“Let’s gooo, Cookie Monsterrrrr!!!” whooped the man behind me in a thick Hispanic accent. His 6 year-old grandson joggled past our enclave of onlookers at that very moment and flashed a crooked smile, a small bundle of uncoordinated joy trying to dodge grass tufts and flying high-kicks while at the same time move the soccer ball up-field without tripping over it. It was a heartwarming scene filled with laughter and goodwill and crotchety parents that I normally would have spent a whole morning writing about, especially since one of my own sons was also playing in the game—“Gooo Nathan!”— but I admit to being incredibly distracted. Buck fever is a hard thing to shake.
Hunting is a passion of mine, but it’s a hard thing to explain to a non-hunter. I tried explaining its allure to my wife once in terms of shopping and sales after she asked me to stay home on a prime hunting weather day. “That’s like me telling you not to go shopping on Black Friday” I blurted out, and then added for good measure (since she never actually shops on Black Friday)—“and there were no lines and they were giving out espresso machines as door prizes!” She frowned and looked at me like I was wearing diaper on my head. Which is when I remembered that coffee was another of my obsessions, not hers. Drat.
I’ve tried other ways of explaining hunting, of explaining the itch and the scratching satisfaction it brings to hike, to scour hillsides for antlers, to don camouflage and hoist a weapon of deadly force with intent to… to… And anyway, none of those ways seemed to adequately convey the thrill either. “It’s like looking for the perfect garage sale,” I’ve tried—“you know it’s out there, somewhere—that treasure you don’t know you need until you find it, until you see it and know you must have it...”
“It’s like a successful, last second hail-Mary pass to win the championship game,” I’ve tried. No luck.
“It’s like baking the perfect turkey,” I’ve even tried— “on Thanksgiving Day. When your in-laws are visiting.” Nothing. Nobody gets it. Blank stares.
And so, with a sigh of resignation that comes from accepting that you’ll never truly understand, let it suffice to say there’s a desire, a fierce hunger that exists in the world of hunting, that only grows stronger as the season wanes and huntable weekends disappear from the calendar like prime shopable hours in the first indulgant light of Black Friday. It’s a gnawing sensation that comes in waves. At its least intrusive consistency in the days and weeks directly following the closing day of the season, it’s ravenous power thickens and slowly gains in force as it begins to draw strength from magazine racks and random camouflage sightings in the early months of Spring. Then, oddly enough, there’s a lull. This occurs during the peaceful, optimistic haze of opening weekend, when most hunters trick themselves into believing that successfully scratching the itch is just a matter of getting out of bed and taking a gun into the woods. Do not be fooled; this haze is the calm before the storm. This is when the worst of the fever begins to eat at your intestines from the inside out— when opening weekend success eludes you. From that point on, until you shoot your buck, it’s a mouthful of chocolate-chip cookies in a world devoid of milk.
My opening weekend hunting experience was a disaster. A storm blew into my honey hole with fog so thick I half expected an ‘80’s classic rock band to spandex dance their way out of it. Gratefully I was spared such a horror, but after two days of rain followed by a third morning sans antlers, I was defeated. The next two months only produced more of the same: long hikes, long hours, no bucks. Soon I became a walking buck zombie. Sitting at the dinner table, last year’s buck-ghetti taunted me. Hits on the radio all began sounding like the theme song from Wild America. Watching my son’s soccer game, the children became a field full of dandy, dancing bucks, galloping by me in gaudy fluorescent jerseys. “Let’s gooo, Cookie Monsterrrrr!!!”
Snap out of it Josh.
This weekend is closing weekend. It’s our last hope. For all of the Buck Fever-ridden, camouflage-clad volunteer army of deer population control experts, this weekend is the last chance to bring home the bac— err, the venison. It’s the last chance for countless men and women in northern California who simply can’t explain to you the thrill of the chase and frankly, have given up trying. And it’s my last chance too. I’ll be out there, in those dappled, magical woods this weekend, I’ll be out there, questing after the defeat of my own mythical monster. I’ll be out there, because, after all… I’m just another preacher after a fast buck.