In the summer of 2011, I was sure that my dream of hunting sheep in Alaska was dead. I was 48 years old, a good 40 lbs. overweight, and not in good cardiovascular shape. Being “in the business” and talking to hundreds of sheep hunters over the years, I knew what a sheep hunter looked like and what kind of physical condition was required. The man I was looking at in the mirror was not that man. Besides, the cost of a Dall’s sheep hunt was just out of my price range.

It was hard to admit, but I had wasted some good years by not pushing myself a little harder and not setting attainable goals. Even though I had written off the idea of a sheep hunt, I still wanted to be able to be stronger on the mountain. With my wife’s encouragement and relentless research on nutrition and exercise, I started making small but significant changes.

Men training with rail in wilderness


I’ll never forget the day I heard Wilderness Athlete founder, Coach Mark Paulsen, say, “You can’t out-exercise a bad diet.” It hit me like a ton of bricks.

At the time, I was eating what dieticians in that day would have called a “good balanced diet” consisting of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and a minimal amount of fat. This was about the time when the negative effects of gluten were starting to surface. There was a preponderance of scientific evidence about the negative effects of gluten, so at my wife’s insistence, we cut wheat products out of our diet.

The change was dramatic! At the time, I had terrible acid reflux problems and was taking antacids every night before bed. Within six weeks after cutting out wheat products, the heartburn was gone and I haven’t taken any medication in almost seven years.

Since then we’ve researched and incorporated elements of the popular Paleo diet and Keto (high fat, low carb) regimens. But my story is my story. I’m not a biochemist and never played one on TV, but with constant research and monitoring, we have developed a diet plan that works for me.

Heather Kelly, owner of Heather’s Choice backpacking foods, once said, “If there are two million athletes in the world, then there are two million right diets.” I believe this statement is true.

Every person has different genetics, but there seem to be some universal truths that just make sense: cut out processed foods and sugar, cut down on grains, eat more clean meat (as hunters we already get this), and add in more healthy fats. By making these foundational changes and paying attention to my body’s unique needs, I steadily lost 35 lbs., while increasing strength and endurance.


I already had a gym membership, but after six months of regular workouts, I felt like I just wasn’t making any progress. Then I heard about a website called Train to Hunt (TTH). Kenton Clairmont, owner and co-founder of TTH, has a Masters Degree in Exercise Science and had been training 70 WESTERN HUNTER people for over a decade. Each day he posted a different workout that incorporated hunting gear and required minimal equipment. A sandbag and an ice chest for a step-up box was all I needed and I was “training to hunt!”

The first week I struggled with the warm-up exercises, but within a month or two, I was able to get through the basic moves and complete the full workout. The difference was startling. The training hikes that once took more than an hour to complete, I was now crushing in less than 40 minutes and ready for more.

Again, I don’t have a degree in Exercise Science, but the people who do keep telling me the same things over and over: as hunters, we cover a lot of country, climb mountains, pick up heavy stuff, and haul it around on our backs. So, it only makes sense that our exercise programs should incorporate all of these elements.

[divider]FIND YOUR CRUCIBLE[/divider]

That same summer, my son Mark shipped off to Marine Corps boot camp. The culmination of the 13 weeks of training is a 58-hour torture test known as “the Crucible” – once completed they can refer to themselves as Marines for the first time. From the day they arrive, everything they do is designed to get them through the Crucible. This dedication to a single goal transforms a bunch of high school kids into the greatest fighting force in the world! Apparently, goalsetting works…imagine that.

Train to Hunt: I believe accountability is critical when it comes to goalsetting, so I needed to find Crucible events in which I would be tested in front of others. Train to Hunt had just launched the TTH Challenge, which was a two-day event incorporating archery, meat packing (with sandbags), and an obstacle course that blended shooting and exercise. Being a competitive guy, I didn’t want to embarrass myself, so I worked hard to improve my archery skills and physical condition. This year I will be competing again, and I plan to every year until the day I die! Even though it’s a competition, every person there is genuinely supportive and cheers others on down the course.

