By Shawn Perich
Recently, I read a story about a Minnesota deer hunter who accidentally started his deer stand on fire. It took a moment to wrap my head around the idea. Since the point of deer hunting is to avoid spreading human smells, why would you be burning something while sitting in a stand? For that matter, what’s flammable in a deer stand?
Reading more, I discovered the author was writing about a deer hunting style unfamiliar to me, but common enough across Minnesota. Hunters like the author climb into a box, either elevated or on the ground, and wait for a deer to appear.
Sheltered from the elements and warmed with a heater, they can diddle away on electronic devices—maybe text their fellow boxed pumpkins a huntin’ report—as they wait. To provide the deer with a little extra incentive to step into their killing zone, perhaps they spent the summer growing a food plot, created a mineral lick or dowsed the countryside with the various commercial magic potions intended to attract deer. I’m sure a lot of Minnesota deer get harvested in the above scenario, but not much hunting is going on.
I prefer to hunt out of the box for a number of reasons. For starters, I don’t intend to get into a box until they’re ready to plant me six feet under. More importantly, I know how to hunt—and that has little in common with putting out deer attractants and waiting in warm comfort for a deer to come to you. It’s more about knowing the land where you hunt and the animal you pursue, then using your knowledge to successfully kill a deer. Sometimes, I’ll stand in a good place and wait for an hour or two, but it’s been nearly a decade since I last climbed into a tree.
In fact, when my father died a few years ago, the first of his possessions I sold was his new ladder stand. Dad’s hearing was so poor that he needed to sit where he could see deer approaching, rather than rely on his ears to detect deer while sneaking through the woods. Interestingly, Dad was adamant that in decades of sneaking, aka still-hunting, he mostly shot bucks. Later in life, when he climbed into tree, he believed he was more likely to see does.
Anyway, back to the ladder stand, which Dad used in his last year of hunting. Three of us lugged it a quarter mile into the woods to set up for Dad. Doing so had all the charm of trying to wrestle a washing machine through the brush. We decided the popularity of ladder stands was closely linked to the popularity of using an ATV as a hunting tool, because you need a trail suitable for an ATV in order to haul a bulky ladder stand into the woods. Most of the places we hunt are inaccessible via ATV, which is why we hunt there.
For a time, I was enamored with small portable stands. Now they gather dust in the garage. For me, portables add an unnecessary element of danger to hunting—the risk of falling. I’ve also come to believe, true or not, that when you sit in a stand more than once, the local deer become aware of your presence and adjust their movements accordingly.
Lately, I’ve begun sitting on a fallen log or, more often, standing beside a large tree trunk in what appears to be a good place at the moment. Last year, I sat down immediately after seeing a fresh buck rub on a sapling and then killed the buck that stepped out less than five minutes later. Of course, moving around is easier when you hunt in places that are not overpopulated with pumpkins, boxed or otherwise. If you hunt on a small parcel of private land or heavily hunted public ground, then your only choice may be to climb into a tree and wait. Still, it’s a good idea to have at least a couple of alternative stands so you can move if you choose to do so.
Commercial ground blinds, which are becoming increasingly popular, provide more cover from approaching deer and shelter from the elements, but may greatly compromise your safety. Think about it. In Minnesota, you are required to wear hunter orange clothing so other hunters may see you. When you climb into ground blind—or a box in a tree—that element of safety literally disappears. Frankly, being seen by other hunters is far more important to me than hiding from a deer.
As for attractants, we all draw our own lines as to what we may use within the boundaries of the law. I carry grunt and bleat calls and am often surprised at their effectiveness. However, when you toot on a grunt tube, every deer in the vicinity knows exactly where you are, because their hearing is far better than ours. A cautious deer, especially a buck, may approach close enough to see what made the grunting sound and then stand motionless until it identifies the source of the noise. If that source happens to be you—well, good luck. Perhaps it will startle you with a warning snort as it bounds off. More likely, it will fade away and you’ll be none the wiser. As for scents, mineral blocks, food plots or illegal bait, I don’t use them.
I was taught to hunt by men who carried the same rifle year after year and knew how to shoot it. Aside from a hunting license and ammunition (if you want to know how to shoot a rifle, you must practice with it) their biggest investment was a new pair of warm, waterproof boots every few years and the occasional purchase of wool clothing used specifically for deer hunting. Sometimes, an old snowmobile or three-wheeler would be pressed into service to get a deer out of the woods.
Back then, seating in a heated box stand would have been considered sissified. Planting a food plot to attract deer would have been a silly, expensive extravagance. Scent products and scent-blocking clothing would have been met with a roll of the eyes. Some of the best deer hunters I’ve known were cigarette smokers. A nice buck was simply that. No one weighed the dead animal or measured its antlers.
Times change. And deer hunting has changed over time. In Minnesota, we have more deer and more deer hunters. But with each passing year, deer hunting becomes less about the hunt and more about the ease and comfort of the hunter. Ponder that, please, while you wait for a deer to appear this weekend. That is, if you can pry yourself away from your smartphone.