The fever

The scene flashes to life. A nameless man (we’ll call him Jerry for the sake of familiarity) stands in his front yard, happily clad in flannel and canvas, and holding a semi-automatic rifle. Oiled cloth in hand, Jerry lovingly rubs the barrel of his .270 Magnum.

The act is more than a mere cleaning, verging more along the lines of worship. The movements of the cloth are very premeditated and deliberate – just the right amount of oil here, just the exact movement of the cloth there. The man also appears to be talking to himself, almost chanting something in reverence. Right on cue, things get a little wild – a kaleidoscope of bright colors and hazy sensations takes over (blame it on bad jerky), and Jerry enters the realm of fantasy.

“Yes, yes,” he says aloud, oiled cloth moving vigorously. “I’ve waited so long. This is gonna be the year. I can feel it.”

A vision materializes in the air above Jerry’s head. There in a misty cloud of dreamy vapor, the shape of a hulking animal takes form. Dark and mysterious, steam issues from the beast’s nostrils in heavy breaths. A dozen antler points appear from the mist. The trophy elk bugles loudly.

“I’ve been tracking you for a long time,” Jerry says aloud to the apparition. “This time you’re gonna be mine.” He drops the oiled cloth, chambers a cartridge and brings the weapon to his shoulder. In response, the vision bugles a second time, and Jerry stares down the barrel. “Time’s up,” he says.

But then, unexpectedly and just before Jerry disposes of the magic elk, the fantasy blows up. “Hiya, Jerry,” a passer-by calls from the sidewalk. “Whatcha doin’? Gettin’ ready for huntin’ season?”

The elk vanishes, but Jerry’s already fully loaded. Time’s up, indeed. “Blam! Blam!” the rifle echoes. The screen goes red before fading to black, the lights come on in the room and the brief educational film is over. Jerry’s gone, and I’m back in good old 1984, sitting lazily in a Western Colorado hunter’s education class.

The instructor shuts off the projector and announces, “Now that is an excellent example of what we call ‘Buck Fever.’ I hope you’re all paying attention because Buck Fever has killed more hunters than cold, hunger and getting lost, combined.”

Ah, Buck Fever – that testosterone-driven, all-American disease – the thrill of the hunt, the hunger for the kill, the desire for the trophy, and exactly the personal disorder that led me into that classroom.

You see, one of the unplanned side-effects of my adolescence was a strong desire to hunt. True, my family was borderline vegetarian, and I did lust after burger, chop, cutlets and countless other delicacies I couldn’t get at home. But more than a hunger for meat, I hungered for the hunt. Something deep and primordial inside me wanted to observe that ancient ritual. Something deep and dark in there had me seeing red.

With no other options, I looked to my hippie, nonviolent herbivore of a father for guidance. Dad respected my needs and the value of the rite of passage and as a result, he enrolled me in the hunter’s safety course and arranged for a .243 loner for that season.

So over the space of a couple weeks, hunter’s safety had me watching films of overly macho fathers dragging families up to high altitude and certain death; hunters struck by Turkey Fever (a close relative of Buck Fever) accidentally blowing their friends away; fishermen gripped with hypothermia and making bad choices; and of course, the plight of Jerry, one-time middle manager turned accidental killer. At the end of the session, I passed the written exam with flying colors, received my hunter’s safety card and promptly went out and bought a deer tag.

To make a long and ugly story short, the Buck Fever won out in the end. In fact, the words “open the car door wider so you can rest the rifle on it” preceded my first kill. The animal’s antlers were hanging up on my wall long before I tasted my first back-strap. Some might have said the hunt had been successful, but I wasn’t one of them.

On a chance morning, I looked up at my homemade mount and felt haunted. My rite of passage felt all wrong. Just like Jerry, I’d managed to blow it. had been too strong. Consequently, I traded rifles and blaze orange for flyrods and waders, and I never looked back.

That is, I never looked back until a couple months ago. You see, one of the unplanned side-effects of life in my mid-30s has been a mysteriously strong desire to hunt. Don’t worry. This time it has nothing to do with trophies, car doors, cheap beer or easy kills.

But there is something deep inside me that longs for a stronger connection with his food – something that needs to be self-sufficient and capable of literally bringing home the bacon.

So I’m currently looking for that ragged, two-decade-old, laminated piece of white paper known as a hunter’s safety card. But as I don the flashy color of the season and venture out into the great beyond, there is one animal I’m not interested in seeing. I sincerely hope the Jerrys of the world also traded their rifles for fishing rods and are deciding to stay home this year.

– Will Sands



In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows