Sunday, February 20, 2011

Metamorphosis: Hunting without a gun

Somewhere in the middle of duck season, I had a revelation.

OK, it wasn't exactly a revelation. The thought had occurred to me before. But this time, instead of denying it, I listened and accepted the truth: Fitness hurts.

Being fit doesn't hurt. Being fit rocks. But getting and staying fit the conventional way - elliptical machines, running, even walking - leaves me pretty much wracked with pain.

What's this got to do with duck season, you ask? This: I had a pretty good fitness regimen going this fall, but when duck season began to heat up, the routine fell apart. In very short order the only exercise I was getting was duck hunting.

The way I'm hunting ducks these days, it's actually a pretty good workout. I hunt in an area where you literally race through the water - in waders, not in a boat - to get a good spot before someone else gets to it. And because I hunt without a dog, I charge out through the water to get every duck I shoot (and the non-dead variety can lead you on quite a chase).

After a few weeks of no more running/walking/weights, but lots of duck hunting, I had to admit something: I didn't hurt all the time anymore. No tight hamstrings. No rock-hard IT band. No knots in the glutes. Even my lower back felt better for the first time in a few years. All those pains had become a permanent state of being for me when I was fit, no matter how much stretching I did, no matter how much I forked out for regular massages.

Lesson learned: Repetitive motion = bad. Natural range of motion = good. Something about moving in unpredictable directions seems to work my muscles more thoroughly, and prevent the build-up of scar tissue that leads to that intractable tightness.

So I decided: That's it. I'm done. No more conventional cardio. Period. I'm done with the torture.

The only question now was how could I possibly get a nice natural range of motion into my routine once duck season ended and school started up again? Gym? Nothing but repetitive machines. Playground equipment at the neighborhood park? No, someone would probably think I was a pedophile. Maybe the rock climbing wall at the new gym at school? Another bill to pay...

Ultimately, I found the solution in a Rocky movie, of all places. Rocky IV, to be specific.

Hank and I were watching the movie a couple weeks ago, reliving all those great Cold War memories, and when we got to the part where Rocky Balboa goes to the Soviet Union to train. Nemesis Ivan Drago trains on state-of-the-art equipment (and steroids), and Rocky trains au naturel. No, not naked - he just goes running, mountain climbing, log splitting, lifting horse-carts full of people, etc.

That's it! I thought. I can go to Siberia!

OK, not really. But I did realize there's actually some mildly rugged terrain in a state recreation area surrounding a small lake that's about five minutes from my house. If I follow deer trails up and down the hillsides instead of the bike trail around the lake, I could get a hell of a good workout. I could even simulate a pig hunt with Phillip, which typically includes long walks on uneven terrain, steep climbs and descents, and occasional sprints.

Oooh, bonus points: I could get prepared for spring pig hunting too!

So that's what I've been doing the past two weekends: I head to the lake, climb up a hill and see where the deer trails take me.

It takes me through cool oak woods, blanketed with a lush carpet of chickweed and miner's lettuce, which I pick and eat as I go. On the steep hillside underneath the expensive homes, I spot dozens of golf balls surrounded only by deer tracks - apparently the balls are the sole emissaries of civilization above. I see a great winged thing take off from high in the oak's branches above me. Then it returns, and I see it is an owl ... with a hawk not far behind it. I cross a creek timidly, edging out on a fallen tree branch carefully until I hear the snap and make the leap without thinking - laughing at myself. A squirrel chatters at my intrusion. A feral cat lounging in the shade slinks off at my approach.

The only other people I see are children. I freeze at the sight of them, wondering if they'll notice me.

And that's when I make the connection: This feels a lot like childhood.

When my sisters and I were kids, we'd visit our grandparents at Lake Isabella, and because our families gave us a lot of independence, we could just wander off and explore: We'd charge up and down hills, cross creeks and stop whenever we felt like it to examine interesting bugs or fish or pieces of glass. If we played our cards right - which we invariably did - we'd pop out into civilization right next to a convenience store where we could stock up on candy for the walk back home. When we got back to our grandparents' house, we were exhausted and happy.

Later, when I'd grown up and become a newspaper reporter, I was working on an article about urban creeks when the woman I was interviewing made an interesting point: Urban creeks are largely hidden, but if you want to know where they are, just ask the kids. Adults drive by without seeing them; kids know them intimately. Kids glom onto nature, and they embrace that aimless wandering through it.

Since I started hunting, I've often looked back on that kind of childhood play in wonder. I never knew it then, but it seems so obvious now how much of it was preparation for hunting: hiking, observing, hiding. Especially hiding.

Now that my favorite hunting season is over, and hunts will be few and far between for the next seven months, it seems incredibly comforting to return to this kind of play. It just feels right.

