By BWB Pro-Staff Mark Scheeren

I have two passions in my life:

o   Helping people with drug and alcohol problems.

o   Tracking and hunting big woods bucks (or anything related to the outdoors for that matter).

I know, an odd mix; but life sometimes brings you places you wouldn’t expect. As a person who grew up hunting and fishing, I was raised to love the outdoors. But I also loved to drink and take drugs. Eventually I decided my passion to track and hunt whitetails outweighed my passion to be high. But not everyone caught in the addiction trap finds their way out so quickly; and there are many outdoorsman out there suffering needlessly with these problems.   

What are the Facts?

The hunting industry and the outdoorsman population in general, along with the farming community have a 2% higher rate of alcohol consumption and dependence than other rural population subgroups throughout our great nation. In other words, many hunters and outdoorsman really like their booze. My personal experience echoes these numbers – I was in the thick of those stats with a pretty serious alcohol and drug problem back in the 80’s. My habit ran throughout my early years as a budding whitetail tracker. Too often these conflicting lifestyles bumped into each other, resulting in some less than fruitful hunts as I nursed a hangover or was too drunk or high to bother getting outside. This became a regular problem with more hunts missed than had. Then I changed and made the lifestyle adjustments to reverse this trend, and I’m really glad I did.

The more I thought about my past personal experience with drugs and alcohol, and the experiences of the thousands of outdoorsman I’ve worked with over the years, the less I was surprised by the numbers given above. Think about it. How many of you go to hunting camp to escape the monotony and difficulties of life by having few drinks after a long days hunt. There is certainly nothing wrong with imbibing with the boys telling the tall tales of the hunt. For many, drinking is an integral part of the backwoods experience, and it can be a fun and social aspect to the fibre of any traditional hunting camp. The hunt is after all where we leave society’s confines to let loose each year. But then there is the guy that pushes it a little harder than the rest. This is the guy who represents the statistics given earlier: he drinks more, finds a reason to stay up all night annoying those others in camp who are more serious about the hunt, and generally becomes the annual camp annoyance. It’s these folks that make one raise their brow and question the importance booze should have in a camp.

Just in the past 10 years I’ve seen two Adirondack historic hunting camps whose roots go back generations destroyed by the slow degradation of alcohol and drug use within its membership. Where a happy place to escape life once stood proud for decades, vacant cabins now sit; symbols of better times gone past.

Make no mistake, I am not a teetotaler, nor am I someone against drinking as a whole. I don’t have a particular view for or against it. I believe people should be entitled to live their lives and find pleasure where they want. I’m a believer in freedom and personal liberty. I too certainly enjoy a drink or two now and again. But I’m also not blind to the pain and misery heavy use can bring. I’ve seen amazing hunters and outdoorsman slowly turn into depressed, anxious, shaking shells of what they once were. I’ve seen families where hunting and fishing were the glue that held each generation together, splinter apart as substances replaced the passion for the hunt. This is especially sad because the drinker isn’t the only casualty here. It’s the kids that never make it to deer camp because Dad or Mom is too drunk or high to bother anymore. Or worse yet, these people are gone forever, now just a statistic on a government fatality chart. 

The point is this. We have a lot of talk about substance use and drinking when discussing the pressures of urban life, but the quiet pain held in the hunting community exists too, and for the most part, it’s untold. Because the outdoorsman is notoriously private and more isolated from his neighbor, he or she holds their habits closer to their personal lives, as do their families. This independence is a part of rural living and is a commendable trait; country folk don’t like their personal business and tragedies broadcast. But unfortunately, in this respect, that independence can be a double edged sword; it can keep people from knowing that there is a way to stop the sadness and pain of a drinking problem or a drug issue, and end it for good.

I want people to know that a solution exists, and it isn’t rehab, or 12 step meetings, or endless therapy. You don’t have a disease and addiction isn’t forever, regardless of what you may have heard. The solution to any drinking habit lies in taking the time to decide whether it’s worth it to change your habits and lifestyle, and deciding to build the courage to actually change it. And when I say courage, that doesn’t mean not being afraid or anxious to change – it just means moving forward regardless of being afraid and anxious. It means deciding if not drinking will be better than drinking and then forging ahead after you determine which path makes more sense for you.

I realize this isn’t the typical article in the Big Woods Bucks archives, but it’s a tale that needs to be told; a topic that needs to be brought into the open. Too many hunting memories have been erased because booze and drugs took their toll on the lives of those who might have passed on the outdoor legacy to the next generation. Little boys and girls who could have been walking the ridges with their mom or dad are walking those woods alone, or not at all. And what about the kids themselves, whose lives have been shattered by a substance use problem. How many fathers and mothers sit alone on stand wondering why their sons or daughters aren’t with them anymore? Instead of enjoying the outdoors, they sit in worry and sadness, thinking about the days gone past when they shared the love of the hunt together with their child – hoping that their kid will turn around so they can have those memories created once more.

Victory

Over the past 27 years I’ve talked with thousands of outdoorsman who are experiencing troubles with booze and/or drugs; some young, some old, many in the middle. I see the struggle, but I also see the victories and the return to the hunt when the person gets their act together. Being that I went through the pain of losing my way for a period of years, it’s easy for me to recognize that struggle in others who are in pain as well. I know what it’s like to feel numb, depressed and in a rut so deep I could hardly see out of it. But I also know what it means to drive through that pain to return to the deer woods and feel the joy and exhilaration of the hunt again.

Today I am passing on the lessons I learned to my three kids and others in my extended family as well. I was there when my son shot his first deer, then his second, his third and his fourth too. I was there when my nephew took his first buck – just last fall. I’ve sat with my daughter in a deep snowstorm as an owl hunted mice not ten yards from us in the silence of the hissing snow as we searched for a track. I watched as my youngest got a bead on a beautiful eight pointer his first time out, only to realize too late that he never took the safety off, and the buck went on his way unharmed. I have a memory of tracking a big buck up what we call “bear hill” four thanksgivings ago with my oldest, only to hear the buck run out of his bed as we ate our lunch because we misjudged the track.

The memories are piling up; a long string of laughs, sore muscles, wonderful meals, late night conversations at camp, small heartaches, and huge life changing victories; all of it a wonderful mix of life and living. But none of it would be in my mind today if I put alcohol first as I did so many years ago. I would have missed it all. But remember this, it’s never too late to change direction, never too late to love more, try harder, give of yourself and take a chance to be a better person. I just hope this article reaches those outdoorsman who are struggling; to let them know there is a definitive way out. And if you are one of these people, don’t hesitate to contact me as I would be honored to help you find a solution that makes sense, and a solution that matches the outdoor values we all share.

If you or anyone you know has a problem with addiction or would like more information about the St. Jude Retreats and/or the St. Jude Program click here or if you would like to call Mark Scheeren directly and confidentially dial toll free (877) 678-0297.

Copyright © 2016 Mark Scheeren, all rights reserved