Even the most seasoned hunters get them at times. In the nearly 41 years I’ve written about the outdoors, I’ve heard hundreds of hunting stories. In many of them, the same line comes up: “I had to battle hard to keep my nerves in check.”
Case of “the nerves” or “the shakes” occur so often, especially when a big-antlered buck comes into view, that they’ve earned a special name — “buck fever.”
Young hunters seem especially susceptible to the phenomenon. Just ask Makayla Scott.
Scott, who lives in rural Greenbrier County, is no stranger to hunting, and she’s certainly no stranger to firearms. By the time she turned 16, she had collected a roomful of trophies and medals in skeet, trap and sporting clays competitions.
But shooting in those disciplines occurs mostly by instinct — see the bird, swing on the bird, shoot the bird. It all happens in a fraction of a second, with no time for thought. Those instincts proved valuable during a hog hunt in Georgia.
“We were doing pest control for a peanut farmer, using night-vision scopes and AR-15s,” she recalled. “There were 10 hogs in a field, and I hit five of them.
“Four went down, but one rolled over and started running away. I swung the rifle ahead of the hog and pulled the trigger. It piled up.”
Shooting quickly and by instinct, she downed five hogs in a matter of seconds. The farmer got some relief from his hog problem, and the meat got donated to a local charity.
But when time came for Scott to bag her first deer, she found herself beset by a nasty case of buck fever.
She was 16 at the time, and despite living in a deer-rich area, still hadn’t bagged a whitetail despite doing her homework. She scouted the woods near her Alvon home and tried to pattern the local deer. Her opportunity came soon afterward.
“Dad came home one evening, about 4 o’clock, and I told him I wanted to go out and hunt,” she recalled.
“He said the deer might already be gone, but I wanted to go anyway. We just went out to see what we could see. We didn’t really gear up for it. We just went.”
Makayla grabbed her grandfather’s .25-06 and led her father, Telford, to a spot she’d identified. They sat down, right out in the open, and waited to see what might appear. They didn’t have to wait long.
“Fifteen minutes later, a little doe came down and stopped about 30 yards away,” she said. “I got extremely excited. I was shaking. It was buck fever with a doe.”
It didn’t help that her grandfather’s rifle was not only a bit too big for her, it was also a right-handed model — an awkward fit for Makayla, a lefty.
“With the doe so close, I was having trouble finding her in the scope,” she said. “My sight picture was wiggling around all over the place.
“Fortunately, Dad settled me down. He whispered for me to look under the scope to find the deer, and he helped me to calm down before I took the shot.”
Moments later, Makayla laid claim to her first deer. She had overcome her nerves, just as she does before every skeet and trap competition. “I always put pressure on myself to do better, but I know how to handle that,” she said. “Deer hunting? That’s a different kind of nerves.”
I’m sure many of you readers nodded your heads as you read that last sentence. You’ve been there. All of us have.