Lessons from an Opening Weekend Buck

As we inch our way towards prime time and, hopefully, a once-in-a-lifetime encounter with that buck of our dreams, let’s … Continued

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As we inch our way towards prime time and, hopefully, a once-in-a-lifetime encounter with that buck of our dreams, let’s take a minute to check our nerves and get a handle on that wonderful spike of adrenaline known as buck fever. Despite the stone-cold-killer demeanor that seems to be so fashionable among hunters today, I bet there’s not a one among us who doesn’t suffer from jangling nerves, if not a total freak-out, when we draw down on a deer. If anything, that burst of excitement should be one of the reason’s we’re out there in the first place.

Still, to make the most of that encounter, we’ve got to get a handle on our nerves, as illustrated by my friend Ramsey Mills, who took this nice Nebraska buck on opening weekend. Now, Ramsey works at Cabela’s and is a pretty experienced hunter, but he’s new to bowhunting and this is his first bow-killed buck.

So, we’ll forgive him the comedy of errors that occurred in the seconds from when he first saw this buck to when he finally made the perfect shot on it. I’ll spare you the details (and Ramsey some embarrassment), but let’s just say it included at least one dropped arrow, and may have been followed up with some dry, and not-so-dry, heaves.

For Ramsey’s benefit, and everyone else (including me who missed the first deer, a doe, I ever drew my bow on not once, but four times at ridiculously close range), here are five tips to beating buck fever.

1. Remain Vigilant – Getting surprised by a buck is the best way to mess up a shot completely. Instead of whittling a stick, or worse, playing with your smartphone, pay attention to what’s going on around you.

2. Be Prepared – Bring enough clothes to stay warm. Range your shooting lanes beforehand. Keep your bow in your hand. If you’re prepared for the shot, you’re less likely to freak out when it comes.

3. Visualize – While you’re watching your surroundings, visualize the shot should that buck appear. Imagine every step of the shot, from the draw to the release to the follow-through.

4. Keep A Ritual – As you’re practicing, make a mental checklist of your form so you can run through it when a deer is in front of you. Consistent anchor point? Check. Peep centered? Check. This will keep you from releasing the string at half-draw (this happens to rattled hunters more often than you think) or looking over your peep (also the common cause of a miss).

5. Follow Through – What happens in the millisecond after you take the shot is just as important as the shot itself. Focus on good post-shot form, then immediately take note of how the deer reacts, where it was it was standing when you shot and which direction it exited the field.

There’s one other takeaway from this story: Ramsey was able to knock a second arrow because of the presence of two does in the area that held the buck’s attention. If this were a month or so later, I’d attribute the buck’s intent focus to the rut, but right now, it’s more curiosity on the deer’s part than any drive to breed. In early October, bucks are focusing on two things–abundant feed and establishing pecking order.

Reports tell me a few more scrapes and rubs are showing up almost daily, and bucks are pushing each other around with more frequency, and most notably, a bit more of an edge. These aren’t just friendly slap fights; these bucks are working out dominance and setting up their territories. Expect this to continue in earnest for the next few weeks.