Sitting in a deer stand is time well spent, and not necessarily for the most obvious reason (filling your freezer). Sometimes it’s the only chance for peace and quiet. I call it treestand therapy. Receiving the benefits of treestand therapy takes practice, though. There have been some hurdles to overcome before I could truly reach nirvana 14 feet up. I’ve spent many years perfecting my technique, and I can tell you about the positives and the pitfalls.
The biggest positive for me, a person who is driven to fill every waking moment of my day with productive (or manic?) activity, time spent in a deer stand requires stillness. Silence. Observation. Physically, I am quite capable of all three. However, stillness and silence of the mind takes a lot more willpower than I realized. My first forays into treestand therapy occurred as an adult, when I’d already experienced quite a bit of life. Within minutes of settling into my ladder stand and getting squared away with my rifle, grunt tube, binoculars and other deer hunt staples, the brain would kick into high gear. As my eyes swept across the landscape to create a baseline inventory, I was already sifting through things I could think about. My first thoughts would usually be pretty run of the mill…Thank goodness I didn’t run into that bear!” ”Brrr, it’s cold” or “what a pretty day.” Pretty soon, though, the uncontrolled mind would move onto other more substantial subject matter.
Often, the first place undisciplined thinking goes is the list of things I should have done or need to do. The words to this woulda, coulda, shoulda song often sound like this: “When I get home, I really need to balance my checkbook, make a dentist appointment and take care of that mountain of laundry that’s building up. Dang, why didn’t I get to the grocery store and the gas station already? Now, I’ll have to rush to do it when I get back.”
After I’ve either exhausted myself with those possibilities or I’m somehow able to get a hold of myself, I take a short mental timeout to debate whether what I’m seeing in the far off is shrub or magnificent rack. It’s shrub. Rats.
Despite the momentary disappointment, happy thoughts crowd in. “I am so glad to be here. I hope I see something.” For the next several minutes, I’m admiring the colors of autumn, the warm sunlight on my face and the new turn my thoughts are taking. “Hunting is such a great experience,” I think. “I’m lucky to have done so many neat things. Let’s see, downhill skiing in Colorado. Check. Whitewater rafting the Snake River. Check. Trout fishing in Wisconsin. mountain biking in Oklahoma and duck hunting in Texas. Check! Check! Check! Sure wish I have a chance someday, though, to take that Alaskan cruise. That’s a biggie on my bucket list.”
Just the mere thought of the bucket list (all things one wants to do before kicking the proverbial bucket) my thoughts wander to an unforeseen hazard called regret. It usually starts off harmless enough. “I wish I hadn’t forgotten to send a birthday card to my aunt. Boy, I bet she thinks I’m a real pill.” If not caught at this early, fairly harmless stage, it can advance to more serious topics. “I hate that I didn’t work harder at my master’s thesis. And, geez, maybe I shouldn’t have moved away from my hometown 20 years ago.”
Of course, thinking these type of things is as ridiculous as succumbing to the urge to shoot that armadillo, which has sounded maddeningly like a deer coming up behind me for the last 15 minutes. While the “possum on a half shell” deserves a .243 cartridge, it will surely ruin the rest of the evening’s hunt. So these days, when I can feel my ruminations threaten to veer off to an unpleasant detour, I tell myself to let it go and just enjoy the moment. Yes, bad things have happened in the past, and they may happen in the future. But for right here and right now, life is good and I deserve to enjoy it. And then I make darn sure I do.
One important tip to ensuring that treestand therapy gives you a welcome respite from the drama and trauma of life is take control of where your stand is located (even if that involves you personally helping with the loathsome task of putting up a ladder stand or tripod). Not only will this prevent the embarrassment of getting lost, you can pick what you consider to be the best place to see deer as well as other wildlife. Seeing other wildlife is extremely important. Yes, I relish the satisfaction of knowing I’ll be eating venison tacos, chili and spaghetti the rest of the winter. However, watching birds and other animals is one of the greatest remedies for stress I can think of. My memory of watching a bobcat stalk some unseen critter is easily as strong and uplifting as the beautiful 8-point buck I took later that year. A few weekends ago, I watched a fox repeatedly jumping to knock the low hanging fruit from a persimmon tree. I was so mesmerized watching this little gray fox go about its business, that when I finally made my routine scan, I realized I was eyeballing the biggest antlered buck I had ever seen while hunting. Though that big boy never gave me a shot, the memory of the fox and then the sun glinting off the tall, wide rack is powerful medicine.
Like most things that are worthwhile, mastering the fine art of mental self control isn’t always easy. But it is key to really enjoying yourself and therefore worth learning. Now when I take the time to sit in my treestand, I can fill my head with all the good things about life and leave the rest of it on the ground. I hope you can, too.