Strange and spooky deer stands

A deer stand might be nothing more than the broad beam of a
stout oak to lean your back against when you plant your butt on the
ground. Or it might be a portable treestand, or a permanent stand
constructed on private land. These are all common deer stands. But
while digging through my slide files looking for pictures to
illustrate a magazine article the other day, I came across a couple
of photos that reminded me of a few of the rather strange stands
I’ve sat in over the years.

Once, while hunting the late muzzleloader season in southern
Iowa, I found an out-of-the-way harvested cornfield tucked back
into a little valley.

A quick inspection for tracks and droppings showed that deer
were visiting the picked cornfield on a regular basis. Heavy timber
bordered the cornfield on three sides. On the fourth side was a
deep ditch grown up to scrub brush and small trees. These ditches,
caused by erosion, are common in southern Iowa and northern
Missouri. A generation or two of farmers had been discarding old
machinery in that ditch. The grain hopper of a John Deere combine
became my stand the next day. It was pretty comfortable, and the
rim of the hopper provided a nice rest for my muzzleloader.

As the wind picked up ahead of an approaching storm, I was glad
for the protection the steel walls of the hopper provided. A pair
of field mice, cute little buggers with white feet and long
whiskers, had a nest somewhere in that hulk of a rusted combine.
Their route to the outside world was up through the hole in the
bottom of the grain hopper. Then, without effort, they would
scamper up the steel walls and disappear over the edge.

Sometimes in minutes, sometimes longer, they would tip back over
the edge, this time with their little cheeks crammed with seeds for
their winter cache. At first they were leery of me, but when they
discovered that the big orange blob in the hopper meant them no
harm, they pretty much accepted me as just another old, rusty piece
of machinery (which is becoming a more accurate description of me
with each passing year.)

By the end of the day the mice figured it was easier to scamper
up my leg and over my shoulder to exit the hopper than to scale the
rusted, steel walls. I thought to myself that neither my wife nor
my three daughters would find the antics of the mice quite as
entertaining as I did.

In case you are wondering, no, I never did shoot a deer from
that combine hopper. I sat in it all day because, like I mentioned,
there was a winter storm brewing, and I figured deer would be
tanking up prior to the storm. My journal indicates that I saw 23
deer that day, but none of them were the caliber of buck I sought.
I’m real fussy when hunting places with the trophy potential of
southern Iowa.

Years before, however, I killed a little buck with my bow while
perched on another old combine in an abandoned grove in southern
Minnesota.

Once during a hard, cold November rain, I huddled for several
hours in what had once been the root cellar of one of the many long
abandoned homesteads dotting the Whitewater Wildlife Management
Area. It had been dug into the sidehill and lined on the floor, and
part way up the walls with slabs of limestone. It smelled like old
earth, and I could not help but think that the old root cellar
would make a nifty rattlesnake den!

The spookiest stand I’ve ever sat in was an abandoned house in
southeast Colorado. I was hunting with an outfitter buddy of mine
by the name of Tom Tietz. Tom told me about a monster whitetail
that he called The Outhouse Buck’ because twice the buck had been
jumped near the old outhouse on the abandoned homestead.

“The attic of that old house would make a great stand for that
buck,” Tom said, “but so far none of my hunters will go in
there.”

“If that buck’s as big as you say, I’d sit a stand in hell for a
crack at him,” I responded.

Tom dropped me off in the black of pre-dawn the next morning,
told me to follow a certain fenceline for a quarter mile until it
crossed a dry creek, and then to follow the creek north until I
came to the long-abandoned ranch.

“With this wind, you should hear it before you see it,” Tom
said, “the old windmill has an eerie creak to it.”

A half hour later I heard the rusted windmill complaining in the
wind. Tom was right, it was eerie. But it was not nearly as eerie
as stepping through the door of that long abandoned ranch
house.

Critters, mostly small, but one with larger claws probably a
raccoon scampered everywhere when the beam of my little flashlight
cast its weak glow over the abandoned living room. I swallowed hard
and started up what was left of the stairs leading to the
attic.

I’ll admit I gave some thought to going back outside until it
got light. But I fought back my apprehension, reminding myself that
I was a grown man and that there was nothing to be afraid of in the
old house. Somehow I made the top step and shined my light around
the attic, which appeared to have been a bedroom, because the
remains of a bed stood in one corner with a wooden kitchen
chair.

An inch of bat “guano” covered the wooden floor, so the place
smelled pretty ripe, and the air was probably less than healthy to
breathe. As quietly as possible, which was not very quiet since the
floor boards creaked and groaned with every cautious step, I set
the chair by the north facing window. Only one broken pane of glass
remained in the window.

It took forever for day to break that morning. When it did, the
bats began returning from their night of hunting. Trust me, Nancy
and the girls would not have liked that either. I did OK with the
bats, but when a screech owl came swooping home through the window
just over my head, it startled me so bad that I reared back and
fell right off of that wobbly, old chair.

When my heart started to beat again, I picked myself up off the
floor and looked out the window just in time to see a white flag
disappearing beyond the weed-choked remains of a corral.

It probably was not the Outhouse Buck, but then again, who
knows?

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