It’s the time again! At least three of you have been clamoring for this and it’s finally here. I’m about to reveal the Annual Deer Hunter’s Journal. I can’t believe I’ve been writing in this book for four seasons now. If you’re interested in past editions, enjoy these links
For those of you new to this, here’s an overview: My brother purchased a cool little journal and some pencils for me for Christmas in what must’ve been 2016. I had always thought about taking notes in my deer stand just so I could recall things later. How many deer did we see? When did we see them? Who got deer? Etc. I decided this journal from Andy (yes, my brother and son are both named Andy) was the perfect opportunity to start taking those notes. I then decided that I would wait an entire year to review the notes and on the eve of the following hunting season I would post them here with some commentary. It’s turned into so much more than just tracking deer movement. Basically, any random thought that pops into my head while I’m in the stand could end up in that journal. When you spend 12 hours straight in a deer stand you can start suffering from what I like to call Woods Madness. Crazy shit starts making sense. No idea is bad. It started with my brother and I damn near losing our minds together in that stand about 15 years ago. There’s still some amazing video footage of our Woods Madness afternoon somewhere. I should find that…
I honestly don’t even remember writing in the journal last year. 2020 was different for many reasons. On the downside, I had just gotten over COVID and cleared by doctors to rejoin civilization literally the day before we left for camp. COVID loomed over everything last year. Many sat out deer camp. The small group of us who did go were COVID tested the day before to make as sure as we could that we were safe to share a house together. We only went to the hunting land and the house. No restaurants. Strictly cooking in the house. I’m not sure anyone there was every truly comfortable as we had barely ventured out of our houses in over six months.
There was plenty to be happy about, though. Uncle Dan, a.k.a. The King, found an amazing, reasonably priced hunting cabin for us to rent only 10 minutes from the hunting property. For the first time since I started hunting Ron & Jo’s land in Polk County we were under the same roof. We could cook our own food instead of bar food for every meal. The house had a large room with couches, TV, pool table, and even an old school video game table loaded with classic Atari-era arcade games. I learned quickly that you do not challenge Tim to Donkey Kong 2 as you will be destroyed.
Most importantly for me, 2020 was the first year my son came along with us for opening weekend. I was eager, but also a little nervous, to have Andy there. I wasn’t sure how he’d take to sitting in a deer stand with me all day. I was determined to get a deer just so he could experience it and see if he liked it. He was not there to hunt last year. He was observing. The hunting happens this year. More on that later. Sadly, having Andy there meant that Tyson was no longer sitting with me. I fear that means the journal will be at least 300% less entertaining. We shared a lot of laughs – and probably scared off dozens of deer – in that stand together.
Enough stalling. At long last it’s time to crack open the journal and reveal the 2020 entries!
Saturday, November 21, 2020
9:02 – This is upsetting. Haven’t seen or heard a damn thing. Everyone else has at least seen something. Andy is bored out of his mind. He just climbed down to pee. Need some action right now!
Looking at this picture reminds me how awful that jacket was. It was so noisy. Every time he moved – which was every three seconds – that thing made noise. He has a much quieter jacket this year, and it’s blaze orange, so he can get rid of that flimsy vest. I had this feeling of dread last year that if it was a bad opening morning I could lose Andy as a deer hunter forever. He was only 11 years old and was not a fan of staring at nothing for hours. There were times that he sat with his head down just looking defeated and I thought, “If this kid doesn’t see a deer soon I’m going to lose him. He’ll never come back.” Luckily…
11:48 – Where to begin? Things turned around quickly. At about 9:30 we had a small doe run north from Kneecap’s stand. Another one followed and bedded down about 50 yards from us for over 20 minutes. Then another bigger doe sprinted through from the north and the bedded deer got up and went with her. After a few minutes of calm two more deer sprinted through from the north. When things settled down I got down to pee. While I was peeing another doe came sprinting through from the north and ran along the swamp. I got back up in the stand and wasn’t up for five minutes when I saw a doe to the north headed our way with an 8-pointer with a small rack dogging her. I normally would’ve let that buck go, but I asked Andy and he responded, “Shoot him, dad!” With an easy broadside shot at 40 yards I obliged. I got a good heart shot. He took two steps and dropped. As it turns out, a nice sized deer for such a small rack. Andy is hooked. Mission accomplished. We gutted him out and dragged him back to the trail. That hunt went from bleak to exciting in a matter of seconds. We saw 9 deer in less than an hour and Andy witnessed his first kill. Andy is now walking back to the truck to get us some celebratory cookies. Great morning. I love deer hunting!
