It’s not just excitement. Research shows that the physical effects of this condition can be harmful
Buck fever can be a real problem. Physical and mental preparation can ease its effects. Image by Tom Reichner
“Its telltale adrenaline surge is so instant and convulsive that a blood-pressure check at that moment would bust the machine that takes it,” Robert Ruark wrote in The Old Man and the Boy, his classic 1953 book.
The legendary author was referring to buck fever, a malady that can affect hunters in different ways. A mild case of it is good. If our heart doesn’t jump and our nerves don’t rattle a bit when we see an 8-pointer sneaking through the woods on a November morning, why are we out there? But a bad case of the fever — with uncontrollable shaking, heavy sweat and gasping for breath — will not only ruin a hunt but, in the extreme, can be dangerous.
BUCK FEVER IS REAL
In Michigan, medical researchers fitted 25 hunters, average age 55, with heart monitors and observed them in the woods. The heart rates of hunters who shot at and hit a buck soared as high as 118 percent of their max recommended rate.
A similar study in Wisconsin tracked 10 males with monitors. Their heart rates went from an average of 78 beats per minute with no game in sight but jumped to 100 beats per minute when they spotted a deer. And they increased to 128 beats a minute when they shot at a deer — any deer, even a doe.
So yes, buck fever is real, and it’s caused by a sudden surge of the chemical adrenaline. “Adrenaline comes from the adrenal gland, above the kidney,” said Dr. Jeffrey B. Michel, a cardiologist at the Texas A&M College of Medicine. “It’s a powerful stimulant that increases blood pressure, heart rate, and metabolic pressure.”
Adrenaline has many advantages, but like any substance coursing through the body, it can have side effects, including shortness of breath and tremors.
“Excess adrenaline can cause high blood pressure, stroke and work the heart too hard,” Michel said.
CALM THE FEVER
“Hunting is supposed to be a calm, thoughtful and careful process,” Michel said. “Adrenaline is not good for being any of those things, and it’s trying to find an outlet. … When you hunt, there has to be training so that there is less panic. Go out on the range and be comfortable so that it isn’t a frightening or stressful situation.”
We should make a pledge to get more heart healthy before this season. The better shape we’re in, the better we’ll hunt, whether or not buck fever hits us. The American Heart Association recommends:
At least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (brisk walking or biking), 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity (jogging or hiking hills with a backpack), or a combination of both, preferably spread throughout the week.
Add moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity (resistance or weights) at least two days per week.
Spend less time sitting. Even light-intensity activity can offset some of the risks of being sedentary.
Gain even more benefits by being active at least 300 minutes (five hours) per week.
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