BOWHUNTING SAVED ME
By: Darrin Bradley
It was nearly sunset when three does trotted out of the dense bedding area, giving life to the dead funnel I had guarded like a sentinel throughout the cold November afternoon. They glanced over their shoulders to tattle on the monster 10-pointer close behind.
I slowly arose to a shooting position and prayed that the swollen, wide-racked trophy would make the mistake of traveling into bow range. I held my bow steady but still released an arrow into the ground beside it. The magnificent buck bounded into the timber. I was disappointed, but I was free to pursue the trophy buck another day. I sank into my stand and began to reflect on times when I hadnít been free.
I was raised in an upper-middle class family. My sister was a homecoming queen. My mother, an upstanding Christian woman, was employed as a secretary in a state office. My stepfather was a judge. My natural father was a railroad engineer. He was terminated from his job after 10 years of service due to his drug and alcohol addictions, and accidentally drowned in 1981.
At age 14, I began raiding my parentsí liquor cabinet late at night. I practiced to become a good drinker, embracing alcohol with open arms. In high school, it didnít take long form e to figure out I wasnít the smartest or best-looking kid in the class. I wasnít a very good athlete. I wasnít a good musician. I was, in a word, average. However, upon attending my first high school party, I quickly became somebody. My classmates gathered around to watch me drink. I was proud that I could drink a beer in four seconds and slam a bottle of bourbon in one night.
Over the next four years, I became popular because of my partying skills. My drinking ability awarded me many friends. I received invitations to socialize with the most popular kids. Drinking had turned me into what I perceived was important. At graduation, I received three awards from the schoolís journalism staff. They were inclusive of craziest, funniest and best partier for the class of 1984.
Due to low grades and lower motivation, I stayed home while everyone went off to college. I tried my luck for a couple of years at the local junior college, but I flunked out.
On a hot July afternoon, a friend exposed me to marijuana for the first time at our favorite swimming hole. I began practicing my new habit on a daily basis. I justified it by saying, ďItís not like Iím using hard drugs.Ē My circle of friends began to change. I wasnít hanging out with hardened criminals, but I began to choose friends whom I knew smoked pot. As you might suspect, my habit progressed as I began walking a dead-end road.
It was the beginning of the end. I began to use a wide variety of narcotics and illegal drugs. I lost control. The blindness of drug addiction kept me from seeing that my life was decomposing. I couldnít pay the bills, keep a job, maintain healthy relationships or stay long out of jail. It wasnít long before I became emotionally and financially destitute. I slept several times in cars, alleys or any other spot where I could rest my head.
Along the way, I met a man who shared the program of Alcoholics Anonymous with me and told me of Christianity. I became determined to remain sober and be a good citizen by using my newfound tools. It was the chance I needed to become successful.
Early in my sobriety, I found myself pacing the floors. I had no friend or hobbies. I often craved alcohol and drugs. I needed to eliminate the idle time that haunted me like a demon. I returned to college during the first year of sobriety and obtained a job at a local factory. I became an honor-roll student and discovered I was a good worker.
Although school was a challenge, I needed some recreation. Prior to using alcohol, I had tinkered with archery and even harvested a couple of does. I had been quite fond of the sport. Now money was scarce, but I bought an old Bear bow from a secondhand shop. I vowed to replace it with the best bow on the market. I would simply have to wait until I could afford it.
Throughout college, when everyone else went to drink beer on evenings and weekends, I took to the timber. I was too poor to afford a car, so I would take a taxi to my hunting spot. I always found a way to go. I applied the same fiery passion to bowhunting that I had once applied to drug use. I kept a detailed game diary, despite all the workers at the factory making fun of me for it. I upgraded my archery equipment the best I could. I sought out bigger hunting tracts. I spent more and more time in the timber. I lived there. It was the place where I could discover myself and find peace. Most seasons, I would bowhunt more than 100 times. I kept my mouth shut and listened closely to hunters who had more experience than I did.
During the fourth year of my sobriety, I graduated from college, accepted a job from the Missouri Department of Corrections as a parole office and arrowed my first record-book buck. I had begun to taste the fruits of my labor. Two years later, I harvested another record-book buck. I began to make a trophy harvest almost annually. During the 1998-99 archery season, I harvested three trophies. One grossed 158 inches.
As my skills advanced, the game diary grew larger. Definite whitetail patterns began to emerge from it. I felt a real desire to submit a freelance article for publication. I doubted it would be accepted, but one magazine did feature it as a cover story. I continued to submit articles. In the past calendar year, I have been published many times in outdoor magazines.
I have developed and currently own one of the most qualitative whitetail outfitting services in the nation, IMB Outfitters, thanks to the help of many people and the grace of God. I possess 14 years of sobriety.
I hope to help others with my story. It is about a second chance at life. Today, I have a home, a job in the hunting industry and a loving family, but tonight youíll find me in the timber. It is there that I have been able to find release from the chains of my addiction. Bowhunting is about far more than big bucks.
The Author Thanks:
Blackwater Creek; Camoclad; Easton; Horton; Hunterís Specialties; huntingnet.com; Interco Tire; Knight; LaCrosse; Matthews; Mossy Oak; New Archery Products; Nikon; PMI Cover Systems; Road Armor; Shakespeare Fishing; Superlift and SVL.
My loving wife, Glenda; Tyler Evans; Houston Evans; Clint Bradley; Phyllis Gump; Skip Scovil; Mr. and Mrs. Joe Leonardi and family; Mr. and Mrs. Merritt Sprague and family; Roger Raglin; Brent Thomure; David Pye; Chris Shores; David Wilson; Perry Fesmire; Dan Conboy; Jill Perry; John Detwiler; Mr. and Mrs. Ryan Lewis; Herb Clinton; Todd Graff; Scott Maloch; Karen Glinski; and many more.
I dedicate this article to my late father. Hey dad, look at me!