For years when I was younger, my perspective of Missouri’s forests was fairly limited to what I saw from about 15 feet high in a tree for 11 days during the fall firearms portion of deer season. In fact, since I was old enough to hunt without my dad, most, if not all, of my hunting experiences were from a tree-stand. Naturally, being higher than your prey will give you a pretty great advantage, and it was not an advantage I was normally willing to give up. But due to some changes in hunting opportunities last season, I was forced out of the tree and onto the ground for a more nomadic approach to my hunt. This season I stayed on the ground as well, with my bow and with my rifle, and I haven’t sat in a tree-stand since.
At first I was not looking forward to the added challenge of hunting from the ground, but I quickly began to enjoy it. A lot like a rifle hunter picking up a bow, the extra contest of being eye-level with your game makes the hunt more interesting and ups the difficulty level. For those who are bored with rifle hunting alone but not yet ready to jump into bowhunting with both feet, moving your hunt to the ground can make things new and fresh again. For bowhunters still looking for the next challenge, hunting from the ground tests your skills and gets you closer to your game. In either case, it adds an all-new level of excitement to the hunt.
The first thing I noticed, though, was how much more I saw. Though being in a tree afforded me to see farther, it didn’t always mean that I saw more. Of course, I had always watched squirrels and chipmunks from a distance, but it wasn’t until my hunt in a blown-over treetop that I ever had a red squirrel about 2 feet from my face on the branch above me. I was starting to get worried that he wouldn’t know the difference between my blaze orange cap and the next branch. He was so close that I could see the muscles in his face twitch when he sniffed me, still not knowing exactly what I was. The parade of squirrels over that branch became a theme throughout the season, keeping the boredom at bay. There was even one particularly large red squirrel that my dad, who hunted that same spot a couple of times before me, joked with me about saying, “I thought about shooting him but I wasn’t sure if my 30.06 could get the job done.”
There was one evening this year that my dad and I even got to hunt the same treetop, provided for us by the logging crew that was in the area not long before. It was something that I hadn’t done in over a decade and something that I had lost somewhere in all of the buck fever and excitement over the years. As it turned out, I still had a lot to learn from my old man about hunting, conservation, life, and especially about appreciating a day in the woods without harvesting an animal.
So whether you are looking for a new way to enjoy Missouri’s natural resources, a new challenge in the deer woods, or are in need of some new lessons learned from an older outdoorsman; I would encourage you to climb out of the tree next season. Oh, and yes, I still managed to put some deer in the freezer—even without the higher advantage.