Venery

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Talanall
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Venery

Today I shot my first deer. Like, ever.

I grew up around hunting, but never got around to hunting for venison because when I was a kid, my father's hunting was more than sufficient to fill our freezer each year. There were a good five or six years solid, during my childhood, that venison was the only red meat served in our household. Later on my father found it difficult to spare the time and expense involved in maintaining his share of a hunting club's lease and upkeep on a tract of timberland, and by then I was busy finishing high school and going on to college. Hunting was never really a priority for me after that; I tended to live in places that made it inconvenient to pursue my interest in doing it, and as an apartment-dweller it would have been troublesome to store the meat from whatever I did kill (and I've never been interested in trophies, or even in the "sport" of the thing). And honestly, good rifles are just expensive enough that I wasn't interested in laying down a bunch of money for a rifle, plus the aforementioned time and expense for membership in a club (and a public wildlife management area was right out). So, years passed. Decades, in fact.

A couple of years after I got married, my wife and I moved to her hometown in rural northern Louisiana, where my father-in-law is still the largest commercial peach grower in the state. I think that there are roughly four to five dozen deer currently in and around his property, which is about 400 acres (although only about a quarter of that is planted in peach trees). And then a couple of years after we came up, my father died and I inherited his rifle, which is a left-handed bolt action chambered for .30-06. And like him, I'm a lefty. Under the circumstances, it's easy for me to go hunting if I'm so inclined. It hasn't been convenient for me to do so until this year, mostly because I've been busy remodeling my house and getting the grounds into some semblance of order. But I finally have the leisure to feel okay about taking time off to go and sit in the woods with a rifle. And that brings us to today.

I don't know if any of the rest of you are hunters at all, but hunting and hunters show up pretty often in fantasy and RPGs and I am reasonably sure that at least some of you are not hunters and have never broken down any animal for food, much less a sizable one like a deer. So I thought that it might be interesting if I described what it was like to hunt, kill and gut a large mammal, from the perspective of someone who just did it for the first time. If you're squeamish, I think now would be a good time to stop reading, because this is not going to be a sanitized account.

There're lots of ways to go about hunting large game, but I and everyone I've ever known rely on still hunting, which entails waiting in one place until your chosen quarry shows up, at which point you shoot it. In Louisiana, most people do this from a stand, which is a platform or blind that is elevated above ground level. Deer have excellent visual acuity for spotting movement, but they don't ordinarily look upward. So the elevation improves your chances at raising your weapon, aiming, and firing without the deer spotting any telltale movement. In Louisiana (and many other states) it's legal to hunt over a food plot or a pile of dry corn or some other thing that deer find tasty, provided that you are on private property. On public lands, this is absolutely forbidden, and anyway it would be a waste of effort because other hunters would come in and take advantage of your work in establishing such a site. There are hunters who consider such methods unsportsmanlike, but the practice is widespread in Louisiana. I can see merits to both sides of the debate, but I'm not personally invested in the "sporting" aspect of the thing. I'm in this for fresh venison. For those who are interested in the finer points of this topic, I can elaborate if requested. Suffice it to say that I have been hunting both away from and over feed plots since a couple of days before Halloween, and today's kill was only the second deer that I've had a clean shot at. The first one was not over a food plot; this one was. I missed the first one, about a week ago, because I was so excited that my hands were shaky. Basically, my anecdotal experience is that there isn't really a huge difference between the two methods, except that a food plot tends to mean the deer holds still for longer. I care a great deal about whether I kill my quarry humanely, so that's a point in favor from my perspective.

You don't need to be an especially good marksman to hunt for deer; most shots take place at ranges under 100 yards, and often much closer. A typical "deer rifle" is fitted with a scope, so provided your scope is adjusted properly and the deer isn't moving at a run, you're virtually guaranteed to hit it unless you screw up like I did with my first attempt. Nerves are a big deal if you're excited, either because you're a newbie or because you're interested in trophies and are looking at a large, mature buck. I don't know exactly what I did wrong, but I flubbed my first shot, most likely by jerking on the trigger.

Today was better; my kill fell in its tracks, exactly where it was when I shot it, in about as auspicious a first kill as I could ask for. This is actually somewhat uncommon; unless your shot goes through a deer's heart, which is what happened in my case, a deer typically runs some distance, often 50 to 100 yards, after which you must go into the woods after it, relying on a blood trail to suss out its resting place, and then drag or carry it out. I cannot really claim any special skill; I can shoot a consistent 3-inch group at 100 yards, if I have a place to rest my arm and I'm not excited. That makes me a poor marksman by competition standards, but as I said before, you don't need to be a really good shot to hunt for deer. So this was mostly luck.

After making my shot, I walked out to the deer and inspected him to be sure he was dead. If he hadn't been, I'd have dispatched him, but there was no cause for me to worry; he died almost instantly. My deer was a young buck, probably about a year old, and I had taken him for a doe because his antlers were basically vestigial, making him what is called a "button" buck. They were really nothing but bony, fur-covered knobs above his eyes. Looking down at the freshly-killed animal, I had a moment of real sadness because they really are very pretty creatures, even in death.

