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Archive for November, 2007

Ahhh, Montana

My husband related this story to me over dinner tonight. He’s headed out to Eastern Montana for a week of bird hunting, just him and our German Shorthaired Pointer, Stanley. He called to set up a reservation for a room in the big city of Circle, MT.

EZ:  Hi, I was calling to see if you have a room available Sunday night.

Motel Guy: Let me go up front and check… Sunday, you say?

EZ: Yep. It’ll just be me and my dog.

MG: Oh, so you’ll be needing two beds, then?

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Last, we butchered up the rear legs and backstraps from my deer. I rather enjoy butchering… once the quartering is done, anyhow. Quartering, taking the deer from hanging as a whole to the primal cuts, is unpleasant to me for some reason. I can quite put my finger on it. It’s not really a gross thing and it’s not particularly hard. I just don’t like it. I even prefer field-dressing to it.

Butchering after that step, however, is an indoor, seated activity, rather than in the cold spare room. The dogs, desperate for a nibble here or there, are laying expectantly at our feet. It’s also just another layer of familiarity with the animal I’ve harvested and that I’ll be eating for next 6 or more months.

I just enjoy familiarity with my food. I absolutely loved eating tomatoes this summer that I’d watched grow from tiny, green orbs to red, juicy tomatoes. Likewise, I love that I looked that deer in the eye, assessed its apparent health, made the decision to pull the trigger and was there every step of the way to getting that deer from field to freezer. That’s not to say that it was all pleasant and enjoyable (though much of it was), but it was all deeply satisfying and entirely worth it.

Perhaps it is an odd proclivity to want to witness and take part in every step of your food’s journey from point of origination to table. I suspect, however, that it is a common thread among all humans, a remnant from our ancestors. So much of the population pays little heed to their food, but who wouldn’t love a meal with a story? A story better than “your steak grew fat on a feedlot, was stuffed full of grains, hormones and antibiotics and your potatoes came from a factory farm in Idaho.” Why else would pastoral, idealized images in the marketing of food be so prominent and successful, even when it is so often very far from the truth?

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Pulling the Trigger

I finally did it. I finally got my first deer.

***Please be warned. The story to follow is at times graphic and may not be your particular cup of tea. I mean, it’s kind of obvious given my opening, but the following is going to discuss, in detail, the hunting, shooting and processing of a deer. I really don’t want or mean to offend/gross out anyone. If you think that might be you, please check out my links and read something without so many blood and guts.***

We stepped out of the truck this morning an hour before legal shooting hours, on a cloudy, pitch black night. We climbed up into the State Land we’d be hunting by the light of EZ’s headlamp, held close to the ground, so as to not scare off any nearby deer. The entrance to this particular half-section of State Land is very steep and very rocky, so it was slow going and we both stumbled once or twice in the darkness.

This was the first time we’d been in this land this year, but we hunted it last year nearly every time we went out. So we posted up on the edge of the field that had all the fresh deer beds last year. Since I was the primary hunter for the day, I sat up against a limb of a fallen tree, while EZ laid back for a few extra z’s. There was still over half an hour before we could legally shoot, and since it was so cloudy, before we could really see. We waited, we got cold, and of course, once the sun brightened the eastern sky, all those hopeful dark spots out in the field proved to be bushes. We moved on through the area, checking out each draw in the direction that wind, which was quite strong, offered us most protection.

This particular area (no, I will not say where!) has three more or less parallel draws. We make a habit of staying on the ridges in the trees. If we discover deer within the draws or their side draws, we just might have a decent shot if the trees aren’t in the way. If the deer are on the opposite slope, the shot is likely too far to be feasible.

We were on the last ridge of the last draw and I was thinking today was probably a wash. We’d seen a few deer, but they were way too far for a decent shot and were moving off the State Land onto private ag fields. Although, EZ did pull on my backpack so hard that I landed flat on my butt when he spotted them. “Sorry. I got excited.”

EZ was checking in one direction while I was checking the other side of the ridge when he signaled me. I moved down to where he was, not seeing the deer he was seeing. I settled in next to him and he told me to peek down to my right, around a rock outcrop, there was a deer bedded down. I leaned over and sure enough, there were the huge ears of a Mule Deer, about 60 yards away. She was bedded down beneath some trees on the same slope as us of the draw. She stared at me wide eyed. I ducked out of her view. “What should I do? Should I shoot her?”

