Death from above. Sitting in my tree, looking down on the brush and trails that intersect my little piece of the eastern plains, I like to fancy myself as the ultimate predator: a jaguar, or maybe a falcon, ready to swoop down and make the kill, an effortless yet efficient machine. There will be no swooping, though, from this perch.
At least I hope not.
Instead, armed with my bow and a quiver of arrows, I will sit motionless for hours, waiting for the sound of hooves hitting the leaves to jostle my nerves to full awareness, as I scan the tangles of willows and cottonwoods for a glimpse of white bone.
Hunting from an elevated stand is a very effective way of filling a deer tag. It’s a method that is practiced with regularity and with a high level of success in nearly every state to take deer, elk, and bear, and while I understand the potential for taking a good animal from my perch, I have a hard time sticking with it. Tree stand hunting is, for me at least, incredibly boring.
I am a walker. I love to feel the ground beneath my boots, to feel the heft of my pack on my shoulders, and to cover ground, lots of ground, as I search for the next best spot just over the horizon. For this spot on the plains, though, walking isn’t practical and I find myself challenged to change my mind set and become a sitter.
My little place on the plains isn’t overflowing with deer. Set along the edges of a small creek bottom, with prairie grass and crops bisected by a deep trench of water, tamarisk, cottonwoods, and weeds, my spot is a place where I expect the deer to travel through as they travel from beds to food. It’s not a place where I’ll get a lot of mileage out of my boots, or where it would even be smart to try. So I am relegated to my perch.
I’ve been here before. Having pursued plains deer for over 20 years, tree stand hunting isn’t new to me, nor is the struggle to be patient and still as I stare out across the same scene for hours on end, waiting for a glimpse of hide or antler. Yes, there have been days when the time on stand has been enjoyable, days when a parade of deer have marched by below my stand, making the time pass quickly. Mostly, though, they are hours spent watching as leaves turn from green to yellow and straining to hear those telltale rustles of something heavy walking through the brush.
If there is any consolation to those endless hours, it’s the fact that time on stand means time to think. I’ve come up with some great ideas while sitting in my stand, but more importantly, I’ve found time to think about family and work and the things that I could do to make things better. It’s time spent in solitude, where thoughts come and go and life becomes more defined; tree stand therapy is an essential part of life.
My place on the plains is not large. Though it encompasses nearly 400 acres, most of the land is tied up in drought stricken prairie grass and weeds that struggle to thrive against the blasting sun and endless wind. This leaves me with the security cover of the creek bottom, where I expect the deer to travel from place to place. It should be a slam dunk, according to conventional deer hunting wisdom: set up in a funnel between bedding and feeding areas and play the wind. I have all those things. With the creek bottom acting as a funnel of security cover and my stands set up to minimize my scent on the wind, I have all the ingredients to make my stands successful, just add deer. It is the mental game, then, that will make or break this hunt.
I can hope for a short season. My daydream hunt always ends with a deer hitting the ground early on opening day. The season is long, though, and chances for early success are largely dependent on the routines and whims of the deer. Later, as November approaches, the deer rut will begin to kick in and with it, increased deer movement and all day sits.
It goes against my nature to sit, but I know that the hours spent here can be repaid in a moment of adrenaline and an opportunity for a shot. I wonder if jaguars get bored. I’m sure that they do, but you don’t see too many of them starving to death.
So I have to get my mind right; resolve myself to sitting still and letting the hunt come to me. It won’t be easy, it never is. But for the ultimate predator, it is the secret to success.
Pueblo West resident Bill Claspell is an avid outdoorsman, hunter and fisherman who also enjoys writing about his adventures. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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