Two Ways to Deal with Buck Fever

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Two Ways to Deal with Buck Fever
by David Petzal

Drawing on my extensive medical background, I classify buck fever as a form of hysteria in which your cerebrum and cerebellum shut down simultaneously and you are left either paralyzed and unable to do anything except wet yourself (or worse) or do really odd things like cycling a whole magazine of ammo through the rifle without pulling the trigger.

We know that the sight of a big-game animal can have a profound physical effect on the body. Back in the 1990s, at a plantation loaded with really monstrous whitetails, scientists attached heart monitors to a number of deer hunters who then climbed into their trees stands to await one of these behemoths. When a Serious Deer did stroll by, heart rates went instantly from normal resting (about 72 beats per minute) to close to 200 per minute, which is a trip to the ER for many people.

The only way I know to deal with buck fever is to shoot in competition, which is shooting under pressure, which is what shooting at game is. It doesn’t matter what kind of competition, just as long as you expose yourself to being publicly humiliated if you screw up and rewarded if you don’t. A leisurely afternoon of shooting cans with your .22 will not do this.

The Best 308 Shooting Practices and Tips

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Author Bio:
Kevin Steffey is an avid hunter and freelance writer. He loves spending time in the field with his rifle more than almost anything else, and occupies his off-time discussing deer and their habits online. He is a founder at

“Going hunting” is a poor way to practice

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Rabbit hunting is a really good way to practice shooting from a standing position.”
Squirrel hunting is a good way to get some shooting practice before deer season.”

No, it’s not.

First problem is the ethics of using a living creature for casual target practice. This isn’t some animal rights drivel. Good hunters are conservationists and advocates for the protection and preservation of the environment and wildlife. Hunting animals is a normal and needed component of wildlife ecosystems for predator species, including Homo sapiens sapiens. Respect nature and give your fellow hunters a good name by being an efficient and ethical predator.

Second problem, hunting is too varied for this to be useful practice. You don’t know when, where, or if an animal will appear and for how long. The nature of the scenario (terrain, underbrush, distance, weather conditions) may be simple or demanding and can’t be known in advance. This makes hunting an excellent application of field marksmanship skills but a very poor way to create them. Much better to shoot under controlled and predictable conditions first. Identify what sorts of shots you can pull off.

Did you know that using a tree or rock outcropping for support will throw your point of impact off four minutes of angle from the zero you established at a bench rest? And that using those shooting sticks will move the point of impact almost the same amount but in the opposite direction? Or maybe it won’t. But you’ll never know if you don’t test it… or until you have that “unexplained” miss at the biggest buck you’ve ever seen.

Learn how to shoot on the range. Hunting is a place to use practiced abilities, not to create them.

Raw marksmanship skill is less important than marksmanship awareness. That is, knowing what sorts of shots are truly high percentage for you, and what should be passed up. Emphasis on knowing, not what you think, imagine, or wish you can do.

Small game hunting can provide additional hunting opportunities and experience, especially in preparation for more limited seasons such as big game. Just give it a little bit of the range preparation that it deserves.

Popular Contradictions in Hunting


Hunters afraid of evaluating their field marksmanship skills in a group environment will sometimes criticize HunterShooter events or other scored shooting formats for hunters that use timers for scoring or enforce some sort of time limit. “When I hunt, I’m not timed. I shoot when I want,” or something.

My counter to this foolishness is to demonstrate the use of a 1907-type two-piece loop shooting sling. It’s lighter and more convenient than a bipod or shooting sticks and doubles as a carry strap, making it ideal for hunting. Of course, they’re ignorant of proper sling use and immediately criticize it for being too slow for use during a hunt. Because we wouldn’t want to use something that slows us down due to the time-critical nature of the task… and then complain about any attempt to measure or test elapsed time when performing said task.

Of course, there are faster options than such loop slings. The Whelen, such as the Hunter Company Whelen sling #210 was developed as a simpler, potentially quicker option.


“For those used to the military sling and prefering the two-piece jobs, sporting slings like the military sling but made of lighter and narrower leather straps (7/8 to 1 inch) are available. Still better is the one-piece sling worked out by Colonel Townsend Whelen, dean of the American gun writers, back before World War I. This one-piece Whelen sling is a strip of leather from 3/4 to 1 inch wide and generally about 52 inches long. It has a claw hook at one end and the length for carrying is adjusted by the placement of the claw hook in a series of holes punched in the leather. It likewise has two leather “keepers.” The sling is held together and the size of the “loop” is regulated by leather lacings which tie through the holes.

I have used the one-piece Whelen sling for many years and on the whole have found it very satisfactory. I adjust it so that it is of the proper length to carry the rifle with the sling over my right shoulder with the trigger guard forward. I hold the strap with my right hand to steady it. If it is necessary for me to sling the rifle over my backso that I can use both hands for climbing, carrrying out a couple of quarters of venison, a sheep head, or some other burden, I simply move the claw hook back to lengthen the sling.”

