Deer Hunting 101: How To Control Buck Fever

In Bowhunting by Devin N.

 

Imagine you have a hunt coming up and you want to fully prepare for it.  You make sure you’re good on gear, you practice your shot over and over again to ensure accuracy, and you head out with the intentions of bringing home a buck.

You arrive at the hunting grounds, set up a tree stand or ground blind, and then get into position.  Hours pass by and you finally see a deer that you feel you’re ready to take on.  You raise your bow and draw your weapon and then all of a sudden, you freeze up.

Your heart starts to race and your breathing becomes shallow.  You wonder what is wrong, but little do you know that this is all normal.  They call this uncomfortable sensation buck fever and if it makes you feel any better, the majority of hunters go through it.

Based on the sound of it, you may think that something like this happening would only affect beginners, but unfortunately, this is not the case.  Buck fever can and will affect anyone of any age and any level of experience, but there are ways to prevent it and overcome it.

Many hunters have utilized different tricks and strategies to get rid of or stop buck fever from happening, but here are some that I found have not only worked for me but for bowhunters that I personally know as well.

Keep in mind that buck fever is nothing to be worried about and, in fact, can actually intensify your hunting experience in s good way.  So, if you bow hunt for the thrill of the experience, then this feeling will give you exactly what you paid for. 

But…What Causes Buck Fever

Many hunters experience this weird feeling while aiming down sights at a buck, but they usually don’t know why.  Although you may feel that you’re prepared and ready to take that first kill shot, your body may not completely agree with you.

The reason most hunters go through this crazy and sometimes even scary feeling is because of adrenaline.  Your body activates adrenaline while you hunt simply because hunting is an adrenaline-producing sport.

The reason you may feel uncomfortable sensations such as shallow breathing and increased heart rate is because of this same adrenaline and it will confuse your mind into thinking that something is actually wrong when it’s not.

Adrenaline is used to activate what is known as the fight-or-flight response in the body and can make the body experience all kinds of different crazy symptoms that can or can’t be useful, depending on the situation.  The fight-or-flight response is an instinct that humans have had since the beginning of time and is produced as a way to tell the body that it is going into survival mode.

How Do You Know You Have It

Well, usually if buck fever occurs, you won’t be able to miss it.  It can cause a slew of symptoms in the body and can be either crippling or beneficial depending on how well the individual it’s happening to handles it.

A few common symptoms to look out for is an increased feeling of alertness, shallow breathing and maybe even sweaty palms.  Unless you suffer from a condition or have a disease, this is usually not something to fear or worry about.  If you’ve experienced anxiety in your life, then that is pretty much what I’d say it feels like if I were to put it into simpler terms.

How To Conquer It

Visualize Your Shot

Visualize Your Shot Before You Even Make It

Before completely buckling up and feeling like you are going to be unable to make your shot, just visualize it.  Visualizing your shot will allow you to plant an image in your head of what you plan to

expect and what exactly you should be aiming for.

This is a simple tip, but being able to draw your bow and simply picturing a good, clean shot in your head will increase your chances of actually making that shot.  Buck fever can occur when one does not believe they can make the shot or will fail, so knowing this alone compared to thinking negatively about how and where you shoot will make a huge difference.

If negative thoughts are too hard to overcome and you feel as if you are unable to stay positive enough to fully believe in yourself, then don’t force it.  Shooting your bow not knowing whether or not you dealt a clean shot can hurt your chances of bagging your next deer and can call for a horrible hunting experience.

Start Small

Having your sights aimed at a huge buck can be intimidating whether you have experience or not, but there is a way to help reduce this fear-inducing feeling.  Hunting smaller game animals will give you a smaller target to aim at and will help better prepare you when stepping up to that bigger game.

Don’t get me wrong, hunting smaller animals can also give that same rush that is felt when shooting at deer, but it isn’t as bad.  Why is it easier to take down smaller animals compared to bigger ones when hunting?  I’m not sure, but it works.  I guess it likes killing a bear compared to a mouse, it’s just less stressful, intimidating, and less to worry about.

Taking down smaller game will also give you a lot less area to cover and will make shooting without the fear of missing a hell of a lot easier.

