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- Prostaff Member Steve Johnson
The sound of breaking sticks as I pave my way through the woods, the solitude and peacefulness of sitting on stand, and the adrenaline that rushes through my body while I wait for the perfect shot opportunity has created an obsession within me. The feeling that comes over me during those few seconds is the most addicting feeling I have ever experienced. Unlike most hunters, I didn't grow up surrounded by many hunters. My grandfather hunted, but I seldom was able to hunt with him since he lived in West Virginia.
I grew an interest in hunting in my late teens when invited by a couple of friends. I completed the necessary course, practiced with my gun, and began my first deer season in the late 1990s without too much anticipation. Little did I know that these first outings would greatly transform my passion for the sport over the next several years. I spent the first year doing what most teenagers who hunted liked to do- hunt a couple of hours in the morning, eat at the pancake shop, go home for a nap, then head back to the woods for the last two hours of daylight. During that first year, even though gun season was only a couple of weeks long, it didn't take much to talk myself into staying in bed when the alarm clock went off. I remember being disappointed with myself when I awoke to find what could have been the perfect morningâ to be in the woods.
In year two I found myself standing over a GIANT 11-point buck I had just taken with a shotgun! This was a hunt that started like any other with a few buddies heading out into the woods, only this time with just over an hour left of legal shooting light.
We decided that it would be most productive if we split up and walked through the woods. A huge valley with a flowing creek lies behind my buddy's house, and after everyone's resistance, I volunteered to walk through the bottom while they walked on either hillside. As we headed into the woods, I crept down the 4-wheeler trail, carefully avoiding the newly fallen leaves. While reminding myself to be extra careful to remain slow and silent, I caught a glimpse of some movement up ahead. Immediately I noticed a buck and he was headed straight towards me! As he got closer I noticed he had his head down- he must have been following the trail of a hot doe. I knelt down beside a tree and waited anxiously. As the deer got within 50 yards I came to realize that this was not only a buck, but a giant buck! I attempted to take my focus off his rack and to remain calm. He continued on his path, which led him to within 15 yards of my slightly unhidden position. As I took aim at this monster whitetail, everything seemed to go quiet. I put the bead of my 12-gauge right behind his front shoulder and squeezed the trigger. The shot is just forward and hit him in the shoulder and he immediately folded up. Only then did I start to realize what just happened, and the adrenaline started to flow through my body; I began to shake with excitement!
After the deer was down I ran to get the rest of my party. I could hardly wait to spread the news. Of course they heard me shoot, but they probably thought I had missed. As I ran across the huge valley bottom and leaped across the creek I couldn't help the feelings that were welling inside me, feelings I had never felt before. The excitement of the hunt is something that is impossible to describe. I reached the bottom of the hill and yelled up that I had taken a big buck, and as if my buddy had his name on it, he yelled you shot my deer!â I emphasize again that I had shot a big buck, and that was surely not his! My buddies came running down the hill toward me in disbelief and we started back across the bottom toward the deer. As we approached the deer they were totally in awe at the immense size of this buck. The excitement my hunting partners and I shared is something I will never forget, and something that changed my life forever. Even to this day my buddy refers to that deer as his deer.â Im sure he will never forget!
My buddy had been hunting a few more years than I had and took a respectable 9-pointer from the same area a few years prior. As I thought about all the deer stories I had heard, and the deer my friends already had on their walls, I couldn't help but think this was the normal routine for hunting. It seemed to me that taking big whitetail bucks was a normal occurrence, and everyone did it. Over the next few years I realized just how far from normal this was, and that this very well could be the deer of my lifetime.
As I got more involved in hunting, I purchased my first archery equipment and muzzleloader. This would allow me to be in the woods more often and improve my chances at scoring another giant. But over the next few years I found myself getting frustrated and discouraged. I was hunting harder than ever but having the worst luck, hardly ever spotting deer while I was on stand, and when I did they seemed to be miles away and headed in the wrong direction. I couldn't understand how it seemed so easy one time, and now seemed impossible. What was I doing wrong?
I began trying to learn anything I could about the whitetail deer that I had, seemingly overnight, become addicted to. I looked for the secretsâ to consistent success in the woods. I subscribed to magazines, searched the internet, spoke with fellow hunters and asked questions at the pro shop. I watched countless hours of the latest hunting videos and shows, and read the magazines from cover to cover, sometimes 2 or 3 times to make sure I didn't miss anything. I couldn't wait to take my newfound knowledge into the woods with me. This was the point when things started to get serious, and the whitetail addiction began to grow.
I spent more time in the woods, practiced more, scouted, and learned to pattern deer. The most important lesson I picked up at first was to become scent conscious. Although this was only the beginning of the fanatical nature that I display today about scent control, it was the start of learning its importance. It was in this year that I really started getting closer to deer, and a lot more often. It was typical for me to come home with a story to share about the deer I had seen while hunting. This year I was also able to score my first deer with a bow, a quality 7-point buck, another rewarding moment in the woods. Even though he wasn't a record book buck, this was a major accomplishment and a true trophy in every sense!
New hunting friends, young and old, had entered into my life. Hunting was quickly becoming a major part of me, not only in the fall, but year round. I would go to parties and talk about hunting to anyone who would listen, sometimes with the notion that my obsessive nature with hunting was annoying to people. I was forced to change the subject (so I didn't get blacklisted from parties haha), but once in a while I would run into someone who shared the same passion. I would drive around with a video camera and binoculars to local farms and fields in hopes of catching a glimpse of a giant whitetail from the road just before dark. Simply catching sight of a giant whitetail, even from 300 yards away, was enough to bring a smile to my face.
Whitetail Way of Life
Now a decade into my hunting career I have grown from a twice-a-year hunter into someone who cannot stop thinking about it. My compulsiveness includes everything from where that best stand placement might be for the next season or how I could have changed fate, to studying maps and aerial photos. I have gone as far as renting a small plane to fly over my hunting properties to take photos and learn the lay of the land. Hunting is constantly on my mind and in my soul. I have even rearranged my work schedule so that I am able to get into the woods in the evenings until the time changes in October. There is never a Saturday missed during the hunting season, and I ensure that I am able to get into the woods 3-5 times a week. If I had more time and less obligations, this obsession could easily become 7 days a week, 365 days a year. My wife is very supportive of my hunting, but sometimes doesn't understand the extent of my passion. She can't picture the Advantage Max4 recliner in our living room, or how great one of my bucks would look hanging in the foyer. However she does allow me to have my own room, which is about all I can ask for (at least for now)!
People ask me all the time, what drives you to want to get up at 4:00 in the morning, just to go sit in the freezing cold for hours on end? It comes down to the old clichÃ©, if you have to ask, then you won't understand.â There's something about being on stand watching your breath (to make sure the wind is right haha), or watching the sunrise start to crest the treetops, and the woods start to come alive that must be different for others than it is for me. The feeling of being in the outdoors and watching the woods wake up From hearing that first leaf crack in the morning to hearing that steady walking as you strain for a glimpse of the giant 10 pointer you have spent so many hours scouting and planning for are things that I have yet to be able to explain. Just being in the outdoors, enjoying all the peacefulness it has to offer and sharing that experience with friends and family drives me to the woods every year and will continue to for as long as I am able.