Athletes preparing for train to hunt challenge in the woods

Rim to Rim to Rim: One hot Phoenix summer day, the air conditioning unit quit working at my home. Fortunately, my good friend and fellow hunter, Dave Martin, owns an HVAC business and came over right away. I hadn’t seen Dave in a couple of years, and when he walked through the door, I was struck at how lean and healthy he looked.

That’s when he told me about the Rim to Rim to Rim hike across the Grand Canyon and back. I was in awe! Covering 47 miles and 12,500 vertical feet in one day, it sounded absolutely insane. But Dave looked me square in the eyes and without a whisper of doubt said, “You can do it. All you need to do is train.”

I laughed out loud. I had just hiked halfway down the South Rim and back and was sore for a week! It seemed impossible! Still, I took Dave’s advice to heart, trained hard, and by the next spring, I hiked down the South Rim to the Colorado River and back out. It was the hardest hike I had ever done, and I couldn’t walk right for a week, but I was hooked. The next year I completed the hike in 23 hours, 54 minutes, so by definition, it was just a “day hike”.

I’ve now completed the Rim-Rim-Rim five times and every time I learn something different about my physical ability and my mental strength. However, as inspirational as I find this hike, I don’t even encourage other people to do it! For Dave and myself (and several others in our group), it’s that one event that keeps us utterly motivated and accountable.

The Canyon doesn’t care if I had a busy show season, but it will make me pay if I haven’t trained adequately and fed my body correctly. Hiking the Grand Canyon is just our “Crucible”. The important message here is to find yours, by embracing something that motivates you and will punish you if you don’t pay attention.

chris denham sheep hunt in cloudy mountains

[divider]BACK TO SHEEP HUNTING[/divider]

In July of 2016, Mike Duplan called me about the possibility of going on a Dall’s sheep hunt with him in the Chugach Mountains of southern Alaska. It turns out that the outfitter (Ultimate Alaskan Adventures) had a cancellation that would save us some money, and if Mike and I were willing to hunt 2 on 1 (one guide, 2 hunters) the price was affordable.

I had exactly four weeks from the time I mailed the check until the day I needed to land in Anchorage and start my hunt. I knew I was in much better physical condition than I was six years prior, but still, I can remember the angst I felt on that plane ride. Was I ready?

Over the next 14 days, we backpacked almost 100 miles, climbed tens of thousands of vertical feet, and killed a great ram. For me, being physically and mentally prepared is what made the difference between simply accomplishing something difficult versus actually enjoying the process. The fact that I can’t wait to hunt Dall’s sheep again tells me that my years of hard work paid off.

Six years earlier, I had given up on a dream, but with the constant inspiration from my family and friends, and some awesome sheep guides, I enjoyed one of the great adventures of my life.

chris denham alaska

GOALSETTING Kenton Clairmont

Goalsetting can be tricky. I’ve spent the last 24 years helping people design and execute plans to better themselves. Through the years, I’ve discovered some common ground on where people tend to fall short. I’d like to shed some light on where you might be going wrong in this process, which ultimately leads to another year of failed attempts at improvement.

[divider]GOALS NEED TO BE IMPORTANT[/divider]

When you decide to make a change, you must have an important reason for making this change. Without an important reason, it’s too easy to quit at the first signs of adversity. The personal benefits of your goal must outweigh any obstacles you may run into along the way. When your goal has personal meaning, then you’ll figure out a way around any obstacle to continue executing your plan. Taking time to identify the WHY may be the single most important thing that you do.


Imagine if someone gave you a bow or rifle, pointed at a 6’x6′ block and said, “Shoot it.” Now imagine that same scenario, only this time there is a one-inch orange dot in the middle of that block and your goal was to hit the dot. The first request may leave you feeling a little confused, unfocused, and unchallenged. However, having to focus on a one-inch dot on that target will require you to focus on the entire shooting process in order to accomplish it. Make sure your goals are specific and challenging enough that it requires you to focus on the target.

When you reach your goal, you want to know without a doubt that you accomplished what you set out to do. This means attaching a value to your goal that is easily identifiable. A specific weight, distance, or time are the most common ways to identify successes and will help you keep your focus on the dot.

