Let me be clear: this is not the first time I have hunted from a tree stand. Actually, my first shot with my Winchester, my first deer, and my first buck all happened from a stand we simply refer to as "The Single," which still hangs a short walk from my parent's back door. All of our stands have pet names: The Single, The Double, Old Faithful, The Honey Hole, The Six Acres, and The Secret (which only my dad and I know the precise location). Only two sites, Hogback and Hedge Grove, have ever been hunted strictly from the ground. These stands have been in place for a decade and a half, hung by my dad and his best friends as a new hunting partnership developed between the three men that now spans Illinois, Ohio, and Florida.
I used to climb recklessly, gun tucked under my arm, no safety harness attached, often forgetting to clarify with anyone where I was headed or how long I would be there. I remember one chilly morning in The Single, as my head nodded to my chest despite my best efforts, when I realized that one fall would leave me as a shish kabob on the fence at my right. A pretty serious accident from a family friend a year and a half ago left the ultimatum of "no harness, no climbing" from my dad, and as I picked up a bow instead, hunting from the ground was just easier and more practical; I had enough to worry about with learning a new skill without fighting gravity as well. In season #2, I have the bow thing fairly well under control, and it's high time I got high again (figuratively, of course).
Bow season has been unseasonably, ridiculously hot so far, and there have been several afternoons where, rather than go on an irresponsible hunt, I had to find something else productive to do. I hit the jackpot when a friend of mine also shirked responsibilities in favor of an afternoon outside. The chore of the day was to move two stands, The Double, due to a dead tree issue compromising its safety, and an unnamed stand that was just never productive enough for us to ever care about using or naming. Six hours of cutting, cleaning, hoisting, strapping, sweating, swearing, and spending money, and I had two great new locations. The Double, retaining its old name in a new home, now sits facing eastward at the intersection of food, beds, and water. The useless single, packed full of ants in its old home, is now The Southie, nestled into a tree line between two fields in one of the highest-traffic areas on the farm. The late-season hedge balls ringing the bottom of the stand will make a nice draw for deer desperate to mix up their diet in December and January.
To add the cherry on top, I ran across a former student who was looking to unload a climbing stand. It worked great, but he just didn't use it anymore, and I jumped at the opportunity to try something new. My friend and I tinkered around with straps and ropes, both unfamiliar with how to operate it, but we had watched enough hunting shows that surely we could figure it out. I sent him up in it first, and when it proved to be both sturdy and idiot-proof, I took my turn at climbing. I was surprised that yes, I could actually do it without falling out of the tree, and was quickly reminded that I should probably start working out again. The sense of accomplishment of getting vertical on my own was well worth the burn. Last week, my friend shot a nice six-pointer out of it, so we know The Climber produces results. Now it's up to me to use my new tools to do the same, and I'm planing to do exactly that as the rut hits Illinois.