How To Get Into Elk Shape

Deadfalls encompass the mountains where we’ve made camp. Morning dew has turned to frost and lines the inside of our tent. Chris is the only human I’ve seen for the past five days. We’ve woken up late this morning. We’re exhausted. Four days of chasing screaming bull elk up and down mountains has finally caught up to us. Four days of deadfalls, scaling mountainsides, hiking up to go right back down, going down to hike right back up, and all the while we have 15-20 pound packs on our backs We’re pushing ourselves to the limit. We’ve trained for this, but there is nothing like the real thing.

Chris Nolan… Looking Hardcore Bro!

Being from Michigan I knew hunting in the mountains of Montana was going to physically take a toll on my body. I typically work out three to four times a week, but this was going to be different. I started to train months in advance in order to keep up with my buddy, Chris, who lives in Bozeman, MT. He was doing his own mountain hiking to prep for the upcoming elk season. I didn’t have mountains out my front door to train on like him. I knew I had to push myself to train better and farther than I ever had.

The main challenges us eastern guys have to account for when hunting out west are altitude, excursion, and nutrition. The sooner you start preparing for your western hunt the better your experience will be. I can only tell you how I trained and how I faired on a five day hunt. The main obstacle I didn’t account for was the amount of deadfalls everywhere. Hopefully you have an idea of the terrain you’ll encounter.


Timeline/Weekly Schedule

During April, May, and June I was basically weight training. I would lift Monday, Wednesday, Friday and run two miles on Tuesday and Thursday. Saturdays I might run, but typically didn’t have time and Sunday was always a day of rest. I’m not going to lay out my actual lifts, but a general rule I live by is four different work outs per muscle group, each work out consists of 3 sets of 10 repetitions.

  • Monday – Chest, triceps, abs
  • Wednesday – Back, biceps, obliques
  • Friday – Legs, shoulders, abs

During July, August, and September I started focusing a lot more on hiking and running. I didn’t want to lose my muscle gains so I flipped my weekly schedule around. I would hike or run on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday while lifting on Tuesday and Thursday. I highly recommend keeping leg day every week and doing the other workouts biweekly.


Squats, lunges, stairs… when you think you’ve done enough, do more. I cannot stress this enough! Core is pretty darn important, but get those legs in shape. Squats are great but don’t focus so much on the amount of weight. When your hiking up a mountain, being able to squat 400 pounds 5 times isn’t going to help you as much as if you squatted 200 pounds 20 times. Think endurance and not so much brute strength. Never skip leg day. I have changed my weekly routine for this year which makes legs the first workout of the week. My thoughts are if I fail to get to the gym again the rest of the week, at least I got a leg day in.


First, get your boots well in advance and get them broke in. I recommend a boot with good ankle support. Next, you really need to find somewhere to hike that has hilly terrain. Terrain that mimics the slopes you’ll encounter on a mountain is ideal but can be tough to find. I look for trails along rivers or streams. Most rivers have cut there way through the land leaving high banks and low banks that make for excellent hiking.

To start off you might want to hike without a pack on the first day. Find some sort of route and map out the distance. The rate in which you add weight to your pack and increase distance is up to you. I started my first hike off by doing three miles with 20 pounds in my pack. Words don’t explain how sore I was for the next two days. Parts of my body that I didn’t even know had muscles were incredibly sore. So, main advice here is to start light. Once you have worked your way up to hiking four to six miles with 30 pounds in your pack, you are well on your way to really getting some serious weight on your back. By the time I left for my elk hunt in mid September, I was hiking four miles with 60 pounds in my pack.


I held up just fine on the hunt. At first I’d be absolutely sucking wind and my buddy Chris would just laugh at me. Camping in the mountains means we hiked all that gear in which was among the toughest parts of the hunt because I wasn’t used to the altitude. By day three of the hunt I was holding my own and for the most part keeping up just fine. The worst part physically was the hike out. You’re exhausted, you’ve been burning far more calories than you’ve been taking in, and you have the full weight of camp on your back again. I weighed 215 pounds before that hunt, five days later I was 205 on the same scale.

Here’s the link to the video I put together of that elk hunt. You’ll be able to see the terrain and amount of hiking we were doing.


My approach for 2016 is a little different. The main difference is I’ve already been hitting the gym hard for over a month. I will also start hiking with a weighted pack starting in May rather than July. The main goals I’d like to hit before September are:

  • Hike four miles with 80 pounds in my pack
  • Consistently run four miles twice a week starting in August
  • Squat 225 pounds 100 times, 5 sets of 20 reps
  • Shoot an apple with my bow at 60 yards immediately after a four mile run

There is no exact recipe to getting in shape for an elk hunt. My hunting partner who lives out west doesn’t do any of the weight lifting parts of this and kicks my butt on a mountain with ease. I’m not sure its terribly important to do all the strength training but I do think it helps. When that time does come to chase elk this September, I don’t want to have any physical disadvantages. My level of fitness will not be the reason Chris or I do not shoot an elk. This is my motivation to do everything I just explained above.

If you want to find out more about my progress, the gear I use, gear reviews, and how our hunt turns out, follow me on Facebook or Instagram. Any questions, feel free to send them my way.



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One Comment

  1. Rose DeMaagd

    WOW Bob, my body aches just listening to you and watching what you do. Glad you enjoy it. It looks painful to me.

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