Each season brings a new crop of high-performance bows, crossbows, new accessories and new — and supposedly innovative — strategies for outsmarting our quarry. But one thing doesn't change: as soon as that quarry comes into view, a hunter's heart starts pounding. The effects of what is often called Buck Fever vary. Some hunters become quivering piles of goo, utterly incapable of shooting an accurately and ethically placed arrow.
Others seem to relish the rush. They get nervous, but that doesn't keep them from making their shots count. It's possible to evolve from an ineffectual hunter to an efficient and effective deadeye, but the preparation starts long before the hunt.
If there is a bowhunter one would expect to be absolutely unflappable when staring down a whitetail, it would be Adam Vinatieri. This is, after all, a guy who has trotted out onto the football field at the end of a Super Bowl with the game's finality resting squarely on his shoulders. And he has coolly nailed the game-winner. Twice.
"The day you see that big buck walk under your stand and you're not excited or a little bit nervous, you need to do something else," said Vinatieri, who grew up hunting in his native South Dakota. "You should be nervous and excited. That's why we go out and hunt." But there is a difference between a healthy amount of excitement and getting a case of the shakes so bad that failure is almost assured. For Vinatieri, efforts to ensure that he doesn't get overly jittery start long before he sets foot into the woods. Confidence is critical, and the foundation for confidence is practice. Just like he spends a lot of time kicking balls through the uprights, Vinatieri spends plenty of time with his bow in his hand.
"The more prepared you are, the better," he said. "And that doesn't mean starting the week before the season, but year-round. Every day, go out and shoot a dozen arrows. It doesn't have to be a lot — just enough to keep your form." He tries to take thinking out of the equation.
"The more you practice, the more comfortable you are," he said. "Your body just learns the mechanics and you don't have to think about it. Everybody asks me, 'What are you thinking about when you are kicking?' I've done it so many times I can't tell you, 'This is my thought process.' It's just second nature."
That said, Vinatieri believes it is important to maintain a high level of concentration at all times while practicing. "I never go out and practice and think, 'This kick means nothing,'" he said. "Because every kick means something. It's getting you better, and prepared for the season."
That same approach translates to shooting. For that reason, Vinatieri also avoids the temptation to practice only in fair weather. He kicks when the weather is crummy, and he tries his best to shoot his bow in all conditions.
"It's smart to climb up in a tree wearing what you're going to be hunting in, and if the weather is crummy, that's OK, too," he said. "I think all of it goes into confidence on that October day when you're actually presented with the situation."
Beyond practicing, Vinatieri also doesn't want to have to worry about his equipment. He learned that lesson on a football field when, as a rookie, he ended up blowing out his only pair of kicking shoes while warming up prior to a pre-season game against Green Bay. He had to borrow shoes — and kicked well enough to make the team — but it wasn't fun.
"To this day, I never go to a game without two pairs of shoes," he laughed. "And I probably carry way too much stuff hunting." As prepared as he may be, Vinatieri isn't perfect. He's missed kicks and he's missed shots at deer, but it's not a good idea to get caught up in prior kicks or shots.
"If I miss a kick, I hope I get a shot on the next possession," he said. "It's the same way with bowhunting. If you miss, you stay out there and hope you get another opportunity. The next deer that comes by may be even bigger."
Portions of this article originally appeared on the Bowhunting Mag website.