John Phillips and Jacob Nichols at physical therapy

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Balance – Key to Better Deer Hunting Day 3: How Wobble Boards and Step-Ups Help Deer Hunting

John Phillips and Jacob Nichols at physical therapy
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All photos were taken by: Caroline Fischer

Editor’s Note: Balance is the key component to being able to:

  • steady your rifle or your bow to make an accurate shot:
  • keep from falling when you’re going up or down steep terrain or across rocky terrain;
  • prevent a fall if you make a misstep in your tree stand.

Often many outdoorsmen have problems with balance because the muscles that are needed to maintain proper balance are rarely if ever strengthened. After I’d fallen twice – one was a hard fall – I assumed I had inner-ear trouble. I went to my family physician, and after checking me out, he sent me to a doctor who specialized in hearing and balance. After about two hours of testing, this doctor said, “John, from the waist up, you’re fine. You don’t have any hearing problems. However, from the waist down, you’re a wreck, and you need to see a physical therapist to improve your balance.” When I left his office, I wondered, “What does the waist down have to do with my falling?”

But since then, I’ve learned so much about falling and maintaining balance that I’ve never known before – although I took anatomy and kinesiology as part of my college curriculum. Here’s what I’ve learned that has helped me and may help you, if you have a balance problem, fall sometimes or can’t keep steady when you take a shot in the field. I spoke with Jacob Nichols, a physical therapist at Drayer Physical Therapy in Birmingham, Alabama.

John E. Phillips: Jake, the next exercise I’m using is the wobble board. What’s a wobble board, why do I have to use it, and what’s it doing for me?

Jake Nichols: The wobble board is very-important tool to help stability. Our body uses its ankles to help prevent falls as they help you recover small losses of balance. A bigger loss of balance is prevented by your glutes and hips. When we were testing you, your biggest problem with balance was your weak glute muscles. However, by working on the muscles that control your ankles, you don’t have a bigger loss of balance and can regain your balance quickly.

Phillips: The wobble board has two balls on the bottom of a board. You’ve asked me to put my feet in the center of the board and then push it forward, while barely touching the floor, and then bring it up and barely touch the floor behind me. That’s considered one rotation. I need to do three sets of 15 to strengthen my ankle muscles. Is that correct?

Nichols: That’s it.

John Phillips and Jacob Nichols at physical therapy
Photo taken by: Caroline Fischer

Phillips: The next exercise you have me do is what we call the step-ups. What are those, and why do we need to do them?

Nichols: This exercise causes you to activate your glute muscles and the muscles throughout the leg during more functional activities. When you step-up (like on stairs), you still spend a lot of time on one leg, before the other leg reaches the second step. This exercise, again, helps strengthen the stability of the glute muscles. It’s also an everyday task that most people must perform – taking a step up and then a step down. This exercise helps keep the glute muscles strengthened for those activities. Not only are you stable on one leg, but you’re keeping the glute muscles activated as you step-up to help lift your body up, as well as when you’re walking. The workload of doing this motion is not only on the quad muscles, but also the glutes.

Phillips: Why do you have me looking at a full-body mirror in front of me as I do this exercise?

Nichols: We use the mirror so that you can see that your knee is stabilized (straight) as you step-up instead of your knee caving-in toward the center of your body. This exercise enables you to not only see what your knees are doing, but also what your glutes are doing as you step up and step down. You want your glute muscles to be activated as you step up and step down. This exercise also helps you keep your knee from caving in and/or your hips from dropping to the side of your body.

The mirror gives you an extra visual cue to see what the muscles are or aren’t doing. If you see the leg you’re stepping up with turning toward the inside of your body instead of staying straight, you’ll see that the glutes haven’t been activated. You want that knee to stay right over your toes and not turn toward the center, if you’re doing this exercise correctly. You won’t be able to identify this problem and see it without the mirror in front of you.

Phillips: There are several forms of step-ups – step-up on an elevated platform and step down, as well as step from the side of the elevated platform onto the top of the elevated platform and then back down. Why do we do the side step-ups?

