Five pieces of thin plywood. Wood screwed together and attached to long legs chained to a red pine sixteen feet in the air. This has been my home, my refuge, during the gun season for over 15 years. Before that, some old Wausau Paper mill felt lined the shooting rails to help block the wind. Even earlier, it was a couple planks nailed to a crotch of an oak or birch, where I'd shiver in the exposed air yet try not to twitch a muscle for fear of being pegged by an unseen whitetail.
So maybe from a purest standpoint, my boxstand is sacrilegious to true hunting-too comfortable some would say? But deer hunting has changed-I've changed. Scant numbers of hunters cruise snow covered hills and dales seeking out a track to peruse. Fragmented small land parcels prevent that technique and more-so, few nimrods* are willing to put the effort nowadays. Still hunters, taking step after painstaking slow step, scanning the forest for game are scarce as well. I wonder how many of us have the patience to use these techniques in our “modern” times? For a change of pace, I have reverted to those ancestral skills from time to time but not often enough it seems.
This year again, I, like the majority of hunters, sit and wait. Fred Bear championed this hunting style and indeed, maybe taking a stand, letting game come to you and staying put can be the most successful. This little box on stilts affords me at least a little comfort, letting me dwell longer. It's the second day of the season as I write this and what was a near perfect opener, (sans deer sightings) with mild temps and snow cover, turned to a damp windy grey scape. I'm happy to have these four walls blocking some of the mist and breeze.
It's not a luxury box like the new plastic or fiberglass ones for sale outside Gander Mountain or the local sporting goods store. Nope-mine is just homemade-I like the openness in order to hear a twig snap or leaf shuffle. I'm not sure how guys can hunt just visually from those windowed central heated stands. Not a criticism- for I enjoy my little crib in a tree, I just need a bit more exposure to keep all senses involved.
This stand is also my escape. I can duck down and pour and sip what usually is the best coffee ever (deer hunting helps “flavor” it) or stay almost hidden munching a sandwich. It's a quiet place as well, so needed when removed from my elementary school classroom (and appreciated). It's my humble abode where notes can be jotted down, my hunting journal updated and maybe pages of a book read. (this year's selection was Richard Thiel's “the Timber Wolf in Wisconsin”)
The property where my stand resides has been our family near Mosinee for over 40 years. I wandered and hunted this and the surrounding land since a teen ager. The tree it leans against is not a random choice. My stand locations gradually migrated over the years further and further from our shack, now to this remotest corner of the property. County and managed forest land adjoin ours and although I've never had mass migrations of deer pass by, the spot has been productive. The stands' lifetime average is .75 deer per hour hunting. Maybe low by central farmland standards, but enough to put venison in the freezer from time to time. Least I forget, I've etched every whitetail seen from this box on the wood walls. Yearlings, does and bucks with little lines indicating the number of points. Occasionally, a mark will be circled, indicating a successful shot. Some are noted with “Ten” or “Nik” next to it-the kids joining me here for their first successful hunt with dad.
It can be a long hike in here-a mile now, and although I pass through good habitat, I seem to just want to get to the stand and settle in. Stashed warm boots, bibs and orange coat are changed into by the glow of a headlamp, daylight still an hour off. The backpack is unloaded of shells, binoculars, extra hats and a camera. The notebook sits next to a thermos, ziplock bag of moms cookies and a bologna pickle sandwich. Only when all that is set can I relax and start taking in the sounds of the still pitch black woods. Its amazing what one can hear and detect in those agonizingly quiet pre-dawn minutes. As soon as the sun is up and maybe a breeze begins, I can ease off the intensity of the senses.
Hiking in this year (on day 2) I thought the weatherman should have issued a dense fog advisory for hunters seeking their stands. My light barely pierced the blanket of suspended cloud I waded through traversing the old logging road. Luckily for me, my opening day tracks remained in the mashed potato snow and I could blindly follow them to the ladder. Not surprising, there were few shots in this murkiness, even after several hours of daylight. Opening day, it seemed everyone was shooting....except me. As it turned out, there were lucky hunters around us, but unfortunately, none in the Meurett group.
Having a little comfort like this box keeps me out in the woods longer. I usually stay all day. In the back of my mind I think I can't get a deer if I'm sitting back in the warm shack. Part stubbornness, part optimism I guess. I know if I'm out there at least I have a chance-even on dead slow long fog days. After several unproductive days and later in the season, even that tenacity starts to wear off. Hours and hours staring at the same bare trees and listening to the same red squirrel scurrying around gathering pine cones gets old. The stand fends off the urge leave a little longer-I have some coffee yet in the thermos and a few more pages of notes to pen and the .308 leaning against the wall still has a chance if it's here not in a case.
Although I have a few days left in this season, the chances of getting a deer tend to dip dramatically. I know this. Fewer hunters out moving whitetails, the animals staying nocturnal and frankly, some of the deer are just now gone. I'll still take my place and put in more time-one never knows what will happen. It'll be bittersweet on the last hunt there this year, tucking away my gear one last time. You become attached and accustomed to this little place away from it all. I'll know that the season is over and it'll be another year to wait until I climb this ladder....with a new book, my trusty Winchester and a thermos full of coffee.
1. (Bible) Old Testament a hunter, who was famous for his prowess (Genesis 10:8-9). Douay spelling: Nemrod
2. a person who is dedicated to or skilled in hunting