Wednesday, November 14, 2012

How I Became a Deer Hunter

I wasn't always a hunter.  In fact, twenty-two years ago if you'd asked me if I saw myself ever hunting deer, I would have told you "No."  I hadn't grown up around hunters. No one in my family hunted, and none of my parents' friends were hunters. The only gun I'd ever shot was my brother's BB gun, and he'd only let me get my hands on it once or twice.  The only time I'd ever eaten venison was one little bite sized piece during a first grade Thanksgiving feast at school; someone's father had gotten a deer, their mother had cooked it and sent in a small amount for the class to have in order to make our Pilgrim meal authentic.  I don't remember how it tasted, but I do remember that it was tough and hard to chew.  So, no, I would have never pictured the future me as an avid hunter and lover of venison.  Let alone someone who's main red meat is venison.

That all changed when I met my DH.  The first meal he ever cooked for me was venison.

And when I say the meal was venison, that's all it was.  A whole pile of chicken fried venison steaks.  No veggies, no starches, not even milk to drink.  A platter of venison.  For a girl who'd taken cooking in 7th grade home ec and knew that every meal needed a protein, a starch, and a veggie, I was shocked to find just meat being served.  Who in the world called a pile of meat a meal?  How was that nutritionally appropriate?  And who would think that was a meal fit for a guest?

I was still a pretty picky eater back then, with a very limited menu, and I was quite thrown off my stride looking at what was on the table for my dinner.  Recalling my one and only previous time eating venison, to say I was less than excited to see a pile of it before me, with no other food options, would be a vast understatement.  But, as every girl in love will do, I ate some anyway, because I wanted to make him happy.

Oh my!  Was that venison good!  DH had not only pounded the meat to tenderize it before frying it, but he'd seasoned it with onion powder.  Yum!  From that point on, I was transformed into a venison eater.   Step one on the slippery slope, LOL.

Almost ten months later, at our first Thanksgiving together, my evolution into a deer hunter continued.  We were in DH's hometown for Thanksgiving break, at Mother-in-Law's house (because Thanksgiving is deer season and the family hunting property is just down the road from her house), and hanging in her garage was a freshly harvested deer.  So now I saw my first dead deer.  Okay. Step two, check.

Then I got introduced to processing a deer.  It seems that it was customary for DH's relatives to cut up their own deer.  And, since DH and I were in town for the holiday, and there was a deer to be cut up, we were both given sharp knives and a hunk of deer to process.  Now not only had I eaten venison and liked it, seen a dead deer hanging and not been repulsed, but I had touched and cut deer muscles into steaks.  Not bad.  Step three, taken.

Also during that Thanksgiving break, DH got called in to help an elderly friend of the family field dress a deer that this friend shot while we were in town.  I, being the curious and adoring girlfriend, of course went along with DH.  That was were I saw (and smelled) deer guts for the first time.  I was given a flashlight, and two hind legs.  I was instructed to hold the hind legs apart and shine the flashlight down on the deer's nether regions so DH could cut it open.  Rather than gagging, I found it interesting, in a scientific anatomical kind of way.  Step four, and I'm picking up steam!

A year went by. Thanksgiving break rolled around again. We were, again, at Mother-in-Law's for the holiday and hunting.  (I should probably mention that we were sent home that first year with several packages of venison for our freezer, which we cooked meals with for a couple of months).  This time, DH asks if I'd like to go sit out in the deer blind with him.  Would I?!?  I've eaten them, seen them dead, helped gut them, and help cut them up.  Sure I'd like to see what it's like to hunt them!  That decision was step five, and the point of no return had been reached.

Well, the main thing I remember from my very first trip to the deer blind, is that hunters don't stay awake the whole time they are sitting out there!  I was shocked when, after an hour or so (of seeing nothing), DH fell asleep.  I, however, was wide awake, not wanting to miss sighting a deer, should any happen to walk by.  None did.  But little pine trees and other brushy things look amazingly like deer in the twilight of dusk, and spotting something like that out of the corner of your eye sure can make your heart race!

Another year went by.  Thanksgiving again, but by now DH had graduated college and we were living only about an hour and a half from Mother-in-Law.  DH also had a job, which meant we could only see her/hunt only for a few days instead of an entire week.  We also had an infant son, so I was limited in my availability to go out hunting with DH.  DH, however, had a new spin on my 'hunting':  why didn't I sit in a blind by myself?  I can feed the baby, leave him with Mother-in-Law, and then get in a little hunting before it's time to feed him again.  I won't interrupt DH's hunting then with my coming and going from his blind.

Well, because me sitting in a blind by myself wouldn't increase our chances of taking a deer home with us.  You see, I'd only ever shot a BB gun, and it had been well over 10 years since I'd done that.  Something DH hadn't known.  Or, maybe I had told him at one point, but he had forgotten.  Anyway. . .

Shooting lessons ensued, in the very short, basic form (don't point this end here, here or here; the bullet goes in this part, this is how you load it, this is how you rack it into the chamber (although I think that particular gun was a bolt action),  this is the safety, this is how you hold the gun, this is how you aim, this is how you release the safety, now pull the trigger.

I believe I shot 3 times, DH shot 3 times, we examined the target up close and saw my grouping was tighter and closer than his grouping, and he pronounced me "good enough."

Scary, huh?  Now we've got an inexperienced, armed woman in the woods alone!  I am now definitely in the realm of 'those' people, the hunters.

For ten years, I didn't hunt much.  Like maybe 2 or 3 sittings during the entire two week firearm deer season.  I had an increasing number of kids who needed attending, and when I could find someone to babysit them for me for a few hours, I could only hunt if 1) there was an available deer blind at the family property and 2) I could borrow someone's gun because I didn't own one of my own (nearly 20 years since my first shooting lesson and I still don't own one of my own. . .) and 3) I could borrow someone's warm orange clothing!

Then we bought this little place here.  And it all changed.  For one thing, DH promised me I'd never have to go to Mother-in-Law's for Thanksgiving again (because now we owned our own hunting land).  For another, I could walk out my back door and into the woods, and, as the property owner, I had first dibs on any of the blinds or tree stands (well, second dibs, DH gets first).  For a third, my kids were old enough to stay in the house supervising themselves for a few hours at a time while I hunted (we used two-way radios in case they needed to get a hold of me).  And fourth, DH bought himself a muzzle loader (to extend his own hunting season) but this also meant there was always a gun available for me in November.

I began to accumulate my own hunting accoutrements.  First, a warm orange hat and an orange fleece vest.  I wore my barn carhartts to the woods with the vest over top.  Then, later, as I collected bargains at garage sales or late winter clearances, my own warm camo coat and gloves.  I still borrow guns, my children have accumulated them instead of me, but that's okay.  We have enough now that one is always available, and depending on who is at school or work, I have my choice between a 12 gauge with or without a scope, a 20 gauge, or a 50 cal. muzzle loader.  So far, I've taken deer with the scoped 12 gauge and the open-sights 20 gauge (at 60 yards dead on!).  I've taken the muzzle loader many times (on the evenings DH has to work during muzzle loading season, I'm the armed one manning the tree stand), but so far have not had the chance to take a deer with it.  Those late season deer seem to be few and far between around here.

And that is how I became a deer hunter.  I figured if I was going to do the work of cooking it,  gutting and cutting it, tracking it (somewhere along the way I was called in to track deer too), I could be the one to shoot it.  So I hunt.  And I greatly enjoy sitting in the woods on a brisk fall day watching the wildlife and relaxing--relaxing until a big deer walks into my sights, that is!

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