Buck Fever? Or Luck Fever?

Buck Fever – What is it? Well I think we all understand the concept from a general perspective, but what does it really mean?

Thefreedictionary.com defines buck fever as:

Nervous excitement felt by a novice hunter at the first sight of game

While Dictionary.com defines buck fever as:

Nervous excitement of an inexperienced hunter at the approach of game

So, if the definition of buck fever centers on new or inexperienced hunters, does that mean experienced hunters are not susceptible to it?

All of us have seen, heard of, or experienced buck fever at some point in our lives, myself included. I can recall a friend of my grandfathers who demonstratively swore up and down that he had shot and hit a “monster” buck, all the while begging my grandpa to help him track it. After walking into the site he shot from, my grandpa leaned over and picked up 4 shells, all unfired. It was obvious that this unlucky hunter was completely unaware that rather than pulling the trigger as he emphatically claimed, he had actually stood there and ejected each round out of his rifle. Buck fever sure is a funny thing. I recently had the opportunity to witness two separate episodes of ‘buck fever’, up close and personal.

In those unlucky years where I fail to draw a deer tag, I am the kind of hunting junkie that begs to tag along with those who possess a tag…friends, family, and pretty much anyone else who will have me, and this year was no different. Hell, even my wife had a tag, but as circumstances played out on opening morning, she was with her dad one valley away from me.

A couple of good friends (Brody and Mark) and I had chosen to help another family member(Steve) that morning. The plan was for Brody to accompany Steve into a good shooting position, while Mark and I intended to spot and push a little. In the pre-dawn hour, Brody and Steve moved up through some cedars onto a promising overlook. From their position, they could survey two different, well-traveled saddles, and see down into two different cedar pockets. Mark and I elected to take a circuitous route through the low cedars, before skirting the face of a peak to the east.

By the time we reached that peak, we had seen more than two dozen deer, including three small to average-sized bucks. After sitting tight for an hour or so past dawn, we moved south east along a ridge face with the intent to separate and push up through another pocket of cedars, towards Brody and Steve. After descending the ridge, Mark and I split up and I made my way through the bottom edge of cedars to peak into a burn area, before planning to turn to up through that cedar pocket. This particular burn area has been productive over the years and as luck would have it this morning, it did not disappoint.

As I neared the edge of the cedar pocket, I spotted two bucks out in the burn area, grazing down into a small gully. I glassed them through my trusty Vortex Razors and confirmed that the first one was a 26-27inch 3×4 with a crab claw on its left tine…decent buck, but not a shooter on opening day. As I moved onto the second buck I immediately knew he was a shooter…a perfectly symmetrical 28-30 inch-wide and heavy, 5×5.

After radioing Brody and Steve, it took them roughly 20 minutes to descend to my position. While waiting for them to arrive, I silently watched these two amazing muleys from a distance of about 200-220yds, all the while envisioning a scenario where hunters one ridge away, might top out and spook them, or worse yet, take a shot before we could.

What I did not anticipate was what happened next. The very instant that Steve laid eyes on that big boy, he began breathing hard. He then spent the next few minutes trying to get comfortable in a variety of shooting positions, all the while getting more and more amped up, and looking like he was trying out some crazy-ass yoga. It never dawned on me that I really should have had Steve step back behind cover and get his breathing a bit more under control. As he was prepping for the shot, I was so engrossed in the buck, that fully expected him to slow his breathing and hammer that giant.

When he triggered the first shot, buck fever had seized him completely. With the buck standing broadside at 210yds, the first shot sailed high. The big muley ducked a bit, did a 180 and moved about 5 yards before stopping broadside again. I encouraged Steve to slow down and line him up for another shot. The second one sailed left of the front shoulder… it appeared he had jerked the trigger. By the time Steve chambered and touched off a third round, the giant was bounding off down the valley looking every bit the part of an elk, never to be seen again.

The three of us stood there in stunned silence, not really knowing what to say. After a long pause, Steve gathered himself, looked at directly at us and stated, “I never thought at my age, that I would ever get buck fever again, but I sure as hell did”. I couldn’t help but crack a big smile. Keep in mind, that Steve is in his late 40s and has hunted for years.

I won’t go into the details surrounding the other event I witnessed this year (the one who missed 6+ times…you know who you are!), but suffice to say, it was eerily similar.

While this is not the biggest muley to slip away this season, this is a rushed video of one of the good bucks lucky enough to have dodged a few shots this season…this was taken mere seconds before a miss.

Back to the original question – So if the definition of buck fever centers on new or inexperienced hunters, does that mean experienced hunters are not susceptible to it?

Perhaps seasoned hunters experiencing this condition are merely victims of some sort of luck fever – as in bad luck? …not likely… or should someone take a long hard look at the established definition of buck fever?

My personal experience suggests that no one is truly immune to, or can predict bouts of buck fever, regardless of age or experience. The best we can all hope for is to maintain situational awareness, notice the signs, and then focus on the shooting fundamentals… and if that doesn’t work, well, you are likely screwed! Be prepared to take some good-natured ribbing!

Often you have heard me talk about the fact that epic adventures do not always result in a harvest. This is a classic example as Steve and the others I was fortunate to have hunted with, will all attest to amazing experiences we each had. Remember to live epically…to Live Mount Epic.