I love it when fellow hunters come up to me in public and say, “I know you … I saw you hunting on TV.” But almost always, the next thing out of their mouths is, “How in the heck did you miss that deer?”
Well, I consider myself an expert on missing deer, and what I’ve learned is you can never have too many excuses. Some of my favorite things to blame my misfortune on are global warming, unpredicted solar eclipses, last night’s chili, and my favorite—the Coriolis Effect. Nobody knows what it is, but it sounds pretty legit. These are all great explanations to give the other hunters around camp, but questioning the real reason you missed can teach you valuable lessons for shooting a bow or gun.
Without a doubt, the biggest reason I miss deer—especially big bucks—is the disorder known as “buck fever.” I can’t find a cure for this disease, and I’m not sure I want to. More time in the woods, more exposure to deer and plenty of practice at the range are all good preventative measures, but a relapse is inevitable. The day a close encounter with a whitetail does not light my fire, cause me to tremble in the treestand or babble incoherently as drool dribbles down from my mouth, is the day I will hang up my bow. Trying to control those nerves just long enough to take a shot is what hooked me on hunting in the first place.
The lesson in this case is to be prepared when the moment of truth arrives. There are some great tips in the NAH article, “Beating Buck Fever,” but I think the biggest lesson is understanding we all get rattled by the exhilaration from encounters with the antlered kind. Don’t let it ruin your confidence. Watching the pros on TV, who can calmly stare at the antlers of deer without suffering from a little bit of nervousness or a total collapse of self-control, is fashionable today. Thankfully, it’s not the norm when an average hunter draws back on a deer; that would take all the fun out of our sport.
The key is to not let those feelings cloud your judgment, because the excitement leading up to a shot is ten-fold after you execute it successfully. I know it’s easier said than done, but it’s not impossible. Remain vigilant in the stand, visualize the shot in your mind, practice at the range until the ritual of a shot becomes second nature, even when you’re overcome by nerves. Most of all, remember: If you hunt long enough, you will miss your fair share of deer. Don’t let the pressure of making the perfect shot overshadow what should be a fun experience. Learn from the misses and be confident you’ll redeem yourself on the next hunt.
And remember, tell your buddies you didn’t miss—you were just firing warning shots to make the next hunt even more challenging.