The outdoor television host talks backcountry fitness, training tips and how to prepare for everything from a bucket-list hunt to a freezer-filling day afield
By TRISTAN SCOTT
Even with a glittering record of lifetime hunting achievements, Willi Schmidt ranks a bighorn sheep bowhunt in Colorado among his crown jewels — not only because of the quality of the hunt and the rarity of the harvest, but also due to the physical rigors that hunting in such rugged and rocky terrain demands.
For Schmidt, a FORLOH ambassador and host of the outdoor television show “Pure Hunting,” the rewards of maintaining a high level of physical fitness and preparedness are immediate on any hunting expedition. But in a lottery or limited draw scenario, such as a sheep hunt, the stakes are too high to enter the season in anything less than peak condition.
“I call it ‘sheep shape,’” Schmidt says, describing the upper-echelon of physical conditioning he reserves for bucket-list hunts, like pursuing rams over relentless mountain terrain, chasing goats through the Rockies, or plodding across the Alaskan tundra in search of velvet-tined caribou. “I train year-round, but I really kick it up a notch for something like a sheep hunt, or anything in rocky, technical and uneven terrain. Sometimes, being able to go the extra mile is what seals the deal on a big hunt. And most importantly, you have to be able to pack your animal out of deep country.”
To get into “sheep shape,” Schmidt puts himself through grueling daily workouts using an advanced version of the intense hardcore training regimen known as P90X, while also carving out plenty of time in the gym. In addition to strength training, he runs and incorporates High Intensity Interval Training for cardiovascular endurance, and spends untold hours on his feet in the field — training with his weapons, scouting and glassing new terrain, studying maps, and analyzing weather patterns to make sure he’s ready for what he’ll face when the hunt is on in earnest.
Schmidt can rattle off countless examples of when whipping himself into “sheep shape” paid dividends in the field, but one prized hunt that leaps to mind is a drop-camp Alaska caribou hunt he embarked on in 2011 with hunting partner Chris Nowak.
“Anybody who’s been up to Alaska knows that walking a mile on the tundra is equal to three miles on level ground,” Schmidt said. “It’s spongy, there’s hidden rocks that test your stability and balance, so you’ve got to have endurance and core strength. Fortunately, Chris and I both killed caribou on that trip. But, true to form, it was a DIY hunt, so we had to pack them back to camp ourselves. No horses, no outfitter, no help. We packed every ounce of meat out on our backs, but we were prepared because we trained for it.”
Willi’s routine varies at the gym but he is extremely dedicated to his 5 day a week gym workouts.
In 2014, Schmidt and Nowak both drew mountain goat tags in Colorado, and spent days pursuing their quarry up and down mountain passes, racking up colossal vertical gains and losses in elevation.
“Again, we both killed goats, but our recovery was at 13,000 feet in a blizzard,” Schmidt said. “We had to pack them off the mountain on 60-degree slopes with treacherous footing. If we hadn’t spent time conditioning our bodies to be able to handle that kind of stress, and to have the balance and stability we needed that week, we wouldn’t have been so successful.”
Fitness has been a priority for Schmidt his entire life. In college he entered (and won) fitness competitions and he’s always made time for the gym. But by 2006, a career in corporate banking had taken a toll on Schmidt’s ability to execute an ideal work-life balance that, for him, maximized hunting and other types of regular outdoor physical activity.
By 2010, Schmidt had left his career in corporate finance in order to focus on hunting and hosting an outdoor television program, which helped reawaken his commitment to fitness.
“After I started ‘Pure Hunting,’ I started going to some of the tradeshows and meeting other like-minded guys, these wilderness athletes,” Schmidt recalled. “It was that involvement that gave me direction, gave me consistency and it gave me purpose.”
On a lark, he committed to a 90-day regimen of P90X workouts, and his dedication paid off.
“That same fall, I drew my only bighorn sheep tag in Colorado,” Schmidt recalls. “As they say, you want to be in sheep shape. And I got in sheep shape.”
Schmidt’s wife, Sherry, jokes that her 52-year-old husband doesn’t appear to age and only seems to get fitter with every passing year, which rankles other men his age, as well as some women.
“Willi and fitness,” Sherry says, searching for the right words. “Well, he looks as good now if not better than he did when we were in college. But I just wish he would eat cake every now and then, mainly to make me feel better.”
Although Schmidt often tailors his workouts to prepare for a specific hunt, he is unbending in his dedication to working out five days a week in the gym, which he supplements with cardiovascular training.
Always pushing himself, Willi says it is not about how he looks, but being able to do what he wants.
Strength is still so important for hunting, but I’ve really made general heart health a priority, mainly so I don’t slow down or get winded.”
“Your body is your best piece of equipment for anything you can do.”
“For me, this isn’t about looking a certain way, it’s about being an athlete,” he continued. “Your body is your best piece of equipment for anything you can do. If my body fails me, I’m toast. I want to be able to keep doing this for another 20 or 30 years, until well into my 70s and 80s, and I don’t want to worry about my body breaking down. I’m not going to let that be the reason that I’m no longer able to pursue my biggest passion in life, which is the outdoors.”
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