Hunting Fitness:

Preparing Your Body for the 
Demands of Elk Hunting

Hunting fitness is often left off the preparations for the fall big game seasons. A hunter may be a crack shot with a well sighted in rifle or bow and have his “hunting stuff” equipped with the latest gadgets and doo-dads by September or October, but if he’s not fit for hunting, it may all be for naught.

Most of us know that we need to get away from the roads in order to beat the odds of killing an elk. The farther away from the roads we get, the more demanding the terrain and gravity become of our bodies, let alone moving that huge animal if we are successful.

Recent Articles

  1. Elk Hunting Gear: Priority Gear List for the Big Game Hunter

    An elk hunting gear list that big game hunters will find helpful. This is a list and brief review of practical, useful, quality hunting equipment for elk hunters.

    Read More

Decrease Injury and Heart Attack Risk

Unfit hunters also put themselves at greater risk for heart attack. High altitude means less oxygen is available, the basic need of all muscles, including the heart. The work required to hunt and move an animal is an unforgiving test of the heart muscle’s health status.

Under a doctor’s advice, increasing cardiovascular strength through a walking program will go a long way to preventing a heart attack out in the woods where rescue treatment is going to be long on coming. Hunting fitness may well become a matter of life or death.

The earlier you can start getting fit for hunting, the easier it will be to simply enjoy being out there among the elk, even if you never take a shot.

The sights and sounds of elk country are breathtaking and serene, but it can take on an ugly hue in the eye of the unfit hunter whose body is aching and sore, limping along with a half-hearted dutiful determination.

If you are successful at killing an elk, the task of packing the meat or entire carcass is very demanding on the body. Be prepared for the work of the harvest, not just the hunt.
(See our packing elk meat pages here.)

Overall Body Hunting Fitness

When establishing your hunting fitness plan, think about preparing your overall body strength, not just your legs. As we age we lose body strength as testosterone production slows down.

As we age past the 20s and 30s we can keep that strength of youth, but we have to work at it more. My wife and I use P90X Extreme Home Fitness at our house. Training for and racing marathons causes me to losemuscle mass. Strength workouts help me keep it on, adding strength to endurance for hunting fitness.

I admit to falling down at least once during most hunting seasons, but the more fit your body is, the easier it is to recover from or even avoid a slip with nothing worse than a chuckle and a scrape.

Carrying even a small amount of gear around all day can be done much easier with a body that has been strengthened by experiencing similar physical stressors before hand. A light backpack can take enough strength out of weak shoulders to make it difficult to hold a rifle steady or draw a bow smoothly. Hunting fitness could mean the difference between success, a miss or even a wounded animal.

Massage therapy is quite helpful for the demanding sport of big game hunting. We have a website about massage therapy, including Self Massage and How to Give a Message. My wife specializes in massage therapy for hunters and athletes (our family!). Montana Massage- Deer Lodge,MT.

Start by Walking First

Start your hunting fitness routine early by putting one foot in front of the other, at the very least. Preferably with the same amount of weight you will carry while hunting. Start out with short distances and increase the time spent making tracks over several weeks or even months. If you can do your walking on terrain similar to what you will be hunting on, your training will be more specific to hunting fitness.

Walking for fitness will certainly prepare your heart, lungs and leg muscles to a large extent, but below are some hunting “strength specific” exercises you can add to that basic requirement which will greatly enhance your hunting fitness. These exercises will make traversing demanding terrain much easier.

A hunter must not only prepare to walk farther than day to day life requires, she or he must prepare to walk on slanted surfaces for long periods. Elk don’t usually hang around in flat areas waiting for us to show up for a close encounter.

A hunter’s calves or thighs can soon begin screaming “Stop!”, if they haven’t been strengthened to handle the extended stretch of going uphill or the harsh contraction of putting on the brakes on the way down. Even walking across a slant can put tremendous pressure on the leg muscles.

Walking in deep snow causes us to raise our knees much higher than we’re used to. Prepare yourself in order to avoid being the hunter left in camp with an overuse injury. Don’t let failure to become fit for the hunt ruin your long awaited hunting outings.

Put together a series of exercises that you do every other day or so. Start with some stair stepping and bench step-ups.

Keep it Simple

There are free and quick ways of developing hunting fitness right in our own living room. It’s easy to come up with something stable about six to eight inches high to step up on while you’re watching a movie, the news or your favorite hunting channel on TV.