Nichols: This exercise makes sure you’re activating your glute muscles, while keeping your knee as well as your lower extremities stable. This exercise helps to build the muscles to enable you to stand more stable on one leg for a longer period of time. Often, in our daily activities, when moving your body to the left or the right (side stepping), you really don’t work these muscles very often. This exercise allows you to activate the glutes as you make that side-to-side step. Many people have weaknesses in those muscles because they don’t use them very often. Both exercises are used to help you stabilize your knee – regardless of which direction you move – so that you don’t fall. This exercise will enable you to stay balanced, while doing the everyday things that require stepping forward, backward or from side to side.

Tomorrow: Physical Exercise Can Improve Deer Hunting

How to Hunt and Take Big Buck Deer on Small Properties
In this book, you’ll hear from 14 hunters who either have gained permission or leased properties as small as six acres to as much as 250 acres, and how they consistently take older-age-class bucks off these little lands.


Jim Crumley’s Secrets of Bowhunting Deer
Using a black magic marker and a gray work jumpsuit, Jim Crumley of Buchanan, Virginia, drastically changed the nature and purpose of hunting camouflage when he created the first sportsman’s camouflage – Trebark. Crumley’s love of bowhunting and his desire to be more invisible changed hunting clothing forever. 

In this hunting guide, he shares the wisdom that he’s learned throughout his lifetime about how to be a hunter, how to find a deer lease, how to scout for deer, and more.

Special features include how to:

  • Have a magic 60 acres to hunt 
  • Decide the best equipment to use
  • Find deer year-round
  • Locate land to hunt
  • Know the best place to put your tree stand
  • Get bucks within bow range


How to Hunt Deer Like a Pro
How do you know if the land you hunt has a trophy deer on it? Wildlife manager Bob Zaiglin, of Uvalde, Texas and Jim Crumley, the father of modern-day hunting camouflage, tells you how to find out. GPS can make finding and taking that trophy buck easier. This hunting guide will teach you how to hunt big bucks where no one else can find them, how to call deer, and how to become versatile as a deer hunter, so that if one deer tactic doesn’t work, another one will.

In the chapter, “How to find Bucks at Scrape,” Dr. Keith Causey, retired professor of Wildlife Science at Auburn University, describes the best way to hunt a scrape.

Brad Harrison of Neosho, Missouri, is a nationally-known videographer, professional deer hunter and master at calling deer. Another master is Will Primos of Primos Game Calls. These two experts will tell the best deer calls and when to use them in this book.

And for over 20 years, Bo Pitman, lodge manager of White Oak Plantation, has been studying deer movement patterns. He explains what types of conditions are best for predicting deer movement.


How to Hunt Deer Like a Pro: Volume II
Deer hunting and deer hunters are drastically changing each year. To learn new techniques for hunting deer and have more places to hunt, I’ve interviewed some of the best deer hunters in the nation and share their tactics in How to Hunt Deer Like a Pro: Volume II.

In Chapter 10, Jacob Lamar tells you his tactics for consistently taking older-age-class bucks on public lands in several states. Chapter 11, Bob Walker explains how to find places on public lands where you can hunt that 99 percent of the other hunters never have considered hunting. The Bonus Chapter with David Ramey tells you how, where, when and with what equipment to take big Kansas bucks on public lands by hunting in 100-degree weather when others won’t hunt.

Chapter 13, Mark Drury, his family and his guests take mature bucks every season by having more small places to hunt rather than one large property. Drury explains the strategy of having satellite farms to hunt that only may be 50-150 acres each or less. Chapter 15, Pat Reeve, who hunts far-northern states and Canada, says, “I don’t like hunting for mature bucks until the weather is 20 degrees or less.” Chapter 4, Dr. Larry Marchinton says that funnels are the most-reliable stand sites to hunt for big bucks and tells why. 


Expert Guidebooks on Elk Hunting: Best Sellers

Secrets for Hunting Elk
The quickest, easiest (if there is an easy way), and safest way to find and take that bull elk of a lifetime will be to hunt with a guide.

