Buck Fever Explained, and The Solutions that Work.

Hunting season is almost like Christmas…

You are so excited to get outside! You set your alarm, and you don’t even need it…even for that crazy early morning hour. The season is open and you’ve got everything you need – the big day is here.

Waiting in your stand with your eyes finely tuned to your surroundings, finally the moment comes. You see a huge buck walk right in range, the opportunity is in front of you….then it happens –  your heart races, you’re sweating, your head feels like it’s spinning and your hands are shaking….you couldn’t get the shot.

You’ve got a bad case of buck fever.

Knowledge is Power

leaping deer

While many places talk a big game about buck fever, we thought we’d take the time to explain it. Knowing what is happening in your body will give you the edge in combatting it. So, we’ll talk about exactly what buck fever is, and then, real strategies to tackle it.

What Exactly is Buck Fever?

nervous system

Buck fever at its core, is all about the stimulation of the nervous system. Specifically, buck fever seems to be related to the stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system, the same one that produces the “fight or flight” response in the body.

While the “fight or flight” response is famous for reacting in dangerous situations that we have to stand and “fight” or “flee” out of, this response can also be triggered by nervous system excitement.

Think about it, the same things that happen in buck fever have a lot of similarities to what can happen when some people go out on a big first date…their palms get sweaty, their heart races, they get nervous and stammer, the words don’t come out right, and they can be jittery.

Buck fever is linked to a body response that’s happening when the  big opportunity presents itself.  So when you think about it, Buck Fever is likely triggered by two things: incredible excitement, and nervousness about making the shot.

What to do about Buck Fever

 

1. Reduce your Caffeine

energy drinks

Yes, we said it. We know that it is the lifeblood for a lot of folks out there, but if you tend to be someone who struggles with buck fever, we’re going to suggest you wean yourself from caffeine weeks in advance of the season. Reducing caffeine or slowly cutting it out of your diet entirely does not just refer to coffee, but soda and energy drinks.

Even if you don’t get shaky from caffeine anymore, you are still amping up your nervous system…making it easier for buck fever to show its face when the moment comes. If you fuel up on caffeine, it’s equivalent to you taking your system halfway there by stimulating it, and we don’t want that to happen.

2. Practice, Realistically

whitetail practice

Targets

If you struggle with buck fever, it’s important for you to practice on realistic targets – that means a full-size 3-D Target. While other types of targets can be fine for some, you want this to be as close to real as possible.

If you shoot at home, I’d even recommend moving the target to different locations as much as possible, and even give yourself a little pressure from time to time (I have 10 seconds to make this shot!). Try to replicate the conditions of a real shot as closely as possible, and do it over and over again.

Clothing

While practicing in your jeans and shirt might be fine for most of your practice sessions, about two weeks before the season, try periodically practicing in the clothes you’ll wear in the field. Easier to do if you’re only shooting in your back yard, we know, but again this is about trying to make the conditions as similar as possible. Do what you can.

 

3. Check Your Thoughts

deer face

Your thoughts have the power to do incredible things to your body. When people go to a job interview they get nervous, some sweat, and many even get shaky hands. Why? Because even in an interview you have thoughts, hopes, and anxiety around making a big opportunity happen.

Just like your thoughts can trigger a nervous system response for a job interview, it can also and trigger the “buck fever” response.

5 Ways to Check Your Thoughts

A. Focus on the Target Area

We don’t often think about “what” we’re thinking, because when target practicing, we usually are just thinking about getting the perfect shot in a specific area. During deer season, when the real animal walks across our path, often our thoughts change dramatically from target practice.

Often when seeing that deer right in front of you, we’re now counting the points, or thinking “He’s a BIG one!” “I just wish he’d stand still,” etc…. things you don’t think about during practice, and it throws you off your game. Focus on the target area…just like practice.

B. Keep your Thoughts Positive

Instead of “I just wish he’d stand still!” rephrase it to yourself by saying something different like, “I’m going to nail him perfectly the moment he stops.” One sounds far better than the other, don’t you think? Try catching yourself in negative or anxious thoughts, even before the season opens, and correct it.

C. Don’t Sabotage Yourself

If you’ve frozen up in the past, don’t assume it will happen this time. Some people have buck fever their first time out, and it never happens again. Be sure you watch for self-handicapping – that is, cutting yourself off at the knees by telling yourself negative outcomes before they even have a chance to happen.

What you tell yourself often has more of an impact than you know. Predicting bad outcomes messes with your mind, and your mental focus is essential to a proper shot.

D. See Your Success

Visualization is a common strategy used in sports success, but it works equally well with hunters because at the end of the day, it’s all about performance. Don’t just think about success, actually see yourself making that perfect shot in you head. In your mind, watch the arrow leave the bow (or bullet leaving the rifle) perfectly and making the shot.

E. Reframe the Jitters and Sweats

When we say to “reframe,” we just mean to think about the jitters, sweats, etc.. differently if they happen. If you feel your heart racing a bit, don’t say “Oh no, here it comes… I’m going to buckle again!” Instead say “My heart’s pumping, must be excited about the big day!”

The truth is, most people do get excited, so it’s helpful to see it that way. Reframing helps your body to process that sensation differently, and actually helps to keep it from amping up into a full-blown episode of Buck Fever.