Back in 2010 I wrote a blog on conditioning for chukar hunters, as suggested by a reader. I was 59 years old and was able to cover the mountain pretty well. Since then, I have gone through a lot of surgeries and have not aged quite as gracefully as I hoped. A left knee replacement, shoulder surgery, a badly broken left leg, several different back procedures and now a partially torn achilles tendon and calf. Along with the achilles tear, I evidently broke my ankle on that same fall.
The achilles and ankle are going to be fixed after chukar season but the back issue is still an ongoing problem. I am now to the point where I am unable to do household chores like packing the wood in from the outside for our fireplace. Or maybe I’m just getting lazier. I’m not looking for sympathy because most of it is my own fault. Over the years I have become less flexible. I am the tin man walking on the hill now.
Stepping over things has become more difficult and when a slip comes, I fall instead of move to catch myself. It didn’t need to be that way. I’ve gotten lazy and let my health get to this point. A friend of mine, Erik Bullock, told me a couple of months back, “not to let the old man in, he’s hard to get rid of”. Well I did and I’m having a hard time shaking him.
You older hunters already know this, so this is more for the younger chukar hunters. There is a simple solution to the problem of getting older on the chukar mountain. It is staying flexible. Stretch, stretch and stretch more. Most of my injuries and accidents on the mountain are due to my lack of being able to twist, step and catch myself when stumbling over objects. I’m that stiff tin man on the hill and the oil I need to become more flexible is simply just doing more stretching.
Here’s the article I posted 13 years ago. I failed to follow my own advice.
fj790 suggested this might be a topic close to most of us. We’re all getting older and some are just a little closer to the golden years than others. I’m still a young man in comparison to a few other hunters I have encountered while hunting. I am 59. I’ve had a very active 59 years and with conditioning and medical advancements I hope to be active for that much longer.
Twenty years ago while on a chukar hunt I ran into a older gentleman. It was one of those days that would snow hard, let up, and then snow hard again. I was about three miles from the truck and on a fairly steep hill. Between one of the squalls I see two English setters and a hunter heading my way. I took a break and let the fellow catch up to me. We talked chukars a while and I finally got his age out of him. He was 70. I told him of a couple of coveys I had busted and he asked if I minded if he went after them. He then went off in that direction. I heard him shoot a few times and when I got back to my truck he was parked there. He thanked me for the direction and said he got two birds out of one covey and three out of the next. We shook hands and went our own ways. I vowed that I would be like that man when I become 70.
I’ve got a way to go, but I can see that day coming and I will be like him. The biggest piece of advice I can give anyone about conditioning for hunting, is to stay flexible. Stretching several times a day is the best way of doing this and it doesn’t take any special tools. The stiffer you are the more likely to get hurt. Think of it as a piece of wood. It’s easier to break a dried up branch than a green one that bends with pressure. I do sit ups and push ups every day and along with my general household jobs I feel that is sufficient for upper body work. But, I walk a lot, and try to do so in mountainous terrain. The tools I use for this are my dogs. Hunting dogs demand exercise so off we go. Show me a fat dog and I’ll show you a lazy dog owner.
There isn’t a recipe for getting into shape for chukar hunting. If you’re a sheep hunter or the like it’s a different scenario. It’s a once a year type thing and you have to prepare yourself for that one week of hunting. Chukar hunting is conditioning in itself. You go many times during the season and you get stronger with each hunt. Your days between hunts are fewer. But it does make it a lot simpler and better for the old bod if you keep in chukar shape year round by walking those mountains at least twice a week. And the scenery is fantastic.
As we get older, certain parts of our body fall apart sooner than others. I’ve led an active life and couple that with all the hours up and down ladders on my job, I wore my knee out at an early age. I had three arthroscopic operations on right knee and each one eased the pain for a while. After the third scope they put me in a brace. That was to prolong knee replacement as long as possible. A year and a half later even the knee brace wasn’t getting the job done. The doctor decided it was time for knee replacement. When the time came I did a lot of research for fear of not being able to hunt the way that I like to. I like to cover lots of country and that involves some steep terrain. I talked to several people that had the same operation, but was never convinced that these people hunted as hard as I do and was feeling that this operation might inhibit my abilities to hit the mountain. One day I could hardly get off the hill, my knee hurt so bad. I set up the surgery for Feb.1, the day after chukar season was over.
Once again I explained to the Dr. my concerns and he assured me that outside of running and jumping life would not change. On the second day after the operation I was bummed because there was an older gentleman and lady that had the same operation and they were breezing through rehab with hardly any pain at all. I could hardly waddle to the rehab room and it hurt like hell. The doctor used this analogy. The older folks just wanted a knee to be able to get out to the mailbox and back without hurting and I wanted a chukar knee. The tolerances were much tighter and therefore the rehab and pain would be greater in order for success. So we fought through it. Getting the flexion and extension was hard and very painful. My goal was to hunt Turkeys on the opener, April 15. The therapists were made aware of my goal and they pushed me hard. Four times a week I was at the gym with them and they made me do things that brought tears to my eyes. But with the help of the therapists and my wife I was hunting turkeys 75 days after the operation.
When chukar season came around I was in full swing, not missing a beat. It still requires therapy at home. The therapy is simple flexing and stretching and thigh exercises. I do a lot of squats and step ups. You’d think that with all the mountain hiking we do our leg muscles would be strong. Believe it or not the thigh muscle doesn’t get strong in proportion with the rest of the leg muscles and that results in more work on the knee leading to eventual bone to bone and a new knee. Do a lot of exercises to strengthen the thigh muscle and you might save a knee. I don’t know this as a medical fact, but my back also feels better when I am religious at strengthening my quads.
For those who have hip problems, I have a friend, Jeff Dooms, who had a hip replacement and was hunting chukars with me the first year after his operation. He covered more country after his operation than he ever did before it.
As far as nutrition, I wish someone could help me on that one. Even though I know how important it is to eat properly, I seem to take the easy way out. My cholesterol is way up there. The doc says it doesn’t matter how good of shape you are in, if your veins get plugged your heart will fail you the same as the unconditioned guy. I’m working on that.
Stretch, stretch, and then stretch more. I wish I would have made a greater effort to stay flexible. It’s amazing how many things you can do better when you are loose. As far as chukar hunters, you can get up and down the mountain easier, you can negotiate the rock ledges better, catch yourself before the fall instead of after, shoot better, and actually step into your truck after the hunt instead of crawl into it. With the medical technologies of today and the right attitude there is no reason we can’t keep chasing the chukars into the 80’s if we have a mind to.