Tag Archives: hunting

A New Fitness Program

Aug 24, 2016

A New Fitness Program

Just a Little Bit Better

MArk Trail Run 5
No, this is not another way to be the strongest, fastest guy on the mountain. It’s not a training program to help you to run a six-minute mile, or do a backbend. It’s really more of a motivational speech than it is a fitness program.

            In the interest of full disclosure, I am not a certified personal trainer or a CrossFit instructor. I have received no training as a yoga instructor nor have I been track coach. I’m just a guy who has dabbled in a number of different fitness venues with some varying degrees of success.

            I have done a number of fitness programs. I’ve done anything from trying to run 100
miles, to doing CrossFit and doing Bikram yoga, to only watching my diet and being too tired to exercise. They all serve a purpose, but any one of these regimens by themselves can lead to staleness and burnout, which can lead to failure. As a person who suffers from ADD, it seems like my mind is constantly wandering and wondering about the next exercise phase in my life, and I fret about it so much, that I end up doing nothing,
which is the worst. That stalemate usually snowballs and I find myself out of shape.Naturally, when I am out of shape I want to regain the level of fitness I once had. Thinking about the training and changes it would take to get to that point once again, however, often leaves me discouraged.

            That being said, this is what we’re going to do. This is groundbreaking concept here, so get ready. We’re just going to get better one day at a time. Yep, you heard that right. No pyramids, WOD’s, or tables of workout plans. We are just going to focus on getting a little bit better every day. Just a little bit better. What I have found is that sometimes the big picture is too scary or too daunting to say, “Yeah, I’m all in!” If our goal is to run 100 miles or to lose 100 lbs., the process can seem scary. We know how we live, how we eat, how we exercise, and making the required changes may seem so radical our goals can appear to be impossible. But…. It is always possible to get a little bit better.
 Mark Trail Run 1
            Step one in this revolutionary program is to trend a little better than what we have been doing. So your diet sucks. Start by improving it a bit. Eat a little less for dinner. Maybe eat anything you want, just not everything you want. Go for a walk with your spouse or a friend. Don’t worry if it’s not the 45 minutes of aerobic exercise they say you need (whoever “they” are). Just get out and do something.

One of my personal obstacles tends to be extremism. For my fiftieth birthday I decided it would be cool to run a fifty-mile race. The problem was I had never even run a marathon before. I chose to run the Bighorn Mountains 50 miler. Starting at 4500 feet and peaking at nearly 9000 feet, this course was challenging. This race also took place over 1000 miles from home making it a logistical nightmare. For someone who had struggled through two half marathons years earlier, and only had six months to train, the preparation for this event was tough.

            In the end I finished it, and did pretty well, all things considered, with a time of 11:37. Regardless of this success the extreme leap into ultramarathoning did not lead to a healthy, permanent lifestyle change. After that I swung to the other extreme of not exercising at all for 6 months. This struggle with consistency leads to both physical AND mental failure.MArk Trail Run 3

            The moral of the story is that we need to adopt a LIFESTYLE that will get us to the finish line of life, being healthy and energetic. So have one or two pieces of pizza instead of half of it…or the whole thing. I can see a lot of diet and exercise gurus who read this (like a lot of anybody reads this), saying, “you’ve got to eliminate that completely”, or “bread, carbs and sugar are a killer”. And they might very well be. However, for someone whose dietary habits have consisted of consuming large quantities of this stuff, maybe cold turkey is a little scary. Their failed attempts at perfection are causing them to quit. A little bit better is a good start. Enjoy some success. Maybe you didn’t get your 20 minutes of cardio in, but you walked once around the block. That’s better than you did the day before. Possibly, some better, or dare I say, good, habits are forming, and you’re feeling a bit better. Did you mess up your diet three of the seven days a week? Don’t get down on yourself. That’s better than messing up seven out of seven days! You suffered a set back during the holidays (Halloween through Easter), That’s ok. Starting again is better than not starting at all. You know what starting again is called? It’s called “Not quitting!”.

