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Does Being In “ElkShape” Make You a Better Hunter?

ElkShape_Banner_800x400 Pro Staff member, Mark Skousen, wrote a great article earlier this week on Getting In “ElkShape”. He mentioned that in the recent #PROJECTSUCCESS survey, physical conditioning ranked #6 out of 10 factors that elk hunters felt contributed to consistent success. This finding was surprising to him – and to me – but apparently it wasn’t a big surprise to many hunters. In fact, there were several comments on Social Media from hunters who defended the low ranking of physical conditioning, and felt it really wasn’t all that important.

ElkShape_Image3Here’s my take on it…

Last night, I watched a documentary on Netflix titled “The Barkley Marathons”. This is an almost unheard of ultramarathon in the backwoods of Tennessee where racers travel 130 miles on an unmarked course. The course includes 60,000 feet of elevation gain and loss, and racers are given just 60 hours to complete the course. Everything about the race is unpredictable – a secret application process, an unknown start time, and treacherous terrain – and tests every characteristic of physical and mental fortitude. In the first 25 years of the race, there have only been 10 people that have finished.

As I watched the finishers come in from 60 straight hours of course navigation, it amazed me at what the human body – and mind – are capable of. After being awake for 48 straight hours in unpredictable weather, being torn to shreds by the unforgiving elements, and pushing your body to the absolute edge of physical limitations, the only thing keeping these racers from failing over the next 12 hours was their mind. There have been a few packouts on elk hunts that made me feel like those racers looked!

Watch the trailer for the documentary here:

Watching racers fail at a rate of 99% over 25 years, I could see why the following comment was made in regards to Mark’s “ElkShape” article: “Mental conditioning and the ability to live with misery will always trump physical conditioning…”

However, I think I agree more with the following reply: “I agree that mental toughness is important. But you can’t simply “think” your way into shape when you’re on the mountain chasing a big bull. Strong mental capacity will stop you from quitting when you’re body has more to give. But when the body fails, no amount of mental toughness will change that. That said, I think most guys quit in their head long before their body does.”

ElkShape_Image1Which brings me to the point of this article: I truly feel that persistence and mental strength can help a hunter overcome physical adversity in the mountains. But I feel that those characteristics are developed – and maximized – through some form of physical conditioning. A physical conditioning program will develop physical strength AND mental toughness, and together, those characteristics can carry a person over insurmountable mountains of adversity.

One of the racers in The Barkley Marathons said, “Most people would be better off with more pain in their life.”

I think what he meant by that statement is that pain and suffering develop character and help us overcome hard things. When we push our bodies physically, we feel pain – burning lungs, aching muscles, weakness being forced out. This physical exertion teaches our mind to push through these challenges, and to push beyond the looming failure.

The founder of The Barkley Marathons, Lazarus Lake, said, “If you’re going to face a real challenge, it has to be a real challenge. You can’t accomplish anything without the possibility of failure.”

So, is physical conditioning really all that important to elk hunting success? I think so. Can you be successful without spending any time preparing physically for elk season? Sure, it happens every year. But it would be really hard to argue that you won’t be a better elk hunter if you workout than you would be if you don’t workout. You will be a better elk hunter, period. I’m not talking about being better than your neighbor or someone else….I’m talking about you being a better elk hunter if you work out than you would be if you didn’t. has partnered with MTN OPS and the RMEF in an “ElkShape” program aimed at getting you ready for elk season. There isn’t necessarily a defined program that you have to follow. It’s simply motivation for you to get yourself physically ready to conquer the elk mountains this fall – to get yourself in “ElkShape”.

Seven members of the Pro Staff spent last week working on multiple video workouts designed to get elk hunters in “ElkShape”, regardless of their current circumstances and level of conditioning. From gym-intensive workouts to home workouts with a backpack, our goal is to motivate you to be a better elk hunter in 6 months than you are right now. I’ll be working on making these videos available in the near future.

The bottom line is that you don’t have to be a body builder or an ultra-marathon runner to be a successful elk hunter. But I do feel that you will enjoy more success – on and off the mountain – if physical conditioning is a part of your lifestyle.

You can read Mark Skousen’s original article on “Getting Into “ElkShape”” here:

What are your thoughts? Should Physical Conditioning be higher than #6 on the survey? What role does physical conditioning play in your success? Are you ready to get into “ElkShape”?


  1. bornintherut says:

    Now that’s funny Bob.

  2. niqhlcrft says:

    Being in shape for hunting is invaluable. Now, if you are actually lucky enough to harvest an elk, that’s when the real challenge begins. Packing out an elk takes major mental and physical toughness. Last year I harvested my first bull with a bow, by myself, several miles in the back country. I swore right there that I’d never do this again by myself. Low and behold, a year later and I’ve been hitting the gym hard all year and running 6-10 miles per week ready to get back out there and do it even better this time around.

  3. Tyler Houston says:

    The fact that physical conditioning is #6 is not surprising to me. I would guess that half of the hunters that filled out the survey are avid outdoorsmen but don’t tend to be extreme backcountry hunters and hike off the beaten path to find elk. As a result, physical conditioning falls behind locating elk, etc. I prefer to be in phenomenal shape when I hit the mountains but I also like to be 2-5 miles from the nearest road. Unfortunately a lot of hunters remain closer to the truck where being in shape is not as important. I would not consider myself as a successful hunter but it seems the farther I hike away from the truck the better my odds and elk are less anxious to flee at the sound of a hunter. However, until you put on a packframe and haul out an elk over three miles from the nearest road in steep western mountainous terrain, you have no idea how critical being in shape really is.

  4. Candy Michelle Yow says:

    Awesome article and great responses, I know from a women’s perspective that Physical conditioning is super important. Especially as we get older. Keeping up with Randy and our younger Pro-staff is difficult as it is, if I get out of shape it is impossible. I can have the passion and drive they do, but without being in top physical shape I will not be able to hunt with them nor would I ever hold anyone back. This is something I work on daily, all year long. Yes I will push it harder the closer we get to hunting season but it is a daily routine, both for strength and cardio. All of the aspects of hunting are important, and I work on those as well, but if you can’t climb the mountain you will never get where the elk are, at least the way we hunt. I would be devastated if I was not able to climb that mountain!! Physical conditioning is not always the easiest, having to get up early to get a work out in before you head to work every day, its not much fun. But then I think of the pain I will be in once we reach the top of that mountain if I don’t, thats reminder enough for me. I want to enjoy my hunt to the upmost, I don’t want to be sore, and achy the whole time, this is what we wait for all year and the last thing I want is to ruin it by being out of shape and miserable. Thanks Corey, you always get people thinking, Candy Yow

  5. Clint Radford says:

    The only reason I ranked it lower in my survey is because it should be a “no-brainer” that a person needs to be in shape to hunt elk! If a guy gets a bull on the ground over 2 miles from a road; they learn REAL fast how much effort it takes to get those heavy loads out of the woods…that is unless there are horses or ATV’s involved. I guess it all depends on HOW a person is hunting elk. There are a lot of different ways to approach elk hunting but I’ve found, like Corey, the better shape I’m in the more rewarding the hunt. A guy can go hard for a day or two and if they have several days to recover they most likely will be fine to hit it hard again. BUT physical conditioning is crucial if there is a multi-day hunt with long distances involved chasing elk. A person can be extremely miserable in this case and several days wasted recovering from lactic acid build up in the ole muscles. I really look up to hunters like Larry D. Jones and Dwight Schuh who both have continued to hunt ‘hard’ through their 60’s. I hope to do the same and a major part to their success has been maintaining high fitness levels. There must be something to it!

  6. eddie c says:

    even thought I have never hunted elk, I am following ProjectSuccess with interest. After reading the ‘top ten important items’ list, I believe all factors go hand in hand but I do think fitness ranks high. I’m a flatlander in all respects and I can tell a difference in years that I am in better shape vs years I’m in sorry shape during my whitetail deer hunts. the years that I am in better shape I hunt harder and more. since I polish a desk seat in my current job, I’m have gotten in bad shape. I recently joined a gym (Jan 1st), have lost 8 pounds and can tell a different in exercise routine and how much longer I can last and do during my exercise sessions. I am looking forward to viewing the ElkShape videos to see if I can add to my exercise without over-straining myself.

  7. Corbett Mortensen says:

    If you haven’t been at a high level of physical conditioning for a hunt, then you don’t know what you don’t know. Being at that high level of conditioning on those mountain hunts allows you to hunt longer, harder, higher and faster. I like to own the mountain, not the other way around. And who doesn’t need a fitness goal anyway. I’d say elk hunting is as good of a fitness goal as there is.

