It’s the first week in February as I write this, and the weather is hot – not conducive to physical exertion. But this is the time of year to hit the road, Jack, if you want to be fit and properly prepared for the season. I have not hunted for several years now (youthful injuries exact their toll as we age) but if life taught me anything it is that hunters must be fit. All that you’ve read on rifle and scope mount checks, practising shooting from field positions, and the rest, is extremely important, but no more so than preparing yourself for the hunt.
Fitness requirements depend on the nature and terrain of your hunt. My career involved much hunting in mountains and hilly country, which calls for a different form of fitness. But even if you are a ‘bakkie hunter’, bakkies can break down miles from nowhere; wounded animals can lead you through terrain inaccessible to vehicles, demanding hours – even days – of strenuous legwork. You must not only be fit enough for your planned hunt, you must build up reserves of stamina and endurance for coping when things go wrong. The upside is that you will enjoy your hunt far more.
Start walking now, briskly and in your boots. It is essential to train in the same boots as you will wear on the hunt. Boots are not only heavier than jogging shoes, they support your ankles (at least they should) both of which mean they work different leg muscles. If those leg muscles are not appropriately conditioned, they will tire quickly on the hunt and stiffen up painfully. Furthermore, your hunting boots will rub or put pressure on different points of your feet, and if you haven’t toughened up those points well-and-truly, they will blister when the time comes. Choose your socks wisely – don’t wear socks that make your feet sweat, as wet socks cause blisters which easily turn septic.
One of my hardest hunts ever was a three-day backpack hunt in a vast waterless canyon in the Gamsberg mountains of the Namib Desert – the most rugged, broken, rocky terrain I have ever hunted. I was warned to wear heavy, very strong boots. I balked at this because heavy boots could cause an old knee injury of mine to give trouble, but I heeded the warning and trained in strong, heavy boots with a heavy backpack, up and down hills. I was very glad I had, because the entire trip involved climbing up and down rocky canyon walls, walking over rocks and hopping from boulder to boulder while wearing a backpack containing, inter alia, a 3-day water and food supply. We had to use heavy army backpacks, as commercial ones had proved too fragile. Add cameras and rifle, and later the body parts of a mountain zebra (more than one trip in and out). Lesser boots would have come apart. However, for hunting in less rugged terrain, I would recommend boots with soft, pliable soles for silent walking.
Don’t train on paved surfaces where your ‘muscle memory’settles comfortably into lifting your feet just high enough to clear the smooth paving. In veld, the grass alone forces you to raise your feet (read‘bend your knees’) as you walk – all day long – not to mention engaging uneven ground, rocks, fallen twigs and branches. Again, if your leg muscles aren’t used to this, you will rapidly tire and sorely stiffen up. In addition, train in soft sand and climb steep hills, both of which work different leg muscles as well as your back and stomach muscles. As you get fitter, wear a backpack, gradually increasing the load. Carry weights in your hands – rocks, small dumb-bells or a steel bar – and swing these up and down as you walk. If your arms and shoulders are not accustomed to carrying a rifle, its weight can really tire you out as the day wears on, and you won’t be able to hold it steady should you need to take an offhand shot.
Read the article in the April 2019 issue of Magnum.