Mark Trail Run 2Lets do a little better together! Let’s make the changes and live a life we can enjoy. Let’s go for a walk or run, and if we’re already doing that, lets go a bit farther when we’re up for it. But enjoy it; enjoy yourself, your friends and your family. Have a slice of pizza, enjoy it, and then go do something. If you blow it, get back on the horse and try again. Failure is not permanent, quitting is. Put yourself in position to win. Have success. Capitalize on what you do well, and minimize what you don’t. Remember, you haven’t crossed the finish line yet. Your story is not over, the best of you may be yet to come whether your 18 or 80. Keep trending up and you’ll realize your dream!


Have you seen our Texas Deer Hunt yet? Click here to get your buck fever fix!

Brain Games: Preparing for Hunting Season

Jul 13, 2016

Brain Games

Preparing for Hunting Season

2015 Idaho Elk-9It’s time to get in shape for hunting season. We eat better, start walking, running, CrossFitting, hiking, and shooting more. There are lots of things we do to get our body ready for the challenges it will face in elk country. One area we frequently neglect in our hunt preparations, however, is our minds. Unfortunately, this is the most important tool we have. We can’t out run or out smell our prey. We don’t live where they live and we need four duffel bags of gear to possess what the animals were born with.

         An obvious way we get mentally prepared is by doing research homework on the game and area we are hunting. Map software is so advanced you can pinpoint the piece of sagebrush you want to sit behind at a waterhole. Publications like Eastman’s Journals dedicate entire sections to helping their subscribers choose an area in the western United States to hunt big game species. Good areas, great areas, hard or easy hunts, lots of preference points needed or over the counter…it’s all there. All the different magazines we subscribe to offer great information on knives, packs (we love using Nimrod Outdoors packs ourselves), bows, binos, etc… Reading these articles AND ads can be very beneficial to you. They can help you decide where you can have the best hunt and what gear you should take with you. These things are the easiest and most fun part of the brain game.

         Dealing with your emotions, especially when hunting by yourself, can be a much bigger battle. Loneliness, boredom, fear, day after day of failure, and lack of sleep, all play a big roll in what defeats hunters long before their bodies quit. So how do we deal with these mental obstacles that stand between us and our DIY trophy?2015 Idaho Elk-8

         We start off the same way as we start conditioning our bodies. Just as we don’t decide to start out bench-pressing 300 pounds, we don’t bivy 20 miles in the backcountry for 10 days on our first DIY big game hunt. Take baby steps. Stay close to your rig or main camp, and, as you get mentally stronger and more familiar with your equipment and hunting area, start expanding from there. At first you may have returned to camp each day for lunch, try staying for the whole day. While you are out filter some water, make a fire (if appropriate, legal and safe), and take a nap. If you’re not used to it, start walking out in the dark and learn to use all your equipment after the sun sets. If you can plan your hunt or first practice hikes as the moon is becoming full, you’ll have some extra light that can help reduce your fears. You are now developing the skills you’ll need for an extended stay on your own.

         When you’re comfortable with that, think about taking a one man set up into the woods for an over-nighter. If you can find a buddy to do it with for extra comfort and support, so much the better. Develop your eating style, whether that’s freeze-dried food, MRE’s, or something of your own preparation. Decide how you want to filter your water, or maybe you want to use iodine tablets. Ask yourself questions as you go along to determine what you like, and what needs improving. How comfortable are you in your sleeping bag and pad? Did your tent set up as you remember? How heavy and cumbersome is your pack? What do you leave behind at your little camp, and what do you take with you for the hunt? Answer all these questions on an overnighter one-half to three miles from your truck, on a nice day, and you’ll soon feel more comfortable with your abilities and your equipment.

