I’m the first to admit that I’m no rifleman. I’ve always lived in shotgun-only country. While I’ve taken my share of deer with a gun, all have been at close range. What’s more, for many years now my primary weapon has been a bow–either recurve or compound. All of this adds up to one simple fact: Deer beyond 70 or 80 yards seem a long way out there to me.

So when I was invited on a rifle hunt in Alabama last week, I did what I always do on a rifle hunt–pray the deer stay close. Oh I know what a centerfire rifle is capable of, but I’m just not enough of a rifleman to let the weapon realize its potential. On the last morning of the hunt I proved it, whiffing on a buck that was an easy target.

Simple analysis? I got buck fever and didn’t concentrate on all the easy little basics that would have helped me make the shot. Or in this case, shots. There, I admit it; I airballed not one, but two shots. And I admit that even after almost 40 years of hardcore deer hunting, I can still get a little buck fever, especially when armed with an implement I’m not wholly comfortable with.

So I had a little talk with myself before the afternoon hunt, reminding my rattled ego that I knew the basics of shooting a rifle accurately; I just needed to remember them at crunch time. So when the buck in this picture stepped out at 96 yards with an hour of shooting light left, I held a little practice run. I settled the crosshairs behind his shoulder, got my breathing nice and steady, and pulled the trigger–while purposely keeping the safety on. Then I did the drill again. The buck was relaxed and feeding, I had plenty of time to make the shot, and I wanted to hold a little dress rehearsal before committing to the real show. When I finally did, I made a perfect shot that tipped him over.

So, for what it’s worth, there’s one rookie rifleman’s method for dealing with buck fever.