Editor’s Note: This is part 5 of a 9-part Respect the Game series on habitat improvement, whitetail management, and the tradition of deer hunting. We’ve partnered with Polaris to tell the story of the world-record buck, and the group of buddies who worked together to hunt the deer last fall. Stay tuned for more tips, stories, and videos from this series.
Buck fever. It’s saved the lives of untold numbers of big deer (and some not-so-big ones) over the years. And it’ll save a bunch more this season. Whether or not you succumb to buck fever depends a whole lot on how you prepare yourself right now, and how you continue to prepare through the season.
It should go without saying that you should shoot your bow often. You should shoot before the season opens, of course. But you should continue to shoot right on through the season, which many bowhunters neglect because they’re too busy hunting. The way you practice, however, will have a big impact on how you handle a shot when the buck you’ve been chasing all season finally shows up in the right place at the right time.
The key is pressure. Backyard shooting sessions in the summer are a lot of fun. They’re a great way to build muscle memory, perfect shooting form and to relax at the end of a long day.
Here’s the thing, though: Those laid-back shooting sessions aren’t doing you much good when it comes to preparing you for an adrenaline-fueled hunting situation.
If you’ve ever taken a concealed-carry class, odds are pretty good that one of the in-field tasks included a session that required you to do several minutes of intense exercise, followed by a sprint to a shooting station. Once there, you would need to load your handgun, chamber a round, and fire on target. In the best classes, you’ll do this while the instructor shouts instructions at you. The point of the exercise is simple: To illustrate how much more difficult tasks can be when you’re stressed and the adrenaline is pumping.
This is not unlike what happens when buck fever sets in. There’s a sudden rush of adrenaline, the deer moves in ways that you have minimal control over, and a sort of controlled chaos ensues.
Your practice sessions should recreate this scenario. Here are a few ways to make that happen.
1. One Shot at a Time
This is a drill I use before and during bow season. Every day, often first thing in the morning just before I head to work, I’ll grab my bow and shoot one arrow. I vary the distance from day to day, but I always shoot just one arrow. The goal is to not just put the arrow in the vital area of the 3-D deer target. The goal is to hit the coin-sized 15-ring. This simple exercise puts pressure on me in two ways. First, I know I have just one chance to make the perfect shot. Second, I know my target is pretty small. Hitting the target in the lungs area isn’t terribly difficult for me. Even with a single opportunity, I wouldn’t be terribly nervous. Adding in the small target area, however, makes it a lot more stressful—and correspondingly beneficial.
2. Keep Score
Another excellent (and fun) way to ramp up the pressure during practice sessions is by keeping score of every round you shoot. To raise the stakes, shoot with buddies. You don’t have to be the most competitive person in the game. Any time you start keeping score, and have others watching, nerves kick in and that’s exactly what you want. A few rounds of ridicule can go a long way toward helping you shoot accurately when the pressure kicks in.
3. Make it Real
Your backyard probably doesn’t replicate the areas that you’re likely going to be hunting. Familiarity can breed success. By placing yourself in the environment you’ll be hunting, you’ll be more comfortable shooting there. It may seem like a simple, perhaps silly, thing. But it’s true.
Here’s an example. Checking trail cameras is something I do before and during the bow season. Anywhere that I can, I use a UTV for this job. I’m convinced that I disturb deer far less if I don’t try to sneak around while checking cameras, and instead mimic the daily activities that occur here in the Midwest—and farmers checking fields with a UTV is a common occurrence. Thus I will check my cameras in the same manner. On those forays, I’ll bring my bow along. Every time I stop to pull a camera card, I’ll grab the bow and take a couple of shots. I don’t want to linger in the area very long, so I need to move quick. I simply scan the area for a small target (a leaf on the ground, a rotted stump, etc.) and take a shot. This helps me to judge distance, gets me used to shooting in a different setting, and the time-crunch adds a bit of pressure to things as well.
You should never head to the woods without knowing you can put an arrow where it needs to go. That’s the very definition of hunting ethics. But being able to drill a foam target at 40 yards on a flat lawn under controlled circumstances is a far different thing than knowing you can do the same when you’re stressed. Put these drills to work and understand that just because the bow season is under way, that doesn’t mean your practice sessions should come to an end. Ramp up the pressure, shoot often, and you’ll beat buck fever.