  8. DevilDOG_O341 says:

    Outstanding article!!! I was surprised by the #6 ranking for physical conditioning. It amazes me the importance of being mentally fit, mentally tough, or whatever you want to call it. There are times I have to “get right” mentally just to get outside, or in the gym and get my workout completed. Elk hunting at 10,000 ft is HARD. I have yet to harvest an elk out of the three elk hunts I’ve been on since 2011. I’m new to this, but I’ve LOVED every minute of it. There were times I felt I couldn’t go another step up the mountain, but you catch your breath, enjoy the scenery for a minute and get back to work. After my first hunt, I realized just how important being in “shape” was, but I had never heard the phrase “elk shape” until elk101 and MTN OPS. There is a very distinct difference between the two in my opinion. Coming from an elevation of 1100 ft in NW Arkansas to the Raggeds Wilderness Area of Colorado, was a huge shock to my body. I’m 40 years old now, and have realized that if I want to pursue this new found passion of elk hunting and be successful, I am going to fail, but persevering and working toward being in better “elk shape” will one day provide dividends in harvesting my first elk. I look forward to the day I am humping 75-100 lbs of elk meat off the mountain! Thank you guys for the dedication you have shown time and time again with elk101, and all the amazing articles/info.

  9. Elkhunterfromhell says:

    If you want to backcountry hunt and get away from the crowds and avg joe, both increasing your odds of success and for the overall experience this is a no brainier. Mountain fitness will and is at the top of the list for consistent success and enjoyment of being an avid elk hunter.

  10. Nick Ursul says:

    Corey, I love the topic and the question. As a core value in our Family, fitness is something I hold near and dear to my heart (and health). When I reflect on the 6 out of 10 rank I want to say I am baffled, but then again I am not at all surprised. The question is truly in the eye of the beholder. Having competed in a few Ironman triathlons I know first hand how physical and mental strength come together. Let’s be candid, the desire to be an elk hunter does not necessitate physical, or for matter, all that much mental strength. Reality check…there are folks who drive around on their ATV’s or trucks, walk to a ridge line and pop a shot from 200-300 hundred yards away. Then they hire a bunch of pack animals to haul out the bounty. Are they Elk hunters…yeah. Do they fit the vision of the type of Elk hunter I want to be…not even close. People often ask me why in the world I do Ironman’s and my answer is fairly simple…I earned the right to suffer. Like I said, fitness and health is a core value for my Family and we have a motto (formula) that applies to life. You want success? You have to be wiling to sacrifice and suffer. I don’t care what you do, if you want to be great and achieve a high level of success, you will sacrifice and you will suffer. A solo backcountry bowhunter who hunts at or above the treeline four or five miles from a trail head has to be in peak physical health. Additionally, they have to demonstrate the mental fortitude that most people just can’t envision. Here’s an easy question to determine if you are in that pack. When you are walking through a hotel, an airport, a mall (name the location)…do you walk by the staircase on your way to the elevator or escalator, or do you purposely seek out the stairs. Here’s the deal, if you want to be an Elk Hunter physical and mental toughness can be ranked a 6 out of 10. If your image of an Elk hunter is like mine then you will physically train hard for 10 months and push your mental limits as often as you can. You’ll dream big and with the help of God, you’ll get that moment where your dreams will become reality.

  11. warren says:

    For a flat lander like me, i would think it would be no.1 on my list. maybe because i am now 75 years old and just getting serious about elk hunting

  12. AZBob says:

    Although I am 65 years old, I can hunt circles around my son and son-in-law. I exercise 7 days a week using high-intensity/bursting/bodyweight protocols supplemented with core training and bowflex. But I concur with every word that “Blazingsaddle” said below. I don’t remember the entire list elk101 asked us to prioritize, but I also listed Exercise about #6. If you are blowing your cow-in-heat call in December at a water tank used only by wild burros and smell like a locker room with garlic, don’t matter what kind of shape you are in because you won’t see an elk!

  13. CJ says:

    As an owner of multiple fitness centers and avid western hunter, I can’t agree with you more on this topic. To me, making sure you can make a clean kill of the animal is number one, and number two is physical fitness. Not only is it fun to train (and think about the hunt while you are training) it is your duty to be in shape and hunt as hard as you can as long as you can. And when you finally harvest that beautiful animal……. who is going to pack it off the mountain? THAT IS the experience and you MUST be in shape.

  14. WI Bowman says:

    Last week I asked the question: The # 1 Elk ? Be more physical or mentally prepared to go elk hunting. I didn’t think that you would write a whole article on it. My thoughts, I can always work hard to prepare my body and conditioning. Its one less thing to even think about while hunting. This would let me spend more time thinking about the actual hunting and what the elk are doing or not doing. Rate it @ an 8 or 9 You still have to enjoy the whole idea of the hunt.
    Note: Getting into better shape when you are 56 years old is a lot harder to do than when I was 25. Look forward to the “ElkShape” videos.