At the end of these jaunts, I know I've worked hard. But instead of feeling sore and tight, I feel renewed, physically and mentally.

I guess this was the probably the best kind of "fitness" routine all along.
It's called living.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011


Murphyfish said...

Hi Holly,
I must say that I went through a period of trying to regain former fitness via repetitive visits to the gym to do repetitive exercises, and although my ever slackening clothes told be I was fitter I never lost the feeling of aches n pains, fitness thought I is not a good thing. But then I started walking on a whim , not just taking the dog around the block but looking further a field, not only am I slowly becoming fitter but the connection to nature and the wonderment to found does induce a sense of being renewed. Not only that the government hasn't taxed it - yet. I find myself now looking for more challenged and more obscure areas where to place my feet, to a certain extent now walking has become my main pastime. So be careful me dear, you'll need to keep an eye on how far this path may lead ;-)

Erik Jensen said...

Interesting ideas, I have thought of using some of this, esp walking hard with a weight on my body similar to what I'll take on a wilderness hunt this fall for elk. BUT, as a fitness nut job, I have to say...haven't you ever heard of stretching ??? Most of my hunting doesn't require a ton of exercise, (deer hunting with various weapons from stands), but even that, hunting provides a big motivator to stay in shape. It is handy when you finally down a deer or two quite on a remote stand, esp since I don't believe in healthy, fully able-bodied people using ATVs. One nature-oriented form of exercise you're missing out on since you've moved from the cold state of Minnesota is cross-country skiing, a mode
of transport originally used for hunting. I was actually able to use skis for that purpose late in the archery deer season early this winter. I'm on fire as I write this - the U of M, where I work,
is actually closed due to snow. I happy as a pig in poop - I have to go in, but I get extra time off later for doing it, and a few more weeks of one of the best forms of exercise.

Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

Nice post, Holly. I love that kind of exercise and exploration, too! And I need more of it. This spring or summer, once the semester is over and my book manuscript is fully drafted, I think I may remember what a weekend is...

Richard Mellott said...

Hi Holly,
This is exactly the reason I got into hunting, because my fishing was letting me get fat. I injured a knee running a marathon in 2003, and after a couple of surgeries, I had no tolerance for the slightest hill. I did a lot of fishing, and my weight stabilized at only 20lbs overweight, but that was enough to start causing all sorts of problems.
Finally, last year, I capsized the boat, survived, and have been on Terra Firma ever since. I began Pig Hunting almost immediately, having had my hunting gene reactivated earlier in the spring, when I bought my 7mm Rem Mag. Got one, then started going out for hikes and walking the ridges for jackrabbits, so I noticed that when I hunted, I didn't eat as much, and I worked harder than I would ever have worked at the gym.
When I got around to bird hunting, I got a rude surprise...I still had no legs or lungs, compared with the guys I was going with. I kept getting left behind, and looked up the hills at them flushing birds in envy. I got better equipped, and continued to go, getting stronger and eventually, I started to keep up...a little better.
My first duck hunting trip up north with your friend, Charlie, I got a taste of screaming quadraceps...I had never worked my legs like that in my life since climbing mountains in my late thirties/early forties, in Utah (I did every pass in a 50 mile stretch of the Wasatch Range), so I remembered how healthy I had been when I really got into the outdoors, and I got excited.
The gym? Hate it, won't do it, total waste of time for me. Just can't stand there and do all this work for nothing...I'd rather be productive, like cutting wood, or cleaning the yard.
This spring and summer, I'll be back on my mountain bike, down at the beach, and up in the hills on my high top Danners. By the time October rolls around, I think I may be living up north, single again, and be out there every weekend, getting in shape for the hunt. Time to hit the rocks.

Mike at The Big Stick said...

Great post Holly. We just canceled our expensive YMCA membership with plans of switching to a much cheaper small gym closer to home. Now I'm wondering if maybe skippng the gym completely wouldn't be a better idea. Lord knows the hills I will be climbing during turkey season always kick my ass. It would be nice to not be completely drenched in sweat by the time I get to my spot.

Ryan Sabalow said...


My fitness routine is similar.

I hate gyms. There's something inherently narcissistic about people standing there looking at themselves grunt in the mirror while they lift something over and over. Watching people on cardio machines brings to mind imagines of lab rats running around their cages.

I enjoy going for long runs with the dog along the trails and BLM access roads within walking distance of my subdivision. There's usually never anyone around and I can just let the dog run free.

It's nice, especially in the spring when the seasonal ponds fill with water.

I've seen all kinds of creatures including deer, bunnies, ducks, hawks and quail. Rattlesnakes in the summer though.

