A Sense of Place By M. Lee Kessler
My favorite deer stand isn't anything fancy. In fact, it couldn't be simpler—a board nailed across a couple of tree limbs, camouflaged because it has aged gray, a near match for the gnarled trunk of the tree. The stand sits 5 feet above the ground on the edge of a pasture, just off the crest of a gentle slope. It faces a sparse windbreak at the top of the rise. And most important, the stand faces the deer trail, which passes just below the height of land and connects one coulee to another.
I wish I could claim that I am the creator of this stand, but that would be a lie. I like to think that the real designer had a moment of inspiration as he checked on his livestock late one spring afternoon. The apple blossoms on the field's edge caught his eye; and while standing under the tree, he noted the main branches that spread from the tree's crotch, creating a palmlike seat. Tempted, he climbed up and realized what a great hideaway he had found among the limbs of the apple tree that surrounded him on all sides. Trees on the slope below furnished a thick backdrop. By pruning a few branches, he created a window onto the game trail above him.
Decades have passed, and I am now the benefactor of this inspired farmer. I am a bowhunter with a fear of heights, so I was intrigued when I discovered this eye-level stand. Most likely, I had found it in the same manner as the original builder—drawn to the apple blossoms on the pasture's edge.
It took several minutes for me to realize there was a deer stand in the tree's center. Although the board was aged, I judged it firm enough to hold me, so I climbed up. With one branch acting as a backrest, I stretched my legs out along the board's length and leaned back—as though sitting on a recliner. In short, I had stumbled onto something really special, a deer stand that was perfectly sited, safe, and comfortable.
Since my discovery, I have hunted this stand exclusively and with great success. Every year I have been presented with plenty of shooting opportunities demanding very little effort on my part.
I hunt primarily to put meat on the table, so up until last season I had been happy to take does and let the young bucks pass. Then, one crisp fall morning, I was sitting back against the tree, contentedly listening to the blue jays wake up the world. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught movement, brief glimpses of antlers moving along the far side of the trees toward the stand.
I held my breath, sure the buck could sense me and would bolt. But to my surprise, he cut through the windbreak and popped out 30 yards directly in front of me. He stood motionless for a few minutes and then calmly lowered his head to graze some tasty tidbit. He seemed relaxed, oblivious to my presence.
This was the first time I had ever seen a buck hang around, and I admired him for several minutes without a thought of taking a shot. As the buck continued grazing and showed no sign of moving on, I debated shooting. On the one hand, I was after meat only; on the other, he was a good-sized deer. I was reluctant to shoot any buck, but he continued to present me with the perfect opportunity. I struggled to make up my mind.
Finally, I gave in and took aim. A solid thunk told me my shot was true. The buck ran off. As I sat back to wait for him to drop, I started shaking with adrenaline. I waited until I could no longer hear the buck's movement, then climbed down and followed his trail about 75 yards to where he had dropped. I had a clean shot and my first buck—a healthy 10 pointer. He has provided meat for my family all year. Every time we grill a steak, we raise a toast: "Here's to the deer, and here's to the old apple tree stand."
M. Lee Kessler is a writer and photographer living in the bluffs of southeastern Minnesota with her husband, two horses, and dog.
Editor's note: Each year in Minnesota hundreds of hunters are injured, some killed, due to falls from elevated stands. To use elevated stands, hunters should check the stands for damage that could result in a fall, always wear a full-body harness fall-arrest device, and always use a haul line to lift firearms or bows. Regulations relating to the use of elevated stands for deer hunting are found on page 71 of the 2006 Hunting and Trapping Regulations Handbook.