Duffys Deer Stand by Ken Allen
This is one of those things that you never forget about that makes you smile when you think back on it. Because it’s how it all started for you.
Cold and dark are the only words that come to mind when I try to describe what sticks in my mind the most about my first whitetail hunt. I was the lucky recipient of the honor of hunting from the deer stand concocted by my brother in our hunting area in western Pennsylvania some 20 years ago. It resembled a deer stand. It was high up in the air. It was flat. It had a ladder to climb and it was secured with the most modern of safety gear, a huge spike driven into the tree that it was mounted on. Safety has always been paramount in my brothers eyes when it came to me. Right!
It was still dark when I was dropped at my stand and I was expecting to spend only a short time there. That’s when my brother told me to “climb on up there and be real quiet.” He’d see me in a few hours… HOURS!!! I reluctantly climbed into the stand and got comfortable. The thing I noticed first was how much the stand swayed in the wind. This is a sensation that a twelve year old boy on his first hunt, in the dark, alone, and 20 feet in the air is not thrilled about. I never made it til daylight. I threw emergency plan No.1 into action and crawled down from my lofty paradise and headed straight for the place my brother said to go if I needed anything, “Duffys Deer Stand.”
It was the most remarkable thing a young hunter had ever seen. It was a shed built in the woods with another shed built on top of it. Who would build a shed in the woods? His stand was only 6 feet in the air, had walls, a roof, windows…it had windows!!!! Compared to my stand this was a five star resort.
When I got inside I saw seats and food, a hibachi for heat, and a pipe going through the side wall that was for….well, you figure it out. Jim, otherwise known as Duffy to my brother who was the landowner and his future Father-in-law, didn’t seem surprised to see me. (This should be noted as evidence against my brother in his criminal attempted homicide case for putting me in the death-stand.) I became immediately at home in the big watchtower. And for the first time ever felt the sensation that keeps us coming back to the woods to freeze our butt off every year. I felt like one of the guys sitting in the deer stand waiting on a huge buck to come by so I could pop a pumpkinball at him… wow this is hunting.
Over the years I learned how to be a hunter on Duffys land and had some lasting images burned into my brain that are my most memorable hunting experiences. It would be two years before I actually bagged a whitetail there but only a few short hours before I started bagging memories. Duffy always smoked a pipe. Probably not a great idea in the deer woods but when you hunted with him you really didn’t care if you seen a deer. He made hunting fun. He always has a story to tell about big bucks of days gone by and always wanted you to sit in a spot that you figured you’d see leprechauns before whitetails..and everytime you left that spot evidence of a buck passing by always was there not minutes after you left. The guy always had a candybar in his pocket for you and could rekindle your enthusiasm with his whisper, like there were bucks everywhere.
The most memorable time afield I ever had, had nothing to do with a deer kill. It was a snowy December day. We had just completed a drive of a thicket far back in the woods and were headed back towards home and the surrounding fields to watch for feeding deer till dusk. We were all walking single file, about seven of us, and the snow was falling fast. The biggest flakes I had ever seen. The spruce trees were hanging low with the weight of the snow and the forest floor was covered in white. Duffy was leading the string. I remember looking around and being in awe of the snow covered forest and suddenly having the smell of pipe smoke hit my nose. It added the most perfect touch to the experience and is what really hooked me. There was no better place to be on earth.
Some 15 years later my stepson, who was not yet old enough to hunt, accompanied me to the farm house the night before opening day to meet with several of our group, including Duffy, to discuss where each of us would position ourself the next morning. I watched the boys eyes, big and attentive and full of disappointment that he would be at home missing all this. I mean what is a nine year old going to do in the woods but make allot of noise, right? Duffy saw this too and did the unthinkable. He extended an offer for Jeremy to come with him to Casa Duffy to help him get a buck. This kid was gleaming.
It was 10:00 when I saw the truck crossing the field and thought to myself, yep, he got cold and wanted to quit. Moments later I bagged a spike buck and summoned help from the house to retrieve it. I couldn’t wait for Jeremy to see the deer and was floored at his first comment when he did. “Ours is Bigger.” It turns out that Jeremy and Duffy had bagged an eight pointer that morning and Duffy was giving full credit to Jeremy for spotting it. (When will these lessons to learn be over?) The fact that Jeremy was able to follow in my footsteps for a day made me feel great. Duffy’s deer stand now held memories for him too. This place had been a refuge in blowing snow. A meeting place to plan drives. A good place to eat lunch and, now after 15 years, a place to say a deer was taken.
It was this past fall when I spoke to by brother about the upcoming PA season, that he told me the news that Duffy’s deer stand had collapsed in a wind storm the night before. I was quiet for a moment and had quite a few thoughts zip through my head about the good old days. When I hung up the phone I smiled for all the really great times we had there and was thankful that Jeremy was able to experience the same feeling I did years ago.
Duffy still hunts on the property despite health problems and all of the old crew are there year after year and mostly hunt the same spots. It’s been two years for me since I was able to return. Living in Colorado now my sights are focused on Elk, Mule deer, and Bighorn Sheep. But when I think of hunting and what it really means to me, I always remember where it all started and how fortunate I was to be in the company of the hunters who molded me. We all have something that keeps us coming back again and again, I guess mine is snowfall, pipesmoke, and a shed.
What does it mean to you?