December 1, 2010

The Deer Hunt

Warning:  This post contains a graphic description of an animal being killed.  Reader discretion is advised.

Ever since I learned that grass-fed meat is healthier, I've been anxious to get my hands on some.  I'm also interested in eating local.  So, I decided to hunt a deer on our ranch.  I am not a hunter.  I don't enjoy killing things.  I have butchered a few animals though, so I felt confident I could do it.  I dutifully purchased my game tag and paid the 'conservation tax', all of which came out to $50.  $50 to shoot an animal on my own land!  I enlisted the help of my brother-in-law (who does like to hunt and kill things) and his girlfriend.  We piled into the old ranch pickup and headed out.

My brother-in-law, Butch, spotted a group of deer pretty quickly.  The best shot I could get was still pretty far away, and I was sure it was a mama doe.  I thought it would be mean to kill a mama.  So we moved on.  Unexpectedly, I was kind of bored!  I guess since I wasn't sneaking around behind trees and crawling on my belly, I wasn't in "hunting mode".  We came on another group, but they were pretty smart.  They ran just out of shooting range, but we could still see them.  I was ready to quit, but I wanted to get my money's worth.

The first group we saw.  Can you spot the deer?   There are at least 3 in this picture.

Finally we spotted some on a side hill.  Butch parked the pickup in the road.  He and I got out and trudged through the snow towards them.  Then we got on our knees so as to go unnoticed.  We moved closer, stopping in some tall grass that provided a little cover for us.  We were about 100 yards away from them.  There were about 3 deer laying down, facing us, and a couple more standing and grazing.  I chose one of the deer laying down.  No antlers, and it looked a little smaller, so I figured it was a female fawn (which is what I wanted).  I pulled my knee up to rest the gun on it.  I concentrated on breathing steadily.  I looked into the scope of the gun at the deer on the hill.  I felt anxious, anticipating the innocent animal's death.  I hesitated.  The tag had only cost $50.  Was this innocent life worth $50?  Why was I doing this again?  What if I miss?  What if I only wound it?  I pointed the gun at the deer's head, held my breath, and pulled the trigger. 

It lunged forward and landed in a heap.  It took the deer about 5 seconds to die, instead of 1.  Butch took off running so he could slit its throat and let the blood drain out.  I followed him, awkwardly running/ stomping through the snow with the gun in my hand.  It was pretty unbelievable that this creature had just been alive a few minutes before.  It never saw me coming.  It was a male.  I felt better knowing I hadn't killed someone's mother.  I looked for the bullet hole. I had aimed for the head, but I had hit the lung, right behind the shoulder.  The entry wound was surprisingly small.  The exit wound was pretty bloody and gross.  I stared at the deer, thinking I should take a picture, but finding no desire within myself to do so.  Butch was excited for me.  He assured me this was probably a yearling buck since it was such a good size.  I felt no pride, no guilt, nothing really, which seemed strange.  We each grabbed a leg, and started the long hike back to the pickup.  We had to hike 1/4 mile up a hill in the snow, dragging the heavy deer.  It was a very long hike.  We stopped a few times to catch our breath before finally reaching the pickup.  On the drive back home, Butch tried to tease me a little, but I could barely respond.  My heart and lungs were still working hard from the hike, and I felt mentally tired.

My mother-in-law, Bertha, met us at the shop.  We chained the deer to the tractor bucket and lifted it up off the floor.  She helped me skin it and cut the meat off the bone. I was reminded once again why the food industry is in the state it is.  People don't really want to do it themselves.  They don't really want to know what goes into making food.  It's kind of gross.  At first the smell wasn't too bad, but near the end, when the guts were hanging out, I kept getting overwhelming whiffs of sage brush.  Now I understand why my husband always says deer stink. 

That's me, in the least graphic picture of the butchering process.
 We cut out the shoulders, backstraps, tenderloin, and hind quarters.  I was slightly concerned about the possiblity of Chronic Wasting Disease, which may present no obvious symptoms at first, so I was careful to leave the organs, spinal cord, and brains alone.  With my knowledgeable mother-in-law, in only took about a half hour to cut the meat out.  When we were finished, I finally felt pride and excitement.  I had accomplished my goal, and it only took about 3 hours. 

We threw the meat in my in-laws' walk-in cooler. A few days later we cut up 2 sides of pork.  We ground up most of the deer meat with some pork fat and saved one backstrap intact.  I also gave some meat to Butch and Bambi to make into jerky, as a way of thanking them for their help.  I would guess I ended up with about 25 pounds of meat.  That's a little over $2 a pound, if my time isn't worth anything.

And that was my first deer hunt!

The finished product (minus the jerky meat)

Linked to Fight Back Friday.


Kim said...

Wow!!!! I am so impressed!!!! I went with my hubby this year, but didn't actually hunt. I survived hunting camp, so I guess the next logical step would be to "earn my keep" at camp and hunt! Congratulations~good job!

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