Following a disappointing 2022 hunting season marked by a lack of success in turkey hunting during the spring and only securing one deer in the fall and winter seasons, I recognized the need for substantial improvements in the coming year. Like many, my New Year’s resolution centered around shedding weight and improving my fitness. The usual challenge lay in the difficulty of such resolutions, often leading to abandoned expectations. However, this past year brought a distinct change. My wife and I committed to losing weight, enhancing our fitness, and, crucially, spending the upcoming summer as a more active and outdoorsy family than ever before.
WHAT WAS THE PROBLEM
When my wife and I outlined our New Year’s resolutions for 2023, we shared a common vision of getting fit, embracing the outdoors, and leading more active lives. I also saw this as an opportunity to elevate my hunting skills and become the hunter I aspired to be. “I’ll shed fifty pounds by the start of the spring turkey season,” I decided, determined to eliminate the struggles of navigating the Ozark hills and calling for assistance to drag deer, a scenario I found myself in twice in the fall of 2021.
Reflecting on 2013 and 2014, I remembered shedding pounds and cultivating a love for running. However, somewhere along the line, a year or two later, I abandoned running, neglected proper eating habits, and allowed my health to take a back seat for an extended period. In what felt like the blink of an eye, I found myself not just regaining but surpassing the weight I had previously lost, finding myself overweight. The birth of our son in 2018 added a personal concern, as I recognized the need to improve my health to engage in fatherhood fully. My wife, our son, and I share an exceptionally close and loving bond, a connection that has been strong since the day he was born. While our lives were genuinely happy, the decision to set goals for 2023 prompted a shift in focus. Rather than focusing strictly on weight loss, I centered my resolution around my passion for hunting and the aspiration to become a more proficient hunter.
To kick off my journey, I aimed to adopt healthier eating habits, limit my daily calorie intake to two thousand, and shed pounds. Fortunately, the results were swift and impressive. The hard work paid off, and I rapidly started shedding excess weight. Achieving my goal of losing fifty pounds by the start of the turkey season felt like a rocket ship taking off. On April 16th, during my weigh-in, I discovered that I had precisely reached my weight loss target. The spring turkey season unfolded in stark contrast to previous seasons—I had newfound energy, eagerly seizing every opportunity to pursue gobbling toms.
Following the conclusion of the spring turkey season, my focus shifted to actively enjoying the outdoors with my family. On April 2nd, a few days before the spring hunting season commenced, my wife, son, and I attended church on a Sunday morning, followed by a short drive to Alley Springs near Eminence, Missouri. We planned to have lunch on the provided picnic tables and then briefly hike around the spring and natural river area. Unbeknownst to us then, this marked the beginning of a new chapter in our family’s life. From that day onward, we embarked on nearly twenty-five hikes throughout the summer, exploring some of Missouri and Arkansas’s most picturesque locations. Our adventures included visits to Ha Ha Tonka State Park, Elephant Rock State Park, Echo Bluff State Park, various springs, waterfalls, caves, and other natural areas. We also experienced our first National Park, enjoying an incredible hike overlooking the scenic Hot Springs National Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Our family’s love for hiking grew so much that we now have our own distinct hiking shoes, trek poles, backpacks, and a collection of books that guide us to our next adventure. In response to our son’s enthusiastic request, we are already planning next year’s family vacation—a hiking expedition in the mountains of the western United States.
In the midst of summer, I made a crucial decision to reintroduce running into my weight loss journey. Reflecting on a not-so-distant past, there was a time when the thought of running again seemed like a distant wish, an aspiration I believed would never materialize. My initial attempts took me to a local track, where I alternated between running and walking for several weeks until I could complete a lap without walking. Eager to enhance my fitness for hunting, I delved into research on effective exercise techniques. In my exploration, the name Cameron Hanes, a seasoned outdoor personality and hunting fitness expert, repeatedly surfaced.
