When a deer is standing 20 yards from your treestand this fall, and your hands are trembling and your knees knocking, you’ll be glad you read this article.
That’s because you’ve been hit with buck fever, the adrenaline surge that afflicts bowhunters when deer or other game present a shot opportunity. Symptoms vary, but buck fever usually causes weak knees, shaking hands, pounding heart, tunnel vision and clouded judgment.
Buck fever brings hunters bliss as well as sorrow. Its adrenaline rush is memorable, even addicting. Once you experience buck fever, you’ll dread or eagerly await its next onset. To ensure you look forward to your next bout of buck fever, you must be prepared to manage its symptoms. If you can’t, you can easily miss the shot.
To beat buck fever, you must first build your confidence on the range by practicing realistic hunting scenarios, and possibly trying 3-D or field archery. Taking archery lessons is another great way to ensure you’re ready for action.
You must also have complete confidence in your equipment. Your arrows, broadheads and bow must be in hunt-ready condition. Consult the experts at an archery store to help you dial in your equipment for hunting. They’ll tune your bow and help you choose the right bowhunting gear.
Planning for Success
Once your equipment and shooting form are ready for deer season, you’ll need a plan to manage buck fever. To help you prepare, we talked to Joel Turner, a SWAT sniper, law-enforcement firearms instructor, accomplished bowhunter and archery coach who specializes in mental management. Through his rare combination of special skills, Turner developed strategies for shooting under pressure.
During such situations, people experience spikes in respiration and blood pressure, Turner said. Once your heart rate soars to 150 to 160 beats per minute, your midbrain takes over brain functions, which means it taps into survival mechanisms.
“For new bowhunters, when that big buck is coming in and their heart is pounding in their chest, they stop having the ability to think about their shot process,” Turner said. “They go over into results-based thinking, where they’re thinking in the future. They need to bring themselves into the present, and that starts with combat breathing.”
Don’t Forget to Breathe
“Combat breathing” means inhaling through the nose for four seconds, holding the breath four seconds, and exhaling through the mouth for four seconds. It slows your heart rate and keeps you thinking.
Once you lower your heart rate and can think clearly, you can begin the shooting sequence. “The best advice I could give any new archer is you need to make the decision to shoot the arrow perfectly, or not shoot it at all,” Turner said. “The key is when to make the decision.”
That decision occurs as you draw your bow. Turner recommends saying a phrase to yourself as you draw, which keeps you in the moment and reminds you to make a good shot.
It’s critical to tell yourself the phrase just before you reach full draw. Some good reminders are “keep pulling,” “pick a spot,” “do it right” and “here I go.” If the shot feels wrong at any moment, don’t shoot. Let down and start over to ensure you don’t take a bad shot.
Turner says it’s vital to make it through the first second of aiming. Why? Because when people rush a shot, they often shoot within one second of acquiring their sight picture. To prevent that (and a misplaced arrow due to improper form), Turner suggests aiming for at least one second before starting to release.
Turner’s final tip is to practice your buck-fever plan at the range. “I don’t go to the range to practice shooting,” he said. “I use shooting to practice concentration.”
Practice Turner’s advice at the range so that when you’re seized by buck fever this fall, you know how to break its grip. Remember to breathe, take your time, and choose to make a good shot. For more tips and how-to information, check the Bowhunting 360 Facebook page. If you have questions, post them to the Bowhunting 360 Facebook community.