Way better than standing on some treadmill watching CNN or something.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Murphyfish, I can already feel myself wanting to go farther and farther each time. And now I'm getting the crazy urge to take a bow with me. I don't have a bow. I don't plan to take up bowhunting anytime soon (bad shoulders). But stopping periodically to fire a few practice shots seems appropriate...

Erik, chances are very good that I can do stretches that would make you cry. My chiropractor marvels at how incredibly flexible I am while my muscles are all extremely tight. I just have really bad mechanics (lopsided hips), and my muscles rarely relax. Last time I felt completely relaxed was after my appendectomy. Almost makes a girl yearn for general anesthesia.

I think if I'd stayed in Minnesota, I'd definitely have taken up cross country skiing. Used to do a Nordic Track. Loved it.

Tovar, ah, the end of the semester is a blissful thing, isn't it?

Richard, that water workout is something else, isn't it? That's one of the reasons I knew I was fit during duck season - whenever I went out with people who don't hunt as much as I do, I could usually go twice as fast as they could in the water. :-)

Mike, I'm about to cancel my gym membership, too. I stopped using the cardio machines last year (blogged about that, too), but I kept the membership for the weight machines. I'm not even using those now, so why bother?

The downside may be that the weights I was doing were good for my back (I have LOTS of back problems). But I haven't hit those machines since November and I'm fine, so maybe they weren't that important?

Ryan, lab rats, exactly! The gym just makes me laugh. We've civilized ourselves so much that we get fat too easily (ever watch Wall-E?), and we have to create even more machines to make us thin again. Stupid!!!

I just wish I lived close enough to the lake that I didn't have to drive there.

Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

You do realize that, when I first saw the post title, I half-thought you were entertaining fantasies about abandoning your gun. I was looking forward to hearing about the creative (though perhaps illegal) means by which you intended to start nabbing waterfowl...

NorCal Cazadora said...

LOL, I figured someone might think I was going vegan or something and trading the gun for a camera. I changed the title seven times while I wrote this post. Hell, I changed the post more than that. This one took a while to sort out.

hodgeman said...

Great post... I'd like to link back to this one.

Hunting fitness is something I'm very interested in since I'm fighting the middle age bulge and simultaneously taking on more athletic forms of hunting at the same time.

Hate exercising indoors and have a youth filled with work related injuries. I have to really watch my back which makes backpack hunting something of a worry.

I've found that Nordic skiing and light/ fast backpacking are great exercises- those irregular movements are key. I've also started trail running- the soft surface is easier on the knees- although no one will confuse my loping gait with a gazelle, I get there.

Great post!

Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

The notion that you were going vegan did not cross my mind for an instant. I've been there, done that, and know the signs. You ain't displaying any of 'em. ;-)

NorCal Cazadora said...

Hodgeman, I do a little running in my jaunt - whenever I get to a trail that's well-used enough that there are no tripping hazards. It's not pretty, but I think it's important to be able to ramp up your speed from time to time. In hiking boots. I just don't do any serious distance anymore. Ran a marathon in 2004, and it was nice that I could accomplish it, but it was SO HARD to maintain that level of fitness. And I hurt all the time.

Tovar, that'd be a great post: Signs of incipient veganism and what you can do to prevent it! OK, seriously, not. I don't care if people want to go vegan - I'm not interested in controlling what other people do with their own bodies.

Barb Baird said...

NorCal ... are we related, or what? I, too, am on the cusp of not renewing my gym membership because I cannot stand the crowds there -- the preening and wasting time yakking all the time, usually around a machine or bench I want to use. It reminds me of junior high and it didn't much like it the first time around.

I want to get in, get out and get outside again. Am wondering if just popping sit-ups and doing all sorts of variations on push ups will work as well as the weight machines. Oh yeah, and dips.

Don't forget the dips.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Oh yeah, my gym has lots of retired seniors and there is a LOT of chatting on idle machines.

The first day I did this new "workout," I spent part of my walk picking up and throwing rocks, inspired by Rocky, of course. (This lake sits in an area where they did a lot of gold mining, which left huge pilings of river rock "tailings.") I figured that'd be great for arms and back.

But then I started thinking about getting a bow and channeling my upper body strength into something more useful...

Peebs said...

I've always felt that gym work out did little other than toning mussels making a pretty picture body that fit the wasp wasted greek god ideal of what a fit modern american should be (snicker}. Take a look at the pictures of the people who first crossed this country (most walked the whole way)not many big abbs there. Most worked from presunrise to dark 7 days a week just to live (of course they died in their high 40's)but a lot of that was poor medical and bad food/water. My point is that your new workout will probably get you in better shape for duckhunting than any gym will. I go out and walk up and down these Lake County hills for quail and pine cones myself to get ready. On a different note just wait till we go Abbing you'll find out you got muscles that you never felt before.