But I consoled myself with the fact that I will enjoy quite a few suppers from him, and also with the knowledge that in six months or so, he would be happily chowing down on my father-in-law's peach crop.

One of the things you find out when you hunt for creatures is that they can be much larger or smaller than you expect them to be. My deer was smaller than you'd think; white tail deer usually don't get much bigger than 160 lbs. where I am, although recently someone killed a 200 lb. buck from the same spot where I shot my little fellow. I estimate his total weight at roughly 100 lbs. If I had to, I'm sure that I could have slung him over my shoulder and packed him out of the woods, but instead I called my father-in-law, who showed up with a four-wheeler and a trailer to haul him away to a spot where he had a winch to hoist up the carcass. At that point, it was time for me to gut the deer. Technically you can rely on a game processing house to do all of this stuff for you, but there's a substantial extra charge for gutting an animal. And it's not hard; it's just messy and smelly.

Speaking of, gutting is the point where you really come to grips with the enormity of what you've done as a hunter. This is something that I was familiar with already, because I've hunted squirrel and other small creatures before. Gutting a deer was really just a matter of degree, but it certainly forces you to confront the idea that you've killed a living creature and are going to eat its muscle tissues. A little squirrel or rabbit isn't any big deal; dressing out small game is not totally bloodless, but you don't wind up red to the elbows and reeking of slaughter the way you do when you cut into a deer.

The process of gutting an animal is really simple: you take a sharp knife (I just used the folding knife that I carry on me whenever I'm outside of my house), find the soft spot right under the deer's sternum, and pierce through into the abdominal cavity. Then you hook a finger inside the hole and use it to prevent the blade from slicing into the animal's guts while you run the knife all the way down to its genitals. After that, you spill its guts out, and (if desired) harvest any organ meats you care to eat. Any illustrated guide to butchering your own meat will tell you this. This description of the process leaves out a few details, though.

The first missing detail is that guts are hot. Like, uncomfortably hot. Steaming hot. And although I just said that you "spill" them out of the animal's body cavity, that's not strictly accurate. You really sort of rip them out with your hands. Guts are squishy and slippery, and you have to tug quite firmly to get them loose from the membranes that hold them in place inside the abdomen, but not so firmly that you rupture them. If you perforate the guts, then you're going to have a bad time because of the smell, which is somewhere between vomit and feces, depending on where the hole is located. Removing them from the carcass is a necessary step, and it is a (ha ha) visceral experience in its own right. So this evening I was literally elbow deep in a corpse's body cavities, rummaging around to make sure that I tore its innards lose from the inside of its abdominal wall. There were some really hairy noises involved in this enterprise.

The other missing detail is the aroma. Even if you don't put a hole in the gut, there's still going to be great deal of blood inside the carcass. You've just shot it, after all. Large quantities of hot blood give off a weirdly sweet aroma that isn't really awful, but can't really be deemed pleasant either. And once you get the bulk of the guts out, you still have to remove the bladder, genitals, and so forth. All kind of gross, and you have to be careful not to puncture them. And then you have to cut out the creature's anus. There will be poop. You will squeeze it out of the corpse's anus like greenish toothpaste. I can't dress this up and make it not be disgusting.

You also have to open up the chest cavity, which is harder than taking out the guts, but easier than it sounds—it's hard for a surgeon because the patient has to be put together again afterward, but we don't care about such things. Since any mammal's sternum is a bone connected to its ribs by a piece of cartilage, you don't really need any special equipment; it can be sliced with a sharp knife. Doing so allows you to spread the ribs open, slice through the diaphragm, and then jam your hand up as far into the deer's neck as it can go, after which you reach in with your knife and slice through trachea and aorta in one go. Afterward . . . well, again, there's no delicate way to say this: you literally rip out the animal's heart and lungs. If you're into offal, they both are edible (and heart can be quite good), but most of the time both will have been damaged by having been shot. This tends to leave them mushy and unappetizing, and in my deer there was actually a sizable chunk of the heart that was simply missing because I had shot it away.

After sluicing most of the blood and other fluids off of my skin, the deer, now in a state known as "field dressed" was ready to go into the back of a pickup truck to be dropped off with a game processor who will break it down into steaks, roasts, and ground meat. This is something that you really can do yourself, especially if you have a hacksaw ready to hand and have a working knowledge of which cuts of meat come from which parts of the carcass. But it's been fairly warm out lately, and meat is perishable. If I am lucky enough to make a second or third kill later in the season when the weather is cold enough to support it, I may butcher my own meat, but today it seemed better to gut the carcass and send it to a professional with a walk-in freezer and a bandsaw.

Edited by: Talanall on 11/20/2017 - 13:05
deadDMwalking
deadDMwalking's picture

Bandsaws are awesome. If I wanted to make my own cuts I would almost certainly want one. Of course, they take up a lot of space and you pretty much need a clean place with drains in the floor to clean up after, so it's not really practical. I worked in a meat department for a while when I lived in Iowa (I primarily handled the seafood but everyone did everything at some point or another). So it's not practical to have one at home, but it sure would be nice for that kind of thing.

Talanall
Talanall's picture

If I were doing it myself, I'd put a large hack blade onto my sawzall.

