That’s right. I started something and actually stuck with it. Five years I’ve been writing in my field journal. This journal is a goddamned treasure. People should genuflect before it. When I die it should be archived at the Library of Congress. Fuck it, put it there now. Never has there been so much hunting knowledge collected in one place. If you want to get caught up on the wisdom held within these sacred pages click the links below. If you’re ready to absorb the 2021 hunting season, skip the links and keep reading.
Yes, I said 2021. I’m aware that it’s 2022, but for those of you who aren’t familiar with this tradition, here’s how it goes: My brother purchased a cool journal and some pencils for me for Christmas in 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. (If this sounds familiar it’s because I copied some of this directly from last year’s post. Efficiency!). The journal from Andy became the perfect medium. Shortly after completing the 2017 journal I thought it would be a cool idea to review the previous year’s journal ever year and write about it on the blog. That’s why we’re talking about the 2021 deer season here. I haven’t seen these words since I wrote them 345 or so days ago. The journal is no longer about tracking deer movement. It’s a place for any random thoughts that I have while hunting. Weird shit that crosses my mind while sitting outside for 12 straight hours. I have completely forgotten what I wrote in November 2021, but I’m about to find out.
Here are my initial memories of the 2021 hunt: We took the long way to deer camp and drove across Northern Wisconsin on the legendary Highway 8. We’ve done this twice and it’s been the same experience both times: It sounds brilliant and it ends up being excruciating. We’re excited for the trip down memory lane at first. We get to Florence County and tell stories from decades ago. It’s amazing.
Once we leave the old shack and get back on 8 it hits us that we’ve been on the road for over two hours and now we still have over four hours to the hunting land. It’d be one thing if we were all able to ride together. Then I’m sure the ride would fly by. Instead, we’re using split among 3-4 vehicles because either everyone has to head home at different times or we just have so much shit that we can’t fit it all in 1-2 vehicles. I rode with my son, and while I love him, he can’t drive more than 15 seconds without either sleeping or playing games on his phone. In the case of Highway 8, I don’t blame him. Once we’ve seen the old stomping grounds it’s a slog. We should rent an RV one of these years and all go together. Remind me about this idea next summer. Also, remind me about what a pain in the ass that long drive is in two weeks when I forget what I’ve just written and think Highway 8 sounds like a good idea. Let’s just take 29 this year and cut three hours off the trip. We can stop at Thorpedo and have some pie instead.
The biggest news in 2020 was that my son Andy, a.k.a. Big Cat, had his hunting license ready for his first time deer hunting. I’ll be completely honest: Hunting with my son was an adjustment. I was excited for him to have a chance at a buck, but it meant that my chances were greatly diminished. Did I care? Not really. We had a deal last year and we have the same one this year: Big Cat gets first choice of the deer. If we see a buck it’s his if he chooses to take it. Once he gets his, I got next. 2021 was the first time in my life that I had to take a backseat, but it was just as exciting to see him have a chance. Plus, if the boy shot the first buck he saw, that might leave plenty of time for me to get mine as well.
Right now I feel it’s necessary to point out that my brother and my son are both Andy. Before my son was even born my brother-in-law, Brett, and I knew that I was going to have a son named Andy and agreed that my son needed a nickname so we wouldn’t confuse the two when about talking Andy. We decided on the spot that my son would be known as Big Cat. It’s a nickname he’s had his entire life. It didn’t help, by the way. I feel like at least 25 times a week I have to say, “My brother Andy,” or, “My son Andy,” to someone. If you’re reading this and I mention Big Cat, that’s my son. If I say Andy, it’s also my son. Except the parts when I’m talking about my brother. Confused? Also, my brother-in-law and my cousin-in-law are both Brett. We needed a nickname for one of them to avoid confusion. Then my cousin-in-law shot a deer in the leg and earned the nickname Kneecap. Now you know that, too. But enough messing around. Let’s get into the 2021 journal entries:
Saturday, November 20, 2021: Opening Morning
7:54 – Interesting morning so far. We had a full moon so we were able to walk out without flashlights. Got to the stand at about 6:10. We had a doe wandering around west of us at 6:30. Too early and too dark to shoot. No deer since but plenty of turkeys. Tim already got a buck. Andy is into the Old Trapper. It’s gonna be a good day.