Shift Your Mindset

Hunting while in a negative mind frame can be extremely difficult and should be avoided at all costs.  Doing so will result in clumsy hunting strategies, lack of proper safety precautions, and overall just an unpleasant experience.

If you want to reduce the chance of succumbing to the uneasy feeling of having buck fever, then you’ll definitely want to get that mindset changed, immediately.  Shifting your mind from negative to positive thoughts will you the boost you need to follow through after drawing your bow.

If you’re going into a deer hunting trip not believing that you will be able to land the shot or that you don’t exactly have what it takes to bag a huge buck then most likely it will probably become true.  Remember not to overthink the process and go at it with no doubts and no regrets.

Deep Breathes

If you find yourself experiencing any of the classic symptoms such as increased heart rate or sweaty palms, then take a few deep breaths.  Shallow breathing will tell your brain that you are entering a state of anxiety and should be avoided to avoid this feeling.

Deep breathing will increase the oxygen supply to the brain and stimulate your nervous system, promoting a state of calmness throughout the body.  Breathing deeply before even drawing your bow will get you prepared to take that shot before it even happens.

While it is important to take a little time when aiming down your sights, we don’t want to take too long.  Having a couple deep breathes right before you aim should help calm you down just enough to comfortably get you through, but shouldn’t be drawn out for the sake of not missing an opportunity.

Practice At Home

Practice As Much As You Can Before Heading To The Field

What better way to reduce the chances of experiencing buck fever than by practicing at home.  Setting up a target and having a bow session can be a great way of preparing yourself physically and for getting a feel for what it’s like to shoot at the real deal.

If you want to take it a step further, get your hands on a 3-d target, specifically one of a deer.  This will get your mind used to something that is life-like and will likely make shooting at an actual buck a little less nerve-racking.

On top of that, it will also help with improving your shot and raising your accuracy, making you feel a lot better and comfortable with your shot.

Hunt More Often

Although some hunters never get over the feeling of experiencing buck fever, they do learn to handle it a lot better, and this is usually because they’re constantly hunting.  There are many ways to try and completely get over or reduce this uncomfortable sensation, but there is no other way better than just simply getting out there and hunting.

Hunting more often will expose you to a lot more deer and will allow you to gradually get more and more used to dealing with them the more you go.

Everything can be scary when it is done in moderation, but once you really put yourself out there and not let the fear of feeling it cripple you or ruin your shot, you’re that much closer to not only lessening the likelihood of it happening but also for potentially getting over it altogether.

Be Confident

Have you ever tried at something in life and just completely fail because you didn’t feel like you had the confidence to achieve it? Well, being involved with bow hunting is just like that.  In order to score the big bucks, you have to be confident in yourself.

Being confident can be hard when you’re new to archery or just haven’t practiced your shot enough, but it is a great way for building it up and will be great for improving all areas of your life.  With that said, you will need tons of it when hunting deer and other wild game animals.

It will allow you to fully believe in your shot and yourself and will reduce the chances of you becoming nervous while aiming down your sights at a deer.  The inability to believe we can do something can make tasks 10 times harder and will only hurt us in the long run if we let it, so hunt with your head held high and know deep down that you are able to achieve anything if you simply just set your mind to it.

Don’t Rush It

If you’ve ever experienced buck fever or even anxiety, you know exactly what it feels like to put your full attention towards something while you are anxious.  And when hunting with all these crazy symptoms going on in your body, it can be hard to deal with.

Having the ability to maintain yourself while under pressure as you’re being hit with a truckload of uncomfortable symptoms is an art and it can seem impossible now, but in order to get that clean shot, it must be done.

Getting your shot off quick can be tempting to do when you have the deer right in your sights ready to be taken down, but doing so can result in a misplaced shot and will ultimately make you lose your kill.

In order to prevent potentially losing your deer, you’ll want to take a few deep breaths, raise your bow quietly, and then slowly line your shot up and shoot when you’re confident that you’ll be able to hit you’re intended target.

