September 1 is the first day deer stands can be placed on public land owned or managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation, and it wasn’t long afterward that I had one stand ready to go on each of two MDC Conservation Areas within reasonable driving distance of my home. I would have liked to have had more — no deer hunter can ever have too many stands — but these two, plus another unexpected private land option, have enough potential to give me a good chance for a successful season.
I’m not sure why or how, but I somehow managed to allow miner distractions like life, hot weather and gear repairs that should have been done months ago keep me out of the woods until the afternoon of September 30. Much to my chagrin, irritation and several other polysyllabic words, I couldn’t remember how to get to the stand I’d set less than a month earlier. I finally had to swallow my pride and turn on a GPS unit to find it.
I returned the same stand the following morning only to find that global warming had moved the stand overnight. This was right after I discovered that the batteries in my headlamp were kaput. Fortunately, the full moon provided plenty of light, and GPS tracked down the errant stand.
The aforementioned misadventures notwithstanding, I did get to spend several hours in my stand both days. This would be a good time to explain my mental approach to bowhunting. Since 1997 when I started recording my deer hunting statistics on a computer spreadsheet, I’ve spent 473 hours hunting with stick and string to kill 21 deer. By way of contrast, over the same period of time, I’ve averaged one firearms deer for every eight hours spent hunting.
Obviously, for someone who depends on venison as his soul source of red meat, archery hunting is not an efficient way to fill a freezer. On the other hand, while I’ve never eaten meat from a deer I’ve killed and processed that was either tough or gamey — and that includes some trophy bucks — venison from deer taken prior to the rut is the best of the best.
But the most important reason I’m so fond of early season bowhunting is that the impossibility of shooting at long range allows me time to muse unless and until my quarry is well within rock-tossing distance. That said, I do not give my mind free rein. I immerse myself in nature to find peace, and pondering solutions to problems waiting for me back in town, no matter how real or how pressing they might be, is not peaceful.
Instead, I often spend time taking full advantage of the fact that only deer and turkeys have learned to be afraid of a human being sitting in a tree. Probably only a hunter can fully appreciate what it means to be so completely a part of the natural world that both squirrels and a seemingly infinite variety of birds are willing to venture literally within hand’s reach.
I do allow myself to muse on solutions to problems directly associated with the outdoors. For example, I’ve decided that both of my public land stands need to be raised four feet. I carry a notebook and a pen in my day pack, which I used to jot down a list of the things I’d need to do that job as quickly, quietly and safely as possible the next time I hunt each stand in the afternoon.
I use stick ladders to access my public land stands and remove them between uses. They’re workable as is, but having a third hand would be a big help, especially in the dark. One of my musing episodes led to a way to modify a tie down ratchet strap to hold the ladder firmly against the tree until each ladder strap is secured in turn. I haven’t tried my invention in the real world yet, but I’m very confident it will work.
I’ve developed several other inventions while musing on deer stands, but I wouldn’t want to leave anyone with the impression that I’m too practical to have fun. Most of my meditations might better be described as day dreams. When those fantasies involve huge bucks walking into perfect positions below our stands, we deer hunters call them “visualizations,” but they’re really daydreams. Or at least they have been for me. The biggest buck I’ve ever arrowed was shot while I was walking back to the truck after quitting early one evening.
Gerald Scott can be reached at [email protected]