I could see the buck several hundred yards away--too far for me to shoot, by a bunch. I could see that he was making a line toward the brush-covered canyons. I needed a plan to get on him or he would effectively vanish, and I would be deer meat-less for another year.
Off I went on a mad dash into the sage brush and rocks. I could feel my lungs burn and legs ache. I was getting tired, but adrenaline and visions of Bourbon-glazed backstraps had me motivated. Then the buck came into view, broadside at about 100 yards. It should have been a chip shot, easy as they come.
I had a problem: I was too winded. I tried to place the scope on the buck and watched my crosshairs weave. As my chest pounded, I tried to stable my breathing to actually fire. I could not do anything but watch as the buck disappeared, sauntered really, over the hill. I was too winded to pull the trigger with any accuracy--it was horribly embarrassing.
I was no longer the apex predator that I thought I was. I was Elmer Fudd, the out-of-shape gun-toting bumbler. I was bested by my own inability. Unacceptable.
It's not like I am the first human hunter. Several scientific theories' postulate that humans evolved as hunting animals, but without high-powered rifles to aid us.
Human brain size exploded about 2 million years ago, primarily from eating meat. That meat did not just drop dead and let humans consume it. We have no claws, no fangs, aren't strong and lack most of the death-dealing physical capabilities of other natural predators.
But humans are remarkably good at running long distances. Christopher McDougal, author of Born to Run, said in a 2010 TED talk that, "Maybe we evolved as nothing more than a pack of hunting dogs. ... The only thing that we do really, really well is sweat. We are really good at being sweaty and smelly. Better than any other mammal on Earth. ... When it comes to running under hot heat for long distances we are superb, we are the best on the planet."
This idea that humans succeeded because we can chase down game and dispatch it is called the persistence hunting theory. As my case clearly points out, hunters no longer chase down game. Something about hunting has changed, and not for the better.
It just makes me wonder how the modern-day hunter has devolved so much. The very thing that defines humans and creates our existence--the protein hunter--is now a mockery in Disney and Warner Bros. cartoons. Hunters are portrayed as lazy, beer drinking and unethical. Elmer gets outsmarted by a rabbit.
And it's not like some hunters don't deserve the criticism.
Slowly undermining the stereotypes is a different breed of hunter. These hunters are not fat and lazy. They are truly athletes. Case in point: Kenton Clairmont.
Kenton is from Bonners Ferry and now resides on a cattle ranch in eastern Washington. He is a college baseball player, former crossfit gym owner and has a master's degree in sports psychology. Fitness is clearly important to him. Behind all of that is a committed sportsman and the creator of Traintohunt.com.
"You don't have to be limited by physical fitness," Clairmont said in a phone interview. "So many times I would go hunting with guys who would not be able to do what I could do. They would not go after a bull because they didn't want all the work of bringing it back out if they got it. It all had to do with training and conditioning. ... I was like, 'Guys, if you just trained for this like an athlete, it wouldn't be an issue.'"
Being an entrepreneurial type, Clairmont realized that he had tapped a pent-up demand. "No one was out there training hunters. ... All the other types of traditional sports were out there, exercises for football players, baseball players, but none for hunters," he said.
Clairmont serves a hunting community through his website and with online exercise routines that "incorporate very few things: your hunting pack, maybe a dumbbell and your bow" into 60-minutes courses. The critical factor for Clairmont was to practice "shooting with a high heart beat."
"I don't care what shape you are in, when an animal comes into distance, your heart is going to be banging out of your chest," he said. "Hunters don't have to be limited by physical fitness. Pass it along to your kids, whether they turn out to be hunters or not."
The hunter, more accurately the bowhunter, is slowly re-evolving into a fit physical specimen. But for the fit hunter, it is a sort of catch-22: The more fit hunters, the farther out they will have to push to get away from all the other hunters.
But this dichotomy of being removed from others while encouraging others to join you is not a new phenomenon. In the hunting and fishing world, this dichotomy even has a club: Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. By virtue of its name, this is a group of people who are actively trying to get away from others. The backcountry is just that, isolated.
I caught up with Land Tawney, executive director of BCHA, while he was in Washington, D.C., promoting his cause.
"We need more advocates for the backcountry if we want to pass those wild places we so covet on to future generations," he said. "While some may think the hordes will descend, not all are ready for the backcountry, but those that are never forget the experiences they have and, for the most part, have a passion to protect them."
Fitness is a key part of the experience for Tawney. His regimen is mostly "kid curls and wind sprints in the yard," but as a new father, that is what he is able to accomplish. Furthermore, Tawney added, "You must have certain skills and a desire to hunt and fish the backcountry. To be a 'backcountry athlete,' it takes time, patience and perseverance. ... Not all care to spend the time or have the internal fortitude it takes to be away from roads, cellphones and other modern conveniences."
I swore to myself that I would never let physical fitness be a detriment to my hunting skills again. I took up running, thoughts of chasing antelope in my head and AC/DC in my ears. I signed up for my first-ever race. I didn't win, but I finished.
So here I am, 28 pounds lighter, ready to trek into the wilds of Idaho as a predator. I have proved I can run 12 miles nonstop. I am trimmer, tougher and hopefully a better hunter. I am not alone. A whole new generation of hunters is paving the way for me and others behind me. These lean, mean hunting machines are changing the way that people look at sportsmen, and for the better.