By Nick Simonson

My guess is whomever was in charge of setting up the 2009 NFL schedule was a deer hunter and a Minnesota Vikings fan. What other alignment of the stars could explain last week's bye for the Favre n' Harvin show falling precisely on the opening weekend of deer firearms season in the upper Midwest? The diehard fans of both purple and blaze orange had their choice of garb made for them several months in advance. They also had the good fortune of not to having to worry about the score while out looking for the thirty-pointer.

Perhaps that same providence is the reason why my quarry wandered right up to me, allowing me to fill my tag on the first day of the season and have it processed on the second. Once my card was punched, I had no reason to be on stand any more. My dog, similar to a coyote in both stature and in color, tends to be my reason not to go bird hunting while the increasingly trigger happy still look to fill their tags, or at least fire a shot off at something. With the boat winterized and trout season closed, fishing was out of the question.

The powers that be had effectively granted me a bye week as well, but outside of watching the Wall of America crash down on Matt Stafford and the Motor City Kitties, there wasn't much time to lounge around. My weekend off was one of neck strain, not from watching the Packers and Cowboys punt the football back and forth, but from glancing back at moments from past seasons and then suddenly looking ahead to get ready for the seasons to come.

As I hauled my portable ice shack out of storage, memories of last winter's late night crappie runs came flooding back. Beneath the light of a February full moon, my wife and I watched the Vexilar as red lines rocketed off of the bottom of the lake, stopped short of our spoons and then struck. Seven slabs were our reward that night, and fresh fillets singing in hot oil were a welcome wintertime treat. As I applied a second duct-tape patch over the air conditioning hole I accidentally added to the tarp last year, I looked forward chasing those late-night panfish again this winter.

With the shack ready for first ice, I ventured up to my desk in the upstairs office. On the wall next to it, my brother and his two fifty-inch muskies smiled down on me. The fish were both landed this summer on lures I had made over the winter. On the bulletin board behind the desk, a collage of pictures from the north shore of Lake Superior reflected the multiple weekends I spent chasing steelhead - and finally finding success in the chilly spring meltwaters. With the rush of the rocky streams came the memories of running the steeplechase as a silver fish bolted toward the big lake with yards of line in tow, my hand-tied egg fly firmly in its maw.

Short on supplies, and long on time this particular weekend, I began assembling my wish list for lure components and fly tying supplies. Size 12 blades, magnum flashabou, and a new set of 7/0 hooks were in order for the toothy critters, while McFly Foam, egg hooks and fluorescent thread would be the ticket for the trout patterns to be tied up over the off-season.

As I glanced around the room - from the rods tucked into a corner, to the GPS, platbooks and other maps splayed across the small coffee table - I came to and counted the points on the rack of a buck I had taken a few years back. The total was still nine, plus the 7/8-inch tine that he must have broken in a battle late that summer, making his headgear fall just short of a perfect ten. It was a little nick of character in an otherwise uniform rack. It was the biggest buck I had taken and was the hunt that hooked me on whitetails. I immediately began wishing for next fall and another deer season.

As Sunday Night Football on Westwood One buzzed on the radio in the garage, I scraped the last bit of hair from the base of the antlers of this year's buck and relived the rush of the prior weekend. I placed the velvet cover over the rack and tacked it into place on the plaque mount. Though smaller than the set it now hangs next to on the office wall, the memory of the hunt is as big as any other.

I turned out the lights and clicked off the TV after Peyton Manning's ice cold connection kept the Colts perfect in a stunning Sunday night comeback. And as I lay in bed, reliving the memories of ice adventures, big water fish and buck fever in that place somewhere between asleep and awake, I bid good bye to the seasons past and began planning the next year of exciting expeditions…in our outdoors.

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