What is the Train to Hunt Challenge?
The Train to Hunt challenge is a fitness/bowhunting competition held in multiple different states for bowhunters and fitness athletes to test out their training against other hunters. This competition consists of many different age brackets and divisions, such as womens, kids, co ed, etc.
There is two segments to the course which consists of a customized 3D archery course where you are opted to shoot at a variety of different targets. In the 2018 WI train to hunt challenge there was a hold your bow for 30 seconds and shoot, a running javelina, and shoot two arrows in 10 seconds. Just to give some examples.
The second part of the competition is a challenge/fitness course. Where you compete in a 4 series circuit and an approx 1.5 mile pack run all while shooting targets along the way. To learn more about the actual course and the specifics go visit their website!
Why I chose to compete...
My Train to Hunt experience all started last year when I signed up for my first event. It was something I found online and just decided to do. I didn't go with a buddy, I didn't have a clue what it all entailed, all I knew is I wanted to better myself.
I went into it very keen on my shooting however my endurance and stamina was absolutely atrocious. I went to the gym a lot but I didn't focus on my cardio and endurance, which is huge for this competition.
Long story short I ended up doing really well on the 3D portion however I ended up getting turned around in the challenge course and bombed the whole thing. This left me with a bitter taste and I was extremely anxious to test myself the next year.
This year was about the opposite of last. I trained hard for the previous few months and slacked a little on my shooting. This year I ended up placing at a lousy 9th place, doing pretty well in the challenge course however ended up bombing the 3D portion.
For me this is about as close as you can get to competing in bowhunting. Its a next level 3D course. Where you are challenged on all aspects. Mentally. Physically. Emotionally.
Let me tell you when you are gasping for air, feeling light headed, sweat pouring off your face, trying to sink your arrow in a 3D target at 32 yards with a large audience spectating, there isn't a whole lot closer to mimicking the actual 'moment of truth'. For me this is the best way to test my abilities as a bowhunter.
What my training consisted of...
I tried to get these photos as close to identical as possible. Same camera, lens, location, to show the difference between after hunting season last year and to a week post the train to hunt. You can obviously tell a difference. I'm a little soft dough boy on the left, lots more definition and muscle on the right. However I think most would be surprised that I weigh in approx. the same weight in both pics (187-190lbs, 5' 9").
Typically after the hunting season I completely drain myself. I get zero sleep, eat gas station food almost extensively, and do zero training or lifting for that 2 month time frame. The picture on the left is the product of just that.
From December to approx. March I worked out at the gym almost every day. I think I went a whole month without missing a day. I didn't miss much. I started to incorporate running a mile on the tread mill every time as well. Running just isn't my gig and I had to change that. Cardio and endurance is a key component in the Train to Hunt.
I get shin splints a lot and tend to over train myself so I slowly eased my way into it. Once May rolled around I started to incorporate pack running at Mosquito Hill two times a week, with heavy weight lifting. At this point my buddy Skylar and I typically would hit the gym every day, it helps when you have someone to motivate you. When you train with someone that has the same vision, it mutually helps!
Late May to early June I started to incorporate a lot more pack running. Typically I would run 2.3 miles and 1.5 miles. Interchanging it. The 1.5 mile run was a straight shot around the hill. The 2.3 mile run was a steep 200ft incline up the hill and then back down and around. This I was trying to do every single day missing a day or two here and there.
It was two weeks out from the train to hunt and I started to add more running into the mix, lighter weights at the gym, and less pack running. I didn't want to overdue it but I wanted to keep the progress I had gained.
Keep in mind during this whole process I had a fairly strict diet. Nothing all out, counting carbs and things like that. But I completely cut out gas station food and replaced that with chicken breasts, turkey burgers, mixed vegetables, pork, less bread, no soda or energy drinks. This is very hard for me as I love to eat anything and everything but it was a must to save money and to really get myself into shape. I could have done this better, but I would give myself a B+ on the diet aspect. It was one of my tougher challenges.
For me the #1 thing that helped me was the diet and the pack running. Running and eating healthy was not my forte. CONSISTENTLY. It doesn't mean you run once a month. It means you run every day you can, and fight off the urge of the cheese breadsticks when your pumping gas. I remember numerous times I didn't want to run that hill but every single time I got done I was glad I did. If you are always able to see the light, the final outcome, have the vision, the goals, keep your brain focused on the outcome and results and push through the soft weak urges you will only better yourself.
As far as shooting goes, I did that here and there, but I didn't have myself on a daily regimen. Which I'm kicking myself for. It was typically once or twice a week and more and more the closer It got to competition day. Looking back it should be every single day and then some. No excuse for not flinging a few arrows a day.
What I learned...
Nothing great comes without hard work. Did I work as hard as I should have? No probably not, obviously not, otherwise I would have been #1. But I will always feel like I never did enough. There isn't ever a time where I feel 100% satisfied.
I look back at every scenario in my head, every trip out in the woods, every time I work at the gym, every time I shoot. Some days are better than others, I think the key to it all is consistency, the ability to learn from mistakes, and keeping a positive mindset.
I learned that I can push my body to do things through will power and determination. It can do things you tell yourself can't be done, until its done. That opens up new goals and really helps to tell yourself that there is never a limit on anything unless you make it a limit.
Excuses are for the weak, I need to consistently practice my archery. Am I happy with a 9th place finish, hell no. But its what I've learned through the whole experience that is going to get me to where I want to be. Through overcoming certain things you change, you learn, and you set new goals.
I want to start running a lot more, and plan to sign up for some trail races. I want to keep the momentum I have going now going through into the archery season. There is no reason I shouldn't be eating healthier and training throughout the season, it is only an excuse. Thank you Train to Hunt for putting on this event and I will hopefully be seeing some new faces next year!
Written by: Curtis Zabel
Co Owner/ Producer | Behind the Bow