Anything Leopold should put a naturalist, deer hunter or outdoorsman in the right frame of mind to enjoy, observe and have a positive day outdoors.
Aldo Leopold, author of “A Sand County Almanac” (1949), crafted a sitting bench for outside his famous shack. Sketches and photographs of the bench began to be noticed and then copied. Today these useful benches pop up in parks, backyards, arboretum rest places and occasionally in known deer habitat.
This easy-to-make, durable and suitable bench is often pictured outside The Shack, which occupies the land (part of an abandoned farm) Leopold purchased in 1935. The farm is on the sandy floodplain of the Wisconsin River in the town of Fairfield in Sauk County, hence the name for his well-known book, “A Sand County Almanac.”
Leopold’s writings, research and teaching are synonymous with early ecology, which quickly delved into Wisconsin’s white-tailed deer. About 1943 Leopold was part of a committee to assess the deer problem that had drawn public awareness. That led to the publication of an assessment entitled “Deer Irruption.”
Leopold had ideas about deer populations and their need to be in balance with the habitat. Some of these ideas didn’t always agree with the majority of Wisconsin’s deer hunters.
It seems fitting facsimiles of the original bench Leopold crafted would make an ideal seat for a stationary Wisconsin deer hunter to sit, observe and hunt deer. While the bench is not easily transported, many hunters have a favorite deer stand and this comfortable bench would serve the purpose as a moderately permanent seat.
Bench plans can be found online and in numerous books and then modified slightly to fit the hunter’s needs. After the season, the bench could occupy a location nearer a homestead, yard, park or pond. Or it could weather the winter and from time to time serve as a rest stop when the hunter turned to other thoughts ecological.
Choice of wood, board dimensions and finishing can accommodate the hunter, too. Denny Friske of rural Dane County has constructed numerous sizes of Leopold benches, and he prefers cedar to other soft and hard woods. He usually lets a natural oil soak in instead of painting the boards.
“I’m a real estate agent and was representing some sellers in Cross Plains who had one of the Leopold benches on their front porch. I asked to take the bench and make a pattern of it. I would like to start making them,” Friske said.
Friske made some adjustments and started using 2-inch boards in 8-, 10- and 12-inch widths for the backs, seats and legs. He rounds all the edges for design, cutting the sharp edges, and counter sunk all the screws as well as glued the boards before applying the natural finish.
I bought one, but it was claimed by another in the household, who painted it bright yellow for a deck/yard bench. While workable in the woods, I prefer a more natural finish, which is what the next bench will have.
Hunting benches need not be so carefully crafted or even painted or oiled. Lighter wood would make moving from place to place easier, too.
Boy Scouts, Eagle Scouts, shop classes and numerous woodworkers, particularly in the Spring Green area, now make and sell Leopold benches. Some get fancy with laser designs cut into the wood.
Because of Aldo Leopold’s original studies on Wisconsin deer and deer habitat, it seems appropriate to have one or two benches on the property. Not only are they functional, but they are also a conversation piece to get hunters, hikers, deer watchers and photographers talking about deer and thinking about deer ecology, conservation and management.
And the comfort of a well-constructed bench beats an old milking stool or 5-gallon bucket.
Jerry Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.