  15. elkguide says:

    Having spent many years as a guide, the saddest thing that I ever saw was the guys who had saved their money for many years to go on their first elk hunt, only to get to the mountains and find out that they couldn’t physically do it. Mental conditioning too is critical as I had more than one hunter that was physically able to go but mentally couldn’t get their muscles to climb that hill. I come from sea level and even though I work construction and spend a lot of time conditioning year round and keeping myself in pretty good shape, I still have to get to base camp a couple of days before I begin working just to get acclimated. When asked by hunter after hunter for advice for a hunter coming into a guided elk hunt/camp, my advice always was………. get in shape and learn to shoot your weapon. Once in camp……….. trust your guide.

  16. Tyrell Wall says:

    My personal thoughts are that it will make you a better elk hunter simply because of the mental toughness a regular workout program can bring. I’ll be more likely to hike over that extra ridge if I’m in shape than I would otherwise which can increase my odds of success. I’d say it’s a marginal benefit in the grand scheme of things as mental toughness can get you through a lot even when you aren’t in shape but I think physical fitness can help bring mental toughness. Having said that, I work hard to stay in shape because regardless of how much it may or may not help me as a hunter, being in shape WILL help me ENJOY the hunt WAY more than I would if I was out of shape.

  17. AJ says:

    I couldn’t agree more. Its the last part of this article that resonated the most after reading it. “But I do feel that you will enjoy more success – on and off the mountain – if physical conditioning is a part of your lifestyle.” This has been the attitude expressed by my elders since I was in diapers and I truly believe it. I don’t remember what I rated physical conditioning but probably not as high as I should have due to the fact that I probably didn’t put much thought into something that is “just a part of life.” Although I do see the growing trend of people who do not take care of themselves and then again surrounding myself with individuals who believe staying health is a way of life.
    When I think of being in ElkShape, its the ability to hike the steep country and the best way I’ve found to train for that is to get out and hike. Getting to the gym to workout is very important and is one of the key ways to be able to go farther and stay longer in the field. Thank you to all whom make Elk101 possible and keep the great article coming. Great comments fellow hunters.

  18. Arnold says:

    Why leave it to chance? Physically strong and mentally tough goes hand in hand. What harm can become of physically preparing for the hunt. You feel good, you have prepared. One never knows, why not be ready for that moment when, or if it comes. When the time does come and you haven’t prepared, what then?

  19. Michael Martin says:

    Great article by Mark and good discussion here! I have been very physically active my entire life (I’ll be 55 in June), am a strength and conditioning coach, competitive powerlifter and triathlete, California Director for Train to Hunt, and an avid hunter. I could literally write for days on this discussion, but will limit it to just two points. First, Mike Sticht took the words right out of my, and Lombardi’s, mouth…’fatigue makes cowards of us all.’ As soon as the body starts to fatigue, the mind is not far behind. The stronger you are physically, the farther and deeper you can go both physically and mentally! Second, I think it would be interesting to know how far from the trail or road the survey respondents travelled and where the successful ones took their game. Although not representative of all situations–this past year I successfully hunted in Washington, Oregon, and Montana (a black bear, a whitetail, two muleys, and an elk)–and for every hunter I saw ‘off the beaten path’ I saw dozens on ORVs, horseback, or 4x4s on roads and trails! I really look forward to this continuing series and reader comments…keep up the great work!

  20. Josh says:

    I love this topic. Having been on both ends of the spectrum on one hunt to another, being in shape far outweighed being out of shape from an overall experience standpoint. It’s amazing how much more enjoyable the hunt is, and how much more focus you can put on the hunt itself when you aren’t having to stop every 100yds going up a steep ridge to breath. Not having to take those extra amounts of time to stop and get my body right allow me to stop now and then and truly soak in what I’m out there doing. I was not one blessed with unbelievable physical capabilities and I’m definitely no Adonis, but putting in the work before hand only adds to the experience when all is said and done whereas doing nothing only takes away.

  21. Jared Politz says:

    I agree with the article and was surprised at the #6 rating myself…I know for a flatlander it makes a big difference. It’s hard to adjust to the 10,000’+ altitude even when I can climb 1500′ stairs at sea level with no problem. When you prepare all year for a one week hunt, I am not interested in a missed opportunity bc I was in bad shape, so I elect to make that a priority. Just one less thing to wonder about. Besides, it keeps me focused on elk hunting 24/7/365.

