First case of Buck Fever

By Greg Awtry

It was shortly before 6:00 a.m. on November 15, 2023, Michigan’s unofficial holiday, better known as the opening day of firearm deer season. Unlike previous years, this one was different from the start.

After living in Nebraska most of my life, I am retired and now live in Hubbard Lake, Michigan, and have a small tract of land, where every morning and every evening there is somewhere between twenty-five and forty deer visibly eating what’s left of the soy bean field they have decimated over the summer. This isn’t what made this year’s hunt different, as it’s been like this for years.

I usually don’t get that excited about opening day because the chances of getting a deer is really not in question. I am not a trophy hunter, but I like venison and feel I must do something to cull this expanding herd. Again, no different from other years. Yet, Wednesday morning was different. Yes, it was warmer than usual, but on this morning I was excited to take my twelve year-old grandson on his first deer hunt.

We had bought his apprentice deer license a couple weeks before. We had gone out and let him sight in my reliable old Winchester 30-30. But it didn’t begin there, as we had spent hours before practicing with his pellet gun and an old nylon Remington 22. We had gone over, and over, and over gun safety, made a list of what he had to bring on the hunt, so I knew he was ready.

It was time. We began our quarter mile walk to the deer blind in the dark, keeping the flashing pointing down. At one point I raised the flashlight to where we were, and immediately saw the glowing eyes of two deer not twenty-five yards in front of us. Now what? Since it was still an hour before legal shooting time, we forged on as the deer scampered away.

Once in the blind, we remained silent, until I dropped a bullet on the plywood floor, only to pick it up and drop another one on the floor. I said a few “Grandfather” words, then had Grandson load the rifle. He took a nice comfortable shooting position, and we were now officially hunting deer. We sat still, listening while peering through the darkness.

Then I heard grandson squirming in the chair. Seems he decided to lie down on the floor and catch a few winks of extra sleep! About ten minutes before shooting time, I woke him up and said, “Get ready.” He did, but not as quietly as I hoped. Then we waited, as a large doe appeared right in front of us. We looked at her, and she looked at us, and in a split second she was gone.

Next up were two more working their way closer to us. Grandson was anxious as one turned broadside and offered up a perfect opportunity. He lowered the 30-30, but I couldn’t help but notice his uncontrollable shivering. No, it wasn’t cold. He was experiencing the well-known infliction we call “buck fever”. He tried to control it as he put the scope on the deer, but it was too late, and both deer took off in a flash.

A perfect teaching moment opportunity. I explained buck fever and told him it was common with new hunters, and to breathe deeply, and that nothing bad was going to happen. He will either hit or miss the next deer and whatever happens will not significantly change the world. Nothing to worry about.

The morning was extra quiet. No ducks flying the river only twenty feet behind us. No crows announcing it was morning. I said maybe it was because it was so warm, but then a few flocks of geese flew over, squirrels began zipping around, and slowly another glorious day was waking up.

Two more deer emerged from the forest. They slowly worked their way toward us, as the other two had done an hour before. Once again, there was a possible shot at about sixty-five yards. Grandson took his few deep breaths, got his target in his sight, and slowly began pulling the trigger. Bang! Deer dropped straight down. Great shot. We agonized while the downed deer’s hind legs kicked, but it was over in a matter of seconds.

We walked out to see it was a young buck. We petted it while thanking the deer for giving his life for us. Grandson then slowly raised his arm and gave me a soft and gracious high five. My work was done, except of course the nasty part of every successful hunt, which involves removing all the innards. Yes, Grandson helped.

On the way to the deer processor, Grandson said, “Dang!” I responded, what’s up? He looked at me and said, “Dang Pop Pop, it will be another whole year before we get to do this again.”

I can honestly say that on this morning, a near perfect morning, we added one more deer hunter to the nearly half million other Michiganders, while quietly thinking to myself that next year I will hand the knife over to him and help him remove the innards!

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