81. Venison


So for two days I just froze in the woods. By the time the sun had warmed up the fields, the deer were nowhere to be seen. I did see a young buck in the predawn light, but once I had looked through the scope to verify his rack points, he was gone up and over the hill, heading toward the church to pray. He did not see me sitting in the office chair next to the tree. It did feel a bit silly swiveling around like George Costanza with a rifle. Okay, I felt something like embarrassment in front of the squirrels and woodpeckers. So I wandered around stealthily, hoping to warm my feet and create some mammalian confrontation, you know, shoot something on the move, like Rambo. Nothing developed. After several anxious hours I returned to the cabin.

Being in the cabin in Nowheresville with a woodstove heating the place, just realigning with nature, ahhh, what can I say? It was better than going to the chiropractor. We talked, watched some television, and went to bed early…with visions of muscular ten points in our heads. Up at three the next morning, we chowed down on toast and eggs and coffee. The news and sports did not matter. The weather mattered. Having our gear together mattered. Being quiet and stealthy mattered as we repeated our trek into the black frosted woods again.

On our second day after lunch Clark took me over to his neighbor Kenny’s hay field. We saw several does grazing at a great distance. We crawled and scurried behind hay bales, sweating in the afternoon sun. He wanted me to get my deer and here they were. The problem was that they were just over the hill, which dropped off sharply into a hunting club’s property. “If we shoot one and it runs, we won’t be able to drag it up this ravine. Or else it could straggle over to the hunting club’s land and that will create a big dust up for us and Kenny. So, shoot it in the head. Then it will drop where it stands.”

The moment had come for me to fire the big gun at a real animal. I was pumped up with adrenalin and exertion. I scoped out the doe, trying to put her head in the crosshairs while the gun bobbed around as if I were in a boat. At 100 yards my target was a wildlife postage stamp. I would have much preferred to shoot her broadside in the shoulder, but the deer are not really into customer service. I pulled the trigger and Blam! I missed. All the deer in the dale below scampered into the woods. We were done for a while. Unlike humans deer won’t come around to rubberneck about the loud bang.

On the third day at a different location– just beyond the pasture where the woods were thin– my luck changed. I had a wider view of the trails the deer travel. Clark called me to say that several were headed my way. I got ready and scanned carefully through the scope. Nothing. I waited, feet numb. Nothing. I listened keenly, nose dripping with cold. Nothing. I walked across the trail, crunching the twigs and leaves. Nothing. I scooted out near the pasture line. Nothing.  I knew I should wait longer, bear down harder, but I was losing my blood lust. So I started walking toward the cabin, its warmth, coffee and lunch and a nap. That ‘s when I saw them just at the top of the hill above me.

There were 12 or 13 does snuffling through the leaves, heads down. I was downwind from them and they did not see or smell me. I was instantly jacked up and slowly drew the rifle up. I scanned for the biggest deer in the scope. I put her in the crosshairs, dropped the safety, and Kaboom, booom, booom. My shot echoed. She dropped. The herd leapt away from her and sprinted away into the woods. My deer sort of ran with her legs in the air as I walked the forty yards the bullet had travelled across the thin woods and into her neck. She slowed down and then stopped. I was struck by her beauty and size. Her belly was loaded with fresh grass.

I called Clark. “Was that you, man? Alright! I’ll be right out with the truck.” I stood looking at my prize and took a picture on my cell phone. This was gonna be a whole new deal now. Blood and guts would follow the rather clean and distant act of shooting.

A few minutes later I saw him coming across the pasture in his pick up truck, sticking to the ruts that led back into the woods. He parked about twenty feet from where my deer lay. “Oh, she’s a beauty. Nice shot”, he added as he looked at the entry hole in her neck. “Let’s look at the other side. Holy crap!” There was a shredding at the other side of the deer where the bullet had exploded and destroyed her left shoulder and neck. “These high powered bullets are unbelievable. Will you look at that damage? Oh, ho ho. Wow.”

Clark pulled out his buck knife and explained the process of gutting the deer. He had been a meatcutter decades ago for Safeway in the D.C. suburbs. He still knew a thing or two about cutting up a carcass. “Leave all the innards for the coyotes. It will be gone by morning. I guarantee it.” We tossed the carcass minus the innards onto the bed of the truck. I felt very satisfied and tired now that the adrenalin was wearing off.

“We’ll let her cool down and then we can skin her and cut her up. It’s gonna be bloody. How’s your stomach for such things?” I didn’t really know. The closest I’d been to this much bloody meat was the beef counter at the grocery store. Needless to say the carving up of the carcass was brutal, savage, and humbling. We cut as much meat as was practical. I didn’t want to waste any part of the animal, feeling something like spiritual connectedness with the animal’s spirit. After a bloody hour, there was only the head and backbone and ribs left.  We piled all the parts into the tractor’s bucket and Clark took it all out to the field for the scavenging animals to feast on during the night. The big hunks of meat were stored in a refrigerator at the cabin for aging.

It was done. Finally. The actual shooting part took five seconds. The aftermath took hours and then more hours once Clark brought the meat back to his house for the burger making and the finer cutting into steaks and roasts. For the first time in my life I realized just how labor intensive being a carnivore is. Which may explain the deep satisfaction I get these days from eating my venison. She was a beauty.

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