The Last Windrow: I have known many a deer stand - some better than others
A deer stand of white birch was a pretty piece of art, but not too functional.
It started with a creak. Then a crack. Then a crash.
Deer stands I have known.
Forty-six years ago this year I found myself inhabiting my first Minnesota deer stand. With my sharpened hunting knife I carved the date in the mature oak tree to which this rickety piece of architecture was nailed. My father-in-law had selected this place in the deep woods from his years of experience hunting this piece of property.
I, knowing nothing about where I was, went along with his selection of a deer ambush. He wasn't wrong.
Over the years my now aching frame has inhabited a number of such deer stands, some better than others.
My first stand was a totally natural place deep in the crevices of the Loess Hills of western Iowa. It was my first deer hunt, and all I knew about deer hunting you could stuff in a small hat.
I knew that there were deer in this hilly portion of the county, and my dad and his friend, Herman, had harvested a huge buck in this same area many years before. I trudged up and down a few gullies and finally located myself on a broken down tree at the bottom of a ravine.
Only divine providence created the scene as a young buck came crashing through the oak trees in front of my stand and succumbed to the blast from my shotgun. That deer stand produced venison for my farm family.
Other deer stands came and went, and after I was welcomed into my wife's family's hunting party, I tacked many a stand together. There was a stand on Rutabaga Hill, the stand over near the beaver pond, the stand on the edge of an open pasture and one on the birch ridge.
Some of those stands were more ornate than others. A couple of them were simply steps nailed to a tree trunk. One of them we called the "Taj Mahal." The stand featured a full floor, two seats, a couple of spike nails to hold my rifle and my coffee thermos and a small area that held my hand warmers.
I never shot a deer out of that stand, but it was a pleasure just to sit in it and view the surrounding woods.
Pete's stand was one of those favored stands. Pete was retired from hunting when I started using his stand located at the edge of the Poplar Swamp. When I found it, the stand was in a state of disrepair due to lack of use. But there, just in front of it, was a well-worn deer trail that you could have ridden a bicycle through.
There was no doubt that this was a good place, and the talk was that Pete had taken a buck there just about every year.
And so I rebuilt it and as luck would have it, the first day of the deer season a six-point buck came trotting down that trail and ended up in our freezer. Pete knew what he knew.
There was one other deer stand that stands out in my memory. Most north woods deer hunters know that if you're going to build a stand out of the native timber surrounding your stand, you use sturdy wood like oak or ash. The wood around my chosen place one year was birch, and I fashioned a wonderful white birch stand.
It was a picturesque stand that would have looked great in a Les Kouba or a Terry Redlin painting. And for one year it served me well. No deer, of course.
The second year of this stand's existence found me crawling into it with my rifle and full blaze orange clothing. I must have looked like a Baltimore Oriole sitting up there against my white birch background. Just as I was starting to pour my first cup of steaming morning coffee, I heard a slight creak. I moved around to see where the sound came from.
Then I heard a crack. Then I heard a crash and in no time found myself sprawled on the turf still holding my empty coffee cup. I looked up at what used to be my beautiful creation and remembered some long ago advice never to build a stand out of birch.
I think that advice came from my father-in-law as he pounded that last nail through the oak in my first stand.
Deer stands I have known. Each one of them is solidly etched in my hunting memory bank. Especially that white birch piece of "artwork."
I never did harvest a deer from it. But, I do remember it.
See you next time. Okay?