That about sums it up. I didn’t remember all of the details before I read that, but here’s what I do recall. We spotted that buck sneaking around behind that doe from a pretty good distance. Now that the property has been logged you can see much further north, and as you could read in the journal, that’s where all the action was. That buck was at least 150 yards away when we saw him and he kept meandering right toward us. When I asked Andy if he wanted me to shoot it he almost jumped out of his seat. I let the buck keep coming toward us and when he stopped broadside about 40 yards from me I figured it might not get better than that. Andy loved it. I’ll never know if last year was really a make or break moment for Andy and deer hunting, but it felt like it and I was glad that I was able to deliver. He’s been excited about it ever since. If you’re not a hunter you likely don’t understand the thrill of that moment and, in fact, you’re probably rolling your eyes at this. I grew up in a family of deer hunters. Deer hunting season is a topic of conversation at nearly every family gathering. It’s been passed down for generations and it’s an honor and a thrill to see the excitement in my son and know that he’s the first Brawner of his generation to participate in our tradition. I think of my dad and grandfathers who would’ve loved that moment. I think about my uncles and hope that they take some pride in the fact that I’m trying my best to teach my son the way they taught me. It was a special morning. I wish dad would’ve been around for it.
1:40 – Ten minutes ago Andy asked “Dad, what county are we in?” As I was telling him that he needed to quiet down I looked up and there was a spike buck staring at us not more than 30 yards away. No idea how he got that close. Eventually he bolted to the south with a doe not far behind. 11 deer so far today.
I have a habit of giving far less effort after I get my deer. I still want to hunt because you never know what could happen. Plus, I wait all year for that weekend. I’m not going to just hunt for a few hours, then quit. I stay in my stand. After I got the buck Andy and I definitely loosened up and were having a few laughs. We still at least attempted to remain quiet. After long spells of silence Andy seemed to forget that he was supposed to stay quiet. When he said, “Dad, what county are we in?” it felt like he shouted it. It’s no wonder those two deer heads popped up and caught our attention. In a way I feel like it’s not the worst idea to just make some noise and try to flush out deer every once in a while. I still could’ve shot those deer if I wanted to. Maybe Andy is a genius. Instead of being quiet, just shout something random every so often to see what happens.
4:22 – Surprisingly quiet afternoon. Sherrards just shot 15 minutes ago but nothing came our way. About 30 minutes to go. Moving to Pat’s old stand tomorrow and giving this one to Kneecap hoping that he gets a buck here. Can’t believe I’m the only one with a deer with as many as we’ve seen today. I already have my butchering scheduled and will have my meat by Thanksgiving.
If I haven’t mentioned it before, Sherrards are the people who own the land to the south of us. My stand is on the southern end of the property within 200 yards of Sherrards. Sometimes we can hear them. We can definitely hear when they shoot because it startles the shit out of me. I have a rule: If Sherrards shoot more than once, get ready. It’s been a while, but years ago it wasn’t out of the ordinary to hear 2-4 shots from Sherrards property, then see a buck running by shortly after. Now I feel like I say that every year but it hasn’t actually happened in at least 10 years.
Sunday, November 22, 2020
12:43 – Saw one more doe late yesterday afternoon after I wrote. Awoke this morning to blizzard conditions. Snow flying like crazy. Andy and I swapped stands with Kneecap thinking he’d have a better chance at a buck there. We saw a little yearling at 7:20 this morning that hung out in front of us for at least 40 minutes. She took off when Andy got down to pee. At 10:00 we went for a walk to try to kick up deer for others. Then we took the 4-wheeler out to Ron’s old stand. By the time we got back Tim shot a buck in the swamp in front of him. We took the 4-wheeler back to help Tim drag out his buck. Now we’re back in our stand. The ground is snow covered and the weather is beautiful. Let’s get another one!
