Like many kids who grew up in the Midwest, my introduction to the hunting world consisted of a BB gun and a pile of pop cans. I remember taking gun safety as soon as possible, graduating from a BB gun to a .308 Rifle. I was beyond excited when my first whitetail deer season came around. My best friend's family had a small parcel of private land connected to a large public piece, where most of our whitetail hunting took place. Earlier that year, my dad and I had picked a beautiful stand location and built a giant wooden platform stand smack dab in the middle of a clump of 4 Poplar trees. It was the perfect setup for us to sit comfortably and wait for deer.
Sitting with my dad in that small parcel of woods created Some of my fondest memories. I shot my first deer and several others out of that stand. I sat with my dad in that particular stand for several years until I knew I wanted more.
Minnesota's firearm season typically lasts up to 3 weeks, depending on the zone. Usually, our season consisted of two weekends, giving me one and a half days each weekend for a total of 3 days to shoot a deer. Even though this short time created some of my best memories growing up, I needed more time. Several years later, I bought a compound bow, which allowed me to extend my season tenfold.
I was ecstatic with my newfound freedom to start my hunting season in September. I couldn't wait to get into the woods and sit in a stand.
Even though Minnesota has a generous archery season, starting mid-September and running through the end of the year, I knew nothing was a given. I had all this time to spend in the woods, and it was overwhelming to think about the preparation that needed to come before I was even ready to walk into the woods.
Being new to archery, again, I knew nothing was a given. Archery is a complex sport that requires a lot of time, dedication, and patience. As an archer, you must continually learn new concepts and be persistent in applying the knowledge gained along the way. Even then, all of those things still may not be enough. Archery has a way of humbling even the most seasoned hunters, but it also provides some of the most significant opportunities to grow as a person.
I can't adequately describe my anticipation for my first archery season. It came and went faster than I could have ever imagined. I was prepared for anything to happen, but I was grateful to spend more time in the woods.
Hunting, especially whitetails, is often a solitary endeavor that gives hunters hours for introspection when alone in the woods. Chasing whitetails can be a long process, and animals have a way of making us question ourselves as hunters.
It wasn't until I got into archery that I became deeply fascinated with becoming a better hunter. I read articles, listened to podcasts and books, and watched videos - but nothing beats putting boots on the ground and exploring my hunting area. I instantly became addicted to google earth, and county plat maps became my best friend. I would scout online during the week then once the weekend came around, I put my online efforts into exploring the land. I quickly discovered I needed a way to track my findings which is when I became a member of OnX. It allowed me to record data as waypoints I found along the way in my search for whitetails.
There is no shortage of public land in Northern Minnesota, and I hiked for miles to find the best areas. I discovered along the way that no matter how far I left the trail, I would always find another person's stand along the way. I couldn't believe the staggering amount of stands I kept seeing. Out of all my time spent archery hunting in the surrounding area, I could count on a single hand the number of fellow archers I had run into, yet I couldn't wrap my head around the concept of all these treestands. Then it dawned on me that most treestands I came across sat vacant only to be used come firearms season for three weeks at most.
I began recording the locations of every stand I came across in the woods while scouting public land. I would add treestand waypoints to my OnX app and then comment on their condition in the notes. I came across many stands some old, some new, some were built with wood, others made of metal, some were big, some were small, and some were even built right on top of their previous form that was now laying on the ground. I had mapped out stands within entire forest sections - not necessarily to see where to avoid, but to understand what areas I didn't need to bring my own. After all, these treasures sat without occupants for most of the year.
I began my second and third archery seasons by studying my new treestand map. Depending on the conditions, I would either pick a newly found stand to sit in or set up my own stand. I made it through both seasons without ever running into a single soul trying to sit in the same stand as me. I kept small field journals in some of my favorite stands to pass the time in the woods. I would write entries with small details about weather, wind, time of day, amount of deer, the direction of deer travel, and anything else I found interesting during the sit. It was a way to keep me focused on the stand while also trying to learn as much as I could about my worthy whitetail adversaries.
It wasn't until my fourth archery season; that, once I started leaving my journals on the stand, I noticed an entry that was not my own. A fellow hunter had found my journal in a stand and made his entry for the day. When I saw it, I couldn't believe it was true. With several seasons passing without seeing another archer, I began to think people only hunted during the firearms season or hunted on private land. Of course, I knew it couldn't be true; it was simply the vastness of public land available the chances of running into other archers were slim. I became intrigued with the aspect of a fellow archer hunting in the same area I was in and wanted to know more about them. I decided to write a bit about myself and asked them a few questions, then tucked it in with my field journal for the stand. It was a few weeks before I came back to hunt the stand, but when I looked at the field journal, there were no new entries or a reply.
Several months passed before I returned to that piece of tax forfeited property. I took some time off during the weekday for a late-season sit. It was about 9 am when I parked my truck on the side of the road where the trail began and had planned on walking back several miles into the woods for an evening sit. I got my pack situated and started down the track when I heard a side-by-side coming. I stepped off the trail giving them room to pass, when an older gentleman dressed in camouflage slowed down once he saw me. He stopped to chat for a minute, asking about my season and if I was having any luck. As we were talking about our past deer encounters, it dawned on me that I knew which stand this man sat in. I finally got the courage to ask him if his treestand was the one on top of the little hill tucked away in the pine thicket. After he stated it was his stand, I realized this could be the man who left me the mystery journal entry. We talked for an hour about past hunts, and it turned out that season was his 50th season hunting whitetail. He was going for his 50th buck and had shot a buck every season previously, either in Michigan or Minnesota, many coming out of the stand I sat in several times. At the end of our brief conversation, we both went on our way, saying farewells and good luck.
As I mentioned before, whitetail hunting offers plenty of time for introspection. That day I couldn't help but wonder, out of all those stands I have marked on my OnX app, what other stories are out there that remain untold? What other memories and sights will remain a secret between the stand and the beholder? What experiences will never be told except to the hunters who made them? It brought me back to the stand I built with my dad and left me to question if a treestand could speak, what would it share?
Jack Griffith was born in Minnesota and is an avid outdoorsman. He loves every aspect of hunting big game, small game, and upland birds with a red lab that spends many days in the field with him. If he is not hunting, you will either find him fishing or at work.You can follow Jack on Instagram @jackk_griffith