I competed in my first Train to Hunt events in 2014 and since then, the principles of hunting fitness have changed my life. Train to Hunt is a competition that combines fitness and archery. The specific exercises and weights have changed over the past 3 years but the concept remains the same. The competition typically consists of a 3D shoot that is a mix of known and unknown distances as well as hunting scenario type shots like these:
Draw and hold your bow between 30 seconds and a minute then shoot
Draw from kneeling, stand, then shoot
Draw, walk until you see the animal, then shoot
Draw then shoot within 5 seconds or shoot 2 arrows within 10 seconds.
As a new competitor, some of these seem weird, but when you think about it from a hunting perspective, they are all relevant. Prior to this year, the second part of the competition was carrying weight a prescribed distance for time. The final event, in all prior years, was the challenge course. On the challenge course, the competitors would carry a small weight in their backpacks and go through a course of 6 shooting targets sandwiched between running and doing various exercises including burpees and get ups with weight. The whole idea is to shoot with an elevated heart rate, a task that is much harder than it would seem.
The best part of Train to Hunt, by far, is the competitors and the feeling of family in nearly all the people there. All my best friends are from archery/hunting, we are like minded, hardworking, tough people who care about nature and conservation. The people who do these shooting and exercise competitions are a group that take it to the next level. Those of us who live in the Colorado front range area, work out together, share our lives and shoot together. By and large, most of us were brought together, directly or indirectly, by Train to Hunt. I have known the owner of Train to Hunt, Kenton Clairmont for a few years and when I asked him about the women who compete he said that the women who come “compete hard and support each other just as hard.” This has become the best part of Train to Hunt for me…other ladies to join me on my journey as we help each other along.
I had my second child in September of 2013 and as a mom of two small children, I struggled to find the time to exercise. In the months after, I started shooting at No Limits Archery in Denver, Colorado and they, along with Anchor Crossfit, were doing boot camp workouts to prepare for Train to Hunt. Being a joiner, I signed up and started going to all of them. I was way slower than all the super fit archery guys but I persisted in just going, and giving it all I thought I could give. Being an all-in type of person, I signed up for Train to Hunt in Colorado for 2014. I competed at the Colorado event and at the National event that year. I knew that I was old and out of shape but I could shoot. The thing about these competitions is that if you shoot well on the 3D that you have a big advantage. Additionally, if you shoot well on the challenge course, you have time taken off your score, so I may have been super slow but when I shot perfect at Nationals, I had 3 minutes taken off my score. I finished that year hungry for the 2015 Train to Hunt season.
So, I committed fully and signed up for the workouts that they offered on their website at the time. I did them religiously, becoming the neighborhood weirdo running around the block while my kids napped, either with a backpack (thank you Kifaru), or dragging a tire followed by shooting my bow in the garage. I started this regimen and kept it up until May of 2015, still attending the boot camp workouts at No Limits Archery. I lost all my baby weight and got to my normal, average body size. After all that work, I competed in Colorado again with a third-place finish. This time I was faster at the exercises but I didn’t manage my heartrate well, resulting in not perfect shooting. This is the edge that we balance on in these types of competitions, if you don’t practice enough at high heart rate or manage to stay in a good shooting zone for yourself, your shots will be off.
That fall I went into elk season, able to better keep up with my hunting friends, it was amazing how lifting and running translated to climbing mountains and scrambling over logs. I felt the best, to that point in my life, in fitness and ability outdoors. It was an amazing feeling, I felt a re-doubling of my fitness goals. When the season was over, I joined a gym and started working out several days a week, doing some light weights and cardio. I had not planned to participate in Train to Hunt in 2016, honestly, I was a little concerned after watching people run into trees with their bow strapped to their pack during the meat pack. My bow is pretty much my life, my happy place, my home, so to put it in jeopardy in that way freaked me out a little.
Last summer, I was challenged by a trainer to do a challenge to give up my food weakness and work on getting stronger for archery and hunting. As I was still behind all those super fit archery guys at the archery shop, I said why not. So, I gave up chips and took up picking up heavy things. During that 60 days, I lost 15 pounds and gained more than just strength. We did hunting specific activities like box step ups (super useful when climbing through deadfall) and I worked on my shoulder (archery) strength and stability. I was also doing backpack cardio with a few of my friends a couple times a week, this is putting a sandbag in your pack and running/hiking/walking up a big hill. During this time, I went to the Colorado Train to Hunt competition, just to watch…man that was horrible, watching everyone else running and doing burpees with shooting without me. I missed it, I craved it, that comradery of doing something hard with the people who you love and making it through. So, once again I signed up, for the Wyoming event this time, I found again that all the strength and running that I had been doing really helped this time while my shooting did struggle a little with pushing myself harder. One area where I struggled was the meat pack, as a work from home mom with no back up, I took it easy on the meat pack, running down a mountain and up with these ladies who are 8-18 years younger than me with 60 pounds on my back, because I couldn’t afford to get hurt. This, I would say, is the one downside to the old format of Train to Hunt, the risk of injury was high to those who were willing to push themselves to the brink. One of the great things about this community is that we can talk to each other about what works, what concerns us, and the organizers of the event listened. So there would be no more carrying your bow in the meat pack, thank goodness in 2017.