[divider]SET LANDMARKS[/divider]

Once you have your destination set out in front of you, spend some time laying out a road map to your destination. Much like making a trek into the backcountry, you need to layout benchmarks along the way that will keep you heading in the right direction. These landmarks are there to assure you that you’re on the right path and should motivate you to conquer the next one. Reaching your goal is an accumulation of putting together a daily plan to conquer these landmarks until you have arrived at your destination.


Your day-to-day dedication must be unwavering. Every day that you execute your training plan, stick to your nutrition plan, hydrate, and recover, you will win the day. To reach your goal, you must win today, tomorrow, and the next day, which requires a daily plan. It seems simple, but if you win enough days, you’ll reach your first landmark.

Once you conquer your first landmark, you’ll be motivated to conquer the next. Conquer enough landmarks and you’ll reach your goal. But first, you must win today!

If you’d like some help with planning and executing your 2018 goals, be sure to check us out at or just email us at


A home gym doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. A $3 piece of PVC pipe is an awesome tool for shoulder warmup and balance exercises. Here are a few items I’ve used extensively over the last few years that you might find helpful and that are tailored to the hunter’s lifestyle.

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For years I struggled with plantar fasciitis that required painful cortisone injections on the bottom and heel of my feet. I spent hundreds of dollars on orthotics and devices that never seemed to work. Then, one of my fellow rim-rim-rim hikers showed up with a pair of Altra trail shoes with their unique extra-wide toe box and zero-drop design (heel to toe on the same plane). After five years and probably 5,000 miles in Altra shoes, I’ve had zero foot or knee pain.

Altra makes shoes designed for trails to pavement with multiple cushioning levels. If you have a passion for running on dirt, take a look at the Timp; for more predictable terrain, the Torin is a dream come true.

I love the fact that as a company, Altra is just as interested in educating their customers as they are in selling them more shoes. To learn more about their unique designs and company philosophy, check out their website and see what I mean.

Cost: $100-$130. Contact:

altra shoes



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If you’re serious about getting ready to haul a heavy pack around the mountains, then you need an Atlas Trainer pack. Of course, you can throw all kinds of stuff in your own pack and haul it around the hills, but the reality is you probably won’t.

The Atlas Trainer is a simple attachment to the Outdoorsmans pack (I’d recommend you buy a dedicated pack for it) that allows you to mount Olympic-style weights with ease. It also keeps the weight tight to your back, thus reducing potential back strain when compared to other options.

This setup provides easy versatility – if you want to do box step-ups with 30 lbs. and quickly transition into a 50-lb. onemile ruck, then back to the 30-lb. step-up, you can do it.

Cost:  $99.99 (attachment only) | $299.99 (complete system) Contact:

atlas trainer


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Living in the Phoenix area has its advantages. For one, I don’t ever have to wonder if it’s safe to run outside. However, I have enough friends who live in “weather challenged” areas to know that running outside is a privilege. Nordic Track has three different units with a myriad of programming options, heart rate monitors, and sound systems (how cool is that). The best part for hunters is that you can simulate hill climbing with a 15% grade. If you incorporate the Outdoorsmans Atlas Trainer, it’s like having a wilderness trail system in your living room.

Cost:  $949-$1299.




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The most important piece of backyard gym equipment happens to be the simplest and least expensive – a dry bag filled with sand. There are dozens of exercises that can be enhanced with the addition of a sand bag.  Kenton Clairmont has been using the same SealLine dry bags for many years at every Train to Hunt Challenge event. These bags get dropped, thrown, packed and stacked hundreds of times a year and keep on going.

Cost: $20-40. Contact:

baja dry bags


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The human shoulder is tremendously complex. The simple act of lifting a gallon of milk from the top shelf of the refrigerator requires muscles from the neck all the way to the lower back to fire in correct order. Symmetrical strength from all of these muscles groups is critical to execute and exercise something as simple as a pushup. For hunters, many of our movements are asymmetrical – especially shooting a bow. Crossover Symmetry developed a series of resistance bands and related equipment that can be used in any home and on the road. Their website is stuffed with information and videos on how to strengthen your shoulders.

Cost: Full starter package – $195. Contact:

red crossover cords