Training for Mountain Hunting in the Off-Season

We consider having a high fitness level to be an absolutely essential part of the Wild Yukon team. Mountain hunting can be very physically demanding with many variables. If you prepare yourself physically for the challenges ahead, you’ve set yourself up for success by taking care of one of the variables you can affect. We can’t control the weather and visibility or where the game is, necessarily. We can ensure we’ve got the fitness to climb as many mountain blocks as necessary to find that ram and that capacity for a long pack out with full packs.

People often ask me what we do for training in the off-season. Mountain hunting requires a  high level of cardiovascular endurance and muscular strength and endurance, so our team works on all of these things in the off-season. As the season gets closer, we ramp up the trekking with a heavier pack. If you’ve got a mountain hunt planned for the season, you’ve got to be prepared to trek over steep and rugged terrain for days on end, and the following off-season training principles that we follow will get you there.

HIIT and Tabata workouts

These are great off-season full-body workouts that are time efficient and allow you to train functionally for the mountains with minimal equipment required. Both HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) and Tabatas are interval-style work-outs that will give you a great cardio and strength workout. HIIT workouts are interval sessions that last between 30–90 seconds that blast the heart rate repeatedly with short rest sessions in between exercises. Tabata workouts are similar (always 20 seconds of work, 10 seconds of rest, for eight sets) and fun to mix with shorter work and recovery intervals and higher repetitions. Doing these types of workouts 3x’s per week will help you build a strong foundation for the mountains.    

Sample HIIT Workout

HIIT 9×3 – Workout description

A mid-week HIIT workout, this session consists of 9 exercises with 45-second work intervals and 15-second recovery, which we’ll repeat three x’s each. We target the whole body with longer work sessions and shorter rests, keeping the heart rate up.

Equipment required:

Mat, water, light to medium dumbbells

Warmup: Easy 3–5 minutes of light walking, jacks, squats etc.

ExerciseIntervalModifications
Mountain Climbers45sec/15 secIncrease tempo
Squat jumps45sec/15 secLow impact or Increased plyo
Plank – (shoulder tap)45sec/15 secOn knees or toes
Alt. Reverse Lunge45sec/15 secAdd plyo
Push press shoulder press 45sec/15 secIncrease weight
Reverse curl crunch45sec/15 secBring head/shoulders off the ground
Broad jumps45sec/15 secIncrease plyo
Push-ups45sec/15 secOn knees or toes
Bicycle crunches 1-2-345sec/15 secChange tempo

Endurance workouts

Endurance workouts are a cornerstone of mountain hunting fitness and an area that often gets forgotten. Trekking in the mountains requires maintaining a steady heart rate for hours on end. Incorporating regular endurance running, hiking, biking, or paddling sessions is crucial to building this endurance base.  I recommend adding a couple of sessions during the week, alternating between your HIIT workouts and then a more extended session on the weekend.  

Sample Workout

Begin with 30 minutes of steady-state running or 60 minutes of cycling. Each week, increase the previous week’s longest session by 20%. Build up to 2-hour runs or 4-hour rides.

Pack/Rucking workouts

If you want to run a marathon successfully, you’ve got to spend a lot of time doing long-run sessions. It works the same for mountain hunting – if you want to be ready to hike in the mountains with a pack for multiple hours/days, it just makes sense you’ve got to spend time training your body specifically to do that. As your training progresses, this requires building a progressive plan with distance, elevation, and pack weight.

Sample Workout

Begin with a 30lb pack for men or 20lb for women. Load up your pack with weight (preferably something without hard corners) and select a route that will take you 45 minutes. If your fitness is minimal,  choose something less challenging. If you’re ready for a challenge, find a hilly route. This kind of training is the perfect opportunity to break in your new boots. Each week, extend the distance and slowly increase the weight. Don’t worry about carrying a very heavy pack, but rather focus on getting the mileage under your legs and avoiding injury.

A quick way to maintain some of this fitness in the off-season is to build yourself a bench step and add some step-up workouts with a light pack. Adding a ruck session to the end of your HIIT workout once or twice per week will make the transition to the mountains that much easier.

My wife and I have created a Fitness/Nutrition/Mindset program called the Power Hunter Fitness program. The program is based on the principles I described above and includes three weekly exercise videos to follow along with us, a meal plan and some motivational videos and tips from me. If you’re interested in checking it out, you can find us at  https://phf.powerhunterfitness.com/the-program.

