Charlie Brawner – November 19, 2019
Dad’s deer stand isn’t a “stand” in the traditional sense. It’s just a wooden L-shaped bench with a roof over it. See the picture above. In the early years a person could climb a ladder and sit on the roof for a different perspective. Call it a double-decker stand or a bunk stand. As the years passed by and the bears unleashed their wrath on it the roof became too weak to support anyone, but nobody was really sitting up there anyway. The stand itself is still sturdy, though. It’s only about 100-150 yards from the road and a nice path was cut for easy access. When dad began hunting there he asked us to put up some reflective thumb tacks to light the way. We obliged by sticking up a few hundred of them. If you tried to find your way to that stand in the dark all you needed was a flashlight and that thing would light up like an airport runway.
Over the years dad’s stand became our meeting place in the woods. Deer Central as dad liked to call it. The day before the gun deer opener when everyone was arriving at camp we’d go our separate ways in the woods to walk and confirm that everything was still intact, but we’d always meet back at dad’s stand. It has a central location on the land and it’s easy to get to. Plus, he always had some of mom’s cookies there. It was nothing for 10-12 people to spend a good chunk of Friday afternoon swapping stories and catching up at dad’s stand. Might’ve had something to do with dad’s lack of success…
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I like to get out to my deer stand as early as reasonable, especially on opening morning. The season usually opens sometime around 6:50 AM, give or take a few minutes. That means I want to be in my stand by 5:50. That also means it’s still completely dark outside when I walk in to the woods. That’s the case for nearly all of us at camp. We only get to hunt a few days every year. We have to make the most of it. As dad’s mobility deteriorated in his later years he started coming out later and later in the morning. He never liked walking out that early in the morning anyway. He was always scared of the dark. That’s not a joke. He was absolutely scared of the dark. I’m also sure he was worried that he might trip over something and fall over and be left lying alone in the dark. He would sleep in and show up at 7:30 or 8:00 honking the horn screaming about his arrival in the walkie-talkie, then walk in when there was ample daylight.
One year…I can’t remember which year, but I’m guessing it was around 2010…dad thought it would be a good idea to bring as much gear as possible to his stand on Friday so he wouldn’t have to carry as much out on opening morning. I don’t remember everything he left out there, but I know he left his ammo. Later that evening over a Shit Basket, tacos, and Grain Belt at the Blacksmith Shop somebody made a good point: If you come across a deer on your way in what are you going to do without your bullets? This was upsetting for dad. He hadn’t thought of that.
At some point someone – probably dad – had the brilliant idea to send my brother, Andy, my brother-in-law, Brett, and me to the woods to retrieve them. Walking out to the woods in the dark was nothing new for us, we were just used to doing it in the AM hours, not PM. As I mentioned earlier, the path to dad’s stand lights up like the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree when you shine a light on it, so getting there in the dark would be easy. It would probably be fun, especially after we’ve had a couple drinks.
At approximately 9:00 PM our fearless trio made the ten minute drive to the hunting land to procure a plastic box full of bullets. I brought a video camera along to document the event because that’s the kind of thing I do. Andy pulled the Subaru Forester up to the entrance to the land. One of the guys had a flashlight and I had my camera. We entered the woods…almost. We made it from the side of the road to the edge of the woods, a 20-yard walk at most. What happened then was one of the most terrifying moments of my life. Howling? Not exactly. More like yelping. Lots of it. It was close and in that moment felt like it was getting closer. The three of us stopped dead in our tracks and went silent for about two seconds to listen. All you hear on the video after that is me saying, “Let’s get the fuck out of here,” and Andy saying, “What the fuck is that?” Three grown men ran back to the Subaru. Yes, I was recording and I’ve analyzed it like the Zapruder film. I expertly edited out the cursing for the Christmas Eve premiere of that year’s deer hunting video.
Safely back in the car on the road to Sherrard’s we were able to assess the situation. It was clearly a pack of bloodthirsty northwoods demons and they were approaching rapidly. We were right to fear for our lives. Actually, upon further review of the video I’m pretty sure they were foxes. We returned to the Blacksmith Shop happy to be alive. We reported our failure back to dad and the rest of the crew and were met with disappointment and mockery. Mock us all you want. You weren’t there. I’m just glad we were close to the car. If I had heard that noise when we were all the way back at dad’s stand I would’ve ended up spending the night on the roof of the stand and that video would’ve looked like some Blair Witch shit.
Dad didn’t get his ammo for the walk in to the woods that day, not that it mattered. After all of his horn honking he wasn’t going to see anything. For what it’s worth, the next year Andy, Brett, and I returned to the woods on opening Friday night just to prove we could get to dad’s stand in the dark. We did it, but it was harrowing. We’re better men for it.
I know what you’re asking yourself now: Where’s the video? If I was recording, why can’t I show it to you? The short explanation is that I lost it. The long explanation is that while I burned DVDs for about a dozen people that year I didn’t burn one for myself. I still have the digital file…somewhere. You might think that an IT guy would have devised a meticulous file structure. You’d be wrong. I lose that shit like everyone else. It’s on an external drive somewhere. When/if I get my hands on it I’ll upload it to YouTube and post the link. Until then you’ll just have to believe me. We entered the woods that night armed with only our wits and a flashlight and nearly became dinner for a pack of bloodthirsty woodland varmints all because dad forgot to put a couple bullets in his pocket.
To read more tales about my dad, the worst deer hunter who ever lived, click here.