         2015 Idaho Elk-11After that it’s just a matter of perfecting your set up, and moving deeper and deeper into the backcountry. Just as we all have our own physical limitations and comfort level, so it is with our mental abilities. Some people with six weeks of working out are doing phenomenal things; others are still struggling with the basics. Some people may get very lonely and bored. There’s no one to talk to, and you have hours or days to be lost in your own mind. This, too takes mental strength and preparation. Some of you will very quickly, find yourselves miles from the trail head for a multiple day trip, and others will never want to be more than a couple hour walk from their truck. That’s ok! You’re out there to enjoy yourself, not impress someone or endanger your life.

The Objective is to start small and work your way up to your full potential and hopefully improve your odds in the field. There you have a few basics and ideas to get you started. Get comfortable with your gear country and physical abilities. Enjoy your whole day outdoors. Always be amazed by God’s creation, but respect it, and strengthen your mind. Switch on your headlamp and enjoy a walk under the stars…your tent awaits you!

2015 Idaho Elk-10

Have you seen our Texas Deer Hunt yet? Click here to get your buck fever fix!

Blue Moon- Hunting & Moon Phases

Jun 28, 2016

Blue Moon

Rose.Moon-1Ok, let’s beat this subject up just a little more. What phase of moon do you like, or hate, to hunt in? Full, crescent, half, waning, waxing? Most hunters have a pretty strong opinion on this. Some of this comes from hunting experience, some comes from sun/moon tables, some comes from observation of breeding animals, etc. Whatever your opinion is, chances are it’s pretty strong, maybe to the point where you won’t hunt, or have to hunt, regardless of other conditions.

 I’m going to buck tradition here (seems like my life’s mission), and suggest that it doesn’t matter what the phase the moon is in! Alright, that’s an over simplification. All things being equal, it matters some. I just don’t let it effect my attitude, efforts or scheduling very much. I believe that there are several more important factors that figure into game’s movement that I would weigh heavier than the moon phase.

         The theory behind the full moon is that the animals can see better on those nights, so they spend them eating and playing the dark away. This leads to them being less likely to come out early in the evening or staying out later in the morning. My biggest thought on that idea comes from two experiences. The first was riding a horse coming in from an elk hunt. It was so dark, I couldn’t see my hands in front of my face. The horse walked briskly down the pitch-black trail with his 230 pound load like it was broad daylight. The next was walking out of a canyon in the pitch dark after an evening of pig hunting. Pigs are supposed to have bad eyesight, as far as game animals go, but here I was, bumping hogs that were out feeding when they weren’t supposed to be. Didn’t they know they couldn’t see a thing? I think what is dark for you and me, is not the same for them. I believe they can get around just as easy on new moon nights as they can on full moon nights.

         5-25 Night Pics-2One factor that does seem to come into play is pressure. This can come from humans or other predators hunting in the area. Pressure can cause animals to decrease their movement, move later at night, or even leave the area. Often times I’ve stalked into my grain fields, bowhunting for pigs, only to find fresh coyote, bear or lion tracks on my travel route. My fields are bare and I can only imagine a big sow with her babies catching a glimpse or whiff of one of my competitors, letting out a big “whoshh” and a growl, sending every pig within 300 yards headed for cover. It also goes without saying that calling in another elk hunter as he works the same canyon as you does not improve your odds, but another kind of human pressure can be equally disruptive. Vacationers! Labor Day in one of my favorite elk spots in New Mexico, which is a large campground, seems to attract every camper from El Paso and Albuquerque. Hikers, bikers, horse riders, runners, and outdoor enthusiasts from every walk of life descend upon this spot. People roam the mountains for miles, and good for them, but it just makes it harder to get away from human activity. Would I rather hunt when the moon is a sliver, early in warm September, or wait and hunt the last week of that two week season, spending my time when it’s cooler, quieter, and closer to the rut? I’de choose the latter. 