Whether you follow along with us or not, here are my top five tips for fitness training in the off-season:

  1. Find a plan or make yourself a fitness plan and schedule it into your day – make it non-negotiable.
  2. Get out of bed in the morning – morning exercisers are proven to be more adherent. Shut off the late-night Netflix and set yourself a sleep schedule that allows you to get enough rest and get your workout done early.
  3. Create yourself an accountability system – include your family, a friend or a co-worker in your plans. Tell the world: whatever you need to make yourself accountable.
  4. Mix it up and keep it fun – hunting can provide many obstacles and challenges, so vary your fitness routine and challenge the muscles in many different ways.        
  5. Set yourself a goal – post that picture of a beauty ram on your phone screen, sign-up for a half marathon or mountain bike race, whatever it takes!

My Mountain Hunting Tripod

When I’m packing for a mountain hunt, there are a few items that I will never forget at home and which form the basis of hunting style. Binoculars (10×42) and a binocular case, spotting scope (27–65×85), rifle, bullets. You get the idea. The final component of the necessary hardware is my tripod.

Ever since I first used the Ascend-14 in the field, I’ve been able to adapt the tripod to my hunting style and focus on what is most important: finding game.

I used a cheap little tripod for my spotting scope for the longest time. It was tiny and light but didn’t allow smooth panning, and even a light breeze was too much for it, forcing me to stay very low to the ground and find a windbreak when I was glassing far off. Additionally, the aluminum legs weren’t strong and were too short for any glassing where I wasn’t seated, making using binoculars to glass over bushes impossible. Shooting off this unit was totally out of the question.

My new tripod for mountain hunting addresses each of these shortfalls. The Really Right Stuff Ascend-14 with the Anvil-30 ball head allows for smooth panning, letting me focus on what I’m looking at instead of trying to get a good sight picture. The Ascend is built with premium carbon fibre tubes, offering incredible stiffness in a lightweight package and can withstand a stout breeze before I have to look for cover from the wind. The 1/4-turn sealed twist locks make extending the legs a breeze.

The Ascend-14 adapts beautifully to any glassing situation, including this rocky position where I wish to sit but not extend myself above the skyline.

The Ascend’s legs extend the tripod’s maximum height is 59.9″, allowing for all kinds of flexibility. I can extend the legs out at a wide-angle in windy conditions to give a huge footprint and outstanding stability in all but the worst conditions. In rocky terrain, extending one or two legs out quite far may be necessary to keep the tripod level and allow me to sit in the place that gives me the best glassing. I had to choose my position to suit the tripod with my old tripod, rather than the other way around.

Weighing in at 3.2 lb, the Ascend is strong enough to handle any optics I own. Paired with the Anvil-30 ball head, I can also shoot from the tripod, which has been a revelation and transformation of my shooting capabilities. This configuration is suited for flat, downhill, or uphill shooting, whether prone, seated or kneeling.

Paired with the Anvil-30 ball head, the Ascend-14 is an incredible shooting platform. Moments after we took this image, I took a 400-yard shot on a Dall’s Sheep ram in the McKenzie Mountains with Canol Outfitters. After days of hard hiking and a big investment in the hunt, my shooting platform was as comfortable and stable as any bench rest at my local shooting range.

An additional feature that I really love is the extendable quick column. The centre column allows me to raise the height of my optics even higher but is also easily removed to save weight. I tend to remove the column in the mountains as the tripod has sufficient height for the vast majority of my use cases.

The Ascend-14’s quick column allows maximum flexibility when choosing a glassing position. In this image, I am standing to gain height over the low bushes in this location.
Watch my discussion of the Ascend-14 in this video. I will walk you through how I use the tripod and show it to you in the field.

If you’re in the market to upgrade your mountain hunting tripod, the Really Right Stuff Ascend-14 should undoubtedly be at the top of your list. Investing in a premium tripod like this will make every future hunt more enjoyable and more successful.

Field Tip: Tripod Shooting for Yukon-Alaska Moose

I’ve been hunting moose for more years than I can remember, but it’s only recently that I’ve started to use a tripod for shooting. How well does the tripod lend itself to hunting moose in the Yukon? Can a moose hunter use a tripod to improve hunting success in terrain with high brush and other obstacles?

Off-hand shooting ability is admirable, and we should all aspire to be confident shooters in many shooting positions. Whether prone, seated, kneeling or on the tripod, we should be able to adapt to the situation presented to us when it’s time to take a shot on a trophy animal. However, certainly, an off-hand shot will seldom be the best possible shot. That’s where the tripod comes into play.

I’ve been using the Really Right Stuff Ultralight TFC-33 tripod with the BH-40 ball head for my moose and bison hunting. The strength and stability of this tripod are superb, as is its light weight and quick deployment.