(How do you train for hunting season?)

Stair Stepping

Alternate legs up and down on your improvised stair stepper. How long? Don’t over do it. Listen to your body. If it begins to feel like “too much, too soon”, stop and do some more later in the week. If you’re pretty fit to begin with, you might be able to start out at 10 minutes and build to fifteen minutes or more.

High Bench Step Up

A high bench step up, because of added height, is a little more demanding than a simple stair step exercise, but is a very important exercise specific to good hunting fitness for the mountains and hills. Add this one after you have been doing some walking and stair steps for a couple of weeks.

For this you’ll simply need a stable bench or dining room type chair. The goal might be to do as many as three sets of ten on each leg, but start out with what you can handle without getting too sore and build up each week.

As you repeatedly step up with one leg, while you’re up there go ahead and raise the knee of your other leg until that thigh is parallel to the floor. With a little practice, you will develop better balance by using your arms as natural counter weights. You might use a wall for balance at first.

Complete an entire set (five to ten) on each leg before switching. Start with just a few of these. They can add up and cause soreness rather quickly.
Build up slowly with anything you’re not used to doing.

Bicycle Leg Swings

Add some bicycle leg swings. Put one hand on the wall or the back of a chair. Move your opposite leg forward, down and back around as if riding a bicycle, but in an exaggerated circle. This sounds and feels easy at first, but start out doing three sets of 30 or less on each leg and feel the burn!

Over several weeks, work up to as many as three sets of fifty on each leg in a minute or so for each set. You’ll be surprised at how much easier propelling yourself forward for long periods becomes after doing just these three exercises over the summer time.

Bench Dips

To add hunting fitness to your upper body for the demands of carrying a rifle and retrieving an animal start with some simple bench dips. Sit on the edge of a bench, chair or couch with your hands on the front edge next to your legs.

Move your feet out away from you until your backside slides off the seat and your weight is on you heels and hands. Now raise yourself up and down in front of the couch with your arms. Again, start out with a few and work up to three sets of ten or more.

Ab Crunches

I like exercises that I can do while lying down. Here’s one of my favorites. Lay on the floor with your hands on the side of your head. Squeeze your abdominal muscles and lift your head and shoulders off the ground a little without arching your neck.

These ab crunches don’t have to put “six packs” on your stomach to make you more fit for hunting. Build up to thirty to fifty of these. A stronger stomach will aid in protecting your back.

Back Extensions

Now turn over on your stomach and put your hands on your temples. Raise your shoulders and head off the floor just a little and you’ll be using the area that these low back extensions will begin immediately to strengthen.

As always, just do a few at first to see how your body responds. Please! Start easy with this one! We use our backs more than we realize just to walk upright.

We’re reminded of that fact when our low back area gets tense after walking in elk or deer country all morning.

Push ups

If you’re not used to doing full-length push ups, don’t feel like there is something wimpy about doing knee push ups. Depending on your own body weight, even knee push ups can be pretty demanding.

Do some of these, building up gradually as always, to strengthen your chest, back and arms for the demands of moving yourself, your equipment and, hopefully, a heavy trophy animal across unforgiving territory.

Push ups with feet on the floor would be fine for someone who is not overweight, but be careful not to injure your shoulders by overdoing it. For advanced push ups, elevate your feet a little and keep your legs straight.

Arm Presses

Consider adding simple Press exercises to your hunting fitness routine, raising something with a little weight to it over your head repeatedly to strengthen your shoulders. When you raise your rifle, the aim will be steadier because of the added strength.

Stretch Band for Archers

Instead of just shooting your bow, add the use of an inexpensive stretch band to mimic the same kind of pulling/pushing effort with repeated sets. Your draw will be easier and smoother if you do these often each week.

Squat Thrusts

For overall body strength for hunting fitness, add some “squat thrusts” to the routine.

Squat to the floor and put your hands on the floor. Thrust your legs behind you. Do a push up. (The push up can be omitted.) With your hands still on the floor, contract your legs back up under you quickly. Then immediately jump up into the air a little. That’s one squat thrust. Start with ten and work up to thirty or forty. I know these make you feel silly, but get past that. Hard core athletes use these in addition to regular training.

I do all of the above and more to train for competitive marathon racing. They are simple, basic exercises that can be done a few times a week with little investment of time and no formal exercise equipment.

