How to Beat Buck Fever

From whitetails to wild turkeys, close encounters with game provides practice unlike anything at the range and helps you beat buck fever.

How to Beat Buck Fever

It doesn’t matter what form of archery you embrace, the more you practice, the more accurately and consistently you shoot. It isn’t rocket science, but being accurate, in turn, generates confidence, which is what will make you more successful on any hunt. 

Practice is an effective way to master the mechanics of a crossbow and use it the same way every time you pick it up. Everything from judging distance, to knowing your scope reticle, to squeezing the trigger with steady control, allows the use of your crossbow to become second nature.

Practice has always been touted as the most important aspect of archery. Olympic archers spend a significant amount of time mastering the mechanics and mental game that come with launching an arrow. However, there is one thing that cannot be duplicated on the archery range: the rush of adrenaline those moment-of-truth situations create.

Buck fever, turkey brain, or just the jitters are a clever way to describe what happens to some people when a target with a real heartbeat walks in front of them. I’ve seen some of the best competitive shooters around fail when it comes to hunting, as they aren’t prepared for the mental side of the game. Increased heart rate, shallow breathing and nervous shakes are just some of the things that can turn a cold, calculated archer into a fumbling mess of excitement.

I strongly believe the excitement generated when hunting is the reason most of us crave the action. It’s a natural high that can’t be duplicated with chemicals or elixirs; pure adrenaline from your body’s anticipation of the experience, and of ultimate success.

In order to shoot well during stressful situations, it helps to practice scenarios that closely mimic in-the-field situations.
In order to shoot well during stressful situations, it helps to practice scenarios that closely mimic in-the-field situations.

Field Games

Practicing real hunting situations can be a powerful help in beating buck fever. Waterfowl hunters head to a sporting clays course, while archers gravitate to 3-D targets set up in realistic hunting scenarios. Shooting a whitetail target from a treestand does help you prepare mentally for hunting and shooting at different angles. Gaining the confidence to use your safety harness tether to hold you as you lean forward can be a big leap of faith and courage. 

How long can you hold your crossbow leveled to your shoulder without getting the shakes? Practice it and find out. Can you pre-determine limb clearance for your crossbow in tight quarters? You better master it before hunting out of a blind.

Shooting a crossbow from a kneeling position is much different than standing. Have you ever tried it? Sit and shoot, and then try the prone position. Belly crawling up to a bedded deer might leave you no other option than to shoot from the prone position. Recall the hunting experiences you’ve already had, and remember how those opportunities went down. If you were successful, practice that shot and situation again. If you were unsuccessful and your bolt was errant, run through the shot over and over again until you’ve mastered what exactly went wrong.

Shooting a bag target is good practice, but for added realism, it’s hard to beat a 3-D target.
Shooting a bag target is good practice, but for added realism, it’s hard to beat a 3-D target.

Nothing Beats the Real Thing

The best way to beat buck fever and become proficient at hunting is to hunt more. The opportunist that thinks ahead is the same crossbow hunter that packs twice as many bolts as anyone else in the hunting party. If extra licenses and tags can be purchased on your hunts, buy them!

I harvested a great Nebraska crossbow buck the first day with Goose Creek Outfitters, then turned my attention to the birds and predators. With fall turkey licenses in my pocket, I could take four birds home along with my deer. Fall turkeys are exceptional in the pot and, with two birds allowed on a license, I knew I’d have a few more days of excitement around camp.

A flock of nine longbeards worked the transition area between the Great Sandhills and the farming edge of the flats along the creeks. The noticeable redheads worked a daily routine that had them wandering a couple miles, enjoying the rich feed opportunities along the way. Knowing they fed along a woodlot late in the afternoon, I set up a blind to put me within crossbow range. 

I had a TenPoint crossbow in camp and sighted it in at 40 yards. If all went as planned, the birds would filter across the grassy hills and right to the fence line on the edge of the woodlot, offering a shot between 20 and 25 yards. 

Adrenaline surged through my veins when I looked east and spotted the line of longbeards feeding toward me. No target practice could’ve prepared me for the way I reacted to having live targets coming my way. It changed the game entirely. 

Patience came into play when an opportunity for a 30-yard shot presented itself out the side window of my blind, but I was confident they would come closer. Reading your prey and not rushing a shot is always an important lesson.

With my crossbow on a set of shooting sticks, I held steady at the fence post I ranged at 20 yards. When the birds reached that point, I’d have a perfect shot. When the big, dark-feathered bird leading the bachelor flock fed to the post, I wasted little time leveling my crosshair on his vitals, waiting for him to stop walking and, when the gobbler’s feet finally quit moving, I gently squeezed the trigger.

With a bird in hand, I couldn’t wait to get back into action to try and fill more tags. One of my hunting buddies set up in a blind where some colorful roosters worked the edge of a bale stack. Pheasants are challenging targets on the wing, but can be more challenging on the ground when using archery equipment. Being able to arrow a pheasant provides extreme confidence when looking at a bigger target, like a deer.

The author had tagged out on a Nebraska whitetail, so he turned his attention to wild turkeys, then pheasants.
The author had tagged out on a Nebraska whitetail, so he turned his attention to wild turkeys, then pheasants.

Equipment Knowledge

Hunting deer, turkeys, pheasants and even varmints can provide multiple shot opportunities on the same hunt. Turn your deer adventure into a multi-species extravaganza, and get firsthand experience hunting live critters. Every animal you take with a crossbow will help you prepare mentally for the next encounter; each success will help you beat buck fever.

Hunting different game is also a chance to try different bolts or broadheads to find the perfect combination for fur or feathers. Knowledge is power and having a gobbler setup that is different from your deer bolt and broadhead will provide confidence, and ultimately more success.

Think Ahead

The most economical part of any hunting trip is the licenses. Travel, accommodations, food, planning and a plethora of equipment takes time and often a sizeable investment. Using your investment to the fullest means arming yourself with licenses and tags to keep you in the field longer and take advantage of opportunities. If the deer aren’t cooperating, but the turkeys have you covered up, the choice is easy. The best part is that crossbows don’t disturb game when shot, and you won’t be ruining the chances of having something else come down the trail an hour later.

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