The sight caught me by surprise as I was leaving the office, much like the way a deer magically shows up out of thin air on a lazy Sunday afternoon sit in the tree stand. There on the desk of a co-worker in the insurance department was a large-antlered creature silhouetted by a white background. Could it be that this person too was caught up in a fit of buck fever that only opening day, still more than six weeks away, would cure?
Was it possible that someone else was frantically scouring the newly-published 2014 hunting regulations and perusing the new Cabela's hunting catalog to keep the delirium of the pending deer season at bay? Or was there another publication I had not seen since my malady set in several weeks ago, which someone else had found, providing them a reprieve from the madness and had gone unshared, with me, the resident office outdoors aficionado. How thoughtless!
It was none of the above. It turned out upon a second glance coming after a deep inhale to calm myself, that the large-antlered creature was an elk, the emblem of a well-known national provider, emblazoned on the cover of the company's quarterly report and prospectus. Talk about disappointment.
An Heir to the Throne? This tall-tined seven-pointer captured on trail camera bears the hallmarks of the large eight-point buck the author has been chasing in the area over the past few seasons. Time will tell if he has supplanted the king.
I sighed and made my way out of the building, realizing that once again, I was the only one in my section of the sterile white-walled building, suffering alone with pre-season hallucinations of aggressive large-racked whitetails strolling broadside under a blue autumn sky and beige grassy carpet in the meadow before my tree stand. On the drive home, my thoughts were burdened with the obsessive-compulsive review of the mental maps of areas I planned to hunt and the decision on which tree would provide the best vantage point for my hunt based on the prevailing winds. Of course, a lot of that would depend on what insight this weekend's first batch of trail cameras would provide.
After a fitful sleep, and a morning run finally brought me to mid-day, I headed out into the western reaches of the county. Through the green grasses and one-note cicada symphony of summer, I made my way to my primary stand site just across the county line. It was the place where I had chased "Big Eight" - a tall-tined, even-racked buck - for the last three seasons. I hoped against the odds that he had made it through yet another slug season, and then muzzleloader, and then the ups-and-downs of winter; not to mention cars, trucks, coyotes and the mix of man-made and natural threats that decrease the odds of deer survival.
The mineral lick below the camera had been hit hard by visiting deer and footprints of all sizes were imprinted in the black mud of its center where the salty mix was concentrated. A few of them, wide and splayed, showed promise of bigger deer in the area, but the camera would provide the final confirmation of what was about, and hopefully a reprieve from my buck fever. I slid the memory card out of the black box strapped to the old cottonwood and made my way back to the truck and drove home.
Back home, and starting to sweat in part from the humidity but mostly from the anticipation of seeing the 268 images on the disk, I popped it into my computer and clicked through the photos.
Spotted fawns flashed across the screen, pairs of year-and-a-half old bucks licked at the ground and random does waltzed in front of the camera's lens during sample of time in the small meadow.
Through morning, afternoon and nighttime, a number of deer began to pattern out in the digital history my trailcam kept over the past few weeks, but there was no sign of Big Eight, save for what appeared to be his heir a tall-crowned seven pointer with a missing brow tine who bore a strong resemblance to the deer I had been chasing the last few years.
Crown-Seven, as I dubbed him, would most likely not be a shooter this year, but if he made it through the season, and indeed had Big Eight's genetics, he would be a worthy opponent next fall.
As I guessed at his lineage and sized up the multiple poses he made in front of the camera, I could feel the gears in my mind begin to grind on what was next for the upcoming season.
With just a month of photos taken, there would still be time to see if Big Eight had made it, and opportunities to check on his heir and other local deer in the coming weeks to keep the excitement building.
Additionally, I knew there were other projects on tap to help keep the fever at bay, like more time in front of the foam block with my bow at the shooting range, and making a literal laundry list of scent free detergent, soap and body spray, all in the name of keeping myself sane while counting down the next 40 days until deer season opens againin our outdoors.