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Getting a wild workout

Writer John Weiss has made a science of measuring the workouts he gets in the great outdoors.

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John Weiss has made a habit of checking his pulse the past few months as he measures the rigors of his workouts when outdoors.
Contributed / John Weiss

CHATFIELD — I strung my fly rod and tied on a nymph, clipped my wading staff to my belt, slipped a net into a carrier and tugged on a warm hat and fingerless gloves.

The only thing left was a waterproof notebook, pencil and timer watch.

The final items were to record my pulse several times when wading through deep snow or casting in a shallow stream. They have been new for my outdoors ensemble the past several weeks after I decided to try to quantify whether hunting and fishing, and ancillary pursuits, meet minimum workout levels.

I have always enjoyed — no, demanded — the physical side of hunting and fishing. No outing is complete or satisfying unless I come home tired. I was thinking of that earlier this month with so much talk about New Year’s resolutions of getting in shape by joining a health club.

Yup, great, go for it. But how about buying a hunting or fishing license (new ones go on sale Feb. 18 and are needed March 1)? I’ve suggested that before because I’ve always thought many kinds of hunting and fishing are great workouts.


Only recently did I decide to test it. I bought two sport watches but they read my pulse too low compared with when I took it myself. So I began to manually check my pulse many times as I hunted and fished, then used a formula to determine calories burned.

I was right. We can get a great workout outdoors, but seldom realize it. Let me first say that calories burned is not the greatest glory of being outdoors. The greatest glories are so blessedly intangible.

You can’t quantify a sunrise, or a full moon on fresh snow, the soothing of moving water, songs of warblers or the spectacle of spring flowers, the jolt of a gobbler up close. That, to me, is a given, an absolute.

Also, let me say from the beginning that gyms have their place. They are excellent for keeping in shape for hunting and fishing, climbing bluffs, snowshoeing and just kicking around in woods. They aren’t wild, though they are probably a lot safer than wading through reed canary grass in the dark, busting through buckthorn or climbing bluffs in the dark. I’ll take the small risk, then use a wading staff or walking stick to cash in on the mega-joys.

When quantifying a wild workout, I also realized It’s natural, unstructured, random, you never know what’s next. Up a hill, down, cross a stream, cast, hurry when the dog tells you a pheasant or rabbit is near then stand to await the flush. Your body has to adjust, and adjust some more.

There are ah-ha! discoveries of random acts of brilliance of a little beauty-jewel in ice or the rush when feeling a suddenly-hooked trout’s power.

Here’s how I tested. I used a stopwatch to time myself and check my pulse whenever I went from one thing to another, such as walking to get to a stream, then actually fishing.

I found that omnicalculator.com lets me put in my VO2 max (a measure of physical condition). Calibrations include gender, age, weight, time spent and heart beats per minute. It then told me how many calories I burned, which would include about the 100 calories an hour I need even when sleeping or resting.


I used the formula of 220 minus my age to find my maximum heart rate. The American Heart Association recommends a target heart rate of 50 to 70% of that for moderate exercise and 70 to 85% for a vigorous workout. The neat thing about that calculator is that I could adjust some things, such as my age; my doctor told me to calculate it lower because I’m in good shape.

I hoped for at least some vigorous workout each time and got it. Here’s a few of my pulse-probing outings: In late November, I trout fished about 5 hours in Forestville State Park, burning about 1,800 calories. Alas, I had no pulse-rating hits on my flies (I’m having a tough time with trout). My pulse was well into vigorous workout when walking to the stream wearing waders and going through snow. When I stood along the stream, or in the stream, and cast flies, I got a high-moderate workout.

When scouting for deer for hunting the chronic wasting disease hunt, I was in the fitness range for a half hour, but sitting for 2 hours didn’t put me into even moderate fitness range. I burned about 360 calories.

In late December, I hunted grouse, pushing harder to go a bit up a bluff side, but more relaxed slowly walking. I was in moderate exercise range for about an hour and vigorous for another hour for a total of about 1,100 calories burned.

In early January, fishing on Trout Run Creek had me in vigorous range for about 25 minutes and in mid-moderate for about 2 hours for about 800 calories burned. One of the more intense workouts was 2 hours rabbit hunting with fellow Post Bulletin outdoors writer Eric Atherton. My pulse was a real rollercoaster, lower as we sauntered through the deep, crusty snow, then suddenly “running” up when his dog Roxie began to signal a rabbit in a woodpile.

At times, I’m sure my pulse was near maximum but I loved it, the joy of the hunt overwhelmed any tiredness. I averaged well into vigorous for nearly the whole time for about 1,400 calories burned. Atherton, who is younger and in pheasant-hunting shape, had a pulse significantly lower than mine. Roxie is his friendly, hunting-eager, gym.

In mid-January, I tried a different trout-fishing style recommended by a friend. In winter, most anglers slow down and fish a nymph near the bottom in a stay-and-play method. The friend, however, went for run-and-gun, hustling along a stream, casting a streamer several times to find any eager-to-eat fish, then moving on. It’s really a trout-fishing analog for the high intensity interval training commonly used in gyms. That was a hard one to know just what my total calories were because I was changing pace so often. But overall, I figured I burned more than 800 calories in 3 hours.

Finally, I decided to visit a place I turkey hunt in spring and fall, seeing what it looks like in winter and maybe see if I can find any traces of turkeys that have been puzzlingly few the past few years. Snow was deep enough for snowshoes. I found a lot of deer signs and plan to go back in a few more weeks to look for shed antlers. But there were no turkey signs of any kind. I didn’t have time or energy to walk down a long tote road to the valley floor. That too will come next time.


In all, I figured I burned about 900 calories in low-vigorous range in about 90 minutes. When done, I decided to drive around because I had seen so many turkeys the day before when driving around northern Houston County, all of them feeding. Sure enough, near where I hunt was a flock of maybe two dozen younger birds, all gathering grit or feeding on a hillside. I’m guessing it was a successful hatch last spring, and maybe I will have hope for the spring hunt. And when I hunt, I now know that I’ll get a wild, natural workout.

John Weiss has written and reported about Outdoors topics for the Post Bulletin for more than 45 years. He is the author of the book "Backroads: The Best of the Best by Post-Bulletin Columnist John Weiss.”

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