Buck fever is part of every shot at big game but is especially problematic while bowhunting. Shooting a bow well under pressure becomes easier with experience but can prove a difficult place to get to. The key is systematically desensitizing yourself while also gaining confidence through experience.
When you're getting started, it might seem impossible to keep it together under pressure. This is why it's important to distract yourself through mind games to assure your brain is functioning normally during high-pressure shots. The biggest problem with stress is time seems to race past when nothing has changed at all. Talking to yourself silently better enables you to maintain a realistic time clock.
This can be as easy as slowly counting backward or running through the alphabet, concentrating on an even and slow meter. You already know how to shoot your bow from hours of tedious repetition, you just need to slow your thoughts down and allow the shot to happen.
As you gain a bit of experience, these talks with yourself might become more sophisticated, including coaching yourself through specific aspects of shooting form, reminding yourself to pick a spot, and so on. Many bowhunters mentally run through a pre-shot checklist, for example: anchor solid, align peep, relax bow hand, back tension, squeeze the trigger. Your personal checklist might differ, but should be designed to slow down your racing mind for a smoother shot. My checklist involves first of all reminding myself to breathe. By this I mean using calming breathing excercises, inhaling deeply by employing my diaphragm, in through my nose, holding that breath temporarily before slowly exhaling through my mouth. I do this slowly enough to just move a candle flame without putting it out. I follow by reminding myself to take my time, anchor tight, and follow through. If you have a reccuring problem that affects your shooting, make it part of a final-shot checklist.
This is one reason I consider summer 3D target shooting, as well as year-round small-game hunting (where legal), an important part of becoming a better-rounded bowhunter, experiences not on par with big-game hunting experiences, but experiences all the same. It's also why I love off-season game, such as wild hogs or spring turkey; big-deal bowhunting experiences that keep me mentally sharp for deer and elk when fall arrives.
Make a contest of competing against friends while shooting backyard 3D targets, introducing an element of anxiety by betting a nickel or quarter a shot. When alone, pretend 3D targets are the real thing, stalking them and imagining an actual bowhunting encounter during the shot. In regards to small game, a rabbit or woodchuck isn't as exciting as deer, but you still owe that animal a quick, clean death, adding to the stress of a shot.
As a beginner, don't get too caught up in trophy fever. Take a few does, or smaller management bucks. Approached in this manner, you'll be more than ready -- through real-world experiences -- when that big buck arrives beneath your stand. You'll be well on your way to becoming a more deadly bowhunting shot.
Whitetails make the hunting world go round. Josh Honeycutt, deer hunting editor and "Brow Tines and Backstrap" blogger, knows a fair bit about killing mature deer. He was raised up hunting the river bottoms of Kentucky. And he still hunts there—among other places—to this day.
Follow along as he shares his adventures, experiences and knowledge of the white-tailed deer.