where I went down the rabbit hole of time-restricted eating or fasting and removing nearly all carbs from my diet. This is where the magic happened for me! After a lifetime of eating whenever I wanted, could I actually not buy those turnovers at the store like I had done countless times before? Could I actually go without eating for 12 hours, let alone 16-20? Could I only eat meat, bacon, eggs, butter, cheese, and animal fat? You bet I could!
I started eating one very large meal a day but found it too difficult to get enough calories to sustain my lifestyle. I extended my eating window to about five to six hours and two large meals. Feeling well-nourished and not stuffed, I decided to give this approach a go. The hardest part was fighting the carb/ sugar cravings. Some say sugar is as addictive as hard drugs. I don’t know about that; however, I do know sugar cravings are real. Results were so immediate and fantastic that not having pasta, tacos, or dessert became easier.
During this entire process, I had not changed my resistance training or rucking schedule. Of course, I was curious about the sustainability of my new lifestyle. I believe it is, and now I no longer even think about meal timing or what I’m going to eat. One of the best results come out of this is that my once hesitant wife is all on board. Having a partner is very rewarding, and there are no more cooking two meals issues. My weight has not fluctuated more than a pound or two for nearly a year. I currently have my first meal around noon or 1:00 p.m. consisting of four to five eggs scrambled with about a quarter stick of butter on top, several good-sized pieces of pork belly, fried but not crisp, or several pieces of bacon. The second meal at around 5:00 p.m. consists of 3/4 lb. of ground beef/elk/deer or two large pork chops or equivalent steak. We drain our ground beef and add 1/4 stick of high-quality butter. Wild game is cooked in beef tallow, lard, or bacon grease. We add some grated cheese or have cottage cheese, and several times a week, we will have homemade sauerkraut, avocado, or a fried vegetable. Our diet consists of about 98% red meat and healthy fats.
Starting this, I did hours and hours of research coming from a variety of physicians who have incredible results with their patients. I highly recommend you do the same. We all have to understand the “Standard American Diet” consisting of highly processed seed oils, highly processed carbs, sugars, chips, etc. is not friendly to our health and robs us of our longevity. I’m not interested in fads. I’m tremendously interested in extending my time in the field and being successful on each and every hunt.
Additionally, one topic we, the aging hunter, need to perfect is our marksmanship (rifle or archery). We need to be fit enough to get to the shot opportunity and finalize the deal. It breaks my heart to hear the “I missed” stories. We need to be 100% confident to make the shot, no matter the circumstances or distance. We have access to the very best in equipment and training like no other time in this golden age of hunting. Utilize them, become proficient, and capitalize on every opportunity.