This is a first. I now have a tree stand on my property.
Normally, our land is posted against trespassing, hunting, walking, breathing, etc., but a friend of mine -- let's call him Tank -- asked me if he could put up a tree stand and hunt on our land. Since I figured a few less deer won't hurt, I said sure. I assumed this would mean he would come over, walk into the woods, set his shit up and then when hunting season came around I'd hear a few deer carcasses hitting the ground, a dragging sound, then a car door slamming and that would be that.
I had no idea that I would actually be involved in the tree stand setting up process. And it was a process. I knew things weren't going to go as I had planned in my imagination when he showed up towing a trailer. On this trailer was a steel ladder-looking thing with a double tiered basket on top, which I assumed is where you sit and wait. It looked almost exactly like this, except much taller.
There were some differences, however. The biggest difference is that the one in the picture is actually standing upright, and the one on the trailer definitely was not. There were other things too -- like how the one in the picture is in a tree that you could probably drive up to in a Range Rover, whereas the tree he wanted to put his stand in was buried deep in my woods, surrounded by scrub brush and small saplings and mud.
"So you think you can help me set this up?" he asked, "Shouldn't take too long." And thus began the three and a half hour odyssey.
Since Tank is 6' 5" and I'm only 5' 6" -- and since it was his tree stand -- I figured I'd let him tackle the heavy end. So I grabbed onto the ladder end, and I immediately noticed something was wrong, because it felt like I had grabbed the outside of a sticky honey jar.
"Uh, why is this sticky?" I asked, looking down at my newly blackened hands.
"I painted it almost 2 hours ago, and all I had was flat black paint for barbecue grills. It's not dry yet? Weird. It must be too humid out."
Great. We lifted the stand off the trailer and headed into the woods on the most humid, non-paint-drying, buggy day of the year so far. Or rather, tried to head into the woods.
This thing did not want to go in the woods. In fact, it did not want to go anywhere. It was 16 feet long and not really optimally designed to weave in and out of closely growing trees. It was also heavier than it looked. To top it all off, there was an extra four foot section of extension ladder just sort of resting on top, and it was almost impossible to keep it from sliding around. After almost killing ourselves, we managed to get it through the bramble and into a thinner area of large pine trees that didn't let enough light through to allow scrub to grow. We were both soaked with sweat and surrounded by bugs. We found the tree he wanted to set it up against, and then the real fun began.
"OK, now what?" I asked Tank, having never put up a tree stand before.
"Now we just lean it up against the tree, throw this zip tie around it, put the brace up in the middle, fasten the whole thing with the straps, and we're done."
I wasn't going to point out that I thought it would be impossible to get this top-heavy piece of shit to lean up against a tree without probably killing one or both of us, but I assumed he knew that, and had a good technique to get it up there. And he did, sort of. First, he tried to hammer the extra four foot section of ladder on the bottom, and since the part we needed to hammer it into was packed with clay that had the consistency of bunker cement, this did not go well. He spent another ten minutes digging at it with a screwdriver while I looked on and swatted mosquitoes. Finally he banged it in, and it went about halfway home and he called it good enough. It actually wasn't good enough, but we'll get to that bit later.
We got it sort of lined up where we wanted it, and he lifted it up and started walking underneath it, pushing it higher and higher as he walked toward the tree. My job was to stand on the ladder end to keep it from moving, so he could get it vertical. After a few seconds it was completely vertical and then it just sort of fell toward the tree. Unfortunately he had judged the position of the ladder wrong so it wasn't set up with enough of an angle, and it was also at the wrong angle to the tree and started listing to the right.
"OK, you hold the ladder while I climb up and use this zip tie to strap it to the tree," he said.
I wasn't sure I was cool with that. It was leaning at a crazy angle, he weighs about three times what I do and if this thing decided to go, it was taking him, me, and probably the tree with it. I wasn't sure what else to do, so I volunteered.
"Uh, maybe I can climb up there and strap it down," I said, doubtfully. "I weigh a lot less than you."
"OK," he agreed reluctantly, knowing I didn't know my ass from my elbow when it came to setting up a tree stand. "I'll hold it steady."
So I climbed up, and the first thing I realized was that the zip tie was way too short for a tree of this size. I looked around and saw the main support strap hanging there, so I grabbed it in my right hand, tossed it around the tree, caught it in my left hand and cinched it tight, then climbed back down. Problem solved.
We backed away a few feet and looked at it. The angle was still off, and it wasn't quite close enough to the tree to hold the center support up. The steel center support swings up from a ladder connection and has to rest against the tree. When the stand is strapped tightly to the tree, it holds the center support in place. So we put the center support where it needed to go, and then it was time to get the other straps on. Tank got under the ladder to kind of pull it toward the tree, which would hold the center support in place and also hold it so I could climb up the front.
I put one foot on the bottom of the ladder to start to climb it, and the ladder shifted, causing the center support to immediately crash down on Tank's head, forcing him to let go of the ladder and stagger around. I jumped off and the whole thing twisted sideways and just sort of hung there.
As you can see, this was going extremely well. Next, we tried to twist the stand in the opposite direction and when we did that the extra four foot section of ladder fell off the bottom. Then the whole stand slid down the tree about two feet and got stuck.
So here's where we stood: The stand was securely fastened to the tree and wouldn't come down. It also wouldn't go back up. That meant we couldn't get the four foot section of ladder back underneath it.
"OK, fuck that section." Tank said. "I'll hold it while you climb up and release the strap so it'll come down. It'll only be 16 feet in the air instead of 20, but that's fine."
Tank grabbed the bottom rung of the ladder and affected a stance that was half-way between "Look at me! I'm a sumo wrestler!" and "Don't look at me! I'm taking a standing shit!" and said "OK, go for it."
I clambered over him and onto the ladder, and started climbing.
When I reached the top, I half stood and half crouched on the platform, and got my hand on the spring release for the strap. I realized that when I released the strap there would be nothing holding the stand to the tree, but I didn't really think it through. Tank's a big guy, but there is no way he was going to curl 145 pounds of me, along with another hundred pounds of stand. Instead of realizing this out loud, I realized it in my head which did nobody any good at all.
When I released the strap, the entire weight of the stand was suddenly resting on Tank's arms and thighs. It immediately fell another foot and Tank said through clenched teeth, "You better come down. I'm not sure how much longer I can hold it."
I heard something like panic in his voice. Maybe it was just my imagination, but I had instant visions of crashing to the ground in a pile of twisted metal and shredded Tank meat. So I did the only thing I could think of -- I lunged for a nearby sapling with my right hand and simultaneously leapt into space, hoping to put as much distance between me and the falling stand as I could.
Luckily for me, I've had previous experience with this, although Tank didn't know that. All he saw was me leap to my death in an apparent panic.
What actually happened was this: The sapling bent and slowly lowered me to the ground like Mary Poppins. Tank saw me float by him, and started laughing so hard he dropped the stand and fell on the ground. His laughing started me laughing and pretty soon we were both so hysterical we were almost crying.
When we could see again, we straightened out the stand once and for all and strapped it into place. Looking at the results of our three and a half hour's worth of handiwork, Tank said, "When I put my one-man stand up, I'll make that one the twenty footer."
I am thinking I should probably arrange to be somewhere else for that installation.