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold

Fixxxer
Fixxxer's picture

That's the way to go, really.

Board Rider
Board Rider's picture

Wait. You're a lefty? Also, given some of the discussions on this site, I thought you may have been going with the other use of venery.

Anyway, I have hunted twice and was quietly happy nothing came my way. I dont think I would have the heart to kill a defenseless animal who didn't see it coming outside of a survival situation. Additionally, my shot isnt the greatest and I remember thinking I would be ridiculed if I missed. The guys I went hunting with were guys from work, not close friends, and were avid hunters. Cabella card holders and all kitted out. They took that shit serious in Wyoming and I was a city boy from California.

I grew up around firearms. When I was a small child I slaughtered goats, pigs, and chickens (although I never cleaned or prepped them) while on my grandparents farm. I just could never see myself hunting.

I am just a big softie.

Talanall
Talanall's picture

The part where I looked down for the first time at an animal I'd just shot dead wasn't super easy for me, I'll admit. Especially since it was still warm, and the fur was velvety and soft. I won't pretend that I didn't feel a little sad, but at the end of the day I can't feel any sorrier for the deer than I am for the domestic animals that have died to feed me over the years. Like you, I grew up around chickens and goats, and although I usually was not responsible for gutting them out, it has left me (mostly) unsentimental about creatures that I think of as food.

I'm sorry to hear that you were worried that you'd be laughed at if you missed a shot. It's understandable, of course, and not totally misplaced; most hunters that I have known have been the sort of guy who might well tease a little bit over a missed shot, most especially if I'd been foolish enough to call a head shot and miss it, or to describe myself as a good marksman. My brother-in-law did that, by the way. With the called-and-missed head shot. He was teased for that, and deservedly so. But it was good-natured teasing even in that case.

The only thing I was concerned about (other than gut-shooting some poor creature out of sheer incompetence) was that I would find myself unexpectedly squeamish about the blood and guts involved in field dressing my kill, and end up tossing my cookies in front of my father-in-law and anyone else who might be on hand. I wasn't so worried as to let it keep me from trying, and in the event I didn't have any problem. Since I'm basically comfortable in admitting that I consider myself barely adequate as a marksman past about 150 yards, I wasn't concerned that I'd be teased for missing. And when I did miss, nobody teased me at all. Most guys who've hunted for awhile have missed apparently easy shots just like I did a week or so ago.

That's something I want to improve after the season's over, just because I really care about making as humane a kill as I can. So I'll probably spend some time at a range some day when the wind is dead calm; I need to get my scope zeroed properly anyway, and I'm sure that if I practice a bit I will be able to group better than three inches at 100 yards. Prior to this season, I hadn't shot for almost twenty years, and I only spent enough time on it to be sure that I remembered how and that my scope was still accurate enough for me to kill reliably and humanely at the distances I was likely to shoot across.

And yes, I'm a lefty, although I play the guitar right-handed (but only three chords and extremely badly). And I spar either way, or did fifteen years ago when I still did that kind of thing. I shoot left-handed, but until inheriting my father's rifle I almost always used a right-handed gun because it was incidental. Most of my shooting has been plinking with a .22LR that my father picked up explicitly to teach my brothers and me how to handle and shoot a firearm.

Also, I was aware of the other meaning of venery; I enjoy wordplay more than enough to have deliberately chosen it instead of something less ambiguous. Think of it as clickbait.

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold

Board Rider
Board Rider's picture

I remember growing up having to learn to shoot right handed. In the Army I was forced to given that I have a lazy left eye and, due to it, horrible vision.

I still remember the first two animals I helped kill. The first was a goat. My responsibility was to hold the head while my grandfather cracked it's head open. I cried all the way to my grandma who promptly kicked my tiny butt out of the house to get back to chores.

The second animal was a pig. This time I had to cut its throat while it was suspended upside down. To make it easier, I guess, my grandfather knocked the pig out with his bare fist. It didn't help. That fucking pig squealed when I gingerly cut its flesh and my grandpa made me finish the job.

You're right...the blood is certainly warm.

Probably not my best moments but hey, I was 5 or 6 on a farm in Perris, California in the early 80's. Wild times.

I forgot to mention that there is a.place in Wyoming, right on the southern border as you enter Colorado, that lets you shoot Bison. You just pick one, walk up, and shoot it. They cut it for you. Not exactly sporty but it was a mind blower when I was there.

Fixxxer
Fixxxer's picture

One of the tasks my father's job entailed was training snipers for the Federal Bureau of Prisons. He's retired, but is and always has been something of a "gu'bment gon steal our guns" type of survivalist, so he trained me (and my brother, to a lesser extent) not only how to hunt, but how to make a kill under pressure. I grew up hunting mostly with rifle and shotgun, but occasionally with crossbow and bow as well. Deer were targets of opportunity, mostly. Hogs are a bit of a nuisance animal around here, so there's no season. Dad taught me how to take a shot under pressure by giving me a .22lr (a very low-powered varmint caliber) and making me hunt 200 pound wild hogs with it. I've seen .22lr bounce of a hog's skull, doing little more than pissing them off. He would tell me to aim for the "brainpan shot," an area about the size of a half dollar between the jaw and ear, which allows the bullet to slip into the skull. Make the shot, you get meat; miss the shot, you get run up a tree by a very angry beast.

