Adrenaline, Hunters & Homeowners

By on December 9, 2016

The effects of adrenaline can do strange things to hunters and homeowners alike.

My husband, Joe, was deer hunting last weekend up in Punxsatawney, PA. He’d stationed himself by a large rock on a pipeline right-of-way. An hour and a half went by when he saw a buck walking toward him, 50 yards out. Behind cover, with good support, he took aim…but didn’t pull the trigger. He’d been gripped with “buck fever”– effects caused by adrenaline that infrequent hunters may experience. The symptoms he felt were a racing heart rate, some hand shake, and an inability to hear anything, including the buck leaping into the dry woods.

Adrenaline may affect a person facing imminent harm, or one who’s aiming a weapon at a live target, or defending one’s self  in the home. An excerpt from my book, At Home In the Real World, explains what could happen to a homeowner facing the immediate need for self defense.

-Excerpt from Part 3-Defense, The Inner Badass Primer….

“The second your body senses danger or registers an emergency situation, adrenaline hormones are pumped into your bloodstream, priming your body for a high-stress second of fight or flight. Before we get into basic nuts & bolts of self defense in the home, you need to know how adrenaline may, or may not, affect what you’re capable of doing.

Professional soldiers who train constantly (at times, under extreme stress) develop muscle memory and work through the effects of adrenaline. They know what their responses are supposed to be, and they deliver. Laypeople, like me, are likely to face some functional limitations and/or enhanced capacities in an adrenaline-pumped body. It’s very important to keep defense or escape plans simple. And to visualize and practice them.

What adrenaline can do to you

The Society for Endocrinology describes effects that adrenaline can cause: “Key actions of adrenaline include increasing heart rate, increasing blood pressure, expanding air passages of the lungs, enlarging pupils in the eyes, redistributing blood to the muscles and altering the body’s metabolism, so as to maximise blood glucose levels1 [to supply emergency fuel to the brain-SM].

They Society also publishes a list of potential physiological changes that can be caused by adrenaline. (I’ve added specifics). For varying reasons like age, health, and training, every person experiences adrenaline differently. However it affects you, know that it is short lived, and can last between 5-30 seconds. Here’s what may or may not happen to you:

  • Strength increases.
  • Time slows down.
  • Vision focuses forward. You see what’s in front of you, from four feet onward. Peripheral vision shuts down–you can’t see family members or additional threats standing off to the side. You may not see your gun’s sights.
  • Distance vision comes into greater focus.
  • Eyes dilate, letting in more light.
  • Hearing stops, (called auditory exclusion), you don’t hear what’s going on around you, not your partner, kids, barking dogs, gunfire.
  • Hands shake uncontrollably compromising fine motor skills. (Unable to turn on car keys in the ignition, dial 9-1-1, open a locked gun box, or pull a trigger).
  • Pain doesn’t register.
  • Decision making is greatly diminished. Your complex brain gets simpler–solving new problems is highly unlikely (for untrained civilians).
The Adrenaline Dump

When the adrenaline rush is over, weird things can happen. You may have gotten hurt in the encounter. Now, you notice you’re bleeding. One’s hands or knees may shake uncontrollably. A woman or man may tremble or sob; pee her/his pants; or vomit. Whatever the body does—it’s okay. The adrenaline has to physically express itself, and get “dumped” out of your body when the threat is over so it can get back to normal. There are no judgment calls. Trust your body’s intelligence. If you’re bleeding, get help”.

To come to grips with the dire need for self defense, it’s important to think about what you are willing to do, and develop a mindset that lets you prevail. And work out the physical details and practice! In Joe’s case, to take down a buck, he should practice with his firearm of choice more often, and spend more time quietly being out in the woods observing. Next season, when the time’s is right, he’ll have the mindset to follow through only when a straight and clean shot presents itself.


Suzy Meyer, Author
Pittsburgh, PA

I'm a landscape architect, gardener, and of late, a certified NRA instructor. I enjoy practicing T’ai Chi, playing bocce, and walking through watersheds.. This blog is my journey full of learning curves to calm the chaos.


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