Following some of his advice, I found myself engrossed in his videos, podcasts, and latest hunting exploits for motivation. Simultaneously, I extended my running distances, incorporating a loaded ALPS Outdoorz Pursuit backpack while performing bleacher sessions for added strength, and engaged in extensive bow shooting for arm strength, overall fitness, and improved hunting and shooting skills. Hanes also influenced my decision to bolster muscle strength and aid weight loss through the addition of protein to my diet. Post-runs and workouts, I began consuming several Mtn Ops whey protein shakes and other supplements from this hunting-inspired company.
As the summer progressed, my passion for running reignited, dispelling the doubts and fears that had lingered for years. By the end of September, I found myself running up to six miles every three days, achieving a renewed love for running and an impressive weight loss of eighty pounds.
A BETTER HUNTER
Despite the positive impact of shedding pounds during the turkey season, it wasn’t until later in the summer that I began noticing profound changes in myself. My efforts leading up to the hunting season intensified significantly. Incorporating bow shooting into my workout routine not only added enjoyment but also contributed to improved archery skills and muscle development.
The next significant shift occurred while setting up treestands and scouting with two close friends. In previous years, I had always relied on assistance to hang and secure straps on my stands due to concerns about safety at the top. However, in August, spurred by the sight of mature bucks in trail camera photos, I ventured into new areas independently. After locating a suitable spot, I invited my friends, relishing the camaraderie. Achieving personal satisfaction, I ascended to the top of the stand and secured most of the straps independently, except for one that was out of reach due to the tree’s circumference. Nevertheless, most of the task was accomplished solo, which brought a sense of accomplishment.
Regarding hunting, I harvested my first deer of the season on October 6th during Missouri’s new early antlerless season, using my rifle to take a doe. After field dressing, I successfully dragged her seventy-five yards uphill—an endeavor that would have left me exhausted in past years. This time, I powered through without pausing to catch my breath and loaded her into my vehicle unassisted, marking another deeply satisfying personal accomplishment.
As the hunting season progressed, my increased energy and desire to actively engage in the pursuit led me to spend more time in the stand. In late October, a close encounter with a mature buck at twelve yards was cut short by my thumb release going off prematurely. Although my arrow missed its mark, I felt a sense of accomplishment that my stand location and efforts had brought him within close range. In November, I successfully harvested another doe, with the added joy of having my wife and son in the blind with me—a hunt that will forever be etched in my memory. This doe came from a steep and rough terrain area that, in previous years, I would have avoided due to the challenges of navigating to and from my blind and the effort required for a harvest.
As I pen down this article, I am still actively pursuing a mature buck, hunting more fervently than I have in several years. I feel significantly better and eagerly embrace every opportunity God grants me in the great outdoors.
THE EXPECTED AND UNEXPECTED RESULTS
While achieving my goal of becoming a better hunter through improved fitness, the rewards I’ve reaped extend far beyond my initial expectations. As a family, our outdoor activities have brought us immense joy and strengthened our bonds in ways that words can’t fully capture. As a father, the increased energy and enhanced well-being have allowed me to contribute more actively to our daily lives, fostering a closer connection with my wife and son. Collectively, my wife and I have shed a total of one hundred and thirty-eight pounds, and the positive impact on our overall well-being is truly remarkable.
The benefits to my health have surpassed what I could have anticipated from weight loss and improved fitness. At forty-one years old, I’ve used an inhaler for asthma since I was eleven or twelve. Less than a year ago, I relied on it four to five times a day for increased airflow. Now, there are days when I don’t need it at all, and when I do, it’s only once or twice, providing relief for an extended period. Additionally, my slightly high blood pressure, a concern for the past few years, has normalized and is within a healthy range.
Rekindling my passion for running, which I had missed for several years, has become a significant milestone in my journey. On Thanksgiving Day, I completed a Turkey Trot 5K run in under thirty-five minutes—my inaugural race, but certainly not my last. As of December 2023, I consistently run six miles every three days and incorporate additional strength and cardio routines to continually enhance my well-being. In essence, the pursuit of becoming a better hunter has transformed me into a better person, bringing positive improvements to every facet of my life along the way.