By Reid Hjorth
Some hunters don't even get it, but many suffer it to a greater or lesser degree.
Buck Fever, what a bastard it can be! I reckon there are two types of this fever – the 'pre-shot' and the 'post-shot.' The 'post-shot' first happened to me after I had shot my first sambar stag nearly 10 years ago. The actual shooting of the stag happened so quickly that it was shoot quick or miss out altogether, so the 'pre-shot' fever never had a chance to set in. It was only when I approached the downed animal that the shakes started, taking over my whole body, I couldn't even talk properly, no doubt at the realisation that I had actually shot my first sambar. While delayed buck fever is a funny experience, it is the 'pre-shot' fever that really gets the body going into overdrive. Like I'm sure a lot of hunters have experienced, this sensation that takes over your body at the worst possible time, can have dire consequences to your hunting success and more often than not, it pokes it's head up when you have the trophy of a lifetime in your sights. The fever takes over and does its best to turn you into a blubbering mess.
While I experienced some minor buck fever on my first ever deer hunt many years ago now, I was still able to compose myself and drill the fallow buck through both shoulders with the desired effect.
I recently returned from Africa where big dollars were on the head of each animal, yet old buck fever never once set in. I was expecting it to crop up to some degree considering where I was and what I was hunting, the dollars on the line if I stuffed up the shot and never recovering the animal, but nothing.
Fast forward to last years Red Stag roar and I got the fever like never before. I had been hunting this block for three years and while I had shot a 12-pointer, I knew there were better quality animals out there. It was April Fools Day and it sure lived up to its name. An unsuccessful morning had me heading back to camp at around 11am, no roaring heard all morning. Halfway to camp and despite the late hour, a stag started up not far from me in the thick bush. Soon after, another roar echoed through the bush even closer this time and had me ready and rearing to go. I let out a low roar that was the demise of a good stag for a mate the day before, but despite my best efforts not to scare the stag, the next roar I heard from him was deeper in the bush and I figured he must have the girls and didn't want to lose any to a challenger. I backed out of there to let him settle and headed for camp.
That afternoon hunt couldn't come quick enough as I wanted a look at that stag. A big detour was needed to get the wind right as I certainly didn't want to stuff it up. Nearing the area of where that stag was, I dropped a gear into go slow mode to glass the timbered country in front of me. I was taking it all in when I noticed two roos staring off into the bush.
I followed their gaze and found two young red stags having a sparring match. My heart skipped a beat and my bino's went into overdrive, looking for more animals. Hinds started coming into view and I knew the young fighting stags wouldn't be holding girls, so I kept glassing until I found what I was looking for. The master stag was strutting his stuff, hot on the tail of a receptive hind and this was the sort of stag I had looked for since I started hunting reds. I needed to get closer as there was too much bush in the way and to close the gap a bit. As I slowly crept in, the 'fever' started to kick in. My hands starting to sweat causing me to grip my rifle even harder, my breathing increased and sounded louder than ever inside my head, then the shakes started – BIG TIME.
I found a tree to rest off, about 180 metres from the mob of deer and waited for a clear shot. The two roos then came bounding my way, stopping in close to eye me over. Then, I could feel the wind change direction, blowing gently at the back of my neck and I was thinking that my stag would be off any second, but still, I never had a clear shot. The rifle was up to my shoulder, the cross hairs dancing around all over the place, seemingly with a mind of their own, I just couldn't calm myself. Deep breaths didn't seem to help as I waited for the stag to scent me and take off into the bush.
Then, all of a sudden, the hind emerged into a gap and I knew it would happen any moment. The stag followed, I waited for the cross hairs to hold steady on his shoulder, but steady they were not. I just knew the instant I squeezed the trigger, that I had missed high. I cycled the next round in record time ‒ I'm sure the spent case still hasn't landed ‒ I pulled the bolt back that hard. I raced forward to a clearer firing lane just as the stag propped to assess the situation, only metres from safety. My second shot hit him front on, driving a 155g ACP
from my 300WM into his spine and he dropped on the spot. Wow, what a rush. After the photo session, the walk back to camp was an awesome feeling, I just floated. The adrenaline had worn off and I felt a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Buck Fever had nearly beaten me this time, but I do look forward to my next encounter, because it is an unbelievable feeling that only hunters get to experience.