That's redneck education, folks.

If I could add anything to the original discussion, I would point out that one of the more disturbing aspects for me early on was that once you kill an animal, you suspend it to clean it, which is usually done with a rope, chain or hook behind the Achilles tendon. That's... hard to look at.

Talanall
Talanall's picture

Board Rider wrote:

I remember growing up having to learn to shoot right handed. In the Army I was forced to given that I have a lazy left eye and, due to it, horrible vision.

Are you a lefty, too?

Quote:

I still remember the first two animals I helped kill. The first was a goat. My responsibility was to hold the head while my grandfather cracked it's head open. I cried all the way to my grandma who promptly kicked my tiny butt out of the house to get back to chores.

I've never killed a goat, but I have always wanted to. We kept an evil-tempered pigfucker of a billy goat when I was a small boy, and my dealings with him have left me with a permanent animus against all caprines.

Quote:

The second animal was a pig. This time I had to cut its throat while it was suspended upside down. To make it easier, I guess, my grandfather knocked the pig out with his bare fist. It didn't help. That fucking pig squealed when I gingerly cut its flesh and my grandpa made me finish the job.

You're right...the blood is certainly warm.

Probably not my best moments but hey, I was 5 or 6 on a farm in Perris, California in the early 80's. Wild times.

My first animal ever was a squirrel that my brother killed with an air rifle. My mother put her foot down and said that if they were going to kill them, by God they were going to eat them, and her ultimatum backfired. I'm not really sure how the hell I ended up having to gut and skin the poor thing, but that was the first animal that I ever prepared for consumption. It wasn't a big deal because it was too small for there to be much blood and guts involved.

I'd been exposed to the whole process much younger; we kept a couple of dozen chickens for a couple of years, and they weren't just for the eggs.

Quote:

I forgot to mention that there is a.place in Wyoming, right on the southern border as you enter Colorado, that lets you shoot Bison. You just pick one, walk up, and shoot it. They cut it for you. Not exactly sporty but it was a mind blower when I was there.

Yeah, it's not hunting. I don't really have a problem with it; those bison would be slaughtered just like beef cattle anyway, and at their size it's not really convenient for a an amateur to break them down. I certainly wouldn't want to do it.

Fixxxer wrote:
Hogs are a bit of a nuisance animal around here, so there's no season.
They're not bad in my area, but we're worried that this is about to change. My father-in-law's place has been free of hogs for as long as he can remember,
but there've been sightings about two and a half miles away, not far from a creek bed that runs into his property. So we figure it's just a matter of time. I'll be pleased to shoot any that I see, especially since he owns a backhoe. Easiest pig roast ever, and one fewer dangerous animal in the vicinity.

Quote:
Dad taught me how to take a shot under pressure by giving me a .22lr (a very low-powered varmint caliber) and making me hunt 200 pound wild hogs with it. I've seen .22lr bounce of a hog's skull, doing little more than pissing them off. He would tell me to aim for the "brainpan shot," an area about the size of a half dollar between the jaw and ear, which allows the bullet to slip into the skull. Make the shot, you get meat; miss the shot, you get run up a tree by a very angry beast.

That's redneck education, folks.

This sounds both insane and terrifying. I've known people to take deer with a .22LR, but they were the kind of people who can basically drive nails with one after a lifetime spent with one in hand. I would never contemplate doing this now, and I suspect that I'd have received a beating had I attempted it as a youngster.

Quote:
If I could add anything to the original discussion, I would point out that one of the more disturbing aspects for me early on was that once you kill an animal, you suspend it to clean it, which is usually done with a rope, chain or hook behind the Achilles tendon. That's... hard to look at.

It doesn't bother me. We hoisted mine with a chain around its neck, which I didn't care for because of how it made the tongue protrude. I felt badly for how undignified it made the deer look. I think I would prefer a gambrel through the ankles next time, because I think it might be a little easier to open up the body without having blood go everywhere the moment I pierce through the diaphragm.

The only bit that really, truly gave me a difficult moment was having to reach back behind the stomach and sort of coax the esophagus forward so I could cut it loose and drag the whole mess of stomach, intestines, liver, etc. down into the bucket. This was when I had literally just opened up the abdomen, so everything was still SUPER warm, and very slippery. And I hadn't really cut as far down the belly as I ought to have done, so instead of falling under its own weight, the viscera just kind of bulged out and looked gross while also making it hard for me to see what I was doing.

I had to take a few deep breaths to steady myself at that point, and the blood scent proved unhelpful. Once I got that sorted out and the guts were in my bucket instead of flopping around and steaming a couple of inches from my nose, I was okay again.

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold

Board Rider
Board Rider's picture

Yeah..I am a lefty.

Fixxxer brought up the image of when my grandfather would suspend pigs upside down. It certainly is unsettling to see an animal in that position.

Fixxxer
Fixxxer's picture

For me, it's not about the position. It's the sympathetic wince I get at the thought of having my Achilles tendon fucked with.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bp4Q3VgdBuE

Talanall
Talanall's picture

Doesn't really bother me, though I can see why it might bother someone else.