I hunt moose during and after the rut and face high brush as a serious obstacle. Prone and seated shots are rarely possible, and if they are possible, they are likely very long shots. A tripod will be the best approach in these cases, and I will have plenty of time to set up and choose my shooting position. Even in tight timber, the tripod provides outstanding support, which I can move as I move through the bush.

A moose hunter glasses for moose with his binoculars, with his rifle and tripod standing at the ready.
I face chest-high brush from my shooting position or between the moose and me more often than not. Using a tall tripod like the Really Right Stuff Ultralight TFC-33 raises my rifle above the brush and provides benchrest-quality stability.

I’ve previously broken branches to use a tree branch as a rest, but this creates a lot of noise and requires luck to find a suitable tree and branch. Additionally, relying on a tree for rest means you are pinning your success on whether Mother Nature has put a tree in a convenient place. That doesn’t make any sense to me! If there happens to be a good tree, but the wind is blowing, your shooting rest will be moving as well.

Getting the rifle above terrain and vegetation obstructions is critical, as is stability. If you’ve never hunted moose with a tripod while hunting moose, please do give it a try.

A hunter looks through his tripod-mounted rifle in the alpine.
The tripod provides outstanding support if a high-country shot allows me to shoot from a seated position. Here you can see how I am bracing my elbows on my knees, making for a very stable platform to take a longer shot.

The BEST Tripod Head I’ve Used for Mountain Hunting

What should you look for in a mountain hunting tripod head? Is this a piece of gear you should ignore, or can it be a link in your hunting chain that improves your odds of success? The answer to this question is an emphatic “yes”. There is no point putting your expensive spotting scope or rifle on a wobbly tripod or lightweight head that can’t handle the weight and wear and tear.

My wife Denise glassing rams before opening day off the Ascend-14 tripod and the Anvil-30 tripod head.

I need a tripod head to allow smooth glassing with the spotting scope and binoculars and act as a linkage to my tripod that performs when it’s time to take that shot. I’ve been using the Anvil BH-30 ball head from Really Right Stuff. It ticks all my boxes, including some I didn’t know I had.

The Anvil-30 is lightweight and is designed and built with incredible machining in the USA. The craftsmanship and forethought that Really Right Stuff puts behind all their products, including this unit, are second-to-none.

The Anvil’s lever release allows me to quickly attach my optics or rifle, and I have complete confidence that my Gunwerks ClymR rifle will remain locked in there until I decide to unlock it. The pan/tilt locking lever allows me to control the swivel of the head with my non-shooting hand, adjusting to a moving animal or allowing me to bring my sights to bear.

Moments after I took a single shot on my Dall’s Sheep ram while hunting in the Northwest Territories with Canol Outfitters.

The Anvil-30 allows the use of the standard Arca-Swiss plate on your optics or rifle, or even the Picatinny rail on your rifle. If you don’t have a rail, head over to your trusted gunsmith to have him install a Picatinny rail.

I have this head mounted on my Really Right Stuff Ascend-14 tripod, which is a superb and compact tripod that is perfectly suited for backpack hunting.

Tripod, or Bipod, or Both?

Should I leave my bipod behind if I have a great tripod? That’s a new question for me, as I’ve only been shooting from a tripod for a few short years. I’ve always carried the bipod with me. I’ve loved shooting sheep and other mountain species off the bipod as stability is so important when taking anything longer than a short shot. For the weight, a bipod is a no-brainer when contrasted with shooting off a pack or some other improvised rest.

I’ve always glassed from tripods and carry one on every hunt. Shown: Really Right Stuff Ultralight TFC-33 with the Anvil-30 head.

The tripod changes the equation. I definitely need a tripod for my spotting scope and, sometimes, binoculars. Now that I have a rifle and tripod system that allows me to shoot with ease, I’ve fallen in love with the outstanding versatility and performance of this new system. So where does this leave the bipod?

The main challenge with the tripod is that it requires a bit more time to setup up. You’ll need to fasten the rifle to the tripod and set the leg lengths to match the particular context. This takes a few seconds, there’s no denying that. However, you can mitigate the negative impact of this by getting your rifle and tripod set up before you expose yourself to the animal’s line of sight. Further, in the vast majority of situations, I absolutely have time. Yukon game animals are often bedded when I come across them or are feeding, and thus it’s not a matter of split seconds, in most cases.

Watch my video where I walk through the strengths and weaknesses of the tripod versus the bipod.

An additional benefit of this slight delay is that it allows me to be more calculating and patient, making the most of the shot opportunity. A calm, deliberate shooter will be more successful than a rushed and tense shooter.