Deer hunting is so much more relaxed after you have your buck. Feeling cold? Get up and go for a walk. Bored? Go back to the truck and get some cookies. I can’t speak for everyone at camp, but those moments after about 10:00 AM when it feels like every deer in the county has bedded down for the day call for someone willing to just walk around and make a bunch of noise. When I already have my deer I feel like it’s my responsibility. Andy and I did a lot of walking on the second day last year but I’m not sure that it produced anything. It was nice to see Tim get a good buck, though, and be able to help him drag it out.
Monday, November 23, 2020
7:33 – Andy and I tried to make a drive yesterday afternoon but all we did was kick one little deer up to Jo. We pulled the plug at 2:00 PM to watch the Packer game. Slow day for everyone, but Tim got a nice buck so we have two on the pole. I was 50/50 about hunting this morning, but Kneecap was adamant about coming out again. So, I woke up at 4:45 and started preparing. At 5:00 when I was half ready to go Kneecap woke up to tell me he’s not coming. Shit. I came out by myself anyway and I’m glad I did. I was in my stand by 5:50. Immediately I could tell the woods were alive this morning like they hadn’t been the past two. Constant crashing and movement in the darkness around me. At 6:35 I could hear slow-moving heavy-footed steps to the west coming from Sherrards. At 6:40 I could finally make out the silhouette of a deer as it made its way to Kneecap’s tripod stand. Never had I wished so badly that someone was in that stand. I’ll never know exactly what that deer was, but it looked and sounded large. What followed for the next 30 minutes was a methodical parade of leisurely does. The first two were small, taking their time, following the same route as the earlier deer. In the distance I saw a 4th deer and could tell that it was larger. As I searched for antlers I contemplated grabbing my gun. Just then I heard more crashing to the southeast and it spooked the deer. As it ran away I could tell through the binoculars that it was a doe. No matter. I would’ve shot her given the chance. Dave wants venison and I would’ve been happy to provide it. I turned my attention to the crashing but the source never revealed itself. I could tell there were deer down by the south edge of the swamp but there are too many downed trees there to see them. It got to a point after a few minutes that I wanted to just get up and yell so I could see what it was. I never found out. It’s been quiet for a while now and I’ll be leaving soon. All in all an amazing season. I hunted with my son for two days and shot a buck with him. We had a blast. A welcomed break from the bullshit that is 2020.
I think that sums it up beautifully. No need for me to add much else. Deer camp 2020 was the first time we gathered with anyone outside of our own backyard all year. My son was there with us. It was a special year. We’re only a week away from doing it again, but this time Andy has completed hunter education and he has his license. He’ll sit with me again, but this year he hunts first. I told him he gets first dibs on anything that comes by. We’ve seen some impressive bucks on the trail cams, so he’s dreaming of trophy racks. I told him he can trophy hunt for a few hours, but if a doe comes by late opening morning and he hasn’t taken a shot yet, he’s going to get his first deer under his belt and put some meat in the freezer. He has shot his .308 a few times now and he’s surprisingly accurate at 100 yards. The longest shot he’ll get in that stand is about 80 yards, so he should be set. After a few rounds of practice he said, “Dad, this is easy.” Just wait, son. Buck fever is real. It’s one thing to shoot at paper. It’s another when you’re excited and that deer is out in front of you. I hope it happens for him. I’ll be more excited than he will. He knows what he’s supposed to do and I believe he’s ready.
As for the rest of camp, Uncle Dave is back this year and maybe even T-Bone, so things are getting back to normal. My brother is moving back to the midwest as I type this, and one year from now we’ll be celebrating his return to deer camp. It’s been another strange year and we still won’t have our entire group at opening weekend deer camp this year, but we’ll have a blast like we always do. It’ll be different essentially observing this year and helping Andy instead, but I’m excited to see how it goes.
That’s it for the 4th Annual Deer Hunter’s Journal. Hope to have you back again next year to recap the events of November 20-22, 2021.