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold

Talanall
Talanall's picture

It turns out that if you shoot a deer and drop it in its tracks while there is another bystander deer nearby, sometimes the bystander deer just stands there and stares at the corpse, going, "Bobby? Bobby?? Sugar, why'd you lay down in the middle of the street? Are you okay?"

So this evening I shot two deer, because I had time to dig out an extra round of ammunition, reload, etc. while the second one was standing wide-eyed and twitchy-eared, staring at what was probably either her son or her young lover.

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold

deadDMwalking
deadDMwalking's picture

I nearly killed a deer this morning in the most civilized way possible - with my car. It was preparing to leap into the road from a wooded area but I saw it poised to leap. I slammed on my brakes and braced for impact but it didn't leap and instead turned and ran.

It would have been inconvenient. It was a doe so I wouldn't have even acquired a rack to mount on the hood of my car as a warning to the others.

Talanall
Talanall's picture

I'm glad you didn't hit her. It makes a terrible mess of a car.

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold

Cronono
Cronono's picture

This is a fascinating thread for me. I didn't pick up a gun until my late 20s because a friend of mine said "we're going to the range now." I've only ever fired at the range and always at paper targets. Despite the fact that my extended family enjoys going hunting, I've never gone with them.

I really enjoy cooking, however, so I've spent a fair amount of time learning how to prepare meat for the table. I've also been confronted with vegans and their over-the-top video tapes. I don't think the experience of hunting for dinner is comparable to having a person reeking of patchouli yelling at you while watching the most graphic video of animal slaughter they can find. I imagine the revulsion they're trying to evoke preys on the empathy you are feeling you're hunting and field dressing Bambi. Is that right? Is it the same kind of emotion, or is it different from the guilt they're perpetuating?

Fixxxer
Fixxxer's picture

I've always felt that was so, yes. But it doesn't work. When you hunt and kill an animal, you feel empathy, but most of all you feel respect. When you look at the over-the-top works shat out by vegan activists and PETA, you generally feel nothing but pity; maybe anger. It's not the same, and the experiences really aren't comparable for anyone that has really hunted.

deadDMwalking
deadDMwalking's picture

This article from the Onion is easily in my top-10 favorite of all time. There certainly are a lot of reasons that humans as a species should reduce their consumption of meat, but I certainly don't think that eating meat is an immoral act. It happens to be one of my favorite things to eat, but we don't eat a lot of meat-centered meals. Most of our dinners are vegetarian but that's not because we have any qualms about eating animals. In any case, evangelical vegans often don't have an answer about what happens to domestic animals if nobody eats them anymore.

Talanall
Talanall's picture

I don't really know, man. I have vegan friends, but they're not assholes about it; one went vegan because he wanted to lose (and keep off) a bunch of weight, and the others stopped eating meat and dairy because they have reservations around the practices involved in large-scale animal husbandry. I think I know ONE vegan who straight up thinks it's morally wrong to eat meat. And again, not preachy about it. So the wild eyed dreadlock-and-patchouli brigade has never really been a group of real people to me. More of an Internet meme. I've never had someone try to lay a guilt trip on me for eating meat, regardless of its provenance.

But I can say that people get very emotional about the ethics of hunting, and it's not necessarily confined to hunters vs. non-hunters. As I remarked earlier in this thread, in Louisiana it's legal to hunt over bait or over a feed plot (baiting involves having a machine that broadcasts something like dry corn, or leaving piles of something similar around the hunting property and replenishing them regularly, so that the deer learn to congregate around a reliable source of food; a feed plot is when you plant something like clover, turnips, sugar beets, etc., and it's treated differently in some jurisdictions because you can argue that it's not your fault the deer are eating your crop). There are hunters who sneer at these practices, either because they don't consider it challenging, or because they consider it unethical. Most people are polite about this stuff, but it can get acrimonious when people come from very different hunting cultures.

I don't spend a lot of time worrying about this stuff; I know how to hunt without recourse to bait or plot, and anyway it's not a mutually exclusive approach. I won't get into the details because it's not really germane to your question, which I think has more to do with how people feel about killing animals, for food or otherwise.

I can only speak for myself and for what other hunters have said to me, in that regard. And for me, I don't really feel any kind of guilt. I think I would if I botched a kill, but that's not something that I've had the misfortune to do so far. I had an experience yesterday that stirred up some empathy on my part, but I don't feel badly about it.

As I said, I killed two deer yesterday. I had to track the second of my kills about 100 to 150 yards through the woods. I'd shot this particular doe through the lower part of her lungs, and I'd not expected her to run nearly that far. When I found her, it was clear that she'd thrashed around quite a bit where she finally lost her footing and fell down; the carpet of pine straw around her corpse was seriously disturbed where she'd kicked in her death spasm. Prior to this kill, all of mine had dropped where they stood, or at most staggered a couple of feet before they fell over. I felt some empathy for the animal in this case because she'd had time to feel pain and fear. I don't know exactly how long it took for her to die; I found her about 15 or 20 minutes after I shot her.

