By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer
Each fall, hunters of every age and experience level see months or years of preparation unravel when it’s finally time to shoot and adrenaline overload kicks in. Commonly called buck fever, this malady bears every hallmark of a full-bore panic attack, and it’s as much a part of the experience as the wind and the weather. For hunters, it’s something that shows up a few times a year. For competitive shooters, though, it’s a constant companion, one they’ve learned to defeat, pacify or ignore so they may go on. What they’ve learned along the way can help us all.
Baldwyn’s Benjamin Albers is only 19, but he’s on his way to becoming one of the world’s top shooters.
Currently a member of the National Junior Olympic Team and training to attempt the next step – a berth on the Olympic Development Team that will send shooters to compete in Rio in 2016 – the inclination to panic at the moment of truth has become a steady part of the background, as it is for every participant in sport.
Having proven himself through countless qualifying matches so far, though, it’s something he’s learned to manage.
Albers got his start in competitive shooting through 4-H programs when he was 9 years old, and his technique has rapidly developed over the years. Shooting technique and conquering buck fever, he says, go hand in hand with practice.
“I’ve learned to distract myself under stress,” Albers says. “I’ve learned to consciously drop my heart rate. I have to be mentally and physically in tune to shoot well under pressure.”
The last rounds of a competitive match, when every point on every shot means everything, create a situation comparable to the split seconds of a hunt when a lifetime of preparation meets a fleeting moment of opportunity.
Albers prepares for his times like these through regularly-scheduled holding and dry-fire drills, something any hunter could safely do in their home or back yard.
Pistols and rifles built for competition often include a dry-fire mode that doesn’t damage the firing pin, The firing pins on rifles and shotguns can be protected with specially-built non-firing cartridges known as snap caps that stand up to thousands of trigger pulls. These are made by a wide variety of companies and are available at gun stores or online, and can facilitate invaluable work in creating what Albers calls, “the shot plan.”
“Before I do anything, I visualize myself seeing the perfect sight picture, shooting a perfect 10,” he says. “Then I make everything feel right, then I make the shot.”
Beyond the practice, experience is the next best teacher, Albers says, as well as good nutrition.
“Accumulating match experience and just grappling with the stress and pressure, recognizing it’s going to be there and proving to myself I can deal with it have gone a long way.”
As part of his regimen, he also avoids caffeine, sugar, saturated fats and dairy products, all of which can negatively impact fine motor muscle control.
Ultimately, he says, it’s all about confidence. If you know you’ve put in the practice, you know you’ve dealt with it before and you know your nutritional components are on your side, there’s no reason you can’t shoot your own perfect 10.
More on Baldwyn’s Benjamin Albers and his Olympic goals.