Gerald Almy

Gerald Almy

While COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the country, there’s a far less serious condition some hunters will deal with as rifle season swings in. It’s a malady that every hunter knows the signs and symptoms of. Fortunately, they do not last long. In fact, they are present for only a few minutes.

It’s called “buck fever.”

While you are experiencing it, the symptoms of this condition are hard to control. It starts when a buck steps into view in clean shooting range. If it’s a big deer, the symptoms can be even worse. But sometimes it can appear even when a small fork-horn or even a doe walks into rifle range. That’s particularly true if it’s your first deer or first buck.

Your palms start to sweat. Your arms and hands shake. Breathing becomes heavy and labored. A pins-and-needles tingling feeling wells up in your head and neck. If you’ve really got a strong case of the fever, your whole body shakes. You seem unable to concentrate.

That’s what the majestic sight of a buck deer and the fear of failure can do when a large animal steps into view. It’s at once exhilarating and debilitating. You’ve put in many hours, days, weeks, maybe years to get into range of this creature. The chance is there. You’re both excited and glad to have it, and also worried about doing something wrong in deciding when to raise your gun and when to make the shot or when to release an arrow with a bow.

I know from personal experience what this “fever” can be like. I have made every kind of mistake possible when gripped by it.

I have simply watched big bucks walk by and out of range into cover, seemingly paralyzed and unable to lift my bow or gun. I’ve dropped things like my binoculars and spooked them. I’ve failed to have a cartridge loaded in the gun. But the most common mistake, one I’ve made several times, is to simply try to jerk the gun or bow up and try to shoot quickly, rather than move slowly and fluidly or wait until the animal’s eyes are behind a tree or it is looking the other direction.

Whatever mistake buck fever has caused you make, it’s a miserable feeling when you blow a shot at a nice deer because you became mentally unhinged.

To conquer and control buck fever the first step is to not try to hide from it. Instead, realize it could strike any time a deer appears in shooting range.

Prevention is actually the best cure. You need to will self-control over your mind and emotions. Using several specific strategies can help.

First off, don’t look at the rack beyond simply deciding if you want to try to harvest it. Instead, focus your thoughts on the steps you have to take to complete the hunt--adjusting your body position, raising gun or bow, drawing back, calculating where and when to shoot, squeezing and following through with the arrow release or trigger pull.

Concentrate on your aiming point. The more you focus on all the practical, small steps you need to take in the next few seconds, the less likely you’ll panic and blow your chance.

There will be plenty of time to jump for joy and admire the animal’s rack after the buck is on the ground.

Conquer your fever, will control over your emotions, and chances are the hunt will end on a successful note.

Good luck and keep safety foremost in mind this deer hunting season.

Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident