I can’t lie. I missed. I shot and missed and missed again because I was a teenager, a relatively new deer hunter, and I got excited. Really excited! What new shooter hasn’t?
Heck, even veteran hunters are susceptible to buck fever. And sometimes doe fever. We overthink, worry, hyperventilate, get the shakes, rush our shots, panic and miss, miss, miss. But we don’t have to. It’s possible to train to keep cool, shoot straight and score. It isn’t necessarily easy, but it can be done. Here’s how:
Know Your Gear
You know how you panic when you have to present a speech or song in front of the church congregation or school class. If you think about it, a big part of the reason was probably because you weren’t prepared. You probably didn’t truly know the material. And that meant you weren’t confident. Same thing happens when hunting. If you know your gear inside and out, know how to swing your rifle into action smoothly, find your target in the scope without fiddling with it, push off the safety without looking at it, and aim precisely without worrying about holding over or under or six MOA into the wind — your chances for success go way up.
You can reach this degree of shooting confidence with practice and training. The right training. This isn’t sitting at a bench punching small groups in paper. This is walking fields and plinking at targets at various distances. This is manipulating a safe and unloaded rifle and dry firing it while imagining a big bull in your sights. This is learning proper prone, sitting, kneeling and standing positions from which you shoot confidently and accurately. A properly trained shooter doesn’t hope he or she will hit a target; she knows she’ll hit the target. Every time. Because you are the expert. The boss. The producer and operator who runs this dance. This is your rifle, your scope, your ammo and because you’ve practiced and trained with it like a pro, you can shoot it like a pro. Competence and confidence. Those go a long way to beating buck fever.
Know Your Quarry
The mysterious buck is no longer an excuse for missing. Fifty years ago we lived in a wilderness of imagination because we rarely saw deer and didn’t fully understand their habits. These days, what with 17,000 books, 100,000 TV shows and 1 million You Tube videos on deer, elk, moose, bears and every other game animal in the world, we know more about the looks, moves and behaviors of the beasts of the forest than they do. If you think you don’t know the habits of the game you hunt, start researching. Read. Study. Watch videos. And above all get outdoors in the off season to observe your quarry in action. The closer you get to Nature and the animals you hunt, the more comfortable and confident you’ll feel.
Don’t Fixate on the Antlers
Or the tenderloins. In other words, focus on the shot, on the whole process of picking a spot, aiming at it precisely and following through with the proper rifle and trigger control you’ve been practicing for hundreds of shots. Focus on the shot, not the game.
Pretend You Don’t Want This
Here’s a bit of psychological trickery. If you find yourself hyperventilating and shaking before a shot, talk yourself out of it. Downplay the opportunity, the animal, and your interest. Hey, it’s really not that big, is it? You don’t really want to shoot it anyway. Think of the work involved in gutting, skinning, dragging, boning… You don’t really want this animal, so you’ll just watch it. See how ordinary it is? Anyone could shoot it, so what’s the point? Relax. Enjoy the moment. And then, ah what the heck, maybe shoot it anyway since you need the meat and the season won’t last forever.
That can actually work. I’ve done it. It sort of robs you of the thrill of the moment, but once you’ve gotten the animal, other thrills arrive. Most of us shake more after we’ve made the shot than before. That’s perfect!
Put Things in Perspective
Sure you want to get your game. Sure you’re excited and filled with anticipation and maybe dread of failure. But get a grip! You know you can shoot lights out. You know how your quarry looks, moves, acts and smells. You are a hunter, master of your universe. You can do this. Besides, in the great scheme of life, this is just a blip. Birth, first kiss, graduation, marriage, new job, car wrecks, house fires, crop failures, emergency hospital visits, dying family members. Life is tough and hunting is your release and joy and relief from it. Remember why you’re out there. Score or miss, you are the lucky one, lucky to be out in the wilds, a free American exercising your right to carry a firearm and interact as a functioning predator in Nature’s grand scheme. Soak it all in. Enjoy the rush. Then take three deep breaths, say a prayer of thanks for this deer you’re about to take home to dinner, and do your job. Focus on the task at hand and make the shot you know you can make while standing on your left leg with one eye tied behind your back. Piece of cake. You’ve got this.