Public Hunting Problems

By Charlie Brawner – November 17, 2019

We spent most of my early hunting years at “The Shack” in Florence County, Wisconsin.  Don’t ask me to explain the ownership situation at The Shack.  There are at least half a dozen people alive who can summarize this better than I can, but here I go: I think my grandpa had a hand in building a hunting shack with one of his buddies on the Pine River.  Grandpa didn’t own it, but his friend’s family allowed us to hunt there, even after the friend passed away.  At some point – I’m going to say after the 1997 hunting season – we were told that the family who owned it wanted to use it and we needed to find somewhere else to hunt.  Now that I see it on paper, I guess that wasn’t very confusing after all.  I probably have several facts wrong, but you get the point.  We got to hunt there, but we didn’t own it.  I’m not sure why it matters anyway.

The Shack was near the Pine River and was up against a lot of public hunting land.  For those of you unfamiliar with hunting public land, the rule as I understand it is simple: Whoever gets to a spot first gets that spot.  I’ve been a part of some upsetting arguments/debates with people over the years (ask my buddy Hoot about the fine “sportsman” on the Ahnapee River) about who has claim to spots, but generally if someone gets there first, they get the spot.  We were able to use The Shack, but once we stepped off of that property, anyone could be hunting the land around it.  Because of that, we couldn’t set up permanent stands or make any solid plans.  You never knew who could be hunting there.  At some point in the early-90’s my brother and I found a spot at the top of a hill overlooking a valley.  It looked like someone attempted to put up some branches and logs to create a ground blind, but it had clearly been abandoned for years.  We cleared out the spot and claimed it for ourselves…at least as much as one can claim a spot on public land.  I hunted that spot for at least two consecutive opening weekends but was well aware that it wasn’t really “mine” because anyone could get there before me and use it.

I don’t have the exact year, but I’m going to guess it was 1994 or 1995.  We got up at our usual early time, ate some breakfast, and headed out to our spots.  Mine was only a 15-20 minute walk from The Shack.  It was still dark as I approached my makeshift ground blind and was greeted with a Mag Lite in my face and a sarcastic voice asking, “Can I help you?”

Shit.

I shined my light back at the guy and saw someone I’ll politely say looked like he’d just been released from prison and spent his time there making several people his bitches.  Knowing the rules of public land I just replied, “No, I usually hunt here, but you got here first.  It’s all yours, man.  I’ll find somewhere else.”  I thought I handled it well.  He got there first.  Respect.  Then he had to say, “I’ve been hunting this spot on opening day for years.”  I said, “Actually, I’ve been hunting this spot for a few years, but it doesn’t matter.  You got here first.  I’ll get out of here.  Good luck.”  I was disappointed I lost my spot, but it was his fair and square.  That’s how it works.  I was pissed that he lied.  I had been hunting that spot on opening day (and the day after) for a few years.  I already conceded the spot.  Why did he have to feed me his bullshit line about hunting there for years?  It didn’t matter.  I had to find somewhere else.

I wasn’t all that familiar with the land since I was still relatively young and all of my experience there had been with my dad and/or uncles.  I did the only thing I could think of and walked over to dad’s spot to ask him where he thought I should go.  When I got to his stand he was furious.  I also felt like he thought I went out like a punk.  Like I should’ve put up a fight with this dude who happened to have a rifle in his hand and looked like he would be willing to use it if it came down to it.  I’m not big on getting in to arguments with freaky looking dudes with firearms.  He kept saying, “You let that ass hole take your spot?”  Umm, yes, and I’d do it again.  I’m not about to get shot over a deer stand.  Also, again…HE GOT THERE FIRST.  We could debate about whether or not the guy was an ass hole, but I don’t really think I had a leg to stand on since he beat me there.  If I beat him there, then he showed up and threatened me if I didn’t move or something it would’ve been different.  As it was, it wasn’t the coolest thing for that guy to do, but it sure wasn’t illegal.

Dad said, “You stay here, I’ll take care of this.”  I had no idea what he was going to do, but I sure couldn’t stop him.  He left and I sat in his spot.  After a few hours without seeing any deer I had to see what dad was doing.  I didn’t want to go straight back to the spot, but I knew you could see it from a nearby dirt road, so I figured I’d just walk out to the road and see if the guy was still sitting there.  When I got there dad was on the ground no more than 20 yards away from the guy.  He found a spot under a tree and was lying there looking as relaxed as someone resting on a poolside chaise lounge at a resort.  His hands were folded behind his head and he looked like he was having the time of his life.  When he came back to The Shack a short time later he said, “I just sat there talking, eating, and farting.  He left.  I don’t think he’ll be coming back.”  Well played.  I was pissed I didn’t think of that.  I was too worried about ruining my hunting.  Dad didn’t care.  Like a deer hunting kamikaze, he killed his own opening morning but he took that guy down with him.

I’d like to think I would do the same for my kid now.

To read more tales about my dad, the worst deer hunter who ever lived, click here.

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