Western bowhunting: When you sneak into position for a shot, will you be able to control the fear?
So many emotions rush through your brain when you get close to a big game animal, when you have almost successfully completed a stalk, when he walks under your tree. Excitement and anticipation are certainly two of them. Perhaps the biggest, though, is fear ? fear that you?ve come this close yet he might still, somehow, get away. That he might see, smell or hear you, that you might miss the slam-dunk shot.
Like a mathematical equation, the fear factor increases exponentially the bigger the animal?s antlers or the more dangerous he is — A (how close he is) + B (how big he is) = C (how fast your heart beats, hands tremble, and knees knock.) The fear is called many things, but mostly we know it as buck fever.
The thing about the fear is, it is in all of us. Doesn?t really matter how much you have bowhunted in your life, or how many animals you have killed, or missed. It is as big a part of the game as tuning your bow, practicing your shooting, picking the right tree. It?s an adrenaline rush like no other, and it affects us all differently.
My friend Randy Ulmer is unquestionably one of the finest and most accomplished big game bowhunters in America today. Yet he told me a few years ago that he stills gets the rush every time he finds a truly giant big game animal and begins making his move ? and Randy has arrowed as many giant critters as anyone. It?s just that he happens to be one of those guys we call stone-cold killers, bowhunters who are able to control the fear and use it to help them focus. Not everyone has that ability, yet we all have to deal with it in our own way.
A couple of falls ago I was bowhunting brown bears in southeast Alaska with my buddy Jim Boyce, a top-notch guide and outfitter for whom I also do some guiding from time to time. We found a dandy boar chasing late-run salmon at the mouth of a small feeder creek, so we got the wind right and came at him through the old growth forest, sneaking along a narrow game trail until we were within 80 yards. Then I made my move, slinking forward on cat?s feet until I was hidden by a couple of small Christmas tree spruce 10 steps from the stream?s bank, the bear splashing and spinning and snapping up fish not 40 steps away.
Suddenly he grabbed a fish, wheeled, and began walking right at me. Thirty steps. 25. 20. 15. Holy buckets — I thought he was going to walk right over the top of me! If he kept coming, what was I going to do?! My heart was trying to beat its way out of my chest when, perhaps 10 yards away, the bear turned and began angling away from me.
I came to full draw, put the 20-yard pin on his ribs, and turned the arrow loose. It was like slow motion. I could see the fletches spinning slowly, the broadhead catching a bit of sun and glinting before disappearing in a sea of wet brown fur. The bear wobbled, ran less than 10 steps forward, and fell face first into the stream, stone dead.
I will never forget it as long as I live.
Black bear-rainstorm: Ted Brown was able to control his fear when I guided him on a black bear adventure to southeast Alaska.
I have been fortunate in my life that I have had a fair number of chances at some pretty nice animals. You?d think all that experience would somehow make it no big deal when it happens the next time. How, then, do you explain the fact that every time I decide to take a fat doe for the freezer my legs start quivering, my hands shaking, my eyes watering? For me, it seems, when it is time to shoot an animal, size definitely does not matter. I get the fear all the same.
Winter is a great time to help begin learning how to control the fear. How so? By simply becoming intimate with the same bow-and-arrow set-up you?ll be hunting with this fall. One way to do that is to practice with your hunting set-up. I have friends who like to shoot winter indoor leagues who shoot different bows and arrows and sights for this stuff. That?s very cool and great practice. On the other hand, my most serious hunting buddies shoot their hunting rigs during league season, believing it is far more important to give up a few points on the target circuit if it helps them be better shots when they are shooting at hair, and not paper, when the season rolls around.
The best way of all to control the fear is to spend as much time in the woods as you possibly can. As for me, I like the fear. When it comes it means I am close, that I have done it right, made the right moves, the proper decisions to get into position. It will make time slow down and force me to focus. It means that I am ready.