Minnesota has a problem: More and more deer hunters are putting illegal, house-like, permanent stands on public land. It hasn't turned into an epidemic yet, but may reflect a culture that is putting more value in creature comforts, even when hunting.
"It's been developing over time," said Curt Cogan, forestry enforcement coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. "It's not like just the last couple years we've started to see them. It's more like one's been there for a few years, then another one might go up quarter mile away from it.
"As we see more and more, it's become a problem, and it's an eyesore on the landscape."
It's also illegal.
"What the regulations allow basically is just a little platform to stand on," he said. "It's not supposed to have walls or a roof. The issue is these stands are more or less permanent treehouses up in a tree. Some of them are quite elaborate, with windows, a roof and even furniture in them."
What's bringing the issue to a head in Minnesota is a combination of things, Cogan said.
"Some of them are just an eyesore on the landscape. Another problem is hunting rights. Hunters think whoever has this stand has tied up this area, so they have to find another place. Or they don't know if it's tied up or not – whether anyone's using [a particular stand]," he said.
Finally, state forest lands are also managed for timber.
"A lot of times these things are nailed up into a nice patch of timber trees used for forest products." Nails and screws are "a danger for the saw mill, and that decreases [the trees'] value," Cogan said.
Elaborate permanent stands and the issues they cause also are an issue on county forest lands.
"What they are doing by building these palaces is claiming a piece of public land as their own. That’s not right," Bob Krepps, land commissioner for St. Louis County, Minn., told the Duluth News Tribune.
"If I’m out walking and come across one of these buildings on posts, am I going to feel welcome to hunt there? Probably not. And if I do, there’s likely to be a fight. That shouldn’t happen on land that belongs to everyone."
This actually may be a worse problem than state and county governments realize. Cogan noted that "a lot of times we don't even know about [these stands] until one of our foresters sees one when they're out setting up a timber sale way out in some remote area."
Usually that happens in the middle of winter, after hunting season is over, which makes it tough to find out who built the stand. That's the goal, Cogan said, to find the builder and have him remove the stand, though sometimes a stand is removed by the DNR.
Failure to remove the stand could result in criminal penalties, he said, such as a misdemeanor offense for leaving personal property on public land, and littering.
"A lot of times that's a problem associated with these stands," he noted. "There might be furniture down on the ground, a stand as it falls apart might have tar paper on it or blue tarps, that kind of stuff."
That's not the only problem associated with building these stands. When building materials are brought in by truck or ATV, that creates "trails across our forest lands where we didn't intend to have a trail," Cogan said. "They run down regeneration, and create ruts with vehicles."
These mega-stand hunters also often cut shooting lanes that go 360 degrees around the stands.
That is not legal and we'll enforce it," he said. "That's considered a timber trespass, and you not only have to pay the damages for what you cut down, but criminal penalties also could come into play."
As for why this problem is growing, Cogan speculated that it's a culture change in the way people hunt.
“Back when I started hunting, you put a few sticks in the crotch of a tree or birch clump, stood there and watched for deer,” he said. “As people have gotten into their creature comforts, they want to get out of the wind and cold so they have a heater up there, and in some cases bring a TV.
"There's nothing wrong with doing that. Just buy a piece of private land and put up whatever you want to hunt deer from. But public land is a different story. We have to manage it a different way. We can't let people put up miniature houses out there."