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County copes with 'decoy' stands

For years, Douglas County has had an ordinance in place allowing hunters to leave tree stands overnight on county land, provided they meet specific requirements.

Keith Allen, a member of the Douglas County Board of Supervisors, remembers when he served on the Forest, Parks, and Recreation Committee and made a push for the ordinance.

"This has been in effect for several years; if I had to guess, seven to eight years," Allen said.

By now the ordinance should be common knowledge, but Allen said that is not the case.

He happened to mention the rule when talking to an avid deer and bear hunter recently. The man often hunted on Douglas County land, but he had no idea he could leave his stand up overnight.

"Some people are aware of it," Allen said. As an active hunter himself, Allen has seen many temporary tree stands left set up on county land.

The ordinance, modeled after a similar measure in Bayfield County, allows hunters to set up and leave portable tree stands and blinds on county land during set periods of the year. Hunters are currently free to leave their stands in place, but from Feb. 1 to March 31 and June 1 to Aug. 31 each year, stands must be taken down and removed.

The ordinance also places restrictions on the type of stands that may be used. Only hang-on style, self-climbing style or ladder-stand style tree stands are allowed, and they may not be screwed into the tree or damage the tree in any way.

Stands must be clearly labeled with the owner's name and address or Wisconsin DNR customer identification number and can be no larger than 36 inches by 52 inches at the base.

"Prior to this people had to legally remove the tree stands from the woods every night and then replace them again the next day," Allen said. "It just didn't make sense."

Allen said in his experience, it typically takes between half an hour to an hour to set up a stand.

"If you want to get up and go shooting, it's virtually impossible (if the stand isn't set up)," Allen said.

From what he's heard, the ordinance has been well-received.

Jon Harris, Douglas County Forestry Department director, said he's heard mixed feedback on the ordinance.

Many hunters appreciate the ability to leave their stands set up for a season. On the other hand, there are those who abuse the rule and put up dozens of stands to keep others from hunting in an area.

"You're seeing more and more of those 'decoy stands,' we call them," Harris said.

Typically, a tree stand is a signal that someone else is hunting in an area. Most hunters move on when they spot one, and that has sparked the growing trend of decoys.

"It is very prevalent," Harris said.

The fakes are often easy to spot but difficult to trace back to an owner because they are not labeled with a name or ID number.

Harris said hunters should look for and report stands that they suspect are decoys -- often inexpensive models that look shabby.

"You think, 'Oh, I wouldn't sit in that if you paid me.' It looks very unsafe," Harris said.

Suspected decoy stands should be reported to the Forestry Department office or the Douglas County Sherriff's office. A violation may also be reported online (

"It's very hard to enforce," Harris said. "We experience and awful lot of use, and we manage 278,000 acres.

"The best (method of) enforcement is for users to call and report violations."

The full text of the tree stand ordinance may be found at