Flu-Prone Elk Hunters: It May be Altitude Sickness

MISSOULA, Mont.—Flu is on everyone’s mind this autumn. So for hunters who start feeling lousy upon arrival in elk camp, the diagnosis may seem obvious. But, like skiers and mountain climbers, elk hunters at high elevations also are prone to altitude sickness with symptoms that look and feel like the flu—headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, coughing, shortness of breath and trouble sleeping.

Ways to prevent the flu are well publicized, and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is offering the following tips for avoiding altitude sickness.

Altitude sickness is caused by thin air at high elevations. Your body must work harder to maintain normal oxygen levels in the blood. Breathing and pulse rates increase. Still, the lack of oxygen can knock a hunter down especially if they go too hard too soon.

“Most of us live at a much lower elevation than elk do. That alone puts many hunters at a disadvantage even before they begin their first stalk,” said Cameron Hanes, a fitness and bowhunting authority as well as TV show host and columnist for RMEF.

Hanes says most sufferers adapt to high altitude by the fourth day. The following tips can help you make better use of your first three days in elk country.

• When you arrive in high country, avoid physical exertion for the first 24 hours. This can be tough when you’ve been looking forward to the hunt all year, so if you can’t or won’t take a full day to adjust, be smart. Don’t go full bore right out of the gate.

• Hunt high, sleep low. At elevations above 5,000 feet, try to gain no more than 2,000 feet per day. You can hunt higher as long as you go back down 2,000 feet to sleep.

• Ascend very slowly past 8,000 feet. Acclimatize yourself. Acclimatization helps cells get along on a smaller oxygen budget. By gaining altitude slowly, your body will adjust gradually with few if any symptoms of altitude sickness.

• If traveling by air to a hunt above 8,000 feet, try to incorporate a layover of one to two days at an intermediate altitude.

• Drink water copiously and constantly.

• Avoid alcohol for the first few days. Alcohol dehydrates you and drinking at high altitudes amplifies its affect.

• Consume a high-carbohydrate diet. Lots of granola bars, trail mix, etc.

• The prescription drug acetazolamide (Diamox) can be helpful as a preventive treatment but always consult with your doctor first.

• Fitness at sea level doesn’t guarantee an easier time when you’re at 10,000 feet, but being in good shape makes it more likely that your lungs can cope with the challenges of the high life.

If these tips don’t work, and if your symptoms persist even at lower altitudes, you may indeed have the flu.

Hanes serves RMEF as host of “Elk Chronicles” on Outdoor Channel and as a columnist for “Bugle” magazine. His second book, “Backcountry Bowhunting, A Guide to the Wild Side,” is currently in its fifth printing and is available at www.cameronhanes.com.

Elk Country Athlete: 5 Ways to Train for Better Hunting

MISSOULA, Mont.—Wilderness elk hunting is an athletic endeavor but you don’t need to kill yourself getting in shape. Cameron Hanes, fitness and bowhunting authority as well as TV show host and columnist for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, says moderation in exercise is a key for most hunters.

“You don’t have to be a world-class athlete to build up amazing endurance, but you do have to get started with some sort of workout regimen. Every day you spend in inactivity, you get weaker. Every day that elk move through high country, they get stronger. And the longer you wait to exercise, the wider the gap grows,” said Hanes. You might want to purchase some pre workout to energize yourself for your next hunt, and have a better shot at being able to keep up with the elk.

Here are five ways to start closing the gap.

1. Try a “commercial workout” when you’re sitting around watching TV. Do push-ups and sit-ups during the commercials. Over the summer months, this exercise can make a big difference.

2. If you’ve been doing nothing recently, there’s no point in running. Going overboard right out of the gate will only make you too sore, cause you to hurt yourself or burnout quickly. Go for a brisk walk instead. Walk for 10 minutes and slowly jog for five. Do this back-to-back for 30 minutes, four times a week, for a couple of weeks. Slowly begin to lengthen the overall workout, and then start increasing the jogging time.

3. You needn’t spend tons of time. If you’re at your ideal weight, you need just 30 minutes per day of exercise, minimum. If weight loss is a concern, experts say it takes an hour of exercise each day to lose weight without going on a diet. Thirty minutes will do for weight loss if you both diet and exercise.

4. Hard workouts are not always better. Some of the world’s greatest athletes exercise at “conversation pace,” meaning their pace is easy enough to have a conversation while running. Even many Olympians workout at a comfortable pace 90 percent of the time. As you get into shape, try long (45 minutes or more) comfortable workouts three or four days a week. Then, one day a week, do a harder fast-paced workout.

5. Mix it up. Add some variety to your walking and jogging with cross-training and lifting weights—but keep in mind that almost everything you do in elk hunting begins and ends with your legs. Throw on your pack and climb hills or bleachers. Get on a bike. In the weight room, emphasize squats and lunges. Lots of reps are more important than heavy weights, because for elk hunting you need lean muscle, not size.

When hunting season arrives, Hanes says, remember to pace yourself. The endurance you’ve built over the summer will allow you hunt longer, not necessarily faster or harder. Many hunters tend to overexert at first and hit the wall quickly. Slow, steady hunting for longer periods gives you your best chance to take an elk.

While he admits it’s not for everyone, Hanes prepares for elk season by training for and competing in ultramarathons, races up to 100 miles or more across high-elevation trails. His advice on workouts for hunters spans from basic suggestions for average people to highly technical info for elite athletes in elk country.

Hanes serves RMEF as host of “Elk Chronicles” on Outdoor Channel and as a columnist for “Bugle” magazine. His second book, “Backcountry Bowhunting, A Guide to the Wild Side and is currently in its fifth printing.