I didn't chase this deer immediately, despite seeing her run off, because (although I could see blood where I'd shot her and was confident that I'd got her in the lungs), I was being careful to give her a chance to bed down and bleed to death, just in case I'd actually hit her someplace that was less immediately fatal. If you chase a wounded deer the moment it runs off, it'll know you're pursuing, and sometimes that leads it to run for as long as it can, basically on adrenaline, instead of lying down and passing out. That seems like it must be even more painful and frightening than the scenario that actually happened with this doe, and I was deliberately trying to avoid it.

On Thursday, I shot one that was still twitching when I came down to inspect it, so I had to shoot again, but that was a total of no more than about three or four minutes, at most, after I made the initial shot, and when I walked up to her prior to finishing her off, she was oblivious to my presence. I expect that if I'd waited, she'd have gone on her own while I watched. But I prefer to make it quick if I can.

I don't know if that counts as genuine empathy; I try to be as humane as I can, within the limits of my own marksmanship and the conditions that prevail in the field. But I'm aware that the deer I hunt are going to die, sometimes in conditions involving pain and fear on their part. It's in my mind every time I shoot at an animal, but it doesn't make me hesitate to kill. If you're going to eat an animal, pain, fear, and gore are part of the deal, irrespective of whether you're hunting or slaughtering a domestic animal.

I think maybe that it's easier for people to shut their minds against that fact, if the only time they see meat is when it's already cut up into neat little packages in the supermarket. A pork chop doesn't look like something that came out of a 200 lb. hog that may have screamed when it was killed, as BR related in his childhood story.

I think the main difference, at least for me, is that I think live deer are beautiful (and live pigs and cattle are not). So I'm usually a little sad at killing something pretty.

But there's no veneration for the animals I hunt going on with me. I try to be humane and respectful of the fact that I'm ending a life, so I don't like to waste meat regardless of its source. But that's really about it.

There are hunters who ARE that way about it. I can't explain their motivations and feelings because I don't understand them myself. I'm not a very spiritual person. There's some sentimentality to the idea that I'm using my dad's rifle, and that I'll get to share the meat I kill with my family and friends the way he used to. But that's somewhat different.

There also are hunters who care about the "sport" of the thing. I'm not entirely immune to this aspect of the hunt; I take some degree of pride in the fact that all of my kills so far have been clean and humane by any reasonable standard, and that I've achieved an understanding of deer behavior that allowed me to choose when and where to hunt to have my best chances of seeing the ones I wanted to shoot (I wanted does and young bucks, because they taste significantly better than mature bucks who are consumed by the rut). Hunting deer is mostly about being an adequate shot and having the requisite knowledge to be in the right place at the right time.

Further along the "hunting for sport" line of thinking, you get people who're interested in hunting for mature bucks with large antlers. I'm primarily motivated by the culinary benefits of hunting, so this doesn't hold a lot of appeal for me. What's going on here is that mature bucks are much harder to find. I saw a few last night, when I was going back to the farm to get my car after my father-in-law and I dropped off my carcasses for processing. I have yet to see any during legal shooting hours, and that's okay with me.

But the point is that mature bucks go a little crazy at this time of year, and basically don't sleep or eat more than the bare minimum to survive. They're utterly consumed with mating with does and chasing off or hiding from anything that might stop them from mating with does. So they're much harder to hunt, just because they react to the tiniest thing that might look, sound, or smell wrong to them. The size of a buck's antlers is a function of his age, and bucks get more and more difficult to hunt as they get older (because the stupid and inexperienced ones die more often). So that's what's up with buck fever.

This said, I don't know anyone who doesn't eat what he or she kills, even if the kill is a gamy, tough old buck who's starved himself for several weeks while marinated in his own hormones.

The exception is that there are people who shoot deer year-round as nuisance animals, and this makes it illegal to harvest meat, hides, etc. from them. My father-in-law has incentive to do this because the deer eat not only his peach crop, but also the young trees. But he doesn't like to waste the meat. His late father would kill any deer he saw, anytime he saw them. I think I feel the same way as my father-in-law; I don't like to kill if I am not going to eat what I shoot, but ethically I don't know if that makes any sense. I've seen what's left after deer have dined on a sapling, and it's so destructive that I am without qualm about other people shooting them if they feel like it would reduce the chance of further damage. I just don't want to do it myself unless I can keep the meat.

Also of note: I know people who cry when they shoot a deer. And I know people who used to hunt, but they had a bad moment during the process of gutting a deer and now they can't bear to eat venison. Neither case is especially uncommon, although I know that the neither is going to happen with me; when I gutted this doe I've been talking about so much, I nicked her bowel. Or maybe the bullet did. Either way, I had to stop several times to dry heave. It's not going to stop me from hunting in the future, but there are people who are enthusiastic until they have a moment like that, and then they lose all interest in hunting.

I think that people who present graphic footage of animal slaughter as a reason not to eat meat are acting from genuine sentiment. I think that sometimes they choose the most graphic possible depictions of botched or indifferently executed slaughter procedures, but I don't really take exception to the idea that someone might look at what's involved in hunting or slaughtering animals and decide that meat isn't for them. If somebody swore off meat after watching me gut Bambi last night, I wouldn't consider that an outlandish or unreasonable reaction.

