About thirty years ago I gave up deer hunting. I hunted on public lands and despite wearing the requisite ‘please-don’t-shoot-me-orange’ vest every time I went out on public lands someone would shoot at me. OK, in fairness I don’t know they were shooting at me, but every time I would hear the passage of the bullet- it was that close.
I don’t know if you have ever heard the sound of a high-velocity bullet passing within inches of you, but it’s not a sound you will mistake for anything else, and it is not a sound you get used to. Trust me on this. Panic-stricken screamed obscenities do not help you to locate a deer either. I began to have an excessive amount of sympathy for the deer, and when I found out I could buy excellent venison at Seattle Exotic Meats my days of deer hunting began to come to an end. The final straw was when the temptation to shoot back nearly overwhelmed me.
Decades later we were visiting a friend on her property near Chehalis Washington when she commented that deer had torn the side off of her greenhouse and eaten pretty much everything. “If they can eat my dinner they can be my dinner,” said Joanne. “I’m going to invite people to come hunt them!”
My wife looked at me and said, “Would you like to do that?”
I considered it. Joanne has 45 acres, with terrain varied from open fields to dense brush. Most importantly it is surrounded by a stout 4′ fence topped with barbed wire and posted ‘No Hunting.’ I felt this drastically reduced the chances of some idiot shooting at me, it would help a friend and, when I thought about it I really wanted to. I said yes. We discussed logistics and a pact was made. Come hunting season I would go and stay with Joanne and hunt her property.
Linda set out a budget for a deer rifle and gear and I bought an appropriate gun and reassured myself that I could still shoot a rifle. I could still put in MOA groups at 100 yards from the bench, so I geared up and started hunting most autumns.
I never got a deer. I saw deer, I even shot at one (and discovered my scope was broken- a clean miss at 50 yards) but I never got one. I have an unbreakable rule- I don’t shoot unless I know exactly what I am shooting at and what the bullet will hit after passing through the animal. On any number of occasions I could have fired but didn’t because either I could not see the animal well enough to be absolutely certain it was legal, the bullet wasn’t certain to end up somewhere safe or I wasn’t certain of a clean kill.
This is especially important as Joanne’s goats roam the property, and some of them are colored very much like deer. A couple of them would certainly have died if I were less cautious. So I never shot, even on occasions where I technically could have.
This is not to say I did not enjoy myself, and a couple of the stories I got were comedy gold. I rediscovered my love of going out in the brush, the pleasure of hot coffee in the blind in the crisp, still hour before dawn on an autumn morning. Watching and listening to the world wake up around me, the birds and small animals moving around, undisturbed by my quiet presence that made me feel like a part of nature rather than an interloper. Not to mention that Joanne is excellent company and a good cook, and ‘deer camp’ was a well-appointed and comfortable home.
I didn’t need to feel bad about not thinning the deer population either; others of Joanne’s friends managed that quite credibly. This helped with the critters eating her plants, and since the agreement is that we split the deer with Joanne it helped provide her with some much-needed extra meat over the winter. But frankly the lack of success was getting a bit embarrassing.
This year I actually landed the coveted Opening Day slot at Joanne’s, and our room-mate/housekeeper/surrogate kid Tony was eager to go along. He grew up hunting in Pennsylvania and New England and hadn’t been in years. He was eager enough that he flew in from visiting his girlfriend in Boston after midnight on Friday morning, turned right around and headed out to The Happy Hunting Grounds with me at noon.
Friday was less than stellar- we will draw the curtains of charity over the events of that day except to say that I lost my iPhone on the property, and with no reception there was no good way to locate it. This is why there are no pictures from the weekend. We did manage to get the blind built and walk the property examining the plentiful signs of deer activity. Afterwards we had a lovely dinner and a pleasant evening with our hostess. Up at 5AM, coffee and breakfast and out to the blind.