Not sure why, but opening mornings the past few years have been incredibly quiet. Opening morning is usually the best few hours of the year. They’ve been a huge disappointment for a while now. Seems like the action doesn’t pick up until about 9 or 10 AM. Remind me of that when I’m pissed off by 7:30 on opening morning this year. Since I have nothing more to add right now, I’ll give you this gift instead: A photo gallery of Big Cat sleeping at different times throughout his two days in the hunting stand.
9:09 – Big morning. Tim shot a nice 8. Kristen got a monster 10. Dan got a doe. We saw another doe, then spooked a buck when we harassed Kneecap on the walkie talkie while he was taking a piss. Oops. Just finished our bathroom break and are settling in for more action. Andy is crushing Old Trapper and candy bars.
Big Cat loves Old Trapper so much I believe its presence is alone enough to lure him on a hunting trip. I’ll ask him if he wants to go duck hunting and he’ll say no. If I tell him we have Old Trapper and he’ll immediately change his mind. His problem is that he doesn’t wait. We’ll get to the stand at 6:00 AM and by 6:01 he’s opening the jerky. Kid needs to chill. He’s gonna have a serious problem for the next 28 months or so because he just got braces in September. He might need to take a break from his Old Trapper despite its tenderness. Here’s another slideshow of Big Cat with his Old Trapper in various hunting situations over the years. Just in case you didn’t believe me when I said he opens the jerky immediately I included a pic of him in the duck skiff on the Ahnapee enjoying it at 4:37 AM.
By the way, when I said Kristen shot a monster 10 I wasn’t kidding. I’m pretty sure up until last year the buck I shot in 2008 was the biggest buck ever harvested on that land. Not anymore.
1:37 – Been a quiet couple of hours. It would bother me if it wasn’t so beautiful out. Sunny and 42. Andy is handling this like a champ. He deserves to be rewarded. Hopefully soon…
2:14 – One thing to mention again: Andy is fantastic. No complaints. Good spirits. Been sitting for eight hours and he’s fine. Unreal.
Andy’s ability to spend the day in a deer stand at his age is shocking. I don’t think I would sit in a stand like that all day until I was 30. He has two secret weapons: Frequent naps and his iPhone. The only thing getting more work in the stand than his phone was the battery charger I brought along. I should see if we can keep his phone usage to one full charge this year. Not likely. Days like that I’m glad I pay for unlimited data.
3:11 – When you haven’t seen or heard anything for hours you start to question everything. What does a deer look like? Will I be able to see it? Hear it? Will it blend right in and walk by? We need to see something and get that confidence back. Andy has been sleeping for at least 45 minutes.
I’ve been writing about Woods Madness for years and this journal entry was a perfect example. If I’m out there I truly start to question whether I’d ever be able to find deer in the woods. It starts to feel impossible. Everything is brown and they’re brown and really sneaky. There’s no way I could spot a deer if I wanted to. Then you do see deer and remember that your eyes and brain still work. It’s a good thing it was getting later in the afternoon, though. If that level of The Madness started to sink in earlier in the day I’d fear for my sanity.
3:57 – Positives today: Just had 300 turkeys walk right under the stand. Handwarmers are still blazing hot 11 hours later. Gorgeous day. Andy is awake. Lewis Hamilton took pole at Qatar qualifying. One hour left. Let’s go!
At some point I had a video of all of those damn zombie turkeys. I’d share it if I could find it. It was creepy. Just a endless line of them walking. They were talking to each other, too. Quiet gobbles. Unsettling. I forgot how excited I got watching a Qatar quali in my deer stand opening afternoon last year. Quali is the perfect sporting event to enjoy while deer hunting because you don’t need audio and you can keep up with the majority of it with occasional glances. It’s like more like baseball than most people realize. Most of time it doesn’t require your undivided attention. I could keep up with Lewis while I watched for deer. The final F1 race of 2022 is opening weekend in two weeks, but it’s at Abu Dhabi and I’m not sure I want to ruin opening weekend of deer hunting revisiting the place where Lewis got fisted by the FIA in last year’s final race. I’m still not over it.