But personally I don't feel guilty about being a consumer of meat and other animal products or directly killing my own food, and I don't think that animal rights activists have any arguments to present to me that will make me change my mind. I don't care for the practices surrounding industrialized animal husbandry, but my concerns are regarding the ecological impacts from water use, feed production, and waste disposal rather than humane considerations. I've spent enough time around dairy and beef farmers (I used to teach high school in a rural district) to realize that they aren't cruel people and they don't mistreat their animals. It's just that their animals are property, not pets. They keep them as healthy and happy as can reasonably be expected for creatures that are being maintained as a food source.

When I hunt deer, they are food. Not pets. Same same.

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold

Cronono
Cronono's picture

To overly summarize a thoughtful and intricate post (thank you), it sounds like there are a jumble of emotions. Furthermore, there is a moderate sized gap between outrage you might expect from earnest vegans and reluctance(?) you might experience as a hunter.

Talanall
Talanall's picture

It's not been a terribly emotional experience for me, and I haven't really felt like it was emotionally tumultuous or jumbled, even in the low-key way that I've felt. But my experience could be different from whatever the norm is, if there even is such a thing as normal in this regard.

A lot of people hunt, and they're brought to it by a lot of different motives and from a lot of different experiences. I do it primarily because my wife and I like to eat venison (and I like to cook in general). But also because I like DIY projects; because I like to shoot, but prefer to have a goal in mind other than to compete against myself; because the deer around my father-in-law's farm are kind of overpopulated and it causes problems if they aren't culled down; and because hunting gives me a common interest with my father-in-law, who's a conservative Bible Belt type versus my geeky left-libertarian secularism.

Most of my interest in hunting has to do with its outcomes, you might say, and many of the outcomes of my hunting are matters of some calculation on my part, like the parts about finding a common interest upon the basis of which to bond with my father-in-law and assisting with the suppression of an animal population that causes him economic losses if it's left unchecked. It's easier to have people like you and get along with you if you're useful and have common ground. My father-in-law is almost palpably relieved to have something to talk about with me, and I think I'm probably almost as happy with that outcome as I am with the venison.

I think Fixxxer's answer demonstrates that his emotional response to hunting is somewhat different from mine, albeit recognizably related.

I feel satisfaction, roughly in proportion to how smoothly a hunt goes, whether I think I provided the deer with a humane death, etc. Respect, too, and empathy, but they don't predominate for me. I respond to a kill with more emotion than I do if I catch a fish, say, but I think that's mostly because deer are warm and furry and fish aren't.

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold

Talanall
Talanall's picture

A new entry in the chronicle of shit that happens after Talanall climbs up a tree and waits to murder an unsuspecting ruminant.

It's been unseasonably cold for the past week or so, and it's deer season. The cold is a good thing; deer need more calories when it's cold, which means they forage more, which means they're more likely to be moving around. And we just had a new moon, so the nights have been dark lately. Also good—deer see better than humans in the dark, but they can't see in pitch darkness. So a new moon, or a waxing or waning crescent, means they can't forage at night. When it's cold and dark at night, the hunting gets better.

They call it hunting instead of shooting because even if you're on a patch of very productive land, with a large population of deer moving around, sometimes fate conspires against you. I went hunting in the snow in the pre-dawn hours of yesterday morning, and had nothing to show for it despite sighting two deer. One was too far away for me to shoot her, even if something hadn't spooked her. The other was a young male who came out of the woods nearly at my feet; tripped and nearly fell, and then darted across the clearing before I had time to so much as raise my rifle.

I came back this morning and killed him. And because it was downright frosty, I skinned and butchered him myself. There won't be any leatherworking out of this one; it was my first time skinning a large mammal, and the hide wasn't in great shape after I was done. You could tell the late owner had been shot, then had his dermis inexpertly torn off. Better next time, I guess. This said, skinning is actually kind of satisfying; you're basically peeling the carcass. The hard part is keeping the animal's fur from getting everywhere. It sticks to your hands, your knife, your clothing, the meat, the inside of the skin, and basically everywhere else that it touches.

The leather wasn't the point, anyway. I was in it for the meat. Most of the time, I take my kills to a processor, who calls me a week or so later to tell me to come back and get a couple of grocery sacks filled with roasts, stew meat, steaks and hamburger. Most deer processors aren't going to butcher your venison into cuts like you'd find in a supermarket's coolers. For one thing, venison has its meat distributed a little differently on the carcass than is the case for beef, pork, or lamb. For another, most of these guys have no formal training.

The prime cuts on a deer are its tenderloins, which lie in the small of its back, on either side of its spine, in between the spine and the stomach. They were the easiest part to remove from the carcass, because there was minimal cutting involved. You get in with a boning knife and slice one end free, hook a finger behind the muscle, and it just peels right out, all in one piece.