NorCal Cazadora said...

I'm sure I'll find them when I'm running screaming from great white sharks!

You're right, though. I think the best way to see figure out the ridiculous gym ideals of the time is to look at movies. Men who were considered sexy had a VERY different shape back in the '50s. (And of course women were just expected to have curves, not muscles.)

SimplyOutdoors said...

This sounds like a great idea, Holly. I've been thinking about this very thing lately, and I'm waiting for the moment when Winter's nasty grip can let go of us a little, and allow the wife, daughter and I to regularly hit a few trails around here - or even a sidewalk for that matter.

And, to touch on another part of your post, that is one of the things I love about having a two year old - she looks at things through much different eyes, and forces her mom and I to do the same.

It makes you look at the little things in life all over again.

Ryan Sabalow said...

Hey, Holly, one thing I should have said earlier is that you ought to try what I call a prison workout.

Basically, I don't do any exercise that I couldn't do in a prison cell or in the rec yard of High Desert.

I try to do reps of pull ups or chin ups mixed with quick crunches and push-ups. Per the advice of a body builder friend, the girlie push-ups seem to work just as well when my muscles start to fatigue after doing a couple of sets. I also try to as many exercise rotations as I can, but I limit myself to around a half hour.

It's great, 'cause with the cardio from trail running thrown in I've stayed pretty lean without having to pay a gym membership.

I'm not buffed out by any means, but over the last few years it's seemed to work out well with my busy schedule, so long as I don't break the routine, which happens far too often.

Swamp Thing said...

Two words: Warrior Dash

NorCal Cazadora said...

Hotlink that baby, Swamp Thing!

This is Warrior Dash.

Love the Warrior Helmets!

But for now I think I'll just keep hiking...

Anonymous said...

Did I read that comment of your's right? You're thinkin' about getting a bow?

You'll be surprised what muscles work doing that! Not only does it work your upper back, shoulder, and arm muscles while you draw, but you will engage both your upper and lower legs, your core and lower back while holding your stance. I guess you could say, it a whole body workout!

All that and it's just plain ol' fun- which will work out your 'inner groove' as well.

I highly recommend it ;-)

NorCal Cazadora said...

Just to play with, for now. My parents got me a bow when I was a kid and I loved it. I'd love to have one for fun again. But for killing, I'm going to stick for a while with the guns I've spent so much money on...

Peebs said...

Paid... didn't you win like three guns is the last 6 months?

NorCal Cazadora said...

No, Charlie, it was three guns in the last TWELVE months. Ha ha ha ha haaaaaaaaaaa...

Dave Proulx said...

What great timing on this post, Holly. I'm also very bored with the gym routine, but I know my 53 year old body needs plenty of exercise to keep up with the younger guys. They really kicked my butt last year on several occasions as we paddled our marsh rats all over, then jumped out and then did a Bataan death march in waders to find out where the ducks were going.

Checked out the Warrior Dash link. See they've got an event in NY. Looks like just the thing for off season practice sessions.

Now if I can only find my helmet!

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

This makes me wish for A)more open space and B)spring. HEre on Cape Cod, our hunting areas are mostly wedged in between residential areas, and there are very few places to roam. But, as soon as the ice melts, I'm going to follow your example. I've got a bad case of the winter flabbies.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Good perspective, Tamar. Sometime I pity myself because I don't yet have a ranch in the hills where I can just walk out my back door and get this kind of workout. (And given how badly under water we are on our house, it's going to stay that way for a looooooooong time.)

But I am lucky to have something so close. I only wish I could actually hunt this place, too!

oldfatslow said...

Every year I promise myself
that I will be physically
ready for next year's hunting
season. Whether it's ducks
or snipe that I'm hunting
when someone observes me
they usually ask, "Are
you okay?" To combat that,
I've started doing laps on
the stairs to my office's
third floor and back ten
times. Sadly, people in
the hallways are still
asking. "You okay?" Maybe by
September things will improve
(or my kids will finish
college on the life


slm313 said...

Oh Holly! You and I have to have a date for trail running (err walking) - I'll even find you some nice hills to practice on for pig hunting. Easier on the back and knees, you get to be outside, and no extra equipment needed than what you have already. Probably could even find you some nice water crossings :-)

Guess I should warn you though, my last trail run/walk partner doesn't let me choose routes anymore! The trails were the only thing that kept me somewhat sane during our last marathon training.

NorCal Cazadora said...

I'm actually pretty decent at choosing routes - I have a good eye. But following deer paths means I often have to duck.

I'd be glad to have you on one of my cross-country jaunts!