Medical experts say that good nutrition, sleep and exercise are key to maintaining a healthy and strong immune system as we navigate these tough times with covid-19. With gyms and sports fields and clubs closed across the country, outdoor exercise, which gives us fresh air and helps to cure cabin fever for a bit, is the way to go if we do it smartly and safely.
Last Saturday I needed to get out of the house for a day, not just for a stroll but something more vigorous. I was frustrated because I was supposed to be in southeast Georgia, hunting the spring turkey opener. Covid-19 cancelled that. I picked a moderately strenuous 9-mile section of the Appalachian Trail that straddled the Virginia/West Virginia state lines and set off early at a 20-minute-mile pace.
The first half of the hike, the most remote, was invigorating and uneventful. Then I came to a popular scenic lookout, turned south on the AT and started the 4-mile hike out. That’s when chaos ensued and my pace slowed to a crawl.
Over the next 2 hours, I slow-walked with 200 adults (guesstimate) coming and going, kids running wild, and dogs on leashes barking and growling. People were stopped everywhere along the trail, resting on rock ledges, skimming rocks in a creek, and otherwise having a grand old time. Although we were outside and in open air, we were clustered like ants on the narrow path and exhibiting the total opposite of social distancing.
Turns out such crowds were common across the country as people flocked to mountains, hiking trails, parks and other outdoor spaces to cure cabin fever. Health officials and authorities were frustrated and outraged that people were blatantly not heeding the social distancing advice. And I was part of the problem.
The crowds were so bad last weekend that the Appalachian Trail Conservancy has asked all hikers to stay off the AT until further notice. Cars and crowds were so bad in Shenandoah National Park that 2 of the most popular access points and trails have been closed. Virtually all of Great Smokey Mountains National Park was closed earlier this week. Similar closures of outdoor recreation areas large and small are occurring across America.
As long as state law allows, I will continue to venture outside for the next weeks or months or however long it takes, but I will do it more smartly and safely.
Hiking-wise, it’s simple. Avoid popular public areas and access points on federal or state lands. Research remote areas and secluded trails where you might encounter only a couple other hikers on a 5-mile walk. Keep driving until you come to a trailhead with only one two cars, or better yet, none.
If you have access to private lands with a network of ATV trails or old logging roads, those are perfect for hiking these days.
Walking those private trails and scouting and listening for gobbling turkeys is great way to get outside and get ready for the April season.
For 70% of you who drive an hour or less to hunt turkeys on private land near home, the 2020 spring season will be pretty much like all the others. But if you hunt public land either by choice or necessity, make sure you plan ahead.
Illinois is the only state I know of that has completely closed all public lands because of covid-19. If you typically hunt gobblers on state land there, make other plans.
In most states, the woods and mountains are still open to hunting, but keep in mind that campgrounds and other facilities are likely closed, so plan around that.
If you have an out-of-state turkey hunt planned, listen up. If you’ll drive there, either 4 hours to the next state or 12 hours across the country, no problem. (Flying to a turkey camp is out of the question.) But make sure you have a place to stay. Chances are motels are shut…while some lodges may stay open, others will be and should be closed.
I’ve stayed in turkey camps with 20 hunters before, but those days are gone. You’ll want to stay alone or with just a few people, whether it’s a camp far from or close to home.
Late March and April are when many Midwest and Eastern states typically stock streams with rainbows, and for the next week hoards of fishermen show up to reel them in. But this spring, most states have suspended stocking (no fish, no crowds). I did see where a few DNRs will cleverly stock at random locations with no public notice. There may be fish in your favorite creek, river or stream, or maybe not. Getting out there and wetting a line is a good way to get some air and your mind off this predicament, whether you catch a rainbow or not. And no crowds and plenty of social distancing.
Shed Antler Hunting
Right now, before the spring green up, when the woods are bare and brown and the brush is pounded down, is a good time to hunt for shed deer antlers. This just might be the best covid-19 outdoor exercise of all. Shed hunting is a solitary sport, a one-man game of social distancing. Walking 5 to 10 or miles a day is great exercise and a fine way to beat cabin fever.
No matter how you get outside and where you go these next weeks, adhere to local laws and covid-19 health alerts.