         Let’s talk about the rut. We can debate the best time to hunt elk, but I bet most of us want to be in the field on those magical days when the bulls are screaming their heads off. I think the weather and length of daylight plays more of a role in that than the moon does. As we move toward the middle of September, those cows start coming into heat, moon or no moon. A cold day that keeps those bulls feeling frisky can increase their daytime activity. A couple of years ago I killed two nice bulls on public land on DIY hunts. I shot one at 11:30 in the morning, and the other at 5:30 pm.. Pretty late in the morning and pretty early in the evening respectively. I shot them two weeks apart, one in a small sliver of a moon, one in a full moon. What they did have in common, however, was cool weather and little pressure.

         Another factor is how long you can commit to a hunt. If I could only choose one or the other, I would rather have a week or more to hunt with a large moon, than have to hope for success in 2 or 3 dark nights on a long weekend.Idaho Bull Dedicating more time to being in the field will lead to a higher probability of a successful hunt.

         I know some, or maybe a lot of, people will disagree, but the same goes with white tail deer. I’d rather hunt on a cold 10th of November with a full moon than a dark night on a warm November 1st. There seems to be a whole science behind the whitetail rut and the moon phase, but I feel better being in a tree from the 7th to the 13th, regardless of the moon.

         Just last week I shot a nice pig in the morning after a bright night. I saw a lot of hogs early in the evening before, and it was a great hunt. Ten days before, with a small crescent moon, I saw no animals in the same area. What changed? A bit cooler days, less available feed so they had to work harder to eat, and more animals honing in on what food sources there was. The moon was no factor, or at least not one that mattered much.

         Don’t freak out when you’re planning your next elk hunt and the full moon is on the 15th and that’s the only time you can go. Have a great attitude, work hard, and enjoy that frosty night under the big ol’ moon as you haul your bull out!

Watch one of our pig hunts from last year to see us harvest an awesome looking boar. Click Here- Harvest: Summer Hog Hunt

Now Pay Attention!

Jun 1, 2016

Mental Games- Part 2

Now Pay Attention!

As a professional retriever trainer who provided training grounds for many different amateur trainers and groups, I would frequently get asked what length of training sessions I would recommend for their dog.

            For the sake of this article, we are going to be talking about retrieving dogs and their specific tasks. Those of you running pointers, hounds or obedience dogs may wish to modify these concepts for their benefit. As always, what I say may not be gospel or apply to every dog, but it is an opinion formed over years of dog observation.

12.5.15_Duck.Hunt (4 of 37)

            The amount of time that I think usually recommend for training is somewhere right around 15 minutes. That may seem short, and a person who has driven an hour or two to their training grounds may not feel like it is a good use of their time. When I say 15 minutes, I do not mean that after a 15 minute session their day is done, it just means 15 consecutive minutes at any one time. A dog’s, especially a young dog’s, window of peak learning is fairly short. It is important to keep training manageable for your retriever.

 Billy's Training-14When clients book an hour long private lesson, I tell them we will work on a concept for about 15 minutes, talk about it for a few minutes, analyze what’s happening, then hit it again after the dog has had time to de-compress. Although this is not ideal, when someone drives a couple hours to see you for training, you want to try to cram in as much as you can without overwhelming the dog. I have had break through sessions where, after 10 minutes or less, I was finally successful getting through a concept the dog was struggling with, and told the client we were done for the day (usually I felt bad about doing this and gave them credit for the next session). 

            Fifteen minutes is normally about right and it seems like the 2nd to the 12th minute are the best. I have found that those ten minute periods are where we have good momentum, rhythm, dogs were feeling fresh and the learning curve was steepest.

            When I was starting out as an amateur, with only one dog to train, I would leave my truck, do some sort of drill, that I would invent on the spot, as we walked to my main drill, do my main drill, and then walk back to my truck doing some other drill. Often this extra drilling would ruin the gains I had made, sour the dogs attitude, make me angry, and get us nowhere. As I gained more experience, and more dogs to train, I was more than happy to get my point across and then move on to the next dog.

