The Free Press, Mankato, MN

November 2, 2013

Cross: A deer stand that is berry, berry good

By John Cross
jcross@mankatofreepress.com

---- — Deer hunters for years have been constructing elevated deer stands — usually a few 2-by-4s, a few sheets of plywood strategically nailed to a tree — to give them an edge over wily whitetails.

Nowadays, some ambitious deer hunters construct their deer stands to include heat, carpet, cooking stoves, insulated windows — nearly all of the comforts of home — all to put venison in the freezer.

Elden Stanke has about a half-dozen elevated deer stands strategically placed in and around the deer habitat on his farm just northwest of Smith's Mill.

Far from luxurious, utilitarian would be a more apt description.

But one of them has origins that would have to qualify it as one of the more unusual deer stands to be found in Minnesota.

Standing about fifteen feet tall, a bright red, giant strawberry overlooks a slough, a field and a stand of woods.

Once upon a time, the fiberglass strawberry was a key component in a Tilt-A-Whirl-type amusement ride aptly named the “Berry-Go-Round.”

“My brother-in-law from Waterville got it from somewhere and thought it would make a good thing for the kids to play on,” he said.

However, city fathers and neighbors took a dim view of the scarlet orb parked prominently in his yard, so in the interest of neighborhood harmony, he decided to get rid of it.

“I said I would take it, figuring it would look good in the yard out here,” Stanke said.

“And I said, no, it wouldn't,” added his wife, Merry, who quickly shot down any notions about yard art.

After some consideration, he came up with the idea of utilizing it as yet one more deer stand for the cadre of relatives and friends come every November to hunt deer on the farm.

“My nephews welded a stand for it,” he said. “And it used to turn, but they welded it so that now, it's stationary.”

In its original configuration, the strawberry had a hard bench seat running all the way around the inside for riders and something resembling a round table in the center.

In deference to functionality and comfort, the table was removed and replaced with a comfortable chair.

Windows were added to either side to enable a hunter to view areas to either side of the strawberry.

High above the vegetation, a hunter can be protected and cozy, yet have a commanding view of the countryside.

Situated where a farm field abuts a thick stand of cattail swamp and a hundred or so yards from a patch of woods, it is in a seemingly ideal location to ambush a whitetail.

But since Stanke put the stand at its present location two years ago — it's clearly visible from busy Highway 14 — no one has managed to draw blood while hunting there.

He admits that the reason may have to do with a whitetail's innate caution about new and peculiar things that suddenly appear in its neighborhood.

“The deer seem to stay up against the woods,” he said, speculating that it has taken some time for the keen-eyed animals to get accustomed to the unusual addition to the countryside.

This year, he is hopeful that it may all come together with the added attraction of deer's equivalent of a smorgasbord.

A nephew who now farms the property was unable to get a conventional crop in this spring due to the wet weather. When things finally dried out, he planted a cover crop of tillage radishes.

“The radishes were planted to protect the soil but I was told that deer really like to eat them, too,” he said of the vegetables resembling pale cucumbers that now cover the field by the thousands.

Stanke, who was unable to hunt last year because of some health issues, is unsure if he will be able to hunt with the gang this fall either.

But he figures that with the radishes as forage and the deer more accustomed to the strawberry deer stand, the former amusement ride just might be a good place for one of his guest hunters to be next Saturday when the 2013 Minnesota Firearms Deer Season begins.

In the meantime, one might wonder why he opted to keep the strawberry its original, very noticeable red state instead of converting it to a stealthier camouflage cloak of browns and tans to better blend in with the surroundings.

He thought for a moment.

“Maybe someday I might want to start growing some strawberries to sell,” he joked. “It would make a pretty good sign.”

John Cross is a Free Press staff writer. Contact him a (507) 344-6376 or by e-mail at jcross@mankatofreepress.com.