The Hidden Costs of Public Land

By: Wade Amundson

When we packed up our steps and stands on Sunday morning we didn’t have any deer to haul out.  Despite that, our burden was pretty heavy.  Opening Weekend has been spent in the same tree for nearly 20 years, but it looks like our times there may have come to an end.  The lumberjack’s paint now marks the boundary of the next cutting in our area.  This time “Our Tree” is on the wrong side of the line.

The author's son hauls out the gear on what might be the last hunt in a special spot

The author’s son hauls out the gear on what might be the last hunt in a special spot

After my wife and I were married, I was invited to join my father-in-law, Dick Vaerst, in the woods for Opening Weekend.  Those first years were pretty adventurous.  Terrible traffic jams, driving into ditches, ice covered roads, trailer fires, and sub-zero nights in a tent may seem more like misadventures to many people.  To me they are treasured memories.  Treasured or not, we soon decided that it would be smarter to hunt out of his cabin.  Now joined by brother-in-law, Steve, we scouted and set up in likely spots on public land. And saw no deer that first year.  Steve spent more time scouting and bow hunting in the area.  Pretty soon we had the winning formula which would produce nearly 20 deer for our freezers.  One favorite part is that we had many years where we saw no other hunters.  One of those early years I had to work late so Steve and Dick volunteered to put my stand up for me.  They promised that I would have no problems identifying the tree even in the dark.  Sure enough, the next morning I shone my light through the forest and found my tree smiling back at me with the help of some reflective trail markers.

You'd know if you found our tree

You’d know if you found our tree

We rotated stands a few times in those early years, but this spot eventually came to be mine.  It wasn’t easy to get to since it was over a mile from the car and no motorized vehicles were allowed.  It was even harder to get deer out.  A steep hill and plenty of swamp brush was enough to make me think twice before pulling the trigger.  I really didn’t see many deer while hunting here, but I seemed to get a buck almost every year.  That all changed one year when I found a ladder stand on the hill above my tree.  A new group had moved in and pretty well cut me off from the normal deer movement.  I wanted to be upset with them, but, hey, it’s public land.  I did decide that I wanted to know who was going to be behind me with a rifle, though.  It turns out they have been great neighbors.  We connect for a few minutes every year and swap stories of adventures since our last meeting.  Deep friendships?  I guess not, but valued nonetheless.

For the last five seasons I have shared the tree with my son, Danny.  We hang two stands side by side so we can each watch different directions, but still back each other up if a deer decides to show up. We don’t say much while we hunt.  We really enjoy just hanging out together studying Creation. As my has hearing failed, I have come to depend on Danny to hear deer before they materialize through the trees. I asked him if he would like to find his own spot, but he declined and said he’d rather keep hanging with me (That made me feel pretty good!). I saw him shoot his first buck there.  I got to witness him demonstrate that the Hunter Safety Course works wonderfully well.  I was there beside him when he was busted by a buck that snuck so close we could count his eye lashes. These last few years have given me time with Danny in a place with no phones, no video games, and no computers. As I watched him climb the ladder to the stands this year I was stuck by his transformation from a timid little boy to a confident young man.  Another treasured memory.

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We knew this day would likely come eventually and the timber revenue from this land tract would benefit the full-time residents of the area. Generating revenue from renewable resources makes sense, so I won’t complain about the plan. It’s just that I had always hoped it would be long after my grandkids had the chance to hang out here. Now our hunting plans for the future will need some adjustments to become more treasured memories. These were some of my thoughts as I walked away from “Our Tree” on Sunday morning.  I may have shed a tear or two as I looked back one last time.  So if you happen to be cutting some trees in Cass County and come across a tree with a big smile, know you have found a very special place.  Thank you, Cass County, for sharing it with me for so long and giving us so many great memories!

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