Meat hunting

I’m two woodcock and a couple of spray-and-pray shots at ruffed grouse into the day when Henry’s little French Britt, Koda, goes on point. Or at least the beep-beep-beep of  his electronic collar tells me he’s on point.

I jam my way through the nasty tangle not yet suppressed by a real hard frost toward the dog. In this thick stuff you’ve got to be within 15 feet of the dog to see him, so I’m walking with the 20-gauge at the ready, unsure how close the bird might be. And then Koda moves, or least the tinga-ling of his bell tells me he’s moving.

And he’s back on point. Then barking. Then moving. And barking. And seemingly on point again. Weird.

“You see him Henry?” I yell.

“No,” Henry yells back. “He’s closer to you.”

Koda barks again, about the same time the beep goes off on the collar.

“What the hell is going on with him?” I yell to Henry.

And then I see it. At first I think it’s a fawn stuck in a muddy depression, but when my brain catches up with my eyes I realize Koda is standing – barking – a few feet from a mature whitetail doe with paralyzed hindquarters .

“Christ, Henry!” I yell. “It’s a deer!”

Henry emerges from his patch of thick alders just as I notice a quarter-sized hole on the doe’s spine. It’s a fresh wound, oozing blood, not a lot, and she thrashes around at our feet using only her front legs. I can see her backbone in the hole.

It’s archery season here, and I know the landowners have a couple of treestands hanging not far from where we are in the cover.

“We’ve got your deer!” I yell, thinking the archer would be within earshot if they were still in the woods.

Once it becomes clear there’s nobody but Henry, Koda and me in the woods with this deer we have to devise a plan. I run back to the truck to get my cell phone and a knife. I call  the landowner’s son – who’s still in high school – and ask him if he might have shot at a doe from his stand in the last 24 hours.  No, he hadn’t. Maybe his brother did? No, he hadn’t, either. A couple of phone calls later and it’s clear that whoever shot this doe is neither the landowner or still around. The game warden is called, and he’ll come around to tag it for us so we can get her out of the woods without violating any big game laws.

With little fanfare, I lay on the doe’s front legs, holding them tightly so she can’t swipe us. She doesn’t protest much, her bulging eyes the only real sign of panic. Henry takes the knife, tenderly caresses the doe on her neck just once, and plunges it into her jugular. She doesn’t die quickly, the blood gurgling in her throat as she bleats.

“They are tough bastards,” says Henry, as she flops and flutters. I notice he has blood stains on the knees of his pants. Finally, after a period of time longer than you’d think, the life drains out and her heaving chests stops moving.

The warden comes with the high schooler and his brother. We meet them on the edge of the woods and we drag her out. She’s legally tagged. They clean her and bring her to a butcher shop.

Henry and I finish our hunt – we found the deer in what’s really the sweet spot in the cover – and I manage to knock down one more woodcock.

The woodcock, too, is still alive when Koda finds it.

I just rap its head against a small tree. The bird does not bleed. It immediately goes limp.

- Matt Crawford

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2 Comments

Filed under Soul, True stories

2 responses to “Meat hunting

  1. A friend winged a doe with his bow recently; a very similar situation, and one he had been in once before. The first time he cut the throat like you did. This time he stabbed for the heart, like on a hog. He said it was much quicker, cleaner.

    • As I prepare to take my dog out to hunt the opener this weekend, I am reminded that there will be a lot of situations like this, or at least I hope so. I go hunting for meat, am not a trophy hunter, but I also go out to get and stay connected to the land and my food. The chukar and quail I’ll be hunting face life and death every day, and they are built to outwit the reaper, but he eventually comes for all of us. I don’t mind doing the killing of my meat, since I’ve been doing it since I was a kid, and I know that’s how meat is made.
      I talk to my cityfolk friends, and some call me bloodthirsty, while they’re chewing on a steak, and I have to laugh. I explain that their steak probably came off of a steer that was fattened up in a feedlot connected to a slaughterhouse, where it walked on mounds of its own waste for a few months. I mention that my meat was from a wild animal that ate the food it was designed to eat, was extremely healthy compared to the steer, and lived a natural life cycle in the natural environment. I feel more comfortable about consuming that kind of meat, and most agree. Then they say, but you have to kill it. I say, all you do is hire a hit man, a guy who slugs the steer in the head with a pneumatic hammer, killing it in a place where hundreds are killed and processed every day, creating, despite their best efforts, massive bacteria pools that are passed along to us in the meat. I hope your steak is well done!
      Ask any hunter, and the fun is in the pursuit, because once you’ve killed the bird, all you are interested is getting back to the business of hunting…it isn’t over til the legs, lungs, or light gives out. The fresh air I get hunting, the exertion I put forth, always 100%, is much more than I put out at the gym. The sense of satisfaction I get, even after bringing home only a skunk, is deep and lasts a while…til the next time.

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