“I dunno, I guess.” EZ’s usual non-commital answer. “Do you have a good shot?”

“Yeah,” I said. “She’s laying down so it’s not great, but I can definitely get her.”

“Then, do it.” There’s a genius in his simple logic that I often overlook. I slid over back in to her view. She was still there, looking at me with the big eyes and huge ears. I lifted my rifle and looked at her through the scope. She was small, but I couldn’t tell a lot about her from her bedded-down, quartered toward position. Her eyes were bright, her coat was smooth, her relaxed body was filled out nicely. She was healthy.

I thought to myself, “Well, she’s a little small. Probably a yearling.  Not much meat. And that shot is not great. I can get both lungs, but I’ll probably get a lot of other stuff too.” I recognized that same cycle starting in my head. “Look, Kim,” I told myself, “You’ve got a lifetime to be picky about your shots and the size of your deer. But first, you need to just shoot one. This one!”

I looked over at EZ. He was already covering his ears.

I looked back through my scope put my crosshairs on the spot I thought would get both lungs. I stopped breathing and started squeezing the trigger. I knew the gun had fired, but I never did hear the bang. I looked down at her. She started to get up and couldn’t. She tumbled once, twice, tried again, tumbled again and then all motion ceased. Her death took in the neighborhood of 5 seconds.

“She’s dead,” I told Eric. In the first 10 seconds after pulling the trigger, I felt horrible. I wanted to take my bullet back and walk away empty-handed yet again. “Oh God, oh God, oh God, oh God, oh God, oh God, oh God.” The adrenaline began spilling out my mouth in the form of that phrase, over and over, with the occasional “oh fuck” thrown. My regret and horror at what I had done quickly eased into relief that she had gone down so quickly, which then became disbelief that I had actually finally done it. Though I sort of never wanted to do it again.

My hands quivered deeply and uncontrollably, all the while feeling like tiny worms were crawling beneath my skin. It’s hard to overstate the amount of adrenaline coursing through my body at that time.

EZ: “You did it!!”
Me: “Oh God, oh God, oh God, oh God. Fuck. Oh God, oh God, oh God.” I’m sure I was a joy to be around just then.

Once I had calmed down enough to negotiate the rock outcrops between my fallen deer and I, we started down toward her. The adrenaline had mostly subsided by the time I got to her. I was still feeling a little unsure and a little freaked out, but I had stopped the mental ward act, for the most part. Eric immediately got to work. “Stop,” I said, “I need to…” I removed my glove and laid my hand on the side of her chest. “Thank you,” I told her. Then, after that moment, I was fine, ready to get to the earthy business of field dressing and fully resolved with what I had done.

Although the bullet had passed through both lungs, killing her very quickly and humanely, it had also clipped the edge of her stomach. This is certainly not ideal, but isn’t the end of the world either. Eric, who’s field dressed an deer and an antelope (I was present both times, but it doesn’t really sink in until you do it), guided me along and told me what to do. I am one who always errs on the side of caution a bit, so took my time and took great care with all my cuts. I did everything except cutting around the inside of the pelvic bone to free the back end of the digestive system. I just felt too clumsy for that. We released all her entrails onto the ground, a treat for the coyotes, and cleaned her out a bit with all the water we had.

She was light and save for getting her out of the steep draw, it was an easy drag back to the truck. As we drove back home, the elation set in. I had finally done it. This has been a goal of mine for close to two years and I finally achieved it. I’ve been interested in hunting since I had a high school/early college boyfriend who hunted and started to learn what hunting was all about. So I guess you could say that this has been an at least latent desire for close to 10 years. Now, it’s done. I’ve taken my first deer and experienced all the joy and fun and disappointment and desire and horror and satisfaction that comes along with it.

I can say now, that hunting is an amazing thing to do with your time. It’s so often characterized as some testosterone sport in which drunken rednecks drive their ATV’s around and try to shoot the thing with the biggest antlers with no respect or regard for the animal, the law, or ethics. Hunting can be easily perverted, but from my conversations, I can say that the average hunter has a deep love of wild lands and the animals that roam there. They respect the animal they harvest from long before the shot, until the last package of meat is pulled from the freezer. Hunting is emotional, earthy and real. It is the only way that we humans have to meaningfully interact in nature rather than merely observe it. And I love it.

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