Add these to regular walking sessions and you’ll be amazed at how much easier the experience of stomping up and down hills, even in knee-deep snow, can be once you raise your overall hunting fitness level a little.

Be sure to read our page about staying hydrated and nourished during the hunt.

Please subscribe to or our Quick Elk Hunting Tips and Updatesnewsletter or to an RSS feed (see left column for both) to be alerted whenever new information is added to the site.

We'd appreciate it if you would "Like" us on Facebook, or share this site with others.

Search this site here:

Search This Site Here:

Shop Elk Tips
Outdoor Gear

Elk Tips Outdoor Gear Logo

Hunting Gear Reviews

ElkNut Outdoor Productions
Bugling Bull Game Calls
HECS Stealthscreen
Montana Decoy
StringSling Bow Sling
Skull Hookers
Safari Sling Rifle Sling
Clip-Shot Mini Camera Mount


Free U.S. Shipping On ASAT Camo

Bugling Bull
Game Calls

ElkNut Productions

Free Shipping on
ElkNut Products Here

HECS Stealthscreen:
A New Type of Concealment!

HECS Stealthscreen

Including U.S. Shipping

Montana Decoy Elk/Deer
Available Here!

Montana Decoy

$59-$109.99 Free Shipping!

The StringSling:
Best Bow Sling Design!

String Sling Bow Sling

$28.95, Including U.S. Shipping

Clip-Shot: 1 oz. Camera Mount

$21.85 Free U.S. Shipping

Skull Hookers

Skull hooker

$34.99 & 59.99 Free U.S. Shipping!

The Safari Sling:
Best Rifle Sling Design!

Safari Sling Best Rifle Sling Available

$27.99 Free US Shipping

Share your elk hunting pictures and stories on our Facebook Page!

Go to Forums

Forum Topic Discussions:

How often should I use my cow call?, I am new to the sport of bow hunting elk and my question is how often should I use my cow calls?

295 yard kill with a Kimber Montana 325 WSM, by Don from Dallas: My ELk did not even twitch once. He was dead when he hit the ground.

325 WSM is worth considering, Palmer Lake,CO: I believe that the .325 WSM is the ultimate elk caliber...

30-30 for Elk? : I have a 30 30 with 170 grain round nose bullet. Will this work to shoot an elk ?

(More comments about Best Elk Rifle below)


2013 elk bow hunt around Pagosa Springs: by Bobby (Little Rock , Arkansas), looking for someone to join my DIY hunt!...

Unique Elk Talk by Idaho Steve (Hailey, Id ), In the middle of the night, a herd of elk came traveling through the drainage and right past my tent...

Smelly Elk Areas? by Jimmy (New Mexico), I've come across many areas that just stink of elk, literally. I have heard two somewhat contradictory stories...

DIY Gear List Must Have's! by Craig (Florida) "Here are some of the items I use on my DIY hunts in the CO backcountry..."

Elk and Deer Hunting and Mountain Bikes, by Skip Shepherd (Tucson, AZ)~ At 67 I am thinking a lot about investing in a mountain bike to get back into remote areas...

Solo archery hunting -- tips for calling/set up?, by Idaho Steve (Hailey, ID )~ I hunt by myself a lot...I'd love to hear your thoughts on strategic set-ups when solo hunting and calling.

Non- Lead Bullets for Elk?, by Dave, Elk Hunting Tips.Net (Garrison, MT)~ What do you ballistics guys think about the use of non-lead bullets for elk? According to this story...

Rage Broadheads by Chris, buddy gave me a rage practice tip and when I shot it you could not pick out the broadhead from the field points. I was sold...

Recent Submissions:

Finally filled the freezer..., Colorado Rockies~ "I was bummed when I got to the property and no elk, nor any hoof prints in the snow. ...I pulled each of the elk into shade then started gutting..."

Wounded Veteran Elk hunts, by Joshua FL), I am a disabled veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and have always dreamed of hunting elk. I am posting this to see if anyone would know of any elk hunts free to disabled vets....

First Elk with a Bow, by Ryan H. (Colorado), ...Finally after many years of hunting with a bow "I got er did"!

First Elk!, by Tater (Sheridan, Arkansas) I took the advice I received from this website and was successful…I wanted to Thank You and Your Forum and the folks that share on here for the knowledge and information that helped me find an elk I was quite happy with.


