Old Boards In A Tree

On The Shoulders Of Giants With Andrew Curtis

Andrew Curtis | May 6, 2023

The author and his brother look at an old wooden stand on the Oconee National Forest in Putnam County.

There is much to be learned from an old, wooden deer stand that speaks of another lifetime. I must admit that I just have an admiration for the way things used to be. I can’t help it. I will forever think that (most of) the older ways are better, and you will never convince me that Tom Brokaw’s Greatest Generation is not truly the greatest generation and that my grandparents were not the cream of the crop. I am thankful that I got a glimpse of the way those folks used to live, even in the deer woods…

My brother and I started our deer scouting tradition long ago when I was a young kid at our grandfather’s land in Morgan County. I remember that first walk so well. On a cold weekend in January sometime around 1990, right after deer season, we put on our L.L. Bean duck boots that our grandfather had bought us, grabbed our pine walking sticks that our grandfather had plucked from a beaverdam, and walked from our grandfather’s lake cabin to the back hundred acres of hills and hardwoods. The trees were all barren, and the dead leaves made loud crunching sounds beneath our boots as we traversed the woods in search of deer sign. There, by the largest white oak I have ever seen (which stands to this day) was the beautiful, exposed, bright orange trunk of a stout cedar tree, rubbed that season by a buck. 

I touched the soft, peeling bark and imagined the antlers that had done the damage, dreaming in my young mind of a perfect 10-point buck with strips of orange wood shavings adorning the base of his antlers. The cedar needles smelled good to me, a smell that I have never forgotten in connection to that place, but that was not the most memorable experience for me that day.

Continuing up the hill, I saw something white on the ground. I hurriedly trotted over to find an old, rodent-chewed deer femur and excitedly showed my brother the prize that I would keep for years. But that was not the most memorable experience for me that day either.

Up the hill and down the other side, toward a wet weather creek, my brother and I walked. Then I saw something that made me experience a feeling inside that is difficult for me to explain. Let’s just say that it was the most memorable experience for me that day. 

We peered up at the remains of an old, wooden stand built into a large, split white oak. I was mesmerized, even at my very young age, by the thought of who had built it, what they had seen, where they were now. Something in me craved to know, and I felt an indescribable connection to the past.

As we looked around the spot, my brother and I agreed that it was a gorgeous place to sit with the steep creek banks cloaked in deep green moss and ferns in sharp contrast to the gray winter world around it. I knew nothing about deer hunting, but I knew I liked that view. Nearly 20 years later, I would arrow my first Pope & Young buck just a few trees over; the location had been a natural deer funnel all through the years. Someone long ago already knew that, but the evidence of that hunter is gone now. The few remnants of the abandoned stand disappeared into the years as the boards rotted, fell to the ground, and got buried by heavy mats of annual hardwood leaves. I can still see that stand in my mind though. In fact, I can show you the tree which is still living today, my only proof of the hunter before.

Through the years, I have done much thinking about that first old stand we found. I learned more from that stand than I even realized for so long. It got me to think like a deer hunter. Why did someone take the time to build a stand so far into the woods at that spot? What did he know that I didn’t know? Like I said… I eventually found out.

Each year just after deer season, my brother and I would continue our tradition of post-season scouting, and whenever we walked a new tract of land, we eagerly sought out these old, wooden deer stands of the past. Inevitably, we would agree that we should put a stand there, too. Someone before us had chosen that spot for a reason, and usually those hunters knew what they were doing, without the technologically advanced gadgets we have access to now.

In time, we realized that these old stands became more and more difficult to find; they were literally disappearing. It was a game of sorts for us, to locate one more, just one more. But time has been against us, and the process of building tree stands rather than purchasing fine metal ones is becoming obsolete. Hunting is just different now.

The other day, I gazed at the final board that hangs on a big live oak on the land behind my house. When I moved out here a decade ago, the ladder was terribly rotten but still fairly well constructed on the trunk of that tree. Now you have to look thoroughly to see the last piece of lumber. The location is on a hill overlooking a swamp, and yes, I have a metal ladder stand 50 yards from there. (I call it the Live Oak Stand.) Even though that wooden stand’s builder was more recent than the one who built the first old stand of my youth, I still look upon it with wonder. I still think that someone with a higher hunting IQ than I built it. 

Unfortunately, my two sons are too young to appreciate such an idea. What’s so impressive to a kid about a rotten board in a tree? One day, though, I will tell them all about what I have learned from old boards in a tree… from people who left me so much more… than old boards in a tree!

Become a GON subscriber and enjoy full access to ALL of our content.

New monthly payment option available!


Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.