By Tyson Novinska – November 7, 2019
When it comes to hunting, or shooting anything with a firearm really, there was no way that I could ever come close to the level of marksmanship that my friend Jim could display. Clays. Ducks. Ringnecks. He could nail anything that was about 18″ and moved at a million miles an hour. Over time, however, it was apparent that Powerful Jim did, indeed, have his hunting kryptonite. Whitetail deer, for whatever reason, were too elusive for the big guy. Maybe it was the patience required for deer hunting that didn’t agree with him. Or the silence one had to display. Whatever it was, deer hunting success just didn’t find Jim.
On one chilly morning in November of 1995, I believe I found some of the answers to the questions we had on the lack of success that Jim found during the great whitetail deer hunts.
After that year’s opening weekend, I had expressed interest in being able to go back up to Florence County to get some more time in the woods. Back then, our group were still going to the shack and hunting on public land for the two days that made up opening weekend before we all left and never really hunted anymore during the nine day season. Jim had talked about the possibility of going back up that week to hunt and invited me to join him and since I was home from college on break, I happily accepted the opportunity to get back out into the woods.
On this particular day, it was just Jim and I. I don’t recall why Charlie didn’t come, but Jim and I loaded up the white Ford Taurus early that morning and headed up to Florence County for a planned day of hunting. I was going to sit in the stand that Charlie typically occupied, off the main logging road we typically walked down and overlooking a small draw or valley. Since it was public land, there was always a chance that someone could be in this makeshift stand but given the vastness of the area we were pretty confident it would be wide open.
Arriving after daylight started, Jim stopped the car on the logging road by the trail leading in to the stand and asked me for probably the 27th time that day if I knew where the stand was. I had been to the stand with Charlie the week before so I was pretty confident that I could get back there quickly. Hopping out of the car, I grabbed my gun and gear and started my walk back to the spot. To be somewhat fair, I don’t think we had a planned exit strategy outlined for that day but I had grown accustomed to that with Jim. If we went anywhere with him as kids, whether it was the mall, Lambeau Field, concerts in Milwaukee, our drop offs typically consisted of Jim slamming on the brakes at the most random spot, yelling something akin to “Get the hell out” and then us quickly fleeing the car to dodge traffic so we could get to our destination. Arranging times and locations to meet at the end of any event were not important details so on the day of this hunt, I put little thought into it. I assumed that at dusk, I would walk out and there Jim would be.
Walking back to this stand took maybe 15 minutes. Maybe. I can’t recall but I do know that it was not a long, difficult walk. Getting back to the stand, I was happy to see that no one was in the stand. Public land is basically a first come/first serve scenario and this stand that Charlie had used was occupied by a stranger just the week before. So, needless to say, I was elated that I’d have a good spot to sit in and that this might be the day I get to experience my first deer kill. I set up my portable chair, loaded my gun, got myself situated, and started to get my bearings on the area, listening and looking for any sign of the whitetail deer that were extremely scarce in Florence County.
If you have ever deer hunted and have sat alone in a stand, you will understand the silence that comes with those situations. It’s just you and whatever pieces of nature are choosing to be active that day. Wind blows whatever leaves are left on the trees, branches creak, birds chirp, and the f’n squirrels are moving. All. The. Time. Squirrels are always responsible for a good 10-15 elevated pulse rates during a typical day in the deer stand. What I’m getting at is that, for the most part, it’s silent and peaceful. It’s one of the best parts of deer hunting, actually.
About 20 minutes into my hunting solitude, I was jolted into a level of fear and panic that was not prepared for that day. “Tyson! Hey, Tyson! You see anything yet?” It was Jim, in his giant, booming voice, yelling from the general direction that I had left the Taurus from about a half-hour earlier. Any deer that was within a three county radius would’ve heard that yelling, so I knew that my chances of seeing anything anytime soon were done. Before I even had a chance to get cold, my hunt in that spot was over. I stood up, grabbed my chair, and walked back towards the road.
Arriving back to the road, it was clearly evident that Jim had not left the comfort of the front seat of the Taurus during the past 30 minutes. There he was, waiting, window down, asking what I had seen. Well, Jim, nothing. I told him that I had barely been back there and during that time had not seen or heard any deer. I was trying to politely portray a message that his yelling had disrupted any chance of me seeing anything from that location. In his unwavering fashion, Jim’s response of “Well, maybe we’ll get them another day” confirmed what I had suspected all along. Jim was ready to go.
You see, Jim was many things. Many great and wonderful things. One thing that Jim was not was patient. There isn’t enough space on this blog for me to write stories about amazing displays of a lack of patience that I was able to experience over my lifetime of being an adopted kid in the Brawner household. On many levels, his displays of patience were extraordinary. This day of hunting was no different. Jim was ready, and ready now. “Come on. Put your stuff in the trunk and I’ll take you to Wendy’s.” It was no later than 8:30AM.