            Now like I said before, these rules do not apply to all dogs, nor even all retrievers. As dogs get more advanced, their attention span increases and their tests may take longer. I am mostly referring to drills, like forcing, baseball, wagon wheels, water handling drills. Things of a more mentally taxing nature. Billy's Training-11All dogs are different and you may find you may be able to push longer with one dog than another, so again, these times are very approximate. It all depends on your beast and it’s drill for the day.

            Next time you take Rex or Lady to the field, think about where you were on your last drill, where you want to be, and how to get there. Be creative, make your point and be done. Several short sessions a day will prove far more productive than one big long grinder.


Mental Games: What they don’t teach you about Retriever Training

May 18, 2016

Mental Games- Part 1

What they don’t teach you about retriever training


There are many articles regarding specific drills and concepts that are used for retriever training, so I’d like to talk a little about the mental aspects of getting your dog to his highest potential. Specifically, I’d like to touch on the theory behind designing drills and progressing your training.

Billy Jumping
Billy, the retriever in training, jumps into the water to pursue the bumper.

When designing a program, the first thing you need to do is form a clear idea of what your dog’s major tasks are going to be. Will he sit next to you in a rice check? Will he be in the bottom of a stand up blind in a tule marsh? Will he be sitting on a platform in the Arkansas timber? Knowing and understanding your dog’s unique requirements will dictate which direction you take your training. If you hunt in heavy timber or thick tule marsh, teaching your dog to do blind retrieves out to 300 yards might be a waste of time. Those same skills, however, may come in handy in a large rice field when you’ve sailed a buck sprig into the next check. Each situation has it’s own specific demands.

Once you’ve clearly determined what you ultimately want Fido to do, you now have to teach him these skills. To make learning easy and fun, your drills and sessions need to be designed to bring him along as smoothly as possible. Your drills need to start out as basic as possible, then advance from there. The goal is to move forward seamlessly enough where there are no giant leaps of learning that will leave you and him frustrated.
Challenging your team is ok, even beneficial, as it can build a stronger foundation for learning. Confusing yourselves only brings on, well, confusion.

Billy Retrieving
Billy coming back to shore with the bumper.

One of the reasons I think force fetching is so important is that, outside of basic obedience, teaching them to pick up the bumper on command is really the first and most basic part of any drill. If your dog can say, “No, I’m not picking that up”, you have nothing to fall back on. At the very least if you can say fetch and they will bend down and pick up the dummy, you can have some sort of success and victory. Although retrieving should be a joy and passion for them, defining who’s the boss and having a good delivery to hand are paramount.

Billy sits at the side of Mark while training.
Billy sits at the side of Mark while training.

As a professional dog trainer, people would often complain that their dog couldn’t do a new drill. Of course he couldn’t, otherwise I wouldn’t have them do it. When confronted by stumbling blocks in a new drill, simplify it by breaking it down into its basic parts. You don’t just teach a dog to
handle by laying out a baseball style drill. Separate and shorten your backs and overs so he can do them well right in front of you, where you have better control and he will get less tired. As he improves, lengthen your distances. Work in your right and left backs with your right and left overs. Remember, there are no laws on how you have to do these drills. You can stand wherever you want, put him at what ever angle you need or use any body language you can to help get your point across.

We apply the same principles of progression to more hunt specific training. If your dog has to sit on a platform in the timber, it’s a lot easier teaching him to do it on land and low to the ground at first. Once he is comfortable move to shallow water and finally into hunting conditions. Trying to have him lunge out of two feet of water in the dark with strange people and dogs thrashing around on his first time out can lead to an ugly first experience.
The first step to a successful training program is planning. Whatever skills your dog needs to learn for your hunting conditions, remember to break them down and simplify them to create less confusion, more enjoyment, and a better learning attitude.