hunter holding rifle

Avoid Buck Fever: How to Stay Calm When Shooting a Deer

Whether it’s your first deer or your fiftieth, it’s normal to feel some nerves when the moment of truth arrives and you have a deer in your sights. Otherwise known as buck fever, that adrenaline rush is part of what makes hunting such an exciting sport. But too much excitement at the wrong moment can lead to a missed shot or worse. As any experienced deer hunter knows, the key is staying calm and focused when it counts. We’re going to discuss a few tips and techniques for keeping your cool and making the perfect shot when it counts.

Summary: Tips for Staying Calm When Shooting a Deer

  • Master breathing techniques to oxygenate blood and slow your pulse
  • Set up realistic practice scenarios mimicking hunting situations
  • Stretch to relax muscles and calm your mind
  • Know your gear intimately to eliminate variables
  • Let the deer’s behavior dictate your pacing on the shot
  • Focus only on your sights, not the antlers
  • Trust your preparation and let go of self-doubt

What is Buck Fever?

Buck fever is a phenomenon experienced by many hunters when they encounter or are about to take a shot at a deer. It is a heightened state of nervousness and physiological arousal caused by the excitement and adrenaline rush of coming face to face with the animal. 

The most common symptoms of buck fever include:

– Rapid heart rate and breathing
– Muscle tension, shaking, and tremors
– Sweaty palms and clammy skin
– Tunnel vision and inability to focus
– Dry mouth and lump in throat
– Nausea or “butterflies” in stomach
– Loss of fine motor control and coordination

Now that you understand this common phenomenon and the typical symptoms, let’s talk about ways to calm your nerves to minimize these affects.

Note: These techniques are more critical if you are a bowhunter, but I try to include examples for both rifle and bowhunting. Making a good shot requires you to remain calm, regardless if you’re using a rifle or a bow.

Master Proper Breathing Techniques

When that big buck finally steps out, your heart is going to race and your breathing will intensify. That’s an unavoidable biological response. But what you do with that adrenaline rush makes all the difference. Remaining motionless and consciously regulating your breathing keeps your mind clear, your muscles relaxed, and your aim true. Practice breathing techniques regularly in everyday life and especially in your treestand. Inhale deeply and slowly, hold briefly, then exhale fully. Repeat this several times, focusing only on your breath, before drawing your bow. This oxygenates your blood, slows your pulse, and steels your nerves.

Another technique is to use a “physiological sigh” popularized by neuroscientist Andrew Huberman. This technique can be very helpful to overcome buck fever by reducing stress.

Set Up Realistic Practice Scenarios

Nothing prepares you for the real thing like realistic practice. Take the time before season to set up practice shooting in situations that closely mimic your treestand setup and the shots you expect to encounter hunting. String a target in the woods at the exact distance of your stand. If possible, elevate it and yourself up in a tree. Start close, then keep moving further out as you accurately hit the kill zone every time. Have a friend randomly set the target within view to simulate a deer entering the scene. Staying sharp through practice builds muscle memory and consistency, making that moment of truth feel like just another day at the range.

Relax Your Body Through Stretching

Don’t underestimate the impact your physical condition can have on your mental state and shooting accuracy. When you feel tense and stiff, it negatively affects your focus, breathing, and shot execution. Make stretching part of your pre-hunt routine, especially on cold hunts when your muscles really tighten up. Even subtle movements–rolling your neck, raising and lowering your shoulders, extending your legs–can work wonders for relaxing your body and calming your mind. Stretch before climbing in the stand, periodically while waiting, and again right before drawing your bow if needed.

Know Your Gear Like the Back of Your Hand

Confidence in your equipment is essential for keeping your cool at the moment of truth. When a trophy buck walks out, you can’t afford to be fiddling with a new sight or wondering about your broadhead blades. You need to know every inch of your rifle, bow, arrows, release and other gear as naturally as your own hands. Eliminate any variables by practicing repeatedly with the same setup you hunt with, until it all feels like an extension of your body. Being intimately familiar with your tools allows you to slip into that zen-like focus when that deer walks into shooting range.

Let the Deer Dictate Your Movements

However long you’ve waited for the moment, don’t rush your shot when you see the deer. Let the deer’s behavior dictate your pacing. Wait for him (or her) to fully clear any brush and present a broadside angle in an unobstructed shooting lane. If he’s relaxed and unaware, take your time settling the pin and preparing your shot sequence. Don’t draw prematurely or too quickly. The extra seconds are well worth a calm, accurate shot you feel fully aligned on. Never force a shot that isn’t 100% right just because your heart is racing. Follow the deer’s lead.

Focus on Your Sights, Not the Antlers

Buck fever is real. When a giant rack steps out, it’s easy to lose focus awestruck by the antlers. But letting your concentration drift from the vital zone to the antlers is a recipe for a missed shot. Maintain tunnel vision, blanking out all but the spot where your sights need to be placed. Don’t think about the rack until after the arrow connects and the deer is down. Keeping a narrow mental focus will steady your shot despite the adrenaline surge.

Practice and Preparation Help You Remain Calm

Stay confident by reminding yourself that you’ve prepared specifically for this moment. When nerves strike, think back to those countless repetitions visualizing success, dialing in your form and accuracy, breathing steadily, stretching to stay loose. Whether it’s your first or fiftieth deer, you’ve put in the work to make a perfect shot when it counts. Let go of any self-doubt and make yourself proud by replicating everything just as you’ve practiced.

Staying calm when a deer presents the perfect shot is a skill perfected with more hunting experience. Follow these tips to control your physical and mental state so you can confidently execute the hunt of a lifetime when that trophy buck steps out. With the right preparation and discipline, you’ll feel fully aligned to make an accurate, lethal shot. Now get out there, practice hard and take the shot.

Frequently Asked Questions

What if I start to lose focus when the buck steps out?

Don’t panic if you feel your concentration drifting when that big buck appears. Close your eyes, take a few deep cleansing breaths, and refocus on the task. Visualize your sight pin centered exactly where it needs to be. Blank out any distractions and mentally walk through your shot process step-by-step.

How can I stop my hands from shaking?

Shaking hands are a common symptom of buck fever. Try relaxing each muscle group starting with your toes and working your way up. Shake out your arms and hands to release tension. Close your eyes and visualize a perfect shot again. Draw your bow smoothly and let your muscles settle into position, then open your eyes, breathe, and make the shot.

What if the deer catches my movement drawing the bow?

If the deer detects you drawing prematurely, let down and give him a moment to relax again. Then refocus, control your breathing, stretch to loosen muscles, and draw only when the deer is fully distracted and you feel aligned. Don’t panic and force a poor shot. Staying calm and waiting for the right opportunity is key.

Is there anything I can take to help stay calmer?

Some hunters do use supplements like L-theanine or scent products marketed for buck fever, with varying degrees of success. I’m not discounting those, but nothing beats mental and physical preparation gained through ongoing practice, stretching and breathing exercises. Have faith in the hard work you’ve put in.

How do I avoid focusing too much on the antlers?

Pick the specific spot on the deer’s chest you are aiming at to concentrate on, not the antlers. Once the deer is down, then you can admire the rack. Staying focused on the vital zone rather than the antlers will steady your shot. Let the thrill come after making the kill.

What if I’m too pumped up and can’t calm down?

If you feel yourself getting overly excited at the shot opportunity, give yourself permission to back away and reset. Take some deep breaths, stretch out tense muscles, and collect yourself. The deer will likely still be there in a minute or two once you achieve a calm, focused state of mind.

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