– Jack O’Connor, “The Complete Book of Rifles and Shotguns,”
O’Connor had a background in High Power and was versed in loop sling use.

The RifleCraft RS1, RS2, and RS3 modernize this. The Pronghorn and Safari has a pre-set loop built in. Richard Mann’s RifleMann sling is arguably the most versatile of all the two point designs. The CW and Ching slings with three point of attachment are potentially fastest of all.

These options can offer a speed advantage, which is good when speed is an advantage. Like it might be while hunting. Which means that a concern about that advantage is worth considering.

Time and the Hunter


Once in a great while, hunters will complain about the HunterShooter format and its use of timers. Well, the novice shooters purchasing hunting licenses sometimes do when justifying their non-participation.

The complaint using goes along the lines about how hunting is not timed, there’s no timer in the woods, animals don’t carry clocks, and the like. Just as defensive shooters wrongly complaining about timed exercises, the point is that time can be a factor and can be a stressor. Learning how to perform under time pressure is a good way to learn how to handle this.

Broken down, buck fever is largely influenced by time pressure, either real or perceived. Knowing there is but one chance to do the correct thing and that it needs to get done before the animal is spooked or flees is a stressor pressed largely by time. If a hunter could somehow guarantee the animal wouldn’t move or leave and knew he was free to take as much time as desired, buck fever would be mostly eliminated.

Beyond buck fever, sometimes there is a time limit and it might be strongly enforced by your quarry.

Anyone foolish enough to suggest this hunter didn’t feel pressed for time?

A regular participant consistently producing good scores in HunterShooter events likely wouldn’t have had this problem. As in, not missing quickly with multiple shots in the first place.

HunterShooter Program Development


I am going to put together a hunter marksmanship program for a Venturing Crew of teenagers I work with. I would appreciate your thoughts on developing a program with a view to having them hunt big game in the Spring.

I’d break the program into three phases:

  • Position shooting
  • Timed shooting
  • Field shooting

Position shooting would be working on fundamental marksmanship from shooting positions. Unless you are working with physically disabled people, use no benchrests.

I’d do this as 3-5 shot slow fire exercises shot and scored on appropriately-sized bullseye targets. Appropriate size would be an aiming mark scaled to vital zone size with at least two interior scoring rings. For example, the B-6 pistol target is an eight-inch mark (suitable for smaller big game animals) with a 9, 10 and X-ring inside. The SR-3 rifle target is an 18-inch mark (suitable for large big game) also with a 9, 10 and X-ring inside. If you’re limit to, say, a fixed range of 100 yards, use scaled targets (a four-inch bullseye for an eight-inch vital at 200 yards)

Let the shooters work various positions, sling, and other equipment options. Rather than dictate a given group be shot from specified positions, let shooters decide what intermediate position (sitting, kneeling, squatting, etc.) better suits them. Recruit shooters with a High Power, Smallbore or similar background to help with coaching.

Timed shooting is single shots starting from some ready position and fired on the clock. Don’t establish or enforce a time limit, rather, have shooters determine the best way to secure hits quickly. I’d do this on appropriately-sized steel scored hit or miss. Strictly enforce an accuracy standard. Going faster is encouraged but missed shots are never acceptable. Doing this after scored position shooting ensures fundamentals are learned first. If possible, recruit 3 Gun or similar action shooters to help coaching.

Field shooting is shooting on silhouettes with performance and time pressure in some sort of scenario. In other words, a HunterShooter event or similar.

Obviously, this template took me all of five minutes to spell out, so there’s more detail worth considering. Just spitting out some ideas.

Best Mule Deer Cartridge

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“What is the best cartridge to hunt mule deer out to 400 yards?”

Your first question should NOT be, “What’s a good 400 yard Mule deer cartridge?” Your first question should be, “Am I a good 400 yard shooter?”

Take whatever rifle you fancy to your range and set up a big game target at 400 yards at a broadside target angle. Start from standing, drop to any shooting position you fancy (hopefully prone with sling, but not benchrest) and fire one shot, untimed. Repeat for a total of 5 shots. Now go down range.

This test simulates perfect hunting conditions. There is no time pressure (i.e., a target on the range won’t move) and you are given a gift with a clear, broadside shot. All 5 shots should be centered in and around the vital zone in an approximate 12 inch group (depending on how big the animal/target is.)

Assuming you check out, repeat the same drill, but time each shot. If you can accomplish this again while timing yourself, regardless of what the timer says, I would say you are qualified at 400 yards. Cartridge choice is academic, as nearly any suitable centerfire for hunting will suffice.

If you can’t accomplish this, don’t have the range to try, or worse, won’t take the time to try, your question should be, “How do I stalk closer if I spot an animal at 400 yards?” Don’t attempt the shot at that distance as you have no idea if you can pull it off. The cartridge your rifle fires won’t make a difference.

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