Anyone who has been hunting, whether for big game, small game or birds, has experienced, to one degree or another, the phenomenon known as buck fever. The combined anticipation of the hunt and dreams of a trophy-sized animal lend to most hunters being very excited as they take to the field. At the first sight of their quarry, the hair on their neck stands on end, their heartbeat races and reactions are sometimes spontaneous. These are the telltale symptoms of a case of buck fever.
Reaction to this first sighting is very important in that it can present many dangers and problems that can ruin a perfectly good hunt. Primary among these is danger to the animal. While being concerned with danger to an animal being hunted seems counter intuitive, good sportsmanship dictates that animals be taken as quickly and painlessly as possible. Many stories are told of hunters making fantastic shots in taking down a running animal. Countless more stories go untold of hunters spooking an animal and then injuring it with a poorly placed shot as it runs away. Unfortunately most of these animals escape only to die a slow painful death later.
Just as important when considering the dangers of buck fever is the safety of other hunters, both in the same group or in other hunting parties. Often a group of hunters will be quietly stalking a herd of animals being careful to remain as quiet and invisible as possible. When they are nearly in range another hunting party will spot the same herd from below and without even determining range or other factors will begin firing shots at the animals. Not only are they often well out of range to make an effective shot, they may be firing bullets directly over the heads of other hunters. When buck fever causes hunter to react so rapidly, they usually do not even realize the others are in their line of fire, although they are almost certainly wearing adequate blaze orange clothing.
The third negative result of buck fever is taking the wrong sex, number or even species of animal. There are many stories told of hunters coming over a hill and spotting a large herd of animals. When the anticipation meets this moment, many hunters have been known to fire rapidly and wildly into the herd. Just as many stories are told of a friend having to use their hunting tag to claim the extra animal killed by a buck fever charged hunter. It is also often the case that the wild shooting hunter will empty his or her magazine without hitting anything, only to watch the herd disappear over the hill.
The best way to avoid the inherent dangers of buck fever is to recognize well in advance that it is going to happen and thinking ahead of time how to deal with it. If a plan is well rehearsed of how to relax and think clearly it will be much easier to execute when the time comes. Once in a situation to shoot, calmly taking a deep breath or two, and preparing to make a good shot will help alleviate the problems overreacting can cause.
All hunters will experience buck fever, but the ones who prepare for it and react thoughtfully will be the ones with the best hunting experiences.