Endurance Training for Application Part 1: Backcountry Bowhunting

Endurance sports and backcountry enthusiast Bradley Taylor shows us how training for bowhunting looks a lot more like Ironman training.

Endurance sports and backcountry enthusiast Bradely Taylor shows us how training for bowhunting looks a lot more like ironman training.

When we think of endurance sports training, we picture someone putting in hours of work in preparation for a large race: a marathon, triathlon, maybe even an ultra marathon. But for some athletes out there, the benefits of structured endurance training can stretch well beyond the sport itself, and the end goal isn’t always a finisher’s medal. 

This concept of gaining fitness to apply towards another purpose is nothing new. For example, according to Joe Finn, archivist at the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame and Museum, the sport of lacrosse was an integral part of the Native American culture. The physical demands of the sport increased their agility and stamina. It was played to prepare them for war.

In this three part series, Endurance Training for Application, we are going to partner with experts in various fields to take a look at how endurance training can be applied to activities outside the world of traditional sports. 

In part one, we are going to turn it over to backcountry bowhunting and endurance coach Bradley Taylor, (Backcountrycardio.com) to give us a glimpse into a new subculture of endurance sports training that has emerged with a similar fitness for application approach.

Bradley Taylor, take it away…

Backcountry bowhunting 

Whether you support or detest it, the art of hunting in its purest form is ingrained in our DNA, dating back to the beginnings of mankind. But unlike those early days, hunting is now a highly regulated activity. Laws are in place across the country to maintain a safe environment for humans and to protect and manage animal populations.

In recent years, a particular form of hunting, backcountry bowhunting, has seen some mainstream attention thanks to celebrity athletes such as Cameron Haines and Joe Rogan. It’s more than a hobby. It’s a lifestyle, and these hunter’s are changing the way the sport is perceived. They are demonstrating that not only is it an incredibly challenging sport, it is one that requires substantial commitment and training. 

The bowhunting “course” 

The location for this sport is set deep in the backcountry of large forest preserves, away from roads and trails. The remote nature requires participants to hike tens of miles to the hunting grounds. Once they get there, they must track and hike additional miles, ascending thousands of feet in elevation, with packs weighing upwards of 40+ pounds on their back. This doesn’t even include the hundreds of pounds of elk or game harvested, which must be carried on foot across the same treacherous terrain back out.

Imagine doing step-ups on a wood box in a gym with a weight vest for several hours. That is what hiking through an area on a mountain with down timber can be compared to. 

Fitness demands that rival pro athletes

Having a strong cardiovascular system is of the utmost importance. Bowhunters must be in peak physical condition and as fuel-efficient as possible. They must train their bodies to be able to sustain consistent moderate exertion for eight to 10 hours a day, for multiple days. In practice, this means building up the body’s ability to use fat oxidation as a primary fuel source vs. glycogen. Much like long course triathletes, runners and cyclists, most bowhunters take the 80/20 approach: large amounts of low zone training mixed with some high intensity work. 

While Cameron Haines is a highly decorated and accomplished ultra marathon runner, those accolades achieved over the years are a byproduct of his primary objective: developing a super human aerobic base for long backcountry hunting excursions. His training regimen famously includes running a full marathon every day for several weeks in preparation for upcoming elk hunts.

Cross training is also a beneficial practice for bowhunters, including a mix of running, cycling and strength training. Cycling in particular is important for building leg strength for those near-vertical climbs encountered from ridge to ridge. 

Fueling beyond candy bars and coffee

Proper fueling for backcountry bowhunting excursions is essential and today, these hunters are using science and parallel sports for inspiration, looking to top pedigree athletes like Tom Brady for guidance on diet and fitness routines. 

Fueling strategies are now a staple, much like you would find in more traditional endurance sports. Monitoring macro and micro nutrients in their daily diets as well as managing “on course” nutrition is key. They must determine the proper ratio to effectively fuel over the course of an eight to 10 day mountain hike, keeping in mind they have to carry every ounce they bring in. 

Hydration is a critical component. Hunters sweat, so electrolytes are essential to replenish output and avoid cramping. Loss of function/mobility can be extremely dangerous in the backcountry. Staying well hydrated at high attitudes is also critical. At higher elevations, one can dehydrate for a number of reasons: sweat evaporates more quickly, water is lost through respiration (breathing in out and faster and more deeply) and from frequent urination.

The new sub-culture

An Ironman triathlete would make the best ‘mountain athlete.’ Each one of the disciplines that an Ironman must excel in has a direct relationship with backcountry hunting. Whether it is core strength that swimming provides, leg strength that cycling requires, or just covering mile after mile that is running, it all helps you become a better athlete in the mountains, and that is why backcountry bowhunters are starting to train like athletes.

Bradley Taylor is the founder and head coach at BackCountryCardio.com. When he’s not with his wife, kids and crazy GSP, he can be found running mile after mile or chasing elk in the backcountry.