It’s important for you to take any opportunity you have at shooting a deer when you haven’t spotted one in a long time, but not if it’s at the risk of a poorly placed shot.  Be confident, let your mind drift away into more positive thoughts, and asses your shot properly with confidence.    

Focus On Shot Placement

Focusing On Shot Placement Will Distract Your Mind From Uncomfortable Feelings

As you may know, shot placement is everything when it comes to bowhunting.  If you don’t have it, you don’t have the kill.  And although buck fever can hinder our ability to really zone in and focus on the target at hand, it is absolutely critical for our trip’s success.

When you put all your focus on where you’re aiming at while you have your bow drawn, you allow yourself to shift your mind from the nervousness and onto the shot instead.  If you’ve ever had a bad day and came home to play video games or any other hobby and then realize that what you were worried about isn’t as bad anymore or the worry of it has just completely gone away, then you should know what I mean.

Taking your mind off of one thing and putting it on another is great for easing your mind and can serve you really well when out in the field.  If you are aiming down your sights and you feel as if your mind is staying focused on the feelings you’re experiencing, then not only will you continue to experience buck fever but you will likely miss or blow your shot completely.

So, when you’re ready to take your shot, put on your blinders and think, visualize, and see exactly where you want to see your arrow landing.

Don’t Overthink It

Yes, it is good to focus on your shot and also take your time when doing so, but you don’t want to overthink your self out of it.  Overthinking can result in nervousness and will have you doubting yourself the whole way through.

If you want to overcome or avoid overthinking altogether, we’ll want to go back to the confidence aspect of it all and allow ourselves to feel good about our abilities.  In the past when I used to experience buck fever, I would just big myself up until I felt too good to even bother with entertaining thoughts that tried to convince me that I couldn’t take down a buck.

Giving yourself compliments and already imagining yourself to be the expert in the field will be kind of a confirmation that you are a big shot and that you are fully capable of hitting any target you put your mind to.  This may sound cheesy to some, but it is powerful. 

Besides, if you keep telling yourself this, you might actually become it.  So fake it until you make it and give yourself a boost so that you can get yourself out of the thoughts that enter your head as you’re drawing your bow. 

Mentally Prepare

Since buck fever is caused by symptoms of nervousness and nervousness is manifested in the mind, it is best to start there first.  If you want to stop buck fever from even happening in the first place, you’ll want to nip it in the bud before it even happens.

Clearing your mind by doing something calming such as meditating, soaking in a warm bath, or even taking a long drive before your trip will help a lot with emptying your mind of any bit of anxiousness that you might have had.

Buck fever does present real, physical symptoms, but they are caused by your brain being in overdrive.  So if you’re able to relax your mind and rid yourself of any stress beforehand, you’re already halfway there.

If you want to really ensure mental clarity, practice keeping your mind at ease while you are in the stand or in the ground as well.  Clearing your mind beforehand will help a lot with how you are able to handle yourself in the field, but just in case you feel the nervousness starting back up, practice activities such as drawing or deep breathing exercises to help maintain that calm state of mind.

Embrace The Feeling

Despite all the calming techniques and steps that were taken to prevent buck fever from happening, it doesn’t always work.  We can try everything in our power to try and stop this feeling, but ultimately, it isn’t something that we have full control over, and we just have to accept that.

If you draw your bow and begin to feel the classic symptoms of buck fever, just embrace it.  I know this sounds counterintuitive since the whole point is to get rid of it or avoid it in the first place, but we cannot predict the outcome every single time, it is just not possible.

Once you embrace it, you might actually find that it is not as hard to handle as you thought it would be.  In fact, some hunters go on hunts looking forward to the feeling and is even said to make the whole trip worthwhile.  If this doesn’t tell you that it is a harmless feeling, I don’t know what will.

As long as you can endure a few short seconds of adrenaline rushing through your body as you stare a buck down through your sites, then you have nothing to worry about.  There are millions upon millions of people who hunt every single year, and if they are able to get through the feeling, you can too.  

It Won’t Be Your Last Shot

There Will Always Be More Opportunites

Bucks don’t always come around a lot while you hunt, so when one actually does, you may feel as if this is your last and only shot of scoring one.  If you have this type of mentality, you will put yourself at great risk of tensing up and blowing your chances completely.