    Keep pushing Bob, I pray all goes well for you.

  22. Mike Sticht says:

    At age 72, everything comes down to conditioning! Vince Lombardy said it best: “Fatigue makes cowards of us all”. His Green Bay Packers teams always were strongest in the last two minutes of the game, many times when the game was on the line! Your physical condition will dictate your mental strength when your trying to top the mountain crest or climbing out of a canyon. I’ve had several former hunting buddies quit the hunt early when fatigue got the better of them. Then, it was my turn to be tested! Alone, you prove your mettle! Push on, everyone…you can do it!

  23. Blazingsaddle says:

    I will play the other side here. I can understand why it sits at #6. You can be the most physically fit person to exist, no mountain can stop you. But if you don’t know the first thing about elk, all that physical preparedness doesn’t mean a whole lot at that point. What if your in great shape but don’t know how to find elk, or how to set up on elk? Now which one is more important? I’ll take a sense of woodsman-ship and a in depth knowledge of elk over being in shape.
    With all that said, I take great pride in being prepared to tackle the physical end of all my hunts. I feel it makes me a better overall hunter. But no way no how should it be #1 on the list.

  24. Bob Benvie says:

    I’m a 61 yr old who has always thought that everything was easier, from framing houses which i did for many years as a younger man to enjoying your favorite hobbies like cycling or HUNTING, if you were in better shape. So I have kept up a modest (my wife doesn’t think it’s modest) exercise routine and stay active. I must say that these days a lot of my focus is on getting ready for the elk. That doesn’t necessarily mean September to October for me though because I like to be in the elk hills all year around. Whether it’s shed hunting, trail building, scouting, hunting or building winter feed and salt stations, elk take energy.
    But the body gets older and there’s no avoiding that. I was unlucky enough to receive a diagnosis of MS last September. I was sitting in a tree over a pond on the top of a mountain watching a cow and calf walk in when my doc called on my cell to give the word. I had been wondering for a couple of years what the heck was going on with my balance and gait and now i knew.
    Well all that to say that getting in elk shape has changed for me. I don’t know where this dammed disease will stop if it does stop…it could just keep rolling along until I can’t walk at all. But for now I’m not going to stop chasing those wonderful critters. Elk shape for me now is just as strong and as fast (that part is a bit of a joke) and as quiet as I can be … for all of you out there who are still able to increase your capacity to hike and pack and be in the elements for days and weeks I challenge you to DO IT for those of us who are not so able any more.

  25. Kelly T Hicks says:

    I absolutely believe that fitness does improve your odds! Being in shape allows you to reach those areas others cannot get to and if/when successful, you will have the stamina to bring your trophy back. Being in “elk shape” should be a life choice.

  26. Ken says:

    I have been a runner for over 30 years now. I run because I am a hunter and I know the value of being in better shape. That doesn’t mean that I’m a marathon runner (I have done exactly one). But, in some seasons I’m in better condition than others which makes me able to go farther and faster. More importantly, I feel better physically so that I am less likely to think “nah, that’s too far”; “it would be too hard to pack one out of there.” Exercise/running add life to your living (or living to your life!). If you’ve never been into exercise, you don’t know what you’re missing….

  27. Chuck Ray says:

    I am not trolling, and dang sure don’t want to upset or argue with any of my elk hunting family, BUT…….. Come on guys, #6? Mental toughness is huge, a proper mindset is a must, but you have to be in shape to hunt elk. I don’t know, maybe if you are a “ridge hunter” it doesn’t affect you, but we camp at 10 thousand feet and go up and down through out our hunt. Being “mentally tough” just don’t cut it, you better get your butt in a gym or doing some serious prep exercising. I aint no spring chicken, but I seriously prepare for our two week elk hunt MONTHS in advance. running bleachers, working out, doing lunges, do I enjoy it? Oh HECK NO, but to really enjoy your hunt you need it. You don’t want to be “that guy” do you? the one keeping your partners back? And here’s a plus, getting in shape may keep you around a little longer so you can enjoy those hunts with your little ones…… OK, i’ll get off my soup box….. Great hunting guys!!!!!!!

  28. Fitness is the most overlooked aspect of successful hunting and should be #1. Sure, people who are not in shape kill animals. But why would you want to make hunting harder on yourself?

  29. dampatents says:

    It should be No. 1 if you want to maximize opportunity; first of all you have to GET THERE… and “there” isn’t always acceptable by machine.

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