I am happy to report that my streak of no kills is broken and we returned with a cooler full of meat at the end of the day. The shot was very close range- 20-25 feet- and the bullet passed cleanly through the brain-stem; the animal never even heard the shot and dropped in it’s tracks. You couldn’t ask for a cleaner, more humane kill. Even over iron sights it wasn’t a difficult shot, but I was very satisfied with it.
What? How many points? Well, two I suppose; the critter had two horns. Yes, horns. It was a goat after all. No, I didn’t break my rules. I knew I was shooting a goat and did it deliberately in the presence of Joanne and with her full approval.
The only deer we saw this weekend was the traditional ‘Taunting Deer’ spotted crossing the highway as we were making a run for ice. I’ve mentioned the goats, and the herd was getting a bit heavy on males so Joanne decided to slaughter a few. Tony and I had agreed that among other things we would show her how to dress, skin and butcher a goat in exchange for 1/2 the meat. If we’d gotten a deer we would have demonstrated on that; I watched a few Youtube videos and the process is basically identical. Since we didn’t get a deer Joanne pointed out a goat, a large male that was a certified pain-in-the-ass and said, “That one.”
The plan was to lead the animal away from the others and put a .45 through it’s head, but comedy ensued when the critter elected to demonstrate how it had earned it’s pain-in-the-ass status by refusing to be caught. Finally Tony fetched the rifle and I put a round through it’s skull. The other goats found this mildly alarming and ran off a ways. Dehlilah, the leader of the herd, came over to check out Ebenezer, the victim of our efforts, within moments. “You OK? No? Dead huh- tough luck old chap.” With that she dismissed him from her thoughts and went about her goatly business undismayed by the intrusion of mortality into her affairs.
Skinning, dressing and butchering the animal went to plan, with Tony and I working together and explaining the process as we went along. Linda and her best friend showed up early in the process, watched and kibitzed. Linda was rather surprised that she wasn’t ‘grossed out’ and found the process interesting. “It’s really no different than watching the videos,” she commented.
I realized in the course of things that I hadn’t skinned an animal in thirty years. It was amazing how easily it came back to me. Like riding a bicycle I suppose. I mean, if the bicycle were dead. And made out of meat. We got the skin off cleanly in one piece, didn’t nick anything unfortunate (except Tony’s finger) and butchering was a doddle. Joanne fried up the tenderloins and we all sampled that- tough but very tasty and hardly gamey at all. We cleaned up the area, washed and oiled the knives and put them and the rifle away, split up the meat and socialized for a bit.
Joanne got to keep the ‘grinder meat’ as she actually has a meat-grinder and we got the kidneys, liver and heart which seem a fair split. Tony is particularly keen on organ meat.
By the time we were finished Tony was dying- or at least wanted to. The combination of jet-lag, lack of sleep and hard work did him in pretty thoroughly. We tabled the idea of further hunting or processing another goat. Since Linda had ridden down with Rena she was available to drive us home, which was a bonus.
For the curious the rifle used was the 7.35x51mm Carcano Mannlicher-style carbine I made from the brutally ugly sporterized rifle that I inherited from my uncle. Ballistics are comparable to .30-30, and the round used was a factory round-nose soft-point that I inherited along with the gun. It has non-adjustable iron sights and shoots to point-of-aim at fifty yards. From a bench it can easily produce 1″ groups at that range. I haven’t fired it at longer distances because I’m not likely to get a shot longer than that where I hunt.
Also used for the skinning and prep was an old Schrade 49er discovered in the bottom of Uncle Jim’s tool-box. The leather handle and sheath were covered with green fur when I found it, but it cleaned up and sharpened easily. Held it’s edge through the entire process too- I’m impressed.
Tony was an excellent companion in the bush- moves well and quietly, knows what to look for and when to keep quiet. I’ll hunt with him any time. Despite a rough start and no deer I can’t be unhappy about the results. As I write this there is a shoulder and shank brining in preparation to being slow-cooked with sweet onions and herbs for Sunday dinner. Yep, not a bad opening day at all.
Michael Tinker Pearce, 15 October 2017