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Deer Stands Gone Wild

Deer_stand_largeThis illegal deer stand is bigger than most Manhattan studios. Photo: St. Louis County Land and Minerals Dept.

Deer hunters wait. They find a good spot in the forest, and they wait. To get a better vantage, they might climb into a tree or build a stand by attaching a small platform to a tree. But some deer hunters are taking serious liberties with their deer stands.

"What we're into here is the tree house mentality, that we all carry from our youth," says Robert Krepps, the land commissioner of St. Louis County, Minnesota. He's referring to hunters building structures that well exceed the size and scope of traditional deer stands. County officials are finding what are essentially cabins, complete with windows, insulation, and heaters, built into trees on public lands.

"This is a group that is, more and more, going toward comfort rather than what others endure [while hunting]," Krepps says. A commenter on an Associated Press story on the trend toward ever-larger and comfortable deer stands registered his opinion quite succinctly, suggesting that if they wanted to be indoors, "These hunters should get an Xbox."

Other critics agree that the lush stands take the sport and athleticism out of hunting. But the bigger problem here is that hunters are not just taking liberties with what constitutes deer stands, they're also cutting down saplings to create shooting lanes that offer better visibility and clearer shots of deer that meander past.

The saplings aren't the hunters' to remove. The county manages the public lands as part of a series of partnerships with timber companies, which clear sections of forest and then replant them. The timber companies then pay the county, which uses the funds to defer taxes. Cutting down trees before they have a chance to establish themselves essentially takes money out of the pockets of citizens of St. Louis County.

Another concern is the growing practice of planting plots around the deer stands with plants that deer are known to like, such as clover. Land managers are worried that this could lead to planting non-native species that could quickly proliferate and toss off the natural ecologic balance.

"We are by no means anti-hunting," stresses Krepps, noting that he himself is an avid hunter. "But we would like the people who put [these large deer stands] to also take them down, that's our goal." If that doesn't happen, however, Krepps will have them removed.

He is hoping that once deer-stand builders see their large structures removed, they'll be unlikely to build more. So, I suspect, are the deer.

—Mary Catherine O'Connor

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