4 ways to control dollar fever

Dollar rush is a real thing, and for some hunters it turns into a terrible monster. Just last fall, I watched one of my hunting buddies come apart at the seams while trying to shoot a mature Whitetail Coues. Despite having a stable shooting position and plenty of time, the hunter simply couldn’t execute an accurate shot. Adrenaline, doubt and excitement combined to make a steady grip and calm trigger pull as elusive as the legendary Loch Ness monster.

Young male hunter holding bolt action rifle posing with mule deer.

Adrenaline, when it hits our system, gives us extra strength and energy to fight off dangerous or attacking situations, or lift baby cars, or run and swim faster than we are normally capable of. It also makes our hearts race, our limbs tremble, and our vision blurs. These conditions make shooting well extremely difficult. Once we’ve missed a shot, these problems escalate rapidly, because the fear that the male or bull we’re shooting at will get away sends another big rush of adrenaline. Frustration and anger leap into the tumult, and soon enough all that’s left are empty woods, ringing ears, and the anguish of a wasted opportunity.

Fortunately, there are ways to prepare for and combat the effects of deer fever. With time and dedication, an affected hunter can overcome the effects of the disease and sometimes even eradicate it.

Young male hunter standing on top of ridge with purple horizon.

The first technique you will need to master is breathing. Correct breathing allows you to manipulate your adrenal system, limiting the amount of adrenaline that pours into your body when you least want it. This technique is used by law enforcement and special forces personnel and has proven to be very effective. Ironically, it is quite similar to the Lamaze breathing that is taught to mothers-to-be. It will help you relax, limit the production of adrenaline and slow down and stabilize your heart rate. Practice it regularly, so that it comes naturally during the moment of truth.

To perform this exercise, take a steady breath for a count of four. Hold your breath for a count of four, then exhale for a count of four. Repeat as needed, usually three or four times when things get really exciting. Plan ahead if you expect a shooting opportunity to be fleeting, so you’ve finished breathing and are ready by the time the shot comes.

Male hunter in prone position on top of mountain preparing to shoot rifle.

dry fire practice
Establishing a good shooting position and executing a solid trigger pull is essential to hitting the target. One of the best (and least expensive) techniques for mastering both stance and trigger pull is dry-fire practice. You can use the technique in the field, or even in the comfort of your own home or garden. That is how:

Always start by making sure your hunting rifle’s magazine and chamber are empty, and that the ground where you intend to practice is safe to aim or fire your rifle. Then locate a crosshair at a realistic distance, assume the best available shooting position, and pull the trigger. The key is to first keep the crosshairs on the target (good position). Then watch your crosshair to make sure it stays steady on target and doesn’t move during or after the click (nice trigger pull). Now get up, move to a different spot, pick a different crosshair, and repeat. Do this about 50 times per session. After a few practice sessions, field positions will feel natural, your aim point will be nice and stable, and your trigger pull will improve dramatically.

Male hunter climbing mountains with mule deer antlers attached to backpack.

Once you’ve mastered this exercise, add a follow-up “shot.” Perform the exercise as described above. After the click, pull the bolt as fast as possible and retrieve your target. As soon as you’re stable, dry fire the follow-up shot, once again making sure your crosshair stays stable and firmly on target during the click. To add more skill-building challenges, you can change field positions between snapshots. For example, you can start prone and then switch to a kneeling position for the second dry shot. But never lose focus on the goal; your point of view have to be constant, and you have to keep them on target throughout the squeeze. Master this and you will have mastered the mechanics of a good shot.

Bull elk standing in the wood.

mind visualization
This may seem a little weird, but it’s a fact that mentally visualizing an activity sets you up for success when you physically attempt the same activity. Most top level athletes use visualization extensively – just attend a top level 3 gun match and watch the top competitors just before shooting on stage. Most of the time they will be spaced out, glassy-eyed, mentally filming the scenario. You could even see his hands moving, manipulating his imaginary weapons through various shots. You can use a similar technique to prepare for shooting big game animals.

To do this, you must visualize success. In your mind’s eye (your imagination) watch a large deer or bull, or whatever you are going to hunt, come into your line of fire. Move your rifle stealthily into position and aim your sights. Once they’re stable, pull off that perfect trigger pull you mastered during your dry-fire practice. Watch as the bullet hits the animal in the perfect spot and the animal hurtles into the trees, or falls, or does a few jumps and crashes. In the meantime, chamber another cartridge in case you need a follow-up shot. Visualize everything as clearly as you can, training your mind and subconscious on what to expect and how to respond.

Hunters on mules charging moose.

Use this method to prepare for any and all shooting opportunities you may come across. For example, visualize climbing a rocky point as fast as you physically can, trying to get into a shooting position before a herd of elk containing a large bull disappears into the wood. Lungs gasping for air, legs on fire, you reach the top and roll onto your stomach. A sharp rock burrows into the right side of your chest, but you ignore it and swing your pack into position to use as a rifle rest. The bull is on the edge of the wood, looking back, sideways. Set your sights, press the trigger and turn the bolt. Moose is tough and he’s still standing so you hit him again. Calmly, you close the latch a third time and find it in your crosshairs, but it wobbles, tumbles, and falls, so you slowly click the latch into place and take a deep breath. The word comes back into focus and you sit up, rubbing your chest to ease the pain of the sharp rock. You just made an impressive shot on short notice on a big bull.

That’s the kind of detail you should employ while viewing your hunts. Train your mind and subconscious to stay calm and in control, and expect success. Believe me, if you do this long enough, it will change the way you shoot the game.

Hunter placing hunting tag on mule deer antler.

Once you’ve learned to control your adrenaline with your breath, mastered the firing position and pull the trigger, and trained your mind and subconscious through visualization, you should gain experience. If you’re like most American hunters, you’ll get maybe one, maybe two or three shooting opportunities a year on the big game. At that rate, it will take a lifetime to master the game shot. Find an alternative and build an experience.

The best alternative I know of in the United States is small game hunting. Find places to hunt rabbits and squirrels, pigs, prairie dogs, and as many legal small game animals as you can. Try to process and eat (except vermin) as much as you can, partly because it’s the right thing to do and partly because it will add value to the game you’re shooting, creating a little more pressure to get it right. Use a good accurate rifle and accurate ammo suitable for your prey. Execute each shot as carefully as if you were shooting the biggest male or bull you have ever seen, thereby developing your skill, confidence and ability to cleanly kill anything in your sights. Do this, and the next time you take advantage of a big buck or bull, you’ll hit a perfect shot. You will no longer be the guy with the dollar rush, the history and the memory of a white tail saying goodbye.