Battling Addiction to the Woods

By Ben Smith:

Addiction. Merriam-Webster describes addiction as the following: a compulsive, chronic, physiological or psychological need for a habit-forming substance, behavior, or activity having harmful physical, psychological, or social effects and typically causing well-defined symptoms upon withdrawal or abstinence. Self-admittedly, I am an addict. Fortunately, I realized my addictive personality at a young enough age to know that there was potential danger looming. For that reason, I’ve avoided a lot of things throughout my life. Once I had a roommate in college that had the game, “Guitar Hero”. I’d sit and play it all night long trying to beat each song.

You might be thinking that I’m being pretty insensitive to people that suffer from addiction to drugs and alcohol, but am I? The definition of addiction doesn’t apply strictly to drugs and alcohol. People can be addicted to all kinds of things. Gambling, sex, sugar, and a laundry list of other vices. Knowing my propensity for addiction, I’ve been fortunate enough to channel it into other things. However, just like other addicts, my addiction has the ability to wreak havoc on family and friends.

During bow season I ran multiple cameras on the land that I hunt. I left them up for weeks without checking to see what was on the cards (I still haven’t bit the bullet on cell cams). After the first month of bow season had passed, I checked the cameras for the first time since putting them out. I scrolled through the hundreds of pictures of does, raccoons, coyotes, and a couple of smaller bucks without anything really getting my heart rate up. After about 1,100 pictures I finally came across one that got me excited. I got my first glimpse of the buck that I would deem my “target buck” for the season…and the source of my future addiction.

After seeing the pictures of that buck, everything about deer season changed for me. I didn’t care about filling the freezer, which is normally my reason for hunting. I’d visualize how he’d look on my wall and where in the house I’d like to hang him up. Every moment that I wasn’t busy doing something, I was thinking about that buck. I went to bed thinking about him. I woke up thinking about him. I talked about him around the house until my wife told me on multiple occasions to “shut up”. I text friends asking them advice on how to hunt him. I was obsessed…addicted.

My addiction only grew bigger during Thanksgiving week. Sidelined with Covid, I spent the early part of the week in the woods. That was when I got my first look at him in the flesh. It all happened so fast that I didn’t get an opportunity to take a shot. He saw me about the same time that I saw him and just like a ghost, he vanished into the woods. I was absolutely devastated. Would that be the only time that I ever saw him? Would the neighbors, who had to have pictures of him too, kill him before one of us did? These are the questions that haunted me for almost a month. As time passed, I began to wonder if he’d moved on, or if someone next to us had killed him. If the latter happened, how would we even know? Each time that I hunted him after that day I wondered if I was hunting a ghost. The obsession (addiction) continued to grow.

The week before Christmas came and I’d fulfilled my family holiday obligations for the most part. We were done traveling and I had a few days to kill before we had any family coming into town. So, I headed to the camp. The artic blast was on the way so I figured it, combined with the rut, would have the deer up and moving. My first day of hunting was pretty slow. I saw a few small bucks cruising and some does that didn’t really act like they were in heat. The weather wasn’t necessarily warm, but it wasn’t cold either. With the winter storm quickly approaching, and no real action, I figured I’d have to wait until after Christmas to take another crack at my ghost.

Thursday morning came and I got a late start. A poor night’s sleep had me moving slow that morning, so I decided on the easiest stand to get to for the morning hunt, which was probably going to be my last hunt of the trip with the weather coming in. As a light fog lifted the deer movement picked up. Hunting the edge of a bedding area, I saw several does and young bucks going to and from the bedding. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye I noticed movement. I slowly turned my head to the left and he was 100 yards away staring right at me. I froze and just knew that any second he was going to take off in the other direction. We stared each other down for a couple of minutes before he put his head down and walked toward the bedding area. He disappeared into some tall sage, and I took the opportunity to raise my rifle and be ready for when he came out the other side. At the time, I didn’t even know this was the buck that I’d been hunting. I just knew that he was a really good buck.

He exited the sage into a lane and paused just long enough for me to squeeze off a shot. I waited a while before investigating the route he took into the bedding area and found only a drop of blood. Confident in my shot, I took the same route as him into the tall sage carefully following tracks that I felt like were his. When I found him, I couldn’t believe it. This buck, that had fueled my addiction for well over a month, now lay at my feet. I felt like I’d just unloaded a sack of bricks from my back. Almost in tears, I grabbed his antlers and looked him over. He was beautiful. The largest eight point that I’d ever killed. The first time that I’d ever actually targeted a specific buck, hunted the heck out of him, and had it work out. My addiction, for now, has been cured.

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