By Dale Shrull
Dan Meade and Ryan Wharton were breathing hard as they reached the final target.
A quick look through his range-finder and Meade barked “24 yards!”
He pulled the string on his bow, his right-side shoulder muscles and biceps rippling.
Taking careful aim, his left eye shut tight, he released the string with a fluid release and the arrow zipped into the bighorn sheep model target with a “thump.”
“Good shot!” Wharton said, then took his shot, and the same “thump” could be heard.
“Nice shot, let’s go!” Meade commanded, and the two headed up the hill toward the finish line.
With most of the course behind them, the two kept a steady pace up the final hill, but the fatigue was showing.
More than 100 competitors gathered at the top of Powderhorn Mountain Resort in late June to compete in something called Train to Hunt.
This unique event combines physical fitness and archery shooting with the goal to simulate a hunting scenario in the backcountry.
Just like in an actual hunt, a hunter’s accelerated heart rate must be lowered to take a steady, accurate shot. That’s why in Train to Hunt, hunters are confronted with a serious of physical challenges, then competitors must make an accurate shot or a penalty will be assessed.
The physical challenges are abundant during the competition.
As Paonia natives and longtime hunters Jessica Waite and her husband, Daniel, both 34, arrived at the final target site, it was obvious the physicality of the course had taken its toll.
“I really should have trained more,” Daniel said with a grin, trying to catch his breath after a steep hike. “Next year, we’ll be back, but we’ll train more.”
Jessica agreed: “This has been an eye opener for sure, but we’re here to just have fun.”
After Jessica drilled the target, Daniel took some deep breaths, steadied himself and also popped the target.
They both smiled for a moment, but those expressions quickly vanished as they started the hike up the final hill.
A tough course
Just to make it more difficult, competitors had to carry extra weight in their packs for the second part of the course. Fifty pounds for men and 30 pounds for women.
The finish line was like an oasis, with many stumbling and staggering the final few steps, then dropping to the ground searching for more oxygen, wanting to get the weight off their backs, but relishing in the satisfaction of finishing an ultra-tough competition.
Competitors started with a tire drag, then a run of about one hundred yards, then they had to shoot. After a shot, they were required to do box step-ups, shoulder throws with sand bags and burpees (up and down). After each exercise, they would do the run, return and shoot at deer targets.
And if they missed?
Bad news — 20 burpees.
As one competitor’s shot sailed high, he groaned and muttered a profanity, knowing the penalty that awaited. He then hit the dirt counting his burpees.
For Wharton, 42, the elevation was challenging. He’s stationed at Fort Carson near Colorado Springs as an Army Green Beret, but he just returned from a deployment.
“I just got back from Iraq, so I’ve only been here for about two and a half weeks, so I’m definitely feeling the elevation,” he said with a smile.
Meade, a former Green Beret, and Wharton competed in the men’s team competition.
“The camaraderie, either with a teammate, or being around like-minded people is great,” Meade said. “But also the physical challenge, and it’s a goal to prepare you for hunting season, and it keeps you motivated.”
It was Wharton’s first Train to Hunt competition and Meade’s second.
“For guys like us, really for any Green Beret, we’re up for any challenge,” Wharton said.
Grand Junction’s Jasmine (J.J.) Johnson, 27, missed last year’s Train to Hunt competitions after having her fourth knee surgery.
In 2015, she and Lindsay Hart won the women’s national team title.
The duo is back together now that Johnson has recovered from her left anterior cruciate ligament surgery.
“It was more of a mental aspect, because I know I have put in the time and the effort but you have no control over a random rock or a wrong step.”
Hart, 26, who lives in Gunnison, loves the event.
“To be able to get outdoors, have an archery shoot and do something physical, and also see all these people I care about, is just the best,” she said.
Battle for oxygen
With the top Powderhorn Mountain Resort close to 10,000 feet, it makes for a tougher challenge.
On the second part of the course, teams and individuals would take off with their weighted-down packs, on the mountain course, which was a mile-long out-and-back trek. Competitors went down a maintenance road and had two separate target shoots along the way.
“This course was really steep, so it was tough,” Hart said.
For 42-year-old Ryan Steadman of Spanish Fork, Utah the steep hill was the toughest part of the day.
“The first challenges weren’t too bad, but the hill was a grind, that was all mental, you just had to push through it, your legs wanted to give out and you felt like you were going to throw up,” he said.
Fatigue showed on all the competitors’ faces as they trudged up the road, trying to catch their breath, their heart rates soaring.
Meade, 32, said he loves to compete but he also agreed with what many competitors said about the competition — it’s just as much about the challenge and having fun.
“That’s one of the bigger things that attracts me to this,” Meade said. “Competition is important, I really do want to win, I hate to lose as much as anybody, but pushing yourself is what it’s all about.
“Walking away and knowing you left it all our there on the course, that’s what feels great.”