The other major steak cut is the backstrap, which is basically a combination of what would be the NY strip and a ribeye. Venison is extremely lean, though, so there's really no marbling, and there's definitely no fat capping the outside of the muscle. So there's not much incentive to cut this into chops the way you might do with domestic animals. You COULD cut a t-bone or rib chop, but it's a lot of work with a saw for little payoff. So I just take it off in one long strip, which starts at the hip and goes all the way up the back and into the animal's neck. This was a revelation to me; my processor evidently doesn't take out the whole backstrap because the end near the shoulder requires a little extra work to cut free. It was nearly the length of my arm, when I was done. A carcass yields two of these, as well, one on either side of the spine. You have to do a bit more knife work to get them loose; there blade runs down each side of the spine, as close as you can keep it, and then you work downward along the ribs. I got a pretty good picture of the before/after side by side on this, but I won't post it unless someone actually wants to see.

The deer's belly is pretty muscular, but there's also a lot of membrane in it. I cut it loose and will grind it or dice it for stew. There's relatively little meat in the ribs, unlike with pork or beef. I didn't harvest them because I could literally see sunlight shining through the meaty parts, and if I'd tried to cook them it would be inedible.

Most people take the lower part of the legs off of a deer and grind that meat for hamburger, but I took them intact today. They're about the same size and shape as a lamb shank, and I'm going to try cooking them that way. Maybe a venison tagine.

This left me with the shoulders and rumps, and the neck. The shoulder comes off with surprising ease; a few sweeps of the knife, from the armpit up toward the carcass's neck, and you've got a whole shoulder (equivalent to a bone-in chuck or pork butt). These are commonly boned out for stew meat, but they're actually of a modest size and look like they have some small amount of marbling. So I'm going to reserve them whole, because they might be okay to braise.

The rumps are the largest muscle mass on a deer. I've never had a totally satisfactory roast from one, short of cooking it sous vide, and they're really much too big for me to cook a whole one in that fashion, even putting aside the silliness of cooking a huge roast for two people. A lot of people cut theirs for stew or turn it into jerky. I may do both, and reserve a couple of smaller chunks as roasts. These were the hardest to get off, because you have to part the hip joints. I used a saw.

The neck was surprisingly meaty. There's a big, thick tendon on the nape, which is what allows the deer to raise its head. If you have ever wondered about the old nursery rhyme that goes, "with a knick-knack, paddywack / give a dog a bone / this old man came rolling home," I cannot tell you what part of the animal is a knick-knack. But the paddywack? That's this tendon. I think you can get dried sheep and beef paddywacks as chewy treats for dogs.

I cut it off, because it would be inedible by human standards, then sawed through the spine at the base of the neck and ripped out the trachea to get a neck roast.

All told, I ended up with two tenderloins, two backstraps, four shanks, a neck roast, two shoulder roasts, and two rump quarters. I still need to trim some of this to remove fascia and tendon. It's currently on ice, because all of that work will be much easier in the morning, with these cuts partly frozen.

It was honestly not nearly as gruesome a process as the business of eviscerating the deer. That's by far the least pleasant portion of turning a fresh carcass into portions of tasty meat.

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold

Fixxxer
Fixxxer's picture

Are you interested in pursuing tanning hides for buckskin at some point in the future?

Cronono
Cronono's picture

If you can get a few perfect hides, you can ask Pearson to upgrade your camp.

This joke brought to you by Red Dead Redemption 2, a game all of you should play with urgency.

Talanall
Talanall's picture

Fixxxer wrote:

Are you interested in pursuing tanning hides for buckskin at some point in the future?

I probably will upgrade my camp a couple of times first, but yes, I'd like to tan at least one, more or less to see if I can do it. If I succeed, then whether I do it again will depend on how much work was involved in tanning the first one. Traditional brain tanning involves extensive work to mechanically soften the hide, and I suspect that I won't want to do much of that.

I also suspect that if I were so inclined, I could just go have a word with the guy who does my meat processing, and get all the hides I want for a few dollars apiece. But at the moment, I'm mostly interested in tanning a few hides off of animals that I personally have killed, as a novelty.

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold

Fixxxer
Fixxxer's picture

If you end up with a source of buckskins that cost "a few dollars apiece," you let me know. Tanned buckskin can get costly.

Talanall
Talanall's picture

No, no. I'm sure I can get the completely raw hides for a few bucks apiece. I fully expect that the game processor I use just throws them away.

Tanned buckskin is labor-intensive to produce, and there's no way in hell that's going to go for a few dollars.

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold

Fixxxer
Fixxxer's picture

Ah, yes. I've tanned a few hides. It's not as much work as people seem to think it is, but it's hardly free of effort.

Talanall
Talanall's picture

Yeah, that's kind of where I judged the effort/reward balance to lie. It looks very much like one of those things that isn't necessarily very complicated to do, but that involves slightly more time and attention than most people want to expend on anything that they don't find entertaining.

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold

Fixxxer
Fixxxer's picture

Exactly. And buckskin is warm and comfortable, but not exactly stylish to wear out and about, so it's not exactly a huge return on the investment of one's energy.

Talanall
Talanall's picture

I don't want it for apparel anyway. If it turns out not to be more hassle to make than I want to deal with, then someday I may do more and use some as a component in a crafting project.

If I were really interested in making my effort pay off in some way that went beyond the satisfaction of adding to my ever-growing store of oddball knowledge, I think that it'd be most likely to happen through contact with the historical reenactment hobby community.

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold