Talon Smith knows what hunters need to do to prepare for season. Whether you’re gearing up for a long autumn and winter chasing whitetail on your farmland or a guided hunt for elk in the Rockies, it’s important to be as fit as possible. Fit hunters cover more ground, more easily, with more energy put into the hunt itself. Smith is a Crossfit instructor at The Brick Gym in Fort Worth, Texas. A Navy corpsman whose unit specializes in surveillance and recon, Smith trains hunters to perform at their absolute peak in the field and shared some thoughts on that training with Hook & Barrel.
So when you hear this topic – getting in shape for hunting season – what’s the first place your mind went to?
I’ve got clients who go on very expensive hunts. They’re guided hunts, but they’re in Colorado, in the Rockies. So these guys are walking up hills, and they’re middle-aged men, between thirty and forty. They’ve been very successful, but they still needed a way to get in shape and prepare for these hunts, because their number one complaint was, “We weren’t an hour into the hunt, headed up the hill, and I’m having to break every few minutes because I can’t do that.” So after they were able to train with me, they were like, “This hunt is easy. Last year, everybody was waiting on me – this year, I was waiting on everybody else.”
The principles I use are Crossfit mixed with traditional strength and conditioning. It still holds true that you need to be prepared for anything and everything. Guys are paying $5,000 to go on guided hunts to hunt an elk in Colorado, and you can’t even get up the mountain or up a hill. And I look at it also as being prepared for the worst-case scenario. Say you’re on your hunt, and even if it’s not necessarily you, but let’s say your friend does something, you guys are ten miles away from the nearest base camp, he breaks his leg, an ATV can’t get there… how are you going to help your buddy out? What are you gonna do? You can’t just say “Sorry man, I’m gonna go get help and leave you.”
So in terms of movements, let’s talk strength first. What do you see as the most important strength movements for for a hunter preparing for season?
You’re looking at a deadlift. Lunges. Some squats, as well as core stability. Even some odd object carries. What you’re trying to focus on is building up that leg strength to take on steep mountains, or even moving through heavy brush. Doing lunges, doing squats is going to prepare you to keep moving through rough terrain.
The other portion would be deadlift for your lower back and core as well, just simply because you have to move with possibly a ruck on or if you’ve got to quarter out and carry out an elk, that’s a lot of stress on your lower back.
And for someone who may be training at home, what can they do for an odd object carry?
It might be as simple as going out and buying a bucket full of rocks. Or a thirty-pound bag of cat litter. Just carry that around. Something that’s going to force you to hold that weight in the frontal plane on your shoulder and move.
How about cardio? Strength alone won’t get you to the top of the hill. You’ve got to have a motor as well.
I think you can do cardio almost every day. It’s fine as long as you partition it right. You’ve got to have a day when you’re moving thirty minutes straight. If you’re a more advanced athlete, maybe try to get three or four miles in that thirty minutes. Maybe you run a hundred meters, walk a hundred meters, run a hundred meters, walk a hundred meters.
How about mobility? Which body parts generally need the most work?
We’re huge on mobility at our gym. One of our biggest things is that you have to move well before you move heavy. My biggest recommendation for mobility is an app called ROMWOD. They’re basically daily twenty to thirty minute stretching protocols. They’re great.
For me, the biggest thing is your hips. A lot of people have issues that stem from their hips or their ankles. That causes lower back pain. Everything is focused around your center of gravity. If your hips are tight, if you can’t externally rotate your legs, if you have poor internal rotation, if your hamstrings are tight at their origin… you’re going to experience a lot of back pain. So loosen up your hips, but go to a third party resource because it’s a lot to be able to throw to somebody. ROMWOD is great, or yoga apps. I’m a huge fan of yoga. If you can spend twenty minutes every day on mobility, you’re going to save injury in the field and in the gym.
How about your diet?
As Smith says, “A lot of people work out great but eat like trash.” Putting hard effort into workouts while fueling your body poorly is an excellent way to make sure that you’re not getting the results you’re looking for.
Smith recommends not starting off with the popular diets you hear about in magazines or the news (Paleo, Keto, etc.). “They serve a purpose, but you need to establish a healthy diet that you can maintain throughout your lifestyle,” he says. He recommends looking into what’s known as “flex” dieting, or giving yourself goals for protein, carbohydrates, fat, and calories, but allowing yourself to eat whatever you’d like as long as you hit those numbers.
As for diet in the field, Smith says that you want to find a balance between protein and carbs. A combination of beef jerky and some sort of grain-based snack bar, like KIND Bars, would do nicely. “And if you’re going out for long,” he adds, “Something like Gatorade. An electrolyte source, and make sure to eat and drink every hour.”