WON Landing Page March 2022

The BiathlonTwins: Getting in Shape for Hunting at High Altitudes

Runnin’ and Gunnin’ with the (Barnes) Twins

Hunting season is rapidly approaching and it is time to get off the couch and stop watching reruns of people taking game and get out there and do it yourself. If you are planning a trip to the mountains this year, you might want to start thinking about how you are going to prevent “sucking wind,” or altitude sickness, when you arrive and start hunting. A lot of people ask us how we get in shape for hunting season and also if biathlon gets us in shape for hunting. We spend the entire year training to get in top physical shape to perform at an Olympic level. Our training for biathlon has significantly improved our hunting, not just in the physical aspect, but we can also confidently take tough shots with a really high heart rate. Now you don’t have to be an Olympian or do biathlon to get in great shape for hunting season, but you do have to put your time in – especially when considering an altitude hunt. If you do it right, you will not only be successful, but feel better as well … and it also might save your life if you get into a sticky situation.

Getting in shape for most people is like trying to lose weight; it’s not a lot of fun. But, the most important thing we’ve found and seen with other people is that if you find some form of physical exercise that you enjoy doing, you are more likely to do it and get in good shape. You don’t necessarily have to go by the book and lift x number of weights and run x number of miles. Be creative and follow these simple guidelines and you just might be well on your way to becoming a better hunter, regardless of whether you are hunting at a high altitude or at sea level.

Here’s … Lanny on last year’s elk hunt. She’s wearing Prois Hunting Apparel’s camo, which is perfectly suited to her athletic style of hunting. Photo courtesy of Tracy Barnes

Obviously, the better shape you are in, the better you’ll feel, but altitude affects everyone, regardless of shape. We all “suck wind” as we get higher and higher up in the mountains. So, depending upon the type of hunt you are doing and what you want to accomplish, you will want to adjust your exercise accordingly. The hills will get steeper and the air thinner, so doing fitness on hills or stairs will help to build your leg strength and cardiovascular fitness. Also, the more muscle mass you have, the more oxygen you’ll need to deliver to the muscles for them to operate. Building big muscles in the legs isn’t actually more beneficial, because you won’t have the oxygen to supply all those muscles at altitude and everything else in your body at the same time. Think lean instead of bulk.

Despite what you might read out there, cardiovascular training is going to help you much more than weight training. So if you are strained for time, pick a workout that works your heart and lungs and not just your muscles. If you aren’t a huge fan of running or walking hills, try a bike class, dance class, aerobics class, you can even do a team sport, like soccer. Be especially careful of injuries. Don’t just jump into a program, work into in and gradually increase your time, intensity, etc. You don’t want to be sitting out hunting season while someone else bags your buck.

One of the biggest things we think about is hydration. You’ll need to start several days before the trip drinking down lots of liquids so that you are hydrated. After your arrival, you’ll have to be good about staying hydrated. It’s usually really dry at all these high places, so drinking plenty of water is a must. Also make sure you are getting plenty of sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium. These wonderful things are what help the muscles to contract. If you are deficient in any of these, your muscles won’t perform the way they should. This could lead to muscle cramps, fatigue, soreness, etc.  Once at altitude, your body will be making adjustments and your metabolism will likely increase to account for these adjustments; it’s important to make sure you’re getting the fuel to get your body up those hills. The old idea was carbo load, but studies are finding you need a good balance of carbs, protein and good fats (omegas) that you find in fish, nuts, avocados and olive oil.

Hiking with a backpack is a wonderful way to ramp up the exercise training sessions. Photo courtesy of the Barnes twins

The last thing to consider is that you’ll also have to adjust how you climb those hills the first couple of days. If you can arrive a few days early and lay low to help your body acclimate without dragging it over miles of canyons and mountains, then your body will be able to make the adjustment quicker. If not, then just start out slow, get up a bit earlier to give yourself time to get where you have to get to. Also think about adding a little sugar and electrolytes to your water. Having those will help replenish your glycogen stores as your muscles burn them while hunting, as well as keep your muscles from fatiguing as fast. The most important thing to consider while hunting at altitude is to stay within your means and be realistic. If you spot a great animal several miles away, but aren’t in good enough shape to go after it, then don’t. But if you put in the work now, you might just be able to not only go after that animal you’ve been looking for, but you’ll have enough gas for the trip down and out of the mountains. Good luck and happy hunting.

Runnin’ and Gunnin’ with the Twins is sponsored by Advanced Technology International, manufacturer of gunstocks, shotgun accessories and bipods.