By Alex Comstock
Buck fever. We've all heard about it, for one reason or another. Though some people like to dispute the notion. "It's not real, it's simply a mind game." But, what if that mind game was an incorporation of buck fever itself? Let's face it, many people are superb archery shots, but always seem to find a way to screw up during the moment of truth with a big mature buck. That same person could shoot a hundred does, and not miss a single one. What can explain this? I think you can guess..."buck fever."
What is it?: Before I attempt to talk about how to combat buck fever, let's try and outline what it is exactly. For me personally, it's a combination of things. It's a multilayered conundrum. There is the aspect of me getting so worked up when a buck is approaching, that I suddenly lose the ability to think straight. My mind is going haywire, my heart is beating uncontrollably out of my chest, and it can become hard for me to process each move that I make. The second part of my situation is during the actual shot. I don't know how else to explain it, other than it seems like I blackout. On any deer that I've missed, or not hit where I wanted to, most often times I can't remember exactly where that pin was on the deer when I released. And that folks is a problem. The deer that I have shot successfully, I seem to be able to remember the exact hair on the body of the deer my pin was settled on, and I can vividly remember watching the arrow disappear into the deer. The next logical question is why have I been able to execute so perfectly on some bucks, and others I've miserably failed? I'm sure it's a question many others have as well. I'm convinced that if we all own up to the fact that buck fever is a real thing, and affects us, we can learn how to overcome it, and ultimately be a more successful hunter.
Identify Your Weakness: Above, I highlighted what buck fever was to me. But, it can vary from person to person. It is key that you are able to identify what it is that you struggle at. It may be one glaring problem, or a couple small things. The more you can understand what causes you to get some type of buck fever, the more likely you will be able to overcome it. Look at previous mistakes you have made, and try to figure out why you made those mistakes. Did you rush a shot? Were you in awe of a buck's antlers, and lost focus during the shot sequence? Did you remember to bend at the waist during the shot? Ask yourself questions such as these to help identify what you can improve upon.
How To Overcome Buck Fever: So you've been able to successfully identify what your problem is, or what you struggle at. How do you get over it? Improving is an evolutionary part of deer hunting. Learning how to overcome any weaknesses is vital to becoming a better deer hunter, and this evolution is no different.
The first thing to helping overcome this problem is to become unconditionally comfortable with your archery gear. Build up that muscle memory as well as you can. The more you shoot your bow, the better you will perform in the heat of the moment. This may seem obvious, but I'm surprised at how many people I know of that shoot their bow just enough to know it's fairly "on". I want to know every intricate part of my bow, my form, my shot, and if something is not right, I know instantly. The last thing I want to worry about during a shot is if my gear will perform, or if I am comfortable with a shot. When your mind is going haywire, if you can fall back on that muscle memory, and have the utmost confidence in your bow, it can greatly help you succeed.
Another thing to practice during the spring and summer while shooting your bow is breathing. I try to consciously focus on my breathing, and control it. Not only does it help take my mind off of what is about to happen during a shot opportunity and what could go wrong, it helps keep me calm (as possible). The more calm and collective you can be before a shot, it seems to me the better chance you have at executing a perfect shot. This is something that I still need to work on a lot. Have you ever seen those guys, or know somebody that just seems to be a stone cold killer, and they don't get excited until after a shot? That is what I strive to be like. Controlling that breathing, and focusing on the inhaling and exhaling, and staying calm and focused until after the shot will help greatly. Once an arrow is sent through that deer, and you've watched it run off, that's the time to lose it, and go crazy with excitement.
If you can't focus on your breathing, find it difficult, or need an additional thing to help keep you calm, something I've started doing is having an inner dialogue with myself during an encounter. Usually, I try to mentally go through a checklist. "Grab my bow" "Be patient" "Not yet, wait a few more steps" "Draw my bow" "Nestle the pin". These are a few examples of things I might be saying to myself during an encounter. This may seem odd to some, but it can greatly help keep your mind focused on the task at hand, and help you stay calm during an encounter.
What I also find that helps during an encounter, and pending shot opportunity is to not focus on the deer's antlers. As soon as I identify it is a shooter buck, I try and take my eyes off of the antlers, and focus on where I want to shoot the deer. People get in trouble by being blown away by a set of antlers, and then not taking their eyes off of them, and with every step the buck comes closer, you can get more and more frizzled by their size. Take those eyes off of the antlers, and I assure you that it will help keep you calmer.
Conclusion: Buck fever affects everybody in a different way. To some it may hardly affect them, and to others it can be a massive problem. Regardless of how much it affects you, these tactics to help overcome buck fever may be able to help you during your next encounter.