He emerged over the crest of the hill and began walking parallel to me, heading along a well worn trail down the side of the ridge. With each crunch of autumn leaves my heart pounded faster and my hands shook more violently. In what seemed like a flash he was edging into my shooting lane and I moved into position for a shot…
The next thing I remember the buck was bounding away in a flurry of white and brown, and I was left staring at an arrow buried in the side of a tree still reverberating from impact. I sat there half paralyzed, not quite sure of what had just happened. It was my first shot at a buck with my bow and things hadn’t gone quite as I had thought they would!
What I’ve found since that day is that this kind of reaction to an approaching buck wasn’t just a one time thing. I admittedly get hit with one mean case of buck fever, and it often results in my mind nearly turning off and my body just acting. Sometimes that action is a rushed shot and a punched trigger. Unfortunately this has ended up resulting in a few less than ideal shots in my hunting career, and while it’s a challenge that is common for many folks – it’s not one that I or any one of us should be ok with just letting be. So the first step is admitting you have a problem – I can check that off my list now. But there’s a lot more to do from there. That being said, I’ve certainly been working on this and below are three tactics that have helped me address my target panic/buck fever and hopefully they can help you too!
1. Have A Mantra: A mantra is a statement or phrase that you can repeat to yourself as a reminder or calming influence during times of stress. For me, I use a mantra as part of my shooting “process”. I try to have a consistent process with every shot I take, and as this becomes habit, it kicks in even when my mind shuts off during high pressure situations. The mantra helps me make sure I follow that process. For me, it’s “Focus on form”. And this is a reminder that I need to take the time to mentally check off all the key points of my shooting form before I take a shot. Not only does this help make sure I’m shooting properly, but it forces me to slow down and that’s a key for me.
2. Practice Under Pressure: One of the best ways to practice for buck fever is to practice under similar situations. While almost nothing is as exciting and adrenaline generating as a big buck moving in – putting yourself in high pressure shooting situations can at least help you simulate this event in part. Examples of this could be participating in archery competitions, or just competing with your friends. Have your family come out and watch you shoot and maybe raise the stakes with money on the line if you make a certain shot. Adding this outside pressure can raise your blood pressure a little bit, and help you practice controlling yourself under these high stake situations.
3. Shoot Long, To Kill Close: Another simple way to better prepare yourself for buck fever is to practice. This seems obvious, but it’s how you practice that matters. Of course you want to practice with good form and work on making every single shot a kill. But one thing that I find really helps is practicing at long distances. If you can practice at a long distance and master it, you will be much better prepared for the short range shot that you would actually encounter with a live deer. For me, this means I sometimes practice out to 60 yards – while I would only ever shoot at a live deer at around 40. But since I practice at 60, that 40, 30 or 20 yard shot looks like a piece of cake. And even when my brain turns to moosh, it’s much more doable – given I’ve been mentally preparing myself for 50 or 60.
4. Breathe: It’s essential to just living, and probably just as important for handling target panic. Controlling your breathing is possibly the best way to bring your body back down to a relaxed state, and ready yourself for a calm and controlled shot. I do this with deep inhales and slow exhales and a conscious effort to notice my breathing and slow it down.
The breathing control mentioned above, along with the aforementioned processes and preparation should put you in a great position to control the panic and make a killer shot on your next buck. I admit it, I have a problem – but it doesn’t have to be one that I’m stuck with. With lots of practice and some mental strength I’m working on handling this better – and I’m sure you can too!