Sunday, November 21, 2021
10:53 – We awoke to fresh snow this morning which made for an easy walk in without headlamps. We were in extra early and had a good hour before shooting at 6:48. At 6:43 Jo texted to say that she jumped a deer on her way in and it was headed our way. I focused my attention to the north but a few minutes later I heard noise to the south and saw a buck sneaking along the ridge below us. I told Andy to grab his gun and the buck began walking toward us. He stopped 30 yards away quartering toward us and Andy pulled the trigger at exactly 6:48. The buck took about three steps and dropped. Andy was ecstatic. He admitted to a bit of buck fever as the shot was a bit higher than preferred, but it didn’t matter. We texted everyone. After the deer was gutted we got back in the stand for celebratory cookies and soda. The wind has picked up like crazy and we haven’t seen another deer. We’re still riding high. Andy got his buck and all is well.
What a great moment. I left a lot out because it’s not easy to write in that stand, especially when it’s cold and windy like it was that day. I’m going to fill in a few of the gaps now because – while I forget a lot after a year – I remember this like it was yesterday. We got out to the stand as early as I can ever remember on the second day last year. I have pictures from the hunting land as early as 5:34 that morning. When I tell people that they look at me like I’m insane. I love getting out to the stand that early. There’s nothing like being out there at that time. Even the faintest sound is amplified. With a full moon and snow on the ground everything glows. It’s surreal. There’s a hunting advantage to being early as well. If you get out there early your scent has more time to dissipate. Everything calms down. Plus, you’re already there when everyone else shows up. If they kick up deer you might be the beneficiary. There’s little I enjoy more than being in my deer stand during the 5-6 AM hours waking up with the woods.
Of course, once we took our seats Andy fell asleep. When 6:30 rolls around and we start getting our first hint of sunlight on the horizon I like to sit as still possible and just stare into the woods. Let my senses adjust to the surroundings. I heard something moving on the crisp morning leaves at 6:45 and I assumed I’d see an annoying ass squirrel. Instead I had to do a double take as I saw a young buck creeping along a well-traveled deer run at the bottom of the ridge about 75 yards away. I nudged Andy to wake him up and said, “Get your gun, there’s a buck down there.” For a moment he was in that post-nap haze questioning what I was talking about. I pointed and whispered, “Look!”
Since we’re covered from the neck down in that stand I had training him to keep his head as still as possible while he reaches for stuff. Like a true pro, Andy reached for his gun and prepared while keeping his head straight forward on the deer, only moving his eyes so he could see what he was doing. He slowly brought up the gun and fixed the crosshairs on the buck while he crept up the ridge toward us. I could hear Andy breathing quickly. After he was so cocky at the rifle range he was finally getting a crash course in buck fever. I whispered to him, “Breathe slowly. Let him keep coming this way.” After three minutes that felt like an hour the deer stopped no more than 30 yards from the stand. He wasn’t perfectly broadside, but he was close. I wasn’t sure Andy was going to get a better look than this. I whispered, “Take a deep inhale, let a little bit of breath out, then squeeze the trigger.” He shot and the deer just stood there. Andy panicked. “What should I do??!?” I said, “You hit him. They do this sometimes. He’s in shock. Get ready just in case.” As Andy prepared for a the double-tap the deer slowly walked 15-20 feet to our right and dropped over.
After I instinctively asked, “Is your gun on safe?” we both let out a big cheer and high fived. The first words out of Andy’s mouth were, “You were right! That is a lot harder than shooting at a piece of paper.” Andy unloaded his gun. We took my buddy Werz’s advice and sat down for a few minutes to calm down and take in the moment. That deer wasn’t going anywhere. Our mission was successful. During those few minutes I thought about my dad, who would’ve been more excited than both of us. I thought of my Uncle Dave, who has treated me and Andy like sons and would be happy to see that another generation of Brawner has officially joined in the deer hunting tradition. I thought of my brother who also got his first buck when he was 12. I didn’t get a buck until I was 22. We texted pretty much everyone we know, which wasn’t easy since we were both shaking from the combination of cold and excitement.