Chad Schearer, a longtime Montana guide and TV personality, told me, “My hunter is my gun. If I get to the elk, and my hunter isn’t with me, then we don’t take the elk. My job is not only to find the elk but also to help the hunter get to the elk and make the experience as enjoyable as I can for him.” That’s the kind of fella with whom I want to go elk hunting. 

An elk hunt can be tough, but it doesn’t have to be so tough that you don’t enjoy it. That’s why this elk hunting book starts with the confessions of an elk guide and with Chad Schearer’s philosophy of what the guide and the hunter’s relationship should be.

A good portion of your success will depend on your physical condition, and Matt Morrett of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania explains how an eastern hunter can get ready physically during June and July to hunt western elk, the animals he describes as, “Like deer or turkeys on steroids.”

Wayne Carlton, well-known elk hunter and TV and video personality from Montrose, Colorado, tells us what types of elk calls to use and what to say to the elk. Mike Miller of Colorado, another elk guide and Mossy Oak video personality, has tactics for the best equipment for bowhunting and gun hunting elk.

You’ll learn helpful strategies and hunting tips in this book, as well as some straightforward hunting methods that will help to make your elk hunt more successful.

“Thanks to the advice in your elk hunting books, I was able to call up a nice 6-point (6X6) bull elk! He was bugling like crazy. I called him in from about a ¼ mile away. Called him into bow range (about 40 yards away). It was a thrill!” ~Rob Brannon


Elk: Keys to 25 Hunters’ Success
Often just one tip or tactic makes the difference in whether you take an elk home to dinner or have to hike back to the truck by yourself. In John E. Phillips’ latest elk book, Elk: Keys to 25 Hunters’ Success, you’ll learn from successful elk hunters the strategies they use to find and take elk.

Many know that the technique that seems to work most often is to hunt where other elk hunters don’t and understand where the elk are before you go on a hunt by studying data from each state, visiting HuntData (see chapter 1), examining maps, and reading postings on elk forums.

This book also tells you how to get ready physically for an elk hunt, including participating in Train to Hunt Competitions, what gear you need to take, how to enjoy a successful do-it-yourself elk hunt, or how to pick the best elk guide for you. You’ll also hear about the X System and the Broken Y System of hunting elk. 

Although no one person has all the answers on how to help you find and take your elk, I’m convinced that this book’s outdoors men and women will teach you how to have satisfying elk hunts.

As my friend Karl Badger once told me, “Elk hunting doesn’t get any better than when I ride horses into the high backcountry, see two grizzly bears, hear a pack of wolves howl close to camp all night long, eat plenty of delicious food prepared on a fire and enjoy the company of good friends.”


How to Find Your Elk and Get Him in Close will teach you the tactics of 10 nationally known elk hunters, to help put that giant bull that’s been screaming at you from afar, in your lap. You’ll learn what some of the best guides, outfitters, and successful elk hunters do to find elk and get them in really close.

Also in this audiobook, you’ll notice that the majority of the experts call elk to within bow range. We selected numerous bowhunters and bowhunting guides, since the bowhunter has to get much closer to a bull than the gun hunter does – often less than 20 or 30 yards – practically in your lap.

On one elk hunt, I’d heard this bull bugle all morning. My guide had called him within 30 yards, and he was standing just inside black timber. I saw the smoke from his nose wafting out into the icy air less than 30-yards away. All the bull had to do was step out, and I could take the shot with my bow. But then, through no fault of my guide or me, the bull vanished.

The only conclusion I could come up with to understand why the bull I wanted to take with my bow hadn’t stepped out and given me a shot, was because he got raptured. He evidently had left the earth with no trace of himself.

This hunt was when I started wanting to learn more about hunting elk up close. In this book, I’ve tried to find some of the most knowledgeable, experienced, and practical elk hunters. I’ve always found that the best way to learn any outdoor skill, is to either hunt or fish with the best sportsmen in that field.

Often, in elk hunting, that means elk guides, who generally hunt every day of the season and receive a salary for every hunter they guide. So, I’ve put together a group of some of the best elk hunters I know to help us all learn how to find bull elk and get them in close.


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