As I moved from that event into the fall, with training and working toward being a better hunter, I scouted, shot, and carried weight. I feel that the preparation really paid off when I harvested my first animal with a bow. Being a hunter athlete has totally changed my outlook and drive. So as this year progressed and I worked from the lessons I learned in the field about my physical and mental weaknesses; I continued to lift more, shoot more, and carry my pack more. This year, I was not planning to participate in Train to Hunt, my friends were prepping and working toward it, but I had too much life stuff going on and it wasn’t on my list of priorities. At the last minute, I decided to participate with one of the other ladies who shoots at the archery shop just for fun. It was an entirely different experience, we are pretty evenly matched as far as team mates go and we just focused on having fun.
It was so much fun, having someone to walk beside you and there was no dreaded meat pack. We left the Colorado event hungry for the national event just 2 weeks later. We both trained every day, working on the specific exercises and what we thought the weights would be. Having a partner, you trust and could feed off was really amazing. We went to nationals, back at Powderhorn mountain, where the Colorado qualifier was, ready to compete. Part of the allure of going to the national competition is that you basically have no idea what will happen and you are testing your mountain/cross fit readiness. Some may argue that Train to Hunt is a little extreme if you are just preparing to hunt, I don’t agree. I feel like it helps you push your limits and test your mettle. You might not ever push yourself in the wild, as my kids say, but what if you are at the top of the mountain alone with an animal down and you aren’t sure you can go on…I will say that these competitions have taught me to dig deep. This year, I really felt myself inspired by Trevon Stoltzfus of Outback Outdoors, he may not be the fastest or biggest competitor but he can totally empty the tank, get up and try again. As I went to the national competition, my goal was to be more like Trevon, to give it all.
Saturday morning, the first day of competition, Kenton started off the announcements telling us that we would run the challenge course, have a 30-minute break, and then go on the 3D course. Holy cow, just listening, this seemed daunting. Honestly, for me, this was a true test of my mettle. The challenge course had a total of 115 box step overs (half of the team reps) as all the exercises were over box, we did straight step overs, sand bag to shoulders, burpees, and get ups. All with a run and a shot between. Then we had to pick up our 30-pound (for women) pack and go for a trail run with 2 more shots in the middle. I feel like I started off strong but my endurance slowly faded, I wasn’t as fast as the other girls, and after the getups I had to stop, where no one could see me of course, and dry heave for a minute. Then I picked myself up and started going again, as fast as I could. We got our packs and I did my best, we ran through the course and all I kept telling myself was don’t miss. A miss would be a 20-burpee penalty and I wasn’t sure, at just over 10k feet in elevation if I could continue. We kept going, together as a team and I kept pushing myself, being behind my partner left me feeling defeated and I was sure I had shot worse than her…my one true strength gone. So, I cried after crossing the finish line, exhausted, and she along with our competitors all picked me up, literally and figuratively, off the ground. It turns out that my partner, Caitlin and I shot the same score on the challenge course.
We grabbed a quick bite to eat and headed out on the 3D course. The course was a mix of known and unknown distances up one ski slope and down another. We were exhausted. It was like going hunting without naps (one of the best parts of hunting). It was a true test of hunting stamina and getting what you needed done. It was a bit of a struggle. The elevation, heat, and hunger were the biggest obstacles of the shoot.
The next morning, we had the dreaded meat pack. Luckily this year it was 30 pounds for women but it was straight up a ski slope, and back down, just over 2 miles total. Caitlin approached me in the morning and we talked about being a team and how she wanted to take more weight because she is bigger than me. Part of being on a team is doing what is best for the team, so I ate my pride and let her. It was hard, I know I can carry the weight, maybe not as fast as everyone else but I can do it.
I learned a huge lesson this year at Train to Hunt. It was uncomfortable and I didn’t like it at first but we all must accept our strengths and weaknesses. Directly or indirectly, through doing these Train to Hunt competitions, I have found myself and my passion for fitness and archery together. I have also found a family. Like Kenton said, we work hard, we compete hard, and at the end of the day we are fortunate to have each other as friends, family, and competitors.