Happy New Year ebike hunters! Hopefully 2021 will bring some calm to what was a chaotic and disruptive year on so many levels, including the shutdown of many hunting opportunities. I missed my spring turkey hunt when Nebraska closed the season to nonresidents. That’s where I first began ebike hunting four years ago. But compared to the hardships suffered by those with the virus, the brave front-line caregivers, and the many family-owned hunting, fishing, and outfitting businesses forced to close, my small inconvenience was so insignificant that it isn’t worth mentioning.
But what is worth mentioning are the many health-related advantages provided by ebikes for hunters with physical issues, and for those with physical challenges looking to stay in shape and improve their conditioning.
John Ingalls, an avid big game bowhunter and reader of this column, shared his experience from this past fall. While on a do-it-yourself caribou hunt in Alaska in August, John developed potentially-fatal blood clots in his lungs. After the battery of tests confirmed it and treatment began, John’s pulmonologist advised that he had to wait 6-8 weeks to go elk hunting, which would put the hunt into late October to mid-November. Anyone who has bowhunted elk knows September is the magic month – bringing the magnificent spectacle called the rut, the bugling, the drama, and the changing of seasons that makes bowhunting for elk so spectacular.
Unwilling to sacrifice a precious elk season for something so trivial as life-threatening blood clots in his lungs (tongue planted in cheek..), John put together a plan which included an ebike. The pulmonologist set some parameters and goals that had to be met before he would give the go-ahead. John hit the recovery goals. Then he discovered that hunting ebikes were in great demand and short supply, largely due to component shortages because of the virus shutdowns of manufacturing plants. After scrambling and searching everywhere, he finally found a Bakcou Mule, and was ready to go. He missed the first 11 days of the season, but if not for the Mule he would have missed it all. He said, “A game changer is an understatement. I killed a bull and a cow because of that ebike.”
In my case, I’ve recently learned that I have a potentially serious condition called Exercise Induced Pulmonary Hypertension. It is essentially a constriction of the arteries that carry blood from the heart to the lungs when exercising. This causes the right side of the heart to enlarge and weaken, and can lead to heart failure. What it means is that I have to stop often for a minute to let my lungs catch up, especially when starting out. Rather than the normal “out of breath” sensation, with this affliction I simply can’t get enough breath, my lungs hurt, and I sometimes get lightheaded. I’ve been dealing with these worsening symptoms for a couple years, but attributed it to my advancing age with a lifetime history of asthma. I’ve been a mountain hunter and backpacker all my life, and still hike-bike-work out five times a week when hunting seasons are over. Various cardio-pulmonary tests are still ongoing as I write this, but my pulmonologist told me it isn’t uncommon to develop this after many years living at altitude (I live at 8,500 feet).
I gutted through the September elk season but paid a price, since the area where I hunted in Wyoming was steep and did not have any legal roads or trails open to ebikes. My hunting range was very limited and I had to stop often to allow my lungs to catch up, and the dizziness to subside. I walked away from bugling bulls in places where I knew I couldn’t get one out if successful. Bowhunting for elk is a grind anyway, but this season was a grind on top of a grind. Then I went on a Missouri whitetail hunt which required climbing a long and very steep ridge at the outset. My symptoms were advancing by then, and not only did I struggle to hike to the crest while carrying a pack on the first morning, I was soaked with sweat at the summit. Not good for hunting wary whitetails. I had never hunted this place before, and my much younger and super-fit buddy who invited me assured me it was a “piece of cake”. Well, maybe to a former Special Forces veteran, but for a senior with breathing problems it presented an imposing obstacle.
Luckily, I had the foresight to bring my Rambo R750 along, and by putting it into the lowest gear and the highest assist level I was able to climb that steep trail. Even with the gearing and assist, the rough ascent was difficult, but my legs were in good biking shape from a summer of riding hills with little or no assist, and I managed to power up it each morning for the rest of my hunt. Without the ebike, I would have ended the hunt and gone home. It was simply too much to manage with my then-unknown ailment. The Rambo literally saved my hunt.
With the explosion in popularity of ebikes, numerous studies have been done to assess the health benefits of ebikes vs. regular (my wife calls them “old fashioned”) bikes. In one study, researchers in Great Britain assigned one group to ebikes, one group to regular bikes, and one group to be sedentary over the study period. The bikers were asked to do at least 30 minutes of biking on their own, three times a week, for eight weeks. Before and afterward, they were subjected to a series of cognitive tests. They expected the regular bike riders to have higher scores because they presumably would work harder. Instead, they found virtually no difference between the two groups, with ebike riders scoring just as high as regular bike riders. They did find that ebike riders spent more time riding, on average, than conventional peddlers.
Health benefits aside, what ebikes do for hunters is allow those who have physical challenges (like John and me) to continue to enjoy our lifelong passions without resorting to, and being restricted by, motor vehicles. Some places where I hunt have trails open to motorized vehicles but not maintained by government agencies, so they become impassable to ATV/OHVs and 4WD vehicles because of deadfall trees and/or severe erosion. But when I encounter fallen logs, I can lift my ebike over, or ride or walk it around the obstacle. I also have a small lithium electric chainsaw I can carry on my rear rack. On severely eroded trails, I can often negotiate along the edge or walk it through the bad spots with the walk-assist.
I get flak from some young, super-fit hunters for whom mountain hunting has become a deep-dive endurance sport, as well as from young conventional mountain bikers who view ebikes as cheating. “You’re lazy! Why don’t you just walk?!” I get it. I was once one of them too, back before ebikes. I backpacked all over the West, bivy hunted the backcountry solo, rode (and crashed) conventional mountain bikes. I used to yell at people hauling campers up the mountain (yes, and now I have two – a smaller camper for a hunting base camp, and a bigger one for summer fishing and ebiking adventures all over the country with my lovely younger wife, who is incredibly fit and a former endurance cyclist and mountain biker). Back in my cocksure days I never dreamed that someday I would have a metal hip, a bad knee, and Pulmonary Hypertension, but still possess the powerful drive to hunt big game that keeps me up at night with excitement, and also pushes me to stay in the best physical condition possible, all year-round.
Some have even declared that when or if they reach that point where they can no longer hunt the backcountry on foot they will simply accept it and get out of the way, giving up what they love, rather than resort to an ebike to stay mobile. What I say to them is that circumstances and perspectives change along life’s journey, and we never know what lies around that next sharp curve. At age 30 we may imagine ourselves to be perpetually invincible, envisioning a scenario where we can still be that one stringy, grizzled old guy we read about who is still guiding sheep hunters at age 70. But that superman is the Tom Brady of hunting. The rest of us slowly break down for various reasons, and believe me, it is often a slow, insidious process. Others are injured in accidents, which creates permanent mobility issues. But regardless, we still want to hunt, to stay mobile, to bike for fitness in the summer and climb steep ridges with a pack and a bow or rifle on our backs in the fall. For us, ebikes open the door to continued enjoyment and challenges that were never possible before they came into our lives.
I appreciate the readers of this column who email me with ebike hunting stories and questions. Please continue to send your thoughts and experiences to firstname.lastname@example.org. And when you visit the Ebike Generation products page, please click through on the link in this column. I appreciate knowing that my sharing my (and others’) ebike hunting experiences generates interest in ebikes, and eBike Generation is the best one-stop source for purchases and customer service for any style of ebike.
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