As a newbie to the area, Florence County seemed about as desolate and remote of a location as one could imagine. Where in the hell does he think Wendy’s is, I wondered. Looking back, I can’t believe what an idiot I was. Of course he knew where the Wendy’s was. I loaded up my gear, hopped back in the front passenger seat (which was still warm from when I sat in it on the way up) and we were off. As we were driving out of the woods, I remember passing the shack driveway and thinking maybe we’ll be back after this stop for food.
Driving out of town, Jim and I were chatting away when we passed a sign that read “Welcome to Michigan.” Wait. Did I just see that right? I surely didn’t have any idea what direction we had been driving but did not anticipate us crossing in to Michigan. But, there we were, making the 20 minute drive down Hwy 2 into Iron Mountain searching for the red pig tails of the girl they call Wendy. We rolled right into downtown Iron Mountain and into the drive through of the restaurant, ordering burgers and fries and soda within minutes of them opening for the day.
Our trip into town wasn’t done though. After plowing through a bag of Wendy’s finest, Jim needed to stop at some sporting goods store in Iron Mountain. I would be guessing if I told you what the name of the store was, but we were there and gone in under 10 minutes. Whatever it was that he thought he needed, they didn’t have it. Before long, we were back on 2 and heading west back into Wisconsin. In my youthful naivety, I thought we were headed back to the hunting grounds to hunt since it was not even 11 AM. How wrong I was. As the Taurus blew past the road that lead to the shack and to the Valley of Death, I quickly realized that this day of hunting was over. My mistake was only that the day of hunting was over for me, not for Jim.
As we entered back into Oconto County, we started to snake back towards Pulaski on the backroads. Every road we drove down, Jim knew the family. Or had hunted pheasants in that field. Or had that family’s kids at Fairview. That guy had more history on that area than anyone I have ever known, especially in the area surrounding Krakow. On this particular day, we had ended up on Safian Road, which is east of Hwy 32 and runs parallel to the highway. We were heading south, towards Cty S. I could take you back to this exact area right now without hesitation.
Outside of the mobile history lessons that made up any car ride with Jim, the other thing that was always on full display was his hawk like vision. Anything, and I mean anything, that moved, ran, flew or flinched off of those country roads was noticed by Jim. “Boys! Look at that rooster,” he’d say as a pheasant would come out of the ditch about 50 yards up the road while we had no idea what in the hell he was even looking at. It was incredible. He would scan ditch lines looking for any sign of wildlife. It’s a skill that, over time, I’ve been able to enjoy and now my own kid will say in amazement, “Dad, how did you even see that?” Thanks, Jim.
Anyway, heading south on Safian Road we had an empty field to our right (west) and a farm field full of round hay bails to our left (east.) Around those round bails were blaze orange clad hunters, and probably about 8-10 of them, participating in what was clearly a deer drive. I specifically remember looking at the guys doing the deer drive and thinking, “Man, it sure would be fun to actually be out hunting today.” I looked to my right into the empty, plowed up field when all of a sudden the Taurus roared to life. As Jim hit the gas, I heard him say, rather excitedly, “Tyson! Look at this!”
Looking back to my left towards the field of hunters, I saw a doe running. Not just trotting along, but sprinting. Like ears back, full stride sprinting. She was running south and west, veering ever so slightly towards Safian Road. This had my attention because just seeing a deer in those early days of deer hunting got the blood moving. Watching this deer, I was also able to observe every hunter in the group with their guns up tracking the path of that deer before it dawned on me what was happening. Jim was speeding up and driving right in line with that deer. No sane hunter would take a shot at a deer with a car moving in unison with it. I can still see the smirk on Jim’s face. He was doing this on purpose.
As the trajectory of that deer’s path began to become more evident, two things became evident. One, no one in that hunting group was going to get a shot at this thing thanks to Jim. Two, if she keeps running at an angle towards the road and we keep traveling at this speed, we are going to smoke this thing when it crosses the road. All of a sudden, that deer made a hard left and hit the pavement of the road so fast that her hooves slid out from under her. Jim locked up the brakes and we watched that doe skid on the road, get up, and take off to the west of us. There was an odd look of satisfaction on Jim’s face as our bag of Wendy’s wrappers flew all over the front seat. I’m not sure if it was because he had me feeling like we were going to waste that whitetail in his car or if it was because he had taken away any shot that group of hunters had in the field. Whatever it was, he was pleased with himself.
I’d like to think that on the day of this story, I was able to witness one of the only times that Powerful Jim Brawner was remotely close to actually killing a deer. Now, it would have been via his vehicle, but I could have seen him proudly proclaiming that a kill is a kill, or if it’s brown it’s down, or something ridiculous like that. We all know he wouldn’t have been able to shoot one in the woods, but to take one out with his car would have probably given him the same sense of satisfaction that most of us have felt by shooting a deer in the woods. This would have been one of his defining deer hunting moments, and I could have witnessed it.
To read more tales about Jim Brawner, the worst deer hunter who ever lived, click here.