A fantastic bull moose I took off my Really Right Stuff Ulatrlight TFC-33 tripod. This setup allowed me to contend with the tall brush at my shooting position and down where the moose was.

Because the stability offered by a tripod is so good, the tripod will allow me to select shooting locations that are better, whether behind better cover or that provide a superior field of view. If the superior cover is 50 or 100 yards further from my target than where I would choose to use a bipod, I will still have a better shot.

If you’ve always used a bipod, check out the tripods from Really Right Stuff and I promise you that you’ll be glad you did.

Tripods for Shooting

I’ve been hunting for a long time, but it’s only been in the past couple of years that I started looking to my tripod as a shooting platform. Tripods are standard equipment for military, law enforcement and precision shooters, and hunters don’t appreciate how much steadier a shot from a tripod can be. If you’ve never shot from your tripod, watch my video to learn more.

On a recent bison hunt, I had only a few seconds to prepare for my shot. I was able to quickly lock my rifle onto the tripod and take a steady shot. Had I not had the tripod, I would have been left with an offhand shot, which is not something I want to do, if I can at all avoid it. I credit the tripod for helping us take this fantastic bull bison in a difficult situation.

I took this bull bison off my Really Right Stuff Ultralight TFC-33 tripod, fitted with the BH-40 tripod head.

Until now, I’ve looked to tree branches to provide support for shooting, but since I carry a tripod on every hunt already, for my spotting scope and binoculars, I can now shoot from the tripod, allowing this single piece of gear to work double- or triple-duty. Even on a machine-supported hunt, reducing how many pieces of gear I have to bring and worry about is of paramount importance.

In this video, you will see my Really Right Stuff Ultralight TFC-33 tripod, with the Anvil BH-40 head. This is the perfect set-up for moose and bison hunting, and since it’s very light for the features it has, it can work really well for mountain hunting species like Dall’s Sheep and Mountain Goats.

A tripod is indispensable for shooting in moose country. More often than not we are faced with tall brush, making a seated or prone shot impossible. Also, it’s rare to find a good branch for shooting, if trees are available at all.

Tripod Selection

There are many tripods out there, and selecting one is not an easy decision. Which type of tripod will work best for you will depend mainly on the type of hunting you do, and the conditions of a typical shot. If you’ve never used a tripod for shooting, you are missing out on an outstanding asset. I have come to love shooting off my tripods, and a quick survey of competitive, military and law enforcement shooters will reveal that tripods are considered to be standard equipment for shooters.

In this article, I will compare two tripods. In essence, one is lighter and more compact, which is advantageous for mountain hunting with large elevation to travel but with little vegetation to shoot over, and the other is a larger, more steady tripod well-suited for standing shooting to reach over vegetation, and when you will require enhanced stability.

I’ve been using tripods from Really Right Stuff, a premier tripod manufacturer. They build some of the best-built tripods in the world right in the US, so the craftsmanship and design are second to none. The tripods are super smooth, and that’s important when you’re out in the field and you’re trying to move across the landscape being smooth and not missing anything. That’s where the RRS products shine for me. Additionally, they are light.

I use the Ascend-14 for mountain hunting and the Ultralight for later season hunting. At just 18.5″ when folded, the Ascend-14 fits on or in any backpack I use, even a smaller daypack.

Both of these tripods will work very well for glassing, whether you are using binoculars or a spotting Both of these tripods will work very well for glassing, whether you are using binoculars or a spotting scope. Both are simple to set up to get the height you need, whatever the terrain from which you are glassing.

Ascend-14

Now the Ascend is compact, where I can throw it in my backpack, and it’s out of the way. The Ascend is my go-to in the mountains. If I need to travel miles with a heavy pack, I’m always carrying the Ascend, and I don’t need to extend it to an excessive height in the mountains. I’m never having to stand and shoot off of it, which the Ultralight shines in that category. The Ascend-14 is an excellent backpacking unit. It’s just smooth, lightweight, quick to deploy, which you want to get set up and have the ability to get your optics or rifle on it quickly.

Whether you’re using it with gloves on in cold conditions, it’s a joy to work with.

This past year, I was hunting Dall’s Sheep, and the Ascend-14 made a downhill shot highly straightforward. I was able to switch out my spotting scope and have my rifle locked and ready to go in a few seconds, all while choosing a shooting location that suited me in terms of remaining hidden and comfortable.

Ascend-14 with the Anvil-30 ball head on a Dall’s Sheep hunt.

