Motivation for Elk Season Fitness

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There is a lot of information here on regarding preparing physically for elk season. The purpose of this article is not to debate whether or not you need to be an elite athlete to kill elk, but rather, to share a few tips I use to help stay motivated to get in the best shape possible for my upcoming elk hunts. I know how hard it is to be successful on an elk hunt, so my preparation is relentless.


If you aren’t currently doing some sort of exercise program to help prepare you for the demands of elk hunting, I hope this article will spur you to take action. If you are, here are a few things that have helped me stay motivated throughout the year.

#1- Understand the “WHY”

Mark Skousen Elk1I recently read a book by Simon Sinek titled “Start With Why”. The premise of the book is how great leaders inspire everyone to take action, but this concept applies to far more than just leadership. The concept of understanding why someone does something – even before knowing how it is done or what they need to do – resonated with me. Personally, I train to hunt, and everything I do when it comes to fitness is a by-product of this goal.

My style of elk hunting is demanding, so I get in the best shape I can so the hunt is not only more enjoyable, but also more successful. Sometimes I need to push really hard to create an elk encounter and this typically involves getting from point A to point B quickly. Ideally I want to call the elk to me, but most often, I end up on the chase. An elk spends 365 days a year in survival mode going up and down mountains and dealing with the harsh elements. I certainly don’t think I can expect consistent success unless I put in the effort physically (and mentally) to pursue these tough animals.

When it comes to fitness and getting ready to hunt elk, the question we need to ask ourselves is, “Why”? Why do we hunt elk? Is it for the challenge? Is it because of the camaraderie? Is it strictly for the meat? For most of us, it is probably a combination of these and/or other factors. I’ve found that if I have a clearly defined the “Why”, then I can set goals – and reach goals – accordingly. When I’m suffering through a hard training session, or when mother nature decides to unleash her fury on me on the top of a mountain, I can mentally focus on the “Why”. This gives me the will-power and mental toughness to keep pushing. If there is no purpose to my training or motivation to stay out on the mountain, then when the going gets tough during the hunt, it becomes too easy to pack up the truck and head home.

#2 – Create a Routine

About a year ago, Corey Jacobsen announced an online elk hunting course called the University of Elk Hunting. In this course, one of the modules is dedicated to Physical Conditioning and highlights several different fitness routines that can be personalized based on your preference or circumstances. My twin brother, Jeff, and I teamed up with Corey to go through our fitness regimen in detail. (For more details on the Course, click here:

Mark and Jeff at the gymBasically, Jeff and I go to the gym 3 days a week for an hour workout, and then do cardio cross training sessions (usually outside) on the alternating days. Our gym workouts focus on 4 core lifts – Thrusters, Bench Press, Dead Lifts, and Squats.  In addition to those core lifts, we also add in a cardio exercise and another superset movement to each set. For example, our first set of 3 exercises would be Thrusters (core), Row Machine (cardio), and Dumbbell Lunges (subset). We do three sets of these three exercises, and target 12-15 reps on the lifts and 1 min on the cardio for each set. After we finish the three sets, we take a very brief rest, and then we move on to our next round of three exercises.

Our next core lift is the Bench Press. Again, we add a cardio movement and another superset movement involving another muscle group. For example: Bench Press (core), Box jumps (cardio), and Overhead medicine ball slams (subset). We implement this same strategy for Deadlifts and Squats. Like I mentioned earlier, each of these rounds takes about 12-15 minutes so our workouts are intense, but only take an hour. The intensity, combined with the variety of movements, builds strength and endurance that is critical for elk hunting.

Our cross training on the alternating days involves mountain biking, heavy load hiking, trail running, snow shoeing, snow biking, and hill interval training. Variety on these cardio days helps keep it fun and trains multiple muscle groups.

#3 – Get a Training Buddy

Mark_bikeI get up at 5:00 a.m. every morning to do something that will make me a better elk hunter. I can’t tell you how many times I would have hit the snooze button if I didn’t have a training buddy to push me. My training buddy (and hunting partner) happens to share the same birthday with me. As twins, it makes it really nice to have someone who has the same interest and abilities as I do. I’ve found that training with someone who is at or above my current strength and fitness level improves my performance.

As for motivation of getting out of bed, for some reason the thought of letting someone else down is more motivating than letting my own self down. If for some reason you can’t find a training buddy, then join a class or enter a race event that will motivate you to train. This year, Jeff and I have signed up for a few obstacle course races. We hope to be in peak physical condition for our Spartan Super obstacle course race in August. This course is 8-10 miles in length with 30-35 obstacles. As a result of committing to these events, our training has been elevated to the next level. Our goal is still sharply focused on hunting elk in September, but getting ready for this event will ensure we are ready to rock when September rolls around.

Hopefully this will give you some thoughts – and some motivation – to be working toward a successful elk hunt all year. Give some thought to the “Why” – Why are you an elk hunter? Then, create a routine that becomes your religion, and team up with someone who will push you and hold you accountable. And good luck accomplishing your goals this fall!