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Art Lander’s Outdoors: Strength, flexibility training in offseason is key to bowhunting into 60s and beyond

Senior archers have the advantage of experience.

Over the years they have learned when, where and how to hunt and have a good understanding of the details that often make the difference between arrowing a deer and coming home empty-handed.

But with age, the physical demands of bow hunting get more challenging, especially the heavy work like putting up treestands and dragging a harvested deer out of the woods. A little help makes those chores easier.

Bowhunting into your 60s and beyond means maintaining personal fitness, particularly strength and flexibility in the shoulders, back and arms. (Selfie by Art Lander Jr.)

If you want to bow hunt for decades, into your 60s and beyond, the first, and most important concern is maintaining personal fitness, in particular strength and flexibility in the shoulders, back, and arms.

As we get older our muscles atrophy, and tendons and other connective tissues stiffen. Many seniors suffer from arthritis, an inflammation of the joints. Regular exercise helps combat advancing muscle weakness, and joint stiffness.

After 30 plus years of bowhunting seniors probably need to spend more time in the gym that at the archery range. We know how to shoot. It just takes a while longer to get the body conditioned for hunting season.

Strength and flexibility are needed to pull a bow back effortlessly and maintain correct shooting form while sitting, standing or leaning. Sometimes an archer is in a contorted position when drawing on a deer, or trying to shoot through a small opening in the branches.

Here are some tips and observations for senior archers, with fitness advice from a personal trainer:

Evaluate how you spend the offseason, and your routine leading up to hunting season

Ideally, the best way to maintain a high level of archery fitness is to shoot year-round, but most bow hunters quit hunting in December of January, depending on the weather, and don’t pick up their bows again until the next summer. That’s okay.

Just remember, seniors need more time to establish muscle memory. I like to start practicing slowly in early June, shooting a few arrows three or four times a week in the backyard. Start out shooting at 20 yards, and really try to concentrate on form, release and follow through.

By beginning practice that early there’s plenty of time to expand yardages, get back into your shooting routine, and work through any equipment changes or issues.

Check your ego at the door and cut back on your bow’s draw weight

Bow hunters feel the need for speed, to shoot arrows faster and faster with devastating penetration, and the archery industry is happy to push the technological envelope.

But the truth is it doesn’t take state-of-the-art speed and power for hunting success — just a well-placed shot through the deer’s heart or lungs.

Seniors should select a compound bow that they can easily draw back, and hold at full draw for a reasonable amount of time. The bow should have a generous brace height, 75 percent or higher letoff, and be at least 29 inches long, axle-to-axle.

Have an archery professional set up your hunting bow and match it with quality carbon arrows, and fixed blade broadheads.

Make sure your practice field points are the same grain weight as your hunting broadheads.

Bows are manufactured with 70 pound or higher draw weights, but a bow with a 50-pound draw weight is adequate to kill any white-tailed deer that may be encountered in Kentucky.

When I first started bow hunting in the 1970s I killed several deer with a wooden recurve bow that had a 45-pound draw weight.

If you don’t shoot year-round, the offseason is a good time to hit the gym

Some Medicare Advantage plans offer free gym memberships to seniors. Visit www.silversneakers.com to see if your plan qualifies. Over 14,000 gyms across the country are partners in the Silver Sneakers network.

Regular visits to the gym during the offseason will add years to your hunting life, and help you work through injuries or chronic joint pain that can impact your ability to shoot your bow effectively. While at the gym concentrate your weight training on exercises that will benefit your archery fitness and cardiovascular health.

Jacob Redmon, a personal trainer at Anytime Fitness in Shelbyville, Kentucky, recently showed me three exercises that will help seniors maintain their archery fitness.

But first, a good warmup is imperative.

“Stretching is something you always want to do prior to your workout,” said Redmon. “And whatever you do, keep your posture in mind, because proper posture will benefit your joints. When stretching, hold your position for 30 seconds to two minutes.

The Cable Pull imitates drawing the string back on a bow (Photo by Art Lander Jr.)

His number one archery fitness exercise is the Cable Pull, which imitates drawing the string back on a bow.

Redmon suggests holding a weight in the bow hand, pulling the cable back to the anchor position, and holding it for two to three seconds, then lowering slowly, in repetitions of 12 to 20 times. Start off at 10 pounds, then increase the tension (weight) over time as you gain strength.

“Be sure to keep your shoulder down as your drawback,” said Redmon.

This exercise benefits the entire back: the trapezius muscles, which are on both side of the spine in the upper back; the deltoids, the muscles of the shoulder joint; the scapula, the shoulder bone, and the rhomboid, the skeletal muscle that connects the scapula to the vertebrae.

A good thing about the Cable Pull is the height can be adjusted to simulate a standing, sitting or kneeling archer.

The Leaning Row benefits both the back and arms (Photo by Art Lander Jr.)

The Leaning Row benefits both the back and arms.

There are several options on how to support your body while slowly moving the weight up to your chest and down, with your arm fully extended.

“Keep your back flat, and squeeze your shoulder blades in, to your spine,” said Redmon. “Start out with 25 pounds, and do six to 12 repetitions in a slow tempo.”

A third exercise is the Shoulder Scaption, which is designed to strengthen the deltoid and rotator cuff muscles of the shoulder.

The Shoulder The Shoulder Scaption is designed to strengthen the deltoid and rotator cuff muscles of the shoulder (Photo by Art Lander Jr.)

Redmon recommends lifting weights at a 45-degree angle to the body, shoulder high, with arms outstretched in a slow 1-2-4 tempo.

“One is the lift, hold for the count of two at the top, then a four second, slow lowering,” said Redmon. “Start with three to five pounds of weight, and work your way up.”

While some workout videos show weights being pulled up to the chest, below the chin, Redmon does not recommend this for seniors who have suffered shoulder injuries or have shoulder joint pain.

• At the end of my weight training routine, I like to put on the headphones, blast some of my favorite classic rock tunes, and walk 20 to 30 minutes on the treadmill.

For me, elevating my heart rate and working up a sweat, is a good way to end a session at the gym.

To find an Anytime Fitness gym near where you live visit their website at www.anytimefitness.com

Don’t let advancing age deprive you of the thrills of hunting deer with a bow.

Autumn is a great time to be outside, venison is organic, free-range nourishing meat, and our deer herds are at an all-time high.

Work at your archery fitness so you’ll be able to hunt for as many seasons as you desire.

Shooting a bow at an advanced age is all about maintaining upper body strength and flexibility.

Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for KyForward. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.

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