The Ultralight

The Ultralight is slightly longer and bigger than the Ascend-14 but still fits easily on the side of my packs. The Ultralight offers additional height for standing shots and extra stability at any height due to its larger-diameter legs. All of this comes at only a nominal weight cost. I think if you’re a competitive shooter and you’re looking for the most stability that you can get, the Ultralight is the way to go.

I am carrying the RRS Ultralight tripod, paired with RRS’ BH-40 tripod head. The setup is just under a pound heavier than the Ascend. The long legs of the Ultralight perform well in a situation like I had this past winter where I was hunting moose in the snow. You can see the brush in this image, which is quite a bit smaller than the brush I faced when taking my Yukon-Alaska moose off the tripod.

Learn More

A Rifle Built for the Mountain Hunter

This is my Gunwerks ClymR rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine. This rifle is about high-performance with its carbon fibre stock, carbon barrel, titanium action. The gun is built for long-range, lightweight mountain hunting, which is exactly what I need. I’ve been using this one for a couple of years now, and it’s performed amazingly under every condition.

The ClymR stock is a little bit shorter than normal. It has a negative comb, which minimizes muzzle rise while shooting. The ClymR has a flat toe line for straight recoil tracking. The grip on this system is fantastic. I love the vertical angle for supported shooting and the thumb shelf for when I’m ready to go.

I love that thumb shelf position that it provides for me. And then it’s just a matter of touching that trigger. My stock is carbon fibre, and that’s about a pound and 1.9 pounds with all the hardware on it. And you can also get it in fibreglass, adding a half-pound. Another great thing about this system that I use is I’ve got a 20-inch carbon wrap barrel.

This short barrel really keeps this weapon compact as when I have it on my backpack and a bush bashing. It’s not always getting hung up on the bushes.

A really great addition is a directional break, which minimizes recoil, letting you get back on that animal for the second shot. The internal magazine makes for easy loading, easy unloading, with the 7 mm SAUM, which I’m shooting here. It only allows for two in the magazine because obviously, it’s a fat cartridge, and they’re trying to keep everything compact.

I have two cartridges in the magazine, and then I always throw one in when I’m ready to shoot, giving me three bullets available to me at all times. It has an integrated Picatinny rail in the stock, which is really nice because it leaves the stock flush.

To sum up, the Gunwerks ClymR is a hunter’s rifle, built for those looking for a flawless set-up and know how important the rifle is for making every shot count.

Air Armor Tech Gun Case Drop

I wanted to torture test my Air Armor Tech rifle case, and throwing my Gunwerks ClymR rifle out of my Piper PA-18 SuperCub seemed like it was a good idea.

The Air Armor Tech Gun Case

The Gun Case is a tough, light, and compact system for storing and transporting up to two rifles. The cushioning is provided by a very durable air bladder that can be easily inflated to provide incredible protection when shipping rifles by air, or when transporting them on any machine. The case provides serious protection from water, drops and crushing.

I find it so much more versatile than a hard case, as it is much easier to strap down. When not in use, the case deflates and rolls up into a small package.

Step 1: The Rifle

I loaded my Gunwerks ClymR, chambered in 7mm SAUM and scoped with my Vortex Optics AMG Razor 6–24 x 50 scope into the case. This rifle has seen serious adventures on sheep, goat and other mountain hunts, and has proven to be a light and accurate rifle to tremendous distances.

I chose to also put my Air Armor Tech Extreme 16 Scope Cover on the rifle, as this is certainly what I would do if actually airdropping a rifle on a hunt. The Scope Cover lives on my rifle when I’m in the field and provides outstanding, lightweight protection to the scope and rifle.

Step 2: The Flight

I had Dale in the back seat of the Super Cub holding the rifle case, and I took the aircraft up to about 75 feet off the deck. I had chosen a sandy beach near to my home that would allow me to takeoff and land right where I would be doing the drop.

Step 3: The Drop

There’s not too much to do when you’re dropping a rifle from an aircraft: Have a target to aim for and let it go!

Step 4: The Shot

After checking the rifle for any obvious damage, I set myself up to take a 200 yard shot on my target. Drum roll… bang! The result: not a bad shot. I’ll give myself a inch or two off the target based on the stress of the situation as a pilot and everything it took to make this happen.

Success!

With the hard work that goes into getting into a shooting position on an animal I wish to harvest, it’s natural that I invest in the best rifle system, optics and carrying systems I can find. These investments increase my chances of success dramatically. If you are looking for similar success, head over to Air Armor Tech and check out their Gun Case and Extreme 16 Scope Cover. Your rifle and optics will thank me!