Hunting in the Sandhills is no walk in the park, even though you will be literally walking in a park. It is physically demanding, easily 2-3 times more difficult than hiking on a prepared trail. Between the rifle, water, and other hunting supplies, you’ll be carrying an extra 20+ pounds as well.
Heart and Legs
During the months leading up to the hunt, the “pre-season”, get in as much cardio as you can. Eat right. Every pound you shed now is a pound you don’t have to carry over several miles of rough hills. Whatever other activity you do, get some actual hiking in. Fill a backpack with twice as many water bottles as you plan on carrying, to compensate for the other supplies you’ll have. Avoid hiking on trails. Instead, try to find some hilly fields to hike through, and get used to walking on uneven, untamed ground.
Get a good pair of hunting/hiking boots. They should go up above your ankle, have good tread, and above all, be comfortable. I can tell you from personal experience that shoes that pinch just a little at first will absolutely kill your feet during a long hike.
Along with the boot advice, keep your toenails trimmed. This might sound odd, but I didn’t do that my first day hiking in the Sandhills, and I regretted it. By the 2nd or 3rd hour, my toes were in a lot of pain because as you walk downhill, the inside of your boot pushes against your toes/nails. I trimmed them that night, and it made all the difference the next day.
If your biceps aren’t all they can be, invest in some dumbbells and make curls a regular part of your workout. You want to spend as much time with your gun in your hands as possible, and your biceps will tire surprisingly easily. When they do, you’ll resort to less-efficient rifle holds, including possibly strapping it to your back. The less ready you are to shoot, the less likely you are to take advantage of a great shooting opportunity when it appears.
You don’t need rock-hard, tennis ball-sized meatballs. You’ll be sharing about 10-15 pounds between both arms, just holding it up constantly. Low-weight, hi-rep is the way to go. If you can curl 20 pounds as often as possible, you’ll be in good shape.
If you’ve got a gut like I do, your back will pay the price on long hikes. Surprisingly, sit-ups are a great fix for this. It’s your belly sagging forward that puts undo pressure on your spine, causing lower back pain. Holding a gun in front of you will actually increase this. Even some basic ab strength goes a long way, so start now. As with biceps, it’s more about having decent conditioning than having something that looks impressive.
Western Nebraska is primarily mule deer territory. While they don’t grow the antlers as big as some white tails, they grow much bigger. Prepare well, and you could land the buck of your dreams!