Hunters are ageing. And everybody else is too. That’s not news, but what is important to know is that the average age of hunters is going up. This is an educated guess, but I’d say that the average is closer to 60 than 50. And fewer youths are getting into it for a number of social reasons that most of us are aware of.
Ageing means more aches and pains, less strength and mobility, and an increase in chronic illnesses.
Those of us who are still alive and want to hunt longer, perhaps into our 60s, 70s and yes, 80s, what can we do about it?
This is an essay on what I’ve done, and do, to keep fit making life in the outdoors still possible and practical.
In the fall of 2017, I came close to not making it home again while visiting a very familiar hunting area about an hour’s drive away from home. I was in a wooded, semi-wilderness area alone that only the week previous saw hunters that were chasing whitetail deer. The deer season ended on the Saturday. Bear season was still on for a couple of weeks. I had an unused bear tag still in my wallet. But I wasn’t hunting bear… I was shooting a variety of bullets at varying speeds into test material from my Ruger #1 in .45-70 LT. That meant lugging boxes of media, plus rifle and ammo through some thick brush and water to reach my destiny about 100 yards from the main road to the side of a ridge created by a small valley passing through it. I placed the boxes where the ridge itself would serve as the backstop for bullets. Actually, I had to make two trips to get everything in place.
While I found that rather short walk quite tiring and somewhat painful, I had a chance to rest a bit before starting the test firing. Once the firing and record keeping was over, I had to make a couple more trips over the same terrain to return everything to my van in a small “parking area” on the opposite side of the road. I had to stop several times to regain my breath in the process. I knew very well that my heart was being over-stressed due to the signals I was receiving from extreme shortness of breath and pain across my upper chest and arms. I actually prayed that God would not let me perish in that wilderness. When the task was done, I rested in my vehicle before the drive home. I then felt “normal”.
But a short time later I was doing my usual walk through the lower part of our village. The walk was nearly one mile. It was 100 yards downhill from our driveway. Turn left and another 100 yards downhill to a street that turned left uphill for 200 yards. Then right and downhill for 400 yards. Right again across flat terrain for 200 yards. Turn right and mostly uphill for 500 yards to our street. Right onto our street and uphill again for 100 yards to our driveway. That day, I only made it to the top of the first hill at 400 yards from home, on a street that ran parallel to ours with 100 yards separating them. I almost didn’t make it to our driveway. I sat in my car for several minutes before attempting the steps up to our front door. I said nothing to my wife as I knew my annual physical was coming up in a couple of weeks.
My doctor sent me to a heart-health clinic, and four stents later in February of 2018, I was somewhat better, but not fully. Through the winter, I walked daily at the local mall. By the spring of 2018, I was in serious trouble again. My cardiac doctor put in another stent in a major artery close to the heart that was blocked 95.5%. The others done previously were blocked anywhere from 55% to 99%. After the fifth, I’ve been a new man! I was told the reason I survived was because I have a very strong heart (due to a lot of outdoor living and purposeful physical exercising. ) I’m diabetic (inherited from a grandfather), and that was the main cause of the buildup of plaque in the arteries; plus some bad eating habits — which is not good if diabetes is a health issue.
Today, I walk 3x weekly over the route below our house, as detailed above, without so much as any hard breathing or chest pain. Plus, I work out a couple of times in my room with weights, pushups, etc. It’s a 20 minute regime. That makes me breath a bit hard and gets my heart rate up… which, I’ve been instructed, is a good thing. At 83, I feel the best I’ve felt in six or seven years.
The point being, that with losing 35 lbs of weight, physical exercising, some pills (yup, they’re necessary), and outdoor living, I’m expected to live well into my nineties… so they tell me… if I behave according to instructions! Of course, I know that “my times are in the Lord’s hands”, as said by King David of Israel.
That was a testimony that may be of some encouragement and help to other hunters.
Then to that I’ll add some other pointers:
- Hunting clothes and boots today can still be light while being warm and dry. Choose those. For Africa, etc., choose light and cool.
- Keep snacks handy, as well as a healthy refreshing drink. Replacing salt is important if there is too much sweating that leaves salt stains on garments. It’s an issue of restoring electrolites. Being diabetic, I was experiencing that profusely.
- Be sure that family or friends know where you are hunting, and how to find you if necessary. Carry a cell phone, iphone, SAT phone; or be with others who have one.
- As we age, we need to be honest with ourselves (and others) about any mobility problems. We are NOT as agile and strong as we were in our 20s, 30s or even 40s!
- It’s best to have a hunting partner as we age. That is doubly so in the pursuit of large game such as moose or elk, and especially in a hunt for bear or other DG.
- Have a reserve of ammo. Don’t go with the bare minimum — there are several reasons. Carry a map (or GPS), a flashlite, a compass, hunter orange tape, a knife (Swiss Army type – not a bad idea), and anything that may assist in survival if lost or having to spend the night in the outdoors. And matches or fire starter is also a good idea.
- If diabetic, keep tabs on you glucose level.
- Rifle: If a lot of walking , challenging terrain, or climbing is expected, there are lots of choices these days for a light rifle that is still plenty powerful. My light BG rifle is a TIKKA T3 Lite, chambered in the formidable 9.3 x 62 Mauser. For that I only use handloads. It can be loaded for anything in Africa, where legal, and anything in the rest of the world including big bears, moose, elk, deer, and predators like wolf and coyote if you have a mind to. Mine weighs 7.7 lbs with 3 in the clip magazine, plus one in the chamber, and a 3 – 9 x 40 scope. A 1″ nylon sling comes in handy as well.
- Of course today there isn’t a lot of walking involved in hunting. Most travel by ATV or pickups to their hunting area, and then sit in tree stands or blinds for hours on end! That, of course, isn’t conducive to a healthy lifestyle! But, we may still have to FIND a dead or wounded animal. And that may involve some difficult maneuvering through tangles of brush and over deadfalls; or finding a shot animal at the bottom of a cliff or ravine, which has to be retrieved — so… being in sound physical condition is still paramount no matter what!
So, be well, and happy hunting!