A form of hysteria in which your cerebrum shuts down and you are left somewhat paralyzed and unable to carry out physical skills…


December 01, 2015

Suddenly, out of the fog a monster buck headed straight at me and he was in easy archery range. Snowflakes danced in the air as I could feel my pulse explode, my fingers got a tingling sensation, I felt slightly dizzy and it was difficult to breath. “Damn it, control yourself,” I coached myself but it was too late and the spectacle of the booner buck slipping through the snow at close range gave me a surge of adrenalin that sent my body into a state of shock. I struggled to keep my senses and noticed the bruiser came to a stop less than 20 yards away and he was staring my direction. Before I could get the Stealth crossbow to my shoulder he quickly bolted, switched directions and all I could see in the scope was his huge white tail waving bye, bye.

You would think after chasing bucks with telephoto, archery gear, muzzleloader and guns that I could control my feelings when the moment of truth arrived. However, truth is I’ve always gone ballistic when big brutes get kissin’ close and that is certainly the case with countless Michigan deer hunters.

I’ll never forget a trip to Elk Lake when I followed a hunter down a two-track trail headed to a large cedar swamp. From the tangled mess came a dandy 8-point that stood broadside in the trail. The hunter ahead of me shouldered his rifle. I thought for certain I would see him slam the buck standing statue-like less than 50 yards away. But there was no shot and I could see the hunter fumbling with his action, he looked like he was racking a new round into the chamber. Still no shot! That’s when the buck dashed out of sight into the cedars.

I walked up to the hunter who was shaking like a leaf in a blizzard. He asked, “Did ya see that big buck? Did I hit him?” I told the hunter he didn’t shoot and at his feet in the snow were his 30-06 shells he racked in and out of the chamber without touching the trigger. Man, this guy was suffering from a bad case of buck fever.

What is buck fever and how do we get it? Most importantly, how can we avoid it?

Running deer can catch you off-guard and cause buck fever that creates blurred vision, uncontrollable shaking, poor coordination and inaccurate shot placement. photo by Kenny Darwin.

Put simply, buck fever is a form of hysteria in which your cerebrum shuts down and you are left somewhat paralyzed and unable to carry out physical skills like shooting. The process is relatively simple, you see game and your system goes nuts, dumps major amounts of adrenalin into your body and your nerves hit the roof. Some folks handle the excitement with no problems while others are incapacitated and do silly things like forget to take off the safety, jerk the trigger and more. However, some hunters refer to the exhilarating experience as a “rush”, and they crave the high that increased adrenalin provides.

I must admit I’m an adrenalin junkie and crave the increased pulse and nervousness that comes with seeing big bucks. The larger the rack the more my body goes bonkers. I’m convinced my body is pre-programmed by evolution to be the ultimate predator. I’m hard wired for buck fever and must control my instinct to jump out of a tree and stab critters with a knife. I’m a killer, no doubt and bottom line I have learned how to control buck fever when my heart rate is up. My system amps up every time a buck comes into view. But the difference between excitement while holding a camera and over-excitement when carrying a gun or bow is profound. My system simply goes nuts when deep inside I know I’m about to kill. That’s when my pulse instantaneously quickens, my senses become acute and I have to work to keep the sight in the kill zone.

In a way I hope the same is true for you. Getting excited is what deer hunting is really all about. Just don’t get those epic shakes, uncontrollable emotions and muff the shot. Incapacitating buck fever can cause jumpy gun, blurred vision, and heart attack or cause you to jerk the trigger and miss the target. Most people at one time or another suffer from varying degrees of buck fever. In minor cases it is simply increased pulse, pounding of the chest and shortness of breath. In extreme cases, it has been known to cause heart attack, loss of motor skills, blurred vision and cause hunters to see bucks when only doe are present. At any rate it has an impact on your shooting.

Kenny Shear, past President of the Saginaw Bay Walleye club, was hunting the Shiawassee National Refuge when an excited hunter with buck fever mistook him for a booner buck. Kenny was headed to his stand when he heard a thwack and suddenly felt pain in his hand holding a flashlight. The archer thought Kenny was a buck, drew back his bow, shot at Kenny and the broadhead sliced through his hand, bounced off the flashlight and narrowly missed his body. Now, that’s buck fever when you think a hunter is a deer!

OK how can you control buck fever? Some shooters exercise prior to shooting and learn how to get accurate shots when their heart is pounding. Mental conditioning for hunting is just as important as physical conditioning when preparing for deer season. In some cases you need to prepare your mind for success. If you really don’t think you will get a deer, your nervous system will go haywire when one shows up. The trick is to practice several times on controlling your nerves when a deer is approaching. We all get nervous when deer come close but each time you get a chance, concentrate on maintaining your cool when deer are in range. Try to visualize what it is like to have a big rack coming close, learn to estimate distance, control your movement while aiming and see yourself making a perfect shot. Keep at this drill until it becomes automatic and it will set the tone for when the event occurs in real life.

Concentrate on breathing when bucks come into view. It sounds weird, but hunters often quit breathing under tense situations. Breathe deeply, fresh oxygen will clear your head and calm your nerves. Learn how to control our nerves, take your time and don’t rush the shot. The trick is to force yourself to slow down, relax, be a calculated shooter, while your body and nerves are trying to force the shot. When that big buck is in range you will be so ecstatic, mind will be racing but learn to pick a spot in the kill zone and squeeze the trigger like you have practiced all year.

Deciding when to shoulder your gun or crossbow or when to draw is an overlooked art in hunting. But if you practice, develop a routine and have the basics down and draw or flip off the safety when he does not detect you, shooting becomes easier. Develop a pre-shot routine so when the moment of truth arrives you can execute. The trick is to be fully prepared, reduce the adrenalin rush when you are surprised by an oncoming buck. Actually buck fever is a form of stress and there are several things you should do to reduce the stress associated with hunting. If you are prepared you have fewer things to worry about and provide a feeling of control. Better understanding of your hunting equipment can reduce worry. The trick is to become intimate with your gear, know every aspect of your treestand, clothing, deer scents and more. Handle your weapon enough that it becomes part of your heart and soul, hold it, shoot it, and learn how to use it and every idiosyncrasy regarding its use. At every chance go outdoors, get on stand, every experience you have with wildlife will reduce heightened anxiety when Mr. Big arrives. It is wise to practice often but real hunting opportunities are invaluable. Spend time afield during the off-season hunting rabbit, squirrel, coyote and hone hunting skills.

You may or may not get buck fever. The trouble is unless you have a booner slipping close, in your face, you really never know if your excitement will go out of control. I believe that there is an increased chance of buck fever if any hunter is surprised by a buck of a lifetime with enormous rack and bull-like colossal body.

Hey, this old whitetail chasin’ fool is constantly reminding to take your time, slow your pulse and breath, pick a spot and squeeze the trigger. But ya know what? I still get the jitters when a monster buck steps into the camera viewfinder or a big brute gets kissin’ close and I’m carrying muzzleloader, gun or archery gear.