Although it sucks to let a shot go, sometimes you just have to.  I know how exciting it can feel to finally get your chance at shooting the buck that you’ve been dreaming of after waiting for so long, but if you don’t have a clear shot, you should just cut your losses and track it down until you get another opportunity.

Having the thought that you’ll only get one chance at shooting at a buck can cause nervousness and will cause your muscles to be very tight and stiff, therefore throwing off your shot and ultimately losing the kill.  So just take that thought and clear it out of your mind.  It is usually not true and will only make you perform worse than you should.

You won’t always get a chance at killing a buck every trip, so if you have to, come back the next day and hunt again.  Hunting takes practice and if you’re good at tracking down animals, you have no reason to believe that you will only have one shot at scoring big.

Avoid Caffeine

Everyone loves a daily dose of caffeine and a cup of coffee can go a long way with getting you up and ready for a long hunt, but sometimes when dealing with buck fever, caffeine can be our enemy.  Since buck fever symptoms are induced by rushes of adrenaline and caffeine is known to produce more of this adrenaline, it is probably a good idea to stay away from it before a trip.

If you consume anything with caffeine in it right before you head to the field, you could very well heighten your chances of experiencing the symptoms of buck fever.  Drinks with caffeine in them, including soda and coffee, can raise your adrenaline, therefore intensifying the effects of the fever.

If possible, avoid anything that has caffeine in it before and during your hunt.  This isn’t a worry for all hunters, but if you’re someone who has experienced buck fever or if you’re already nervous about the hunt, this will probably help you more in the long-run.

If you’re a person who has a hard time waking up in the morning and needs something to get them moving and alert for the journey ahead, then do some basic and quick exercises beforehand instead, such as pushups or jumping jacks.  This will get the blood pumping and will do great at waking you up, keeping you warm, and increasing your awareness.

Adrenaline can be a great feeling when hunting.  It can put us in the moment and make us feel like we’re alive.  But if it’s a trigger for producing other symptoms, it should be avoided. 

Make Light Of It

As a beginner, bowhunting can be a very intimidating sport.  The thought of being within yards of a deer with your bow aimed at it ready to kill can be a scary feeling.  You raise your bow to draw your weapon, but you can’t seem to bring yourself to release the arrow.  These are all normal feelings and should not be anything to worry about.

Without enough practice or experience, shooting a deer can seem like a hard concept to grasp, but once you hunt more and get it down, it’s not as hard as you originally thought.  Realize that your fears don’t define who you are and can be overcome.  Take whatever you’re worried about and make light of the situation, as if it isn’t a big deal.

Believing you have to be the best hunter in the world or that you have to land perfect shots can be a lot to worry about and will induce feelings of nervousness and tenseness, so throwing these thoughts out the window and not taking everything so serious can help out a lot.

Bowhunting is a fun sport and should be taken seriously, but lightly at the same time.

Remember To Have Fun

To me, if you’re not having fun while you bowhunt, maybe it isn’t the right hobby for you.  Although bowhunting requires a lot of safety precautions, strategy planning, and patience, that doesn’t mean that it has to be a dry and boring sport.

Taking the seriousness out of it and focusing only on the things that you need to focus on to ensure your safety and get the most out of your hunt should be the only things to worry about and should not interfere with your ability to have fun while doing so.

This is a sport that many hunters participate in to relax and get away from the stresses of life and can be very beneficial to you if you don’t overthink it.

Remember to have fun while you hunt and the feelings of being nervous about taking down a buck should just go away naturally. 

Conclusion

If You Practice Enough, Buck Feer Will Be A Thing Of The Past

Buck fever can be a pretty crippling experience to go through and can even be frustrating if you’re not used to handling it, but with enough practice and coping mechanisms, it does get better.  Many hunters have gone through this and depending on who you ask, can be a scary or thrilling feeling, but nonetheless, it has happened.

There are no guaranteed ways to ever completely get over buck fever for good, but if you’re good at practicing strategies that can reduce the symptoms, it’s not that hard to deal with.  The feeling has likely plagued many more people than you think and should not be something to be too overly worried about.