When we finally climbed down and made the short walk to the deer I could see the bullet hole from far away. Andy definitely got buck fever. It was much closer to a spine shot than it was a heart/lung shot. The same kid who was talking endless shit about his marksmanship weeks earlier as he put shot after shot in the bullseye at 50 and 100 yards came about three inches from completely missing a deer that was no more than 30 yards away. It didn’t matter. He got his buck. He can learn from it and move on. Andy can say that he now has one more buck than Grandpa Jim. Sorry, dad. I couldn’t help myself.
Now that Big Cat had his it was time for me to get mine. That was the deal. Let’s get back to it.
2:35 – A slow, windy afternoon. Kneecap, Andy, and I are the only ones left. Everyone else is either home or at the cabin watching a crappy Packer game. I’m starting to see why. Deer aren’t moving at all. Still hoping to get lucky this afternoon and pull off a father/son double buck day. Even if we don’t, it’s still a great day…and there’s always tomorrow.
4:13 – WINDY!
4:44 – Just saw four deer. Guessing it was the same four from yesterday. Andy really wanted me to take that doe, but I don’t feel like gutting out a doe until after dark. Maybe she’ll be back tomorrow.
I remember four things about the second day after Andy’s kill last year: 1. Damn near everyone left to either go home or watch the Packer game. I have zero recollection of that game, nor do I care to look it up. If I said it was crappy in the journal, it was crappy. 2. It was windy as hell. Worrying that a tree might blow down on us windy. There was no hearing deer or anything else in weather like that. 3. We didn’t see shit all day. 4. We didn’t care. Andy got his buck. Nothing else mattered. Part of the reason we didn’t see shit was because we were screwing around. We left to watch the first half of the Packers and eat lunch, which we never do. We watched F1. We walked around a lot. As far as I was concerned, we were done. If I got one, great, but I wasn’t done putting in 100% effort. We already had venison.
Monday, November 22, 2021
8:19 – What a strange morning. Got out a good hour before shooting time and it felt like the “Thriller” video. Full moon, still, but noise everywhere. Heard deer in three different places at one point. Felt like I was being hunted, or at least surrounded. Then it got light and…nothing. No deer. Still an awesome weekend. Andy’s first buck was unforgettable.
A strange morning, indeed. Andy didn’t come with that day because he already had his buck. I was alone and enjoying it. I loved getting out early so much I did it one more time. Monday was different, though. There was so much crashing around I was convinced at one point that something was coming for me. Unlike the previous two mornings, it was too dark to see what was going on around me. It was much cloudier and the moon was hidden. I’m certain I wasn’t hearing squirrels. It was too big and loud. I wanted to just shine a spotlight to see what was happening. It felt like I was surrounded. Then at about 6:35 it all stopped. I never heard or saw another thing. I had to be back in Green Bay because my daughter had a band concert that night. By the time I started doing the math and realized that I would have to gut and drag a deer if I got one, get it in the truck and back to the cabin along with Andy’s buck, pack up, then drive 4.5 hours home I figured the latest I could shoot a buck and accomplish everything else was 8:30 AM. It obviously didn’t happen.
I didn’t mind. I wasn’t there to get my own buck in 2021, nor will I be in 2022. I’m sure those days will come again in time, but now I’m all about making sure Andy learns and enjoys his hunting experience. Until he’s old enough to hunt safely on his own, I’m all about making sure he’s learning and having the best time he can. If that means I won’t get any bucks for a few years, so be it.
Or, maybe Andy will get his on opening morning this year and I’ll have the rest of the weekend to try. You never know. We’re seeing more quality bucks on camera this year than I ever recall seeing before. I’ve seen more deer before, but never good bucks like I’m seeing this year. There are definitely enough to go around.
On an even more exciting note, as of this writing my brother Andy, brother-in-law Brett, and brother-from-another-mother Tyson will all be re-joining the rest of us at deer camp this year after some time away. It’s looks like it’ll be a special year and it’s all going down in just over two weeks. I will have my trusty journal with me ready to document all of it. You can read about it next November.