There is a sickness out there that the old-timers might not tell you about
(SALEM, Ore) — Hunting is a pastime steeped in tradition and folklore. Stories about great hunts, terrible weather and camp mishaps will be told around the campfire for years to come. Fathers, Uncles and Grandfathers will bring their young out to teach them about the outdoors. One might feel safe and secure in such a protective environment. But beware, there is a sickness out there that the old-timers might be hesitant to tell you about. You might just have to find out for yourself.
Sure they’ll teach you firearms safety. You’ll spend time learning how your gun operates, how to take it apart and how to clean it. They’ll take you out to the range and teach you how to shoot it. You’ll get bruises on your shoulder till you learn to seat that rifle stock into you solidly. You might get “scoped” if you don’t hold onto your rifle securely when you pull the trigger.
They’ll teach you about the proper clothing to bring. Dress in layers, don’t bring cotton or denim, and wear camouflage or drab browns and greens. Walk with your balls of your feet first, look at where you step, stay quiet in the woods. Pause frequently and listen, turn your head slowly to look behind you. This is all good advice to keep you safe, warm and hopefully successful on your next hunt.
Here’s the problem. You’ve done all your homework. You’ve read books on hunting. You’ve sited in your rifle, and you’re shooting a -1” MOA group consistently. You’ve scouted ahead of time, and picked out your stand. But you can’t prepare for everything.
The season arrives. You light out of camp before the others, and walk in to your honey hole under moonlight. You are in place ready to go. Now you wait. And you wait some more. You begin to doubt whether you picked the right spot. You start hearing gun shots in the distance, signaling that some other hunter is clearly smarter than you and has just bagged his buck. You consider moving to a new location. You try to move just enough to relieve the cramping in your legs and the half of your butt that has now fallen asleep.
Then you turn to check the clearing behind you. You notice a deer. Looks pretty small. You look through the scope and see that it’s a small forked horn. Not big enough to shoot on opening morning, you tell yourself. As you slowly turn around, just like Uncle Gene taught you, your heart stops.
Standing in front of you barely 150 yards away is a GIANT buck. The kind where the antlers look like a bundle of ridiculously tall sticks standing over his head. And then like a flash of lightning it hits you. You have immediately contracted the dreaded sickness, Buck Fever.
Your heart is racing at well over 200 beats per minute. Your breathing is way out of control, which is crazy considering how much conditioning you went through in preparation for this hunt. You start muttering to yourself like an infant, unable to process complete thoughts. You raise the scope up to this magnificent animal, and find that for some reason your view jumps all over the place. You reduce the magnification just so that you can see the deer and try to control the shaking.
Soon you realize that this condition is only getting worse. Your rifle has seemingly gained at least 20lbs. Your arms can barely hold it up any more. Your body shakes as if you’ve sat on an exposed power line. The best solution your scrambled brain can come up with, is to lean back against a tree so that your wobbling legs, back and arms might have something to settle against. Wow that’s a huge rack!
You begin to focus in on the animal. You try to control your breathing, with marginal success. You push against the tree, trying to force the shakes out of your body. You slowly squeeze the trigger, just like Uncle Gene showed you, and BANG! The forest erupts. Another half dozen deer which you’d never even noticed jump and bound away. But your buck is nowhere to be seen. You glass the area, and all you can see is one branch on the ground which resembles an antler, but looks way too big for that. After what seems like an eternity your shaking starts to subside, and you slowly walk up to discover that your buck dropped right where he’d been standing. You have just shot your first trophy animal.
I’d like to tell you that there’s an antidote or cure for this Buck Fever, but I fear there is not. That buck gets bigger every time I tell the story. The old timers in my hunting camp tell me it’s the biggest one they’ve seen come out of this Unit in at least 30 years. The taxidermist I brought him to this week was almost more excited about it then I was. I can’t seem to stop grinning like an idiot. I’m already plotting out my next hunt.
So it appears that this condition is a highly addictive and relentless syndrome. There is no apparent cure. One can only accept the realities of the situation, and just support your family members afflicted by this insidious disease. I promise that its victims don’t see it as a threat. More like an incredible privilege and experience. And please let them tell the stories repeatedly. It’s the only known therapy.