Navigating Challenging Terrain: A Guide for Seasoned Hunters


Tough terrain has a lot of appeal for experienced, seasoned hunters. For one, there’s the view. There’s just something about the payoff of navigating some of the toughest terrain out there, giving you a spectacular view of God’s creation that you can tell your grandkids about until the day you die. 

What’s more, there’s the skill involved in traversing this terrain. For seasoned hunters, finding new ways to make the sport challenging is what it’s all about. Bagging a buck that you had to traverse some of the roughest terrain you’ve ever seen to get is satisfying in a way that few other things in the world of hunting are. 

On the other hand, people might be intimidated by the terrain. They like the idea of scurrying up rocks and climbing steep mountains to get at some of the toughest games available, but the reality scares them off.

It shouldn’t. While it certainly is much more challenging to hunt game that’s in an awkward, difficult, or seemingly impossible area of the woods, if you have years of experience under your belt, there’s no reason that you can’t make it happen. It’s going to challenge you, but the payoff is going to absolutely be worth it when you’re field-dressing your kill and taking in the view of God’s creation. 

Get Your Conditioning In Order

Rear view of hunter walking along dirt road with rifle on his back for coyote hunting

It’s not the most pleasant thought, but if you’re going to hunt game in tough terrain, you’re going to need the lungs to support it. This isn’t training for a marathon, but in some ways, it’s just as difficult. Tough terrain puts demands on your central nervous system and, indeed, your will that even a long hike over flat terrain isn’t going to do. 

So you need to prepare yourself physically and mentally before you even pack your bag for the tough hunt. The best way to do this is by weighted walking or rucking. To be clear, this isn’t an exact copy of walking up a steep mountain with all of your gear, it’s just about getting your heart and lungs ready for it. So pack a heavy bag and go for a walk, either around your neighborhood or on a treadmill at the gym. It’s not scrambling up rocks, but your cardiovascular system doesn’t know the difference. 

Get Used To Thin Air

If you’re a sports fan, you’ve probably seen professional athletes working out in a mask from time to time. They’re not dressing up as Bane from the Batman series. They’re restricting their oxygen flow so that they can play better at sea level and even hope to stay in the game when the team heads off to Denver or somewhere else with a very high elevation. 

Oxygen restriction masks aren’t expensive. You can get them for about $50 and you can use them while you practice the cardio we discussed above. You need to be careful with these because you can injure yourself, but if you’re looking to hunt game on a mountaintop, few things are going to prepare you as much for the experience that exercising in an oxygen restriction mask will. Start with simple, flat, fast walks and progress to something more challenging. 

Tough Terrain Tracking

Three adult male hunter friends, unrecognizable, stand on a mountain ridge looking for elk to hunt

Of course, “tough terrain” doesn’t just refer to steep climbs over unsteady ground. It can also refer to areas where it’s significantly more difficult to track an animal than it is on flat ground in fresh snow. 

Footprints in dry dirt, mud, or rocky ground require much keener attention, so you will likely have to slow your tracking down significantly. There’s not really any “hack” here. It’s just a matter of learning how to slow everything down and look for the tracks.

However, there are ways other than footprints to track animals. Marks on trees, scat, and “shine” on grass are more subtle ways to track animals in areas where they might not be leaving you a treasure map to their current location. You can use easier kills as an opportunity to hone these skills and maybe even get a little more out of your hunt because you did things in a different, more challenging way. 

Hunting in tough terrain has the potential to make the old sport of hunting new to you all over again. 

Do you have any tips for navigating rugged terrain? Any stories of successful hunts on rugged terrain? Share your experiences in the comments below.