This past spring I was hunting quail and doing pretty well when I began getting tired. But there were still quail out there waiting for me! My hunting companions were younger and older than I was, and I observed that their paces tracked along with their ages. The older gentleman had slowed before I had, and the younger hunter was still going strong ahead of me.
I came to the realization that although I like to think I am still a teenager, I am actually 66 and my age may now factor into how fast and far I can chase dogs and birds. When did this happen? Where did the years go?
On reflection, I am still active and all of my joints seem to be working. I try to maintain a reasonable level of fitness and flexibility, and so far I have OME (original manufacturer’s equipment) when it come to shoulders, knees and so on.
Many of the people I have hunted with through the years have had to accept the challenges that come with replacement parts and diminished levels of fitness. The trick is to keep up as best you can by exercising and choosing quarry and hunting spots that will maximize your enjoyment for as long as possible.
The following suggestions have proven to work for me as well as many clients and friends.
Exercises for the Field and Range
Upland hunters should make every effort to walk a mile or so daily and try to get in a couple of miles on the weekends. Ideally, one will walk in the type of terrain he or she plans to hunt—up and down hills, through high-grass fields or over rugged ground. If this is not possible or convenient, the same results can be achieved in the gym on an elliptical machine or a treadmill (hopefully one that inclines).
The upper body needs attention, too, and I particularly like resistance bands, as they are not prohibitively expensive and there are several choices in strengths. In addition, resistance bands can be used at home, when traveling or at the gym.
Lifting weights also should be a key component of any program. Whether lifting actual weights in a gym, doing curls with a 12-gauge shotgun or hoisting a backpack full of ammunition, water bottles and a first-aid kit, this type of exercise will ensure that your muscles are ready to function in the field.
Shotgun Choice for the Birds & Your Abilities
One’s choice of shotgun should be based primarily on the birds being hunted, taking into account such things as the birds’ habitat and flight characteristics. Generally, the gauge of a shotgun should match the size of the bird. Keep in mind, too, that a box of smaller-gauge shells will be lighter to carry than a box of 12-gauge cartridges—and, with few exceptions, just as effective.
All types of waterfowl and upland shooting place different demands on us, but hunters still need to work on certain aspects of their fitness, especially flexibility. When it comes to waterfowling, for example, lugging guns and gear, setting out decoys and carrying birds after the hunt can take some doing. The semi-automatic is the common choice for waterfowling, but prior to the season hunters need to practice not only their gunmount but also standing and sitting and moving smoothly in and out of a blind.
Shooting doves requires the same smooth, up-and-down moves and gunmount as duck hunting from a blind. Once again, however, the more you practice rising from a sitting position, smoothly mounting your shotgun and maintaining minimal movement through the shot, the more successful your day will be and the less tired you will get.
When to Say When
The most important aspect of shooting and hunting is safety. Unfortunately, as people age, their control over their physical abilities and equipment can begin to deteriorate. We have all been with older hunters who have years, even decades, of experience and who know the safety rules but who still persist in charging into a rough field. If they trip and fall, they often don’t acknowledge the dangerous situation they have created for their fellow hunters. This is a tricky situation, and there are several protocols that can be put in place to help reduce the risk of an accident.
Anytime it appears that a senior shooter is struggling with a too-heavy shotgun, for example, or having difficulty walking, the offer of an ATV either to ride in or to carry equipment can be a face-saving and safer option.
As people age, they may have to make some judicious choices when it comes to hunting. They may have to accept that they need to pass on long hunts with a 12-gauge and its heavier cartridges and think about pursuing birds that can be hunted with smaller gauges using lighter loads and in habitat and terrain that are easier to navigate. Every ounce of weight and energy saved can make a big difference in how one feels at the end of the day.
Hunting at a preserve can be a good option. Though the walking distances, topography and habitat are often similar to those of wild-bird fields, some preserves have cut designated paths that cross large areas and run throughout the fields. If one field is hunted in the morning and another in the afternoon, the walking becomes a lot easier with less fatigue. And from a safety standpoint, being less fatigued means all aspects of upland hunting can be enjoyed with less risk of making mistakes as the day wears on.
No one wants to stop hunting and shooting or to be told that it’s time to put down the gun. However, considering that the two most important aspects of that choice are health and safety—of both the hunter and his or her companions—the most thoughtful hunters often come to the realization on their own when it is time to step back and enjoy their memories and hunting stories by the fire with a good drink ... at home.