Sheyk-doun; verb

shakedown is a period of testing or a trial journey undergone by a ship, aircraft or other craft and its crew before being declared operational. Statistically, a proportion of the components will fail after a relatively short period of use, and those that survive this period can be expected to last for a much longer, and more importantly, predictable life-span.

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I was greeted by the early morning melody of birds as I slid from my truck and took a big pull of the fresh, mountain air. It smelled sweet and new, as it only does in mid spring after the woods have fully renewed from the dormancy of winter. I paused for a moment to listen to the sounds as the birds and squirrels greeted the sun, starting its daily journey over the eastern ridges. My little hiking partner, Saxton, whined eagerly as I unhinged the door to his kennel, letting him escape with an anxious bound. Hefting my Kifaru Mountain Warrior off of the truck seat, it felt like it weighed a ton as I shrugged it into place. With a soft click I snapped its buckles closed and tightened the straps before setting off up the trail with bow in hand. Falling into step, the bottom of my Cat Quiver softly banged a cadence against the butt of my pistol as my pack voiced its displeasure with light creaks and groans. “LEFT, RIGHT…LEFT, RIGHT, LEFT…” a Drill Instructor’s voice called out in my head, setting the pace as I marched up the mountainside. After I passed the first mile mark, I paused briefly to make some final adjustments to my pack straps and swap my bow to my other hand.

With every step my destination became a little closer as the distance behind me became a little greater. Every increase in incline swelled my legs with blood as my heart rate quickened. My lungs worked harder, sucking in precious energy-generating oxygen. Eventually my left arm started to tire and become numb from carrying my bow, which only brought a smile to my face. I reflected on the upcoming month of September, which marked the start of my most favorite outdoor activity: bowhunting for elk.

No, this was not a hunting foray into the backcountry, but only a practice run, a shakedown if you will. My pack tipped the scale at just under 48 lbs., which really put the hurting to my legs and feet. I didn’t need to pack so heavy, and I didn’t need to carry my bow with me, either. But like I said before, this was a shakedown. The first of many in preparation for the upcoming hunting seasons, which would put my body and mind to the test.

As I neared the four-mile mark, my old hip injury was starting to talk to me, and I could already tell that I had worn the wrong socks, which led to quarter-sized blisters later on. Judging by the way I felt at just a little over the half way mark in my predetermined 12-mile journey, I begrudgingly decided to make another half mile before turning back to the truck. Yes, I was disappointed with my performance that day, but that was the exact reason I was out there enduring the pain. I knew that with consistent, self-inflicted pain and punishment over the upcoming weeks, it would only lead to a more enjoyable and more successful time in the field. Cameron Hanes always says, “Train hard to hunt easy.” And while it’s hard to imagine even being close to his realm of fitness, his philosophy has always made sense to me. It’s like an athlete training for game day; he usually puts himself through much more physical stress than he would ever experience on the day of the big game. But all of the extra preparation, pain and pushing himself to the limit allows the athlete to focus on the task at hand (which ultimately is winning) and garners himself more of an edge over the competition.

I, myself, view the mountain and the animals I chase as the competition, and success in the field as my victory. Success in the field can be viewed very differently by every individual outdoorsman, and my view of success does not always hinge on the notching of a tag. This may be apparent by the lack of numerous shoulder mounts, or other “trophies” gracing my Man-room wall. I know for a fact that if you rub a generous amount of Johnny’s Seasoning, or use a nice Worcestershire marinade, an un-notched tag doesn’t taste half bad!

Seriously though, I have always felt that it is not about the destination, but about the journey, and to me the journey is everything. This is why pre-season preparation is of the utmost importance. Case in point: my quarter-sized blisters I suffered on this day. Just wearing the correct socks would have prevented this from happening and may have allowed me to squeeze out a couple of extra miles. This was the first time I had experienced blisters on my feet in at least six years of backpacking and mountain hunting. But I wore a pair of hiking socks that I had not worn before. It was better to find out now, pre-season, instead of finding out that “Hey, these socks suck…” on the first day of elk season.

You can see the archer’s pardox as the arrow bends in flight.

Notice that I was carrying my bow along, as well. A few pounds doesn’t seem like much while you are working yourself around the 3D range, but carry it around all day long while wearing a loaded backpack and it can seem like you’re packing a boat anchor! Regardless of what plans I have for the season, I like to take several intentional “bow hikes” during the summer. Not only does this help your muscles get used to enduring the weight of the bow in your hand for extended periods of time, but it can be a lot of fun, too. Roving around the woods stump shooting or varmint hunting is all part of the experience as well, and is training for the real deal. Not only is this type of training fun, but it helps to develop your hand-eye coordination, which will pay big dividends when it counts.

The big game seasons of Fall will be upon us before we know it and it’s never too late to squeeze in some pre-season conditioning. So, do yourself a favor and plan a shakedown before it’s too late. Not only will this help make your season go smoother for you by increasing your conditioning, but you may be surprised as you work the kinks out of your gear system. You may just find that chink in your armor before it’s too late and spare yourself some heartache that could force you to pack it up early. Like I mentioned before, I would much rather suffer those quarter-sized blisters now, and not be wincing with every step later on while trying to conclude a stalk on that big bull waiting for me out in the timber.