Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Bear Stand

Recently, I noticed that the string on my bow was broken and needed to be replaced. I took it to Cabela’s and walked back to the archery section. I was amazed at the new technology in bows, the new styles, fancy cams, wheels and cables. My Martin Firecat is a bit over 10 years old, but is way out of date. I also noticed how the price of things has gone way up. I suddenly liked my old bow just fine. My new string cost me $68.00. 15 years ago I could get a dozen arrows, a string, and some other options for that price. As I paced around waiting for my string to be installed, another $25.00, I noticed a tree stand. It was huge. It had ropes, clamps and chains to keep it attached to the tree and leveled. It had a padded chair and backrest, a retractable roof in case of rain or sunburn, and even a safety harness to clip into to keep one from falling out of the tree. The fabric and paint were all matching camo patterns. It also came with metal steps and handles that you screw into the tree to make the climbing easier and safer. It looked like something I might need, although I wondered if I could ever find it again if I put it up in a tree. As I stared at this fancy $1,200 behemoth, my mind wandered back to a simpler time, a time when tree stands were less complex and less expensive.

In the late 1980’s my wife and I moved back to Boise from Alaska. Much to my wife’s chagrin, I started spending more time with her brother Bill. It turned out that Bill and I had much more in common than anyone would have thought. We both liked hunting and fishing, and we played a lot of basketball together. We also found that in our teenage years, we both apprenticed under the same, little known but often followed, Greek philosopher, Dipp LeSchiticus. Bill talks like he was an honor student, but I never worked that hard at it, much like my high school courses.
When each fall rolled around, Bill and I spent a lot of time hunting and fishing together. Much of our hunting involved Garden Mountain. We hiked up and down the mountain a few times as well as riding 4 wheelers up the trail from Zimmer Creek. There was also a drivable road up the backside all the way to the top. We drove this road quite often. Back then, last few miles were a narrow, brushy stretch that scratched up my truck and tore the vent off the top of my camper shell the first time in. We always drove my truck after that because it was already scratched and torn up a bit. We would camp at one of several places on the top of the mountain, among them, the now infamous Dead Cow Camp.

My mind wandered to one particular spring. Bill and I were bored and antsy to get outside. We decided we should get out on the spring bear hunt and look for bears. We also figured that we should build our own tree stand, put out some bait for the bears, and just wait for them to come to visit. We knew there was still snow on Garden Mountain but thought we might be able to get to the top. We loaded up my truck with two 4-wheelers, two wooden pallets, various lengths and sizes of lumber, nails, hammers, saws and various other tools. We also tossed in our first round of bear bait. Old jars of fruit, a couple bags of old grain, and some fish and game meat left in the freezer for too many years. My truck had the Beverly Hillbillies look going on as we left town early one Saturday morning. The road up the mountain was on the North side. There was still some big snow banks in places so the truck didn’t get far off the valley floor before we hit deep snow. We pulled off to the side and unloaded all our equipment and supplies. We bounced the 4-Wheelers off the back of the truck and fired them up. It then took us at least an hour to load the pallets, tools, and food onto the 4-wheelers and strap it all down. I ended up sitting on the pallet’s edge as it was much larger than the 4-wheeler rack. We started up the mountain and made pretty good time in some places. The shady, protected corners were still snow covered and a few times we had to stop and muscle each 4-wheeler through the drifts. The higher we got the deeper the snow became and we were wearing ourselves out fighting uphill through the snow. We finally realized that we were not going to make it to the top, although we had gotten pretty high. We remembered a spot near the top that we had frequently seen game and had even shot a deer there a couple years back. We fought our way to that ridge. We arrived well after noon and unloaded our treasures. We only had to carry them about a hundred yards through the thick snow. We selected a spot about 25 feet high in a big pine tree and went to work. We spent hours climbing up and down the tree, cutting pallets and boards to fit, pounding nails and tying up ropes. Late in the afternoon we were exhausted, but, we had a pretty nice bear stand. It wasn’t quite level, it sloped down a bit towards the ground in the front. There was potential for slivers in the rear end, as I had learned from sitting on the pallet on the ride up, and it teetered back and forth a little bit. But overall it looked pretty good. We had even pounded some boards into the tree for steps. There was no padded chair, safety harness or rain cover, but we didn’t plan to hunt in the rain or fall out of the tree. We laid out the fruit, grain and frozen fish in an area open to the stand. We were pretty darn proud of ourselves as we packed up the empty jars and tools and readied ourselves for the trip down. Driving home we talked about how often we would bring up more bait and how one of us could sit in the stand and the other could hunt higher up the mountain. It was going to be a good spring hunt.

The next time I saw the bear stand was about a year and half later. I was driving up and over the top of the mountain to meet Bill for an elk hunt. I thought of that tree stand while driving that section of road. I stopped and got out. I walked the hundred yards off the road and looked at our stand. I found it easily enough. It was still in pretty good shape and seemed to be holding up fine. I noticed a game trail going by that looked like it had regular use. Some of the grain we left had sprouted and grown and it appeared to be nibbled on by the wildlife. I told myself that someday soon I would come back and sit in this tree stand and wait for the animals to come by.
I realized that it has now been about 15 years since we built that stand and somehow I’ve never actually sat in it and hunted. I’ve only been back there that one time.

I ended my day dream as the Cabela’s guy called to me and said my bow was ready. I retrieved my bow from him and gave the fancy tree stand one last look. Walking out of the store, I vowed to stop and check out the bear stand the next time I drive up the backside of the mountain. I’ll let you know what I find.
February 15, 2011

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