by Pete Young
Here are some ways to work through it and not ruin your hunt.
This first thing we need to know about buck fever is that it has little to do with bucks only. The name is misleading. The phenomenon can occur when hunting for a doe, hog, turkey or practically any game.
Scientifically speaking, buck fever is a strong rush of adrenaline. Webster describes it as “nervous excitement of an inexperienced hunter at the sight of game.”
Inexperienced hunter? If I interviewed a hundred veteran deer hunters, it’s a safe bet that I’d find 95 who say they still experience it to some degree.
What Degree Is Your Fever?
Buck fever can affect hunters in many different ways. Some get it as soon as they spot a deer. For others, it’s more selective, even erratic. They get it only when they encounter a deer that they want to shoot.
I can be hunting in “big buck” mode and I will have very little reaction to seeing a young buck or doe walk by. I know I’m not going to shoot them. But I can easily get a mild case of it if I’m in “meat hunting” mode and a big doe comes into view.
Some hunters don’t get it until after they take the shot. Some who get a mild case of it find that’s easy to overcome while others get the violent shakes from it.
I’ve heard of hunters getting it after hearing leaves rustling behind them, only to find out the culprit was a squirrel.
Yes, you can even get if from sound only.
Don’t Let The Fever Ruin Your Shot
Regardless of what degree of buck fever you typically experience, there are ways to work through it and not ruin your hunt. For the mild case, try breathing slowly and deeply. Take a few breaths and hold your breath for the shot.
For some, taking a deep breath and holding it in works best. For others, exhaling and then holding their breath works better. Try quickly taking your focus off the whole animal and locking in on a small patch of hair in the kill zone. Try to imagine a single hair you want to hit.
For some hunters, the worst thing that can happen to bring on severe buck fever is to watch a deer for a long period of time before getting the right shot opportunity.
This may sound a little backward because you’d think the more time you have to watch the deer and think about your shot, the more relaxed you’d get. But au contraire, this waiting and watching can heighten a case of buck fever worse than anything.
If you are prone to severe buck fever and sometimes get the shakes, you’ll have to work a little harder to overcome it. You can try the same things mentioned above for starters. You may need to take your focus completely off the deer for a while.
If you’ve gotten to the point of the shakes, chances are you’ve been watching that deer for a few minutes anyway and he’ll probably stick around a bit longer. Try looking away for a while and calm down.
If all of this fails and you simply can’t calm down, try being the good, ethical hunter and don’t take the shot. You’d likely miss anyway.
Don’t Fear the Fever
Don’t get discouraged if you experience severe buck fever and have to pass up some shots. There will be plenty more opportunities.
Personally, I prefer a fast, unexpected shot opportunity any day over sitting and waiting for a deer to get within range or out from behind cover.
When it’s fast and unexpected, there’s no time for severe buck fever to set in. I seem to always have good results when I’m forced to quickly rely on my shooting instincts.
By far, the best treatment for the fever is spending more time in the woods and viewing more deer activity.
Whereas I was once a young hunter prone to getting a severe case of it—even the shakes—now I experience only mild symptoms and can always overcome it.
But I actually love the rush of it and hope never to completely lose it. I suppose if I ever do lose it, then it might just be time to hang up my gun and bow and shoot them with a camera.