Less staggering, more stags

9th March 2021|3min

For Otago hunter Thomas Wardhaugh, maintaining a good level of fitness is the gateway to safe and productive hunting, not to mention making a hunt trip more enjoyable.

As hunters gear up for the Roar starting this month, we want to make sure they are fitness ready, so we chatted about it with Thomas who is a keen hunter but also has a passion for health and fitness.

Thomas, 26, is a sports physiotherapist who knows just how important it is to stay safe out in the hills during the Roar.

“For a hunter carrying a heavy load, for multiple hours, on uneven surfaces, a good balance of physical abilities is useful to improve comfort and ability in these environments,” Thomas said.

He was introduced to the sport about seven years ago while out hunting fallow deer on his partner’s West Otago farm, “it quickly had me hooked,” he said.

Thomas now hunts all year round across the lower South Island with his broad experience expanding from hunting deer in Fiordland bush and the Central Otago tussocks, to chamois on the southern Main Divide and tahr in the Aoraki/Mt Cook area. 

This experience plus his solid fitness level, including having recently trained and competed in an off-road marathon, has him preferring a multi-day hunt, however his job as a Dunedin rugby physio limits his weekends, forcing him to squeeze in a 1-2 day hunt where he can, with a three-day trip planned for early Roar.

Thomas Wardhaugh - Hunting Fitness

Thomas Wardhaugh

How he gets ready

“There is a big difference between a level of fitness being sufficient to safely hunt in a given way, and a level of fitness sufficient to enjoy this hunting.”

Thomas maintains a balanced weekly fitness schedule which involves 2-3 weights sessions, 3-4 runs with hills and 1-2 bike sessions.

“But the most simple way of getting fit to walk with a pack is to do just that. Most injuries occur from ‘too much too soon’, so the earlier you can start increasing your activity levels, the better,” Thomas said. 

“Start with one or two days a week walking with a light pack and gradually build up the duration of the walks and the weight in your pack.

“While there is no substitute for spending time walking with a pack, many of these other training styles can help maintain a level of fitness during periods of absence from the hills.”

Make a plan

When planning for the Roar, take into consideration your fitness abilities to make sure it’s a realistic and achievable hunt. 

Thomas remembers a handful of hunts where he was thankful not to have been hunting with a mate of low fitness level.

“I have been in situations where despite endless time spent planning, unforeseen circumstances have arisen, such as navigational blunders. On more than one occasion, I have been very glad not to have anyone on the trip that was not fit enough to keep walking. Otherwise, these trips could have become much more difficult situations, with nights spent in bad weather."

Getting fit

High fitness level can make a big difference to hunting efficiency, he said.

For example, Thomas believes it is one thing being fit enough to walk a couple hours to camp, but then not being able hunt that same evening can be restricting.

Increased fitness can mean a hunter can cover more ground like from seeing an animal from the valley floor to then climbing to hunt and retrieve the animal, he says.

Shooting an animal can significantly increase pack weight, so being fit and strong enough to carry it out means no wasted meat.

Another benefit is after a steep climb, decreasing heart rate quick enough to make an accurate shot, he said.

Despite the need for a good fitness level, Thomas also said having the mental ability to resolve a bad situation is also just as important. So get started now!

Key learnings:

  • Plan an achievable trip and stick to it.
  • Chip away at your fitness before the season, and to avoid injury, continually push yourself in gradual steps (increase distance, time, pack weight).
  • Encourage your mates - use the weeks before the hunt to discuss your hunting plan for the Roar.
  • Practice other bush skills while you're at it. You can find plenty of survival information in the NZ Bushcraft Manual and our Skills Section
  • Wear your gear in, get your boots on, put on your hunting layers and even exercise with your pack on.
  • Use this time to learn about know your own physical and mental limits.
  • Make it fun and safe with your mates.

Sharpen up your hunting skills this Roar with our other resources here.

We wish Thomas all the best for his Roar this season. If you have tips and tricks to get the best out of your hunts, get in touch – we would love to use it to help others get Roar Ready. Send an email to Rebekah.Wilson@mountainsafety.org.nz.


Thomas Wardhaugh hunting around the lower South Island. PHOTOS/SUPPLIED