It has arrived

Seasonal Affect Disorder is most commonly associated with winter depression, but Stephen Browning of Hot Springs, Ark., might have something similar.

"There's not a time in the offseason that I can't tell you exactly how many days there are until deer season starts," said Browning, who makes his living fishing and traveling on the Bassmaster Elite Series eight months a year. "I watch it that close. Deer hunting is in me as much as bass fishing is in me."

Kudos to Browning for handling the situation properly — he's admitting there's a problem — which is always the first step to recovery.

"It's one of those deals where you either have it or you don't," he said. "Let me tell you, I've got it."

Browning needs to know he is not alone. As we at ESPNOutdoors.com kick off our 2008 Deer Camp (check the note at the bottom), we are discovering that this is a widespread epidemic.

Take Realtree Outdoors founder and president Bill Jordan for example. He said he starts to feel the itch before a single leaf changes color.

"It actually starts back in the summer for me when it's time to start shooting your bows and getting ready in preparation," Jordan said. "Then obviously when third quarter roles around and TV shows start showing footage, I get excited as early as July and August."

Jordan spent the weekend at the Talladega Speedway in Realtree's 80-person suite, but he admitted his mind might wander while watching the race. Jordan's 16-year-old son, Tyler, spent the weekend elk hunting in New Mexico.

"Just getting Tyler ready this week, and getting all his clothes out so he'd be ready, definitely added to the anticipation and excitement that fall is here," said Jordan, who has already taken an elk of his own this year. "I still get as excited today as I did 20 years ago."

What's all the fuss about?

Browning was on his way to some public hunting land in Arkansas to bow hunt — emphasis on bow — when he talked to ESPNOutdoors.com. Browning said he's been deer hunting for 25 years and believes bow is the purest form.

"It's just a challenge," Browning said. "I think that's what drives me more than anything — the challenge of going out and picking the right area and then the exact tree within that area so you can get the right shot.

"It's a tremendous puzzle and challenge, and that's why I love it so much."

Matt Ross, the New England and Canada regional director for the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA), was so fascinated by deer and deer hunting, he went back to school for a degree in biology with an emphasis on deer management.

Fall's an important time of year for Ross and QDMA, which is non-profit wildlife conservation organization dedicated to ensuring a high-quality and sustainable future for white-tailed deer and white-tailed deer hunting.

But it's not just work and management that gets Ross into the woods.

"It reminds me of what it's like to just be outside," he said. "I hunt not only to see deer, but to hear geese and seeing coyotes and all kinds of cool stuff."

Browning also mentioned nature when he was trying to put into words what he said can't be put into words.

"I just enjoy being out there more than anything," Browning said. "I like just getting out in the woods in the tree with squirrels. It's a very peaceful atmosphere, and if people don't do it, they really have no understanding of how great it is."

Jordan talked about the time hunting allows him to spend with his family — especially his son.

"Going out and shooting bows with him, getting new bows in and setting them — it's just a great time for he and I both," Jordan said. "Especially for me as I get a little bit older, seeing his excitement and enthusiasm about the sport and watching him develop, and his willingness to learn and be taught.

"As a parent, it's one of the most rewarding things for me."

The present and future

All three — Jordan, Browning and Ross — said hunting has changed for both the better and the worst in the last quarter century.

Ross described today's hunter as savvy and well-educated. He said hunters are much better at managing their land than they were 25 years ago — much better at managing their deer.

"A lot of people that hunt public land are buying trail cams and planting food plots — they're studying not just habitat management but herd dynamics, too," Ross said. "We've seen a lot of regulations pop up across the country, with different type of buck management strategy.

"I think it's a testament to people just wanting to know more about the deer."

Both Browning and Jordan worry that the new educated hunter is running out of places to hunt. Browning said neighbors who used to allow "permission hunting" are now selling their land or saying no, and Jordan said more and more land is being "taken away" for development.

"Being an outdoorsman, you hate to see the opportunity lessened to a degree and make less land available to hunt," Jordan said. "It's one of those challenges we have in our industry — to make sure that we have land available for generations that come to be able to hunt on."

But even with the loss of public land and the current struggles in the economy, Jordan said the passion remains — the opening day, autumn epidemic is still strong.

"The same enthusiasm has always been there for an avid outdoorsman," Jordan said. "It's a special time for all hunters, knowing the season is right here upon us."

ESPNOutdoors.com will be celebrating this year's deer season with "Deer Camp" — a two-week event, covering the big issues that are important to deer hunters and examining the state of the deer nation. We'll also be breaking down and rating deer hunting in all 50 states, with an analysis of what a hunter in that state has to look forward to this year.