Any success in Unit 14?, by: Dave (MI), "I'm planning on doing a DIY in Unit 14 for 2012..."

Share Elk Hunting Secrets

Bugle in Herd bulls, by Swiltbank (Az) The key to calling in a herd bull is to get into his bedding grounds and threaten his herd. Start off sounding like…

Best Big Game Rifle?

Best Rifle Caliber?, by Buglemup (Superior, MT), "I've been reading what people have been writing about rifle calibers and here is what 16 years of guiding elk has taught me."

7mm Remington Magnum, by Dean (Helena, MT. USA) I use my Liberty Ruger M77, 7mm Rem. Mag. for antelope, deer, elk... Comment: "What do you guys think about the idea of hunting elk with a 270? I also know a guy who kills elk with a 243."

338 Marlin Express, "Light, fast shooting, hard hitting, manageable recoil, and for a lever gun - very accurate."

Guns I like for Elk, by Mountain Walker (Kootenays east B.C. Canada),"I think the gun you shoot Elk with should be one you shoot a lot with... "

.35 Remington, by Bill Smith " .35 Rem appears to have dropped a medium deer flawlessly, but I now have serious doubts as to its capability to take an elk."

Arizona Elk Hunting

Where to hunt in Az unit 3B?, by Cliffjumper (Tucson, Az) ~ I got a late bull muzzle loader hunt in Arizona unit 3b. Does anyone know how to hunt bulls in the late season?...

First time elk hunter hunting Arizona unit 6A , by Rob Marchio (Omaha, Ne)~ I'm a first time elk hunter hunting Arizona's unit 6A. I'm planning on staying in the Pine Grove campground...

Elk Hunting Colorado

Help needed for 1st DIY Hunt w/Son, by Patrick (Parker, CO), "I was looking for some advice on my 1st DIY hunt for 2014 in CO with my 13 yr old son. I have countless hrs going over stats, topo maps & Google Earth"

Elk Hunting Colorado in 2013, By William (Midland, TX) "I am planning an elk hunt next year in Colorado and I wanted to know if hunting Gunnison National Forest..."

Unit 60 Elk 4th Rifle Season Nov 13-17 Either Sex 2013, By Chester "...Any general advice about the unit would be appreciated!"

Idaho Elk Hunting

Elk Hunting Idaho Unit 8 8A 11, This is my first year seriously trying to track down some elk. Is there anyone that has hunted in any of these units and can give me some friendly advice? Mitchell, Moscow Idaho

Elk Hunting Pocatello by Cameron (Pocatello) Where is the best place to elk hunt around Pocatello, Idaho? I'm a student at ISU and I'm looking for somewhere around here to hunt next season.

How is the elk hunting in unit 30A in Idaho?, by Terry (Richland Center, WI) Has anyone archery elk hunted in unit 30A in Idaho? What can you tell me about the area?

Elk Hunting In Montana

Hunting in Western Montana, by Mike A. (Alabama)

I did not draw a tag for Missouri breaks where I have hunted in the past. Having to start over and try western Montana.

New Mexico Elk Hunting

New Mexico Unit 49, by Silas (Los Alamos, NM)

If anyone has tips on areas to start scouting, I'd really appreciate it.

First Elk Hunt First Elk Hunt, by Big "R" (NM)

I finally got drawn for a late elk hunt in Unit 28, north of Road 506 and south of the boundary line of the Lincoln National Forest...

Elk Hunting Nevada

Cow elk in Nevada's unit 222:

"Any good places known in unit 222?"

Northeast Nevada Early Elk hunt, by John (Carson City,NV)

"Any suggestions on what areas I may see some signs of elk?"

Questions from Novice Hunters

Retired USMC MSgt Needs Advice, by Ken Wing USMCRET (Bealeton, Va)

Big Game Recipes

Popcorn VenisonPopcorn Venison with Maple Syrup?

Elk or Venison Steaks Grilled to Perfection Here's how to turn them into steakhouse steaks!

Spice-Crusted Grilled Venison Roast Recipe This Spice-Crusted, Grilled Venison Roast recipe works great for any red meat roasts, including elk, deer or beef roast...

Corned Elk Recipe You can easily make corned venison and elk, moose or corned beef from these instructions...

My wife's website: