Finding calm before the shot

Bench shooting to calm the nerves
Photo credit: Brady Miller, goHUNT.com

Just this week I was helping my 13-year-old son on his muzzleloader mule deer hunt. We sat in ambush, hoping the buck from that morning would re-emerge within range sometime before dark. As if scripted, the buck materialized at only 120 yards with 15 minutes of shooting light left. We slowly got in position and had the gun rested on shooting sticks in a solid rest. My son spends a lot of time throughout the year eyeing down his BB gun so I just knew this buck was in big trouble. To my amazement, the gun fired and dust flew behind the buck higher than I had hoped. It was a clean miss. Immediately I knew that if I’d spent some time calming him down before the shot, it would have been well spent.
 
Buck fever can strike anywhere and at any time on a hunt. Hunters get so excited that they can’t hold their firearm or bow steady, blowing the chance to harvest an incredible buck when it really counts. If this has happened to you or a hunter you know, follow these five strategies for getting calm quickly before taking the shot.

Visualize
 

Archery target practice
Photo credit: Brady Miller, goHUNT.com

Practice what seeing that buck will look like well before you go out on your hunt, says Joshua Argall. Imagine the location, the sun on your face, the sound of the birds around you. Now imagine the buck coming into view, antlers on full display. Visualize feeling calm as you set your sights, aim and shoot for a clean harvest. The more your practice successful hunts in your mind, the better you will be out in the field with a tag in your pocket. See? All that daydreaming can serve a practical purpose.

Slow down

A common practice in the hunters at goHUNT is to simply slow down. Trying to move too quickly will cause you to miss your animal or target. Take an extra 30 seconds to breathe deeply (see below) and center your mind.

Stop staring at those antlers
 

Archery bull moose
Photo credit: Brady Miller, goHUNT.com

Yes, you have never seen a buck that looks this great before. But continue to stare at that rack and your buck fever will remain in control of the situation. We all get excited, but getting rattled now only makes your shooting worse. Seriously. Stop staring.

Breathe
 

Calm breathing before the shot
Photo credit: Brady Miller, goHUNT.com

A controlled breath is essential for hitting your target, says Stephen Johnson, former member of a U.S. Army Long Range Surveillance unit. Stephen began using breathing and meditation techniques during his time in the military, and he began teaching yoga in 2009. He recommends using the strategy that both sharpshooters and yoga practitioners all over the world use: be mindful and take intentional breaths. Practice deep, deliberate breathing — it doesn’t matter if you call it Pranayama, Tactical Breathing or Combat Breathing. Just follow these steps:

  • Breathe in through your nose for a count of four
  • Hold your breath for four
  • Breathe out through your mouth for a count of four
  • Hold your breath for another four
  • Repeat this pattern for a few cycles and notice your body relax. Aim for a smooth, continuous cycle of breath

Practice this kind of breathing at least once a day. The more you train your body to relax with controlled breath, the quicker you’ll be able to achieve calm in the hunting field

Dry fire

Don’t dry fire a shotgun or bow. But with a rifle, if you have time and it’s a long range shot, take a practice shot without a shell. When you’re worked up, excited or jumpy, taking a shot without a hot one in the pipe can get you centered quickly. Then load up a live round and calmly take your shot.
 
As with anything else in life, practice is key. Remember that in order to perfect something, you must practice perfect. Simply target shooting without implementing these steps may only create worse habits and will not build confidence.

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