It took 34 years and 2,000 miles, but Christopher got his first deer.
In our past life, had he wanted to, Chris could’ve gone deer hunting every year from mid-August through the end of October. Although he loves hunting, Chris often opted to spend just three or four weekends a year hiking around the (hot, dry) scrub-brush covered hills in Northern California. Chris bought his first California deer tag in 2002; since then, 14 have gone unfilled, including the one-in-quite a lot special shotgun-only doe tag that is still technically valid for this December. (Should anyone care to contest this count, we can very easily produce his stack of folded, aged tags that occupy the front pocket of his hunting pack. Tag stew, anyone?) The time commitment to these tags, however unfilled, was significant. Yes, entire days were spent actively hunting, but whole weekends (sometimes weeks) were devoted to purchasing and packing supplies, planning camping locations, and arranging transportation. Completely willingly, and over 15 years, Chris spent countless hours, days, and weeks preparing for and tromping around California’s hinterlands, taking in more scenery than scope sighting, and (thankfully) falling down a cliff only once.
In contrast, deer season here in Minnesota is nine days long. Opening weekend is commonly referred to as “Widow’s Weekend,” because the vast majority of the local menfolk are presumably away from home and hunting. (During a recent stint as a sub, a high school senior told me on the eve of the deer opener, “but if I read my book now, then I can’t read it when I’m deer hunting. That’s what I’m going to do tomorrow. Read in the deer stand.” “That is an acceptable answer, young man. Now no snap-chatting.”) The point is, Minnesota (and our surrounding neighbors) have very short deer seasons, about which we are very serious. Shut it down for hunting, everyone. We’ll see you in a week. Chris, avid hunter and obedient new Minnesotan, went out twice a day for the first three days before he got his opportunity to finally fill a deer tag.
As everyone knows, we are new to Minnesota; Chris got his new driver’s license with hardly any time to buy a deer tag, and no time for an actual deer stand. Our farm did not come with an already-built stand (although the previous owners let us know which upstairs bedroom would lend the best shot), so Chris’s initial hunting perch would have be his collapsible camping chair. Dutifully, and with great pleasure, he packed his chair, rifle, and coffee thermos out to a pasture every day and waited for the deer. Over the first five outings, he saw some deer; usually just outside the property lines or shoot times. On Monday night, he finally got a shot at one, near our woods, and with about an hour to spare. As he tells it, he raised and sighted his rifle and took no less than five shots. The deer was not only un-hit, but completely unfazed. It looked up, sniffed the wind, and ambled back into our woods, completely unbothered. Chris reached for more ammo, and then realized, “like an idiot, I’d left my hunting pack in the garage.” He walked back to the house for more ammunition, and left his camping chair in the garage before heading out again.
As Chris tells it, he decided to go sit at the corner of our machine shed, look out at the pastures, and for lack of a better word, pout. “What the hell am I doing out here?” was his constant inner monologue. The sunlight was fading, Chris was lost in thought, and just as he started to stand up to come inside, there was a deer in the pasture. Not only was there a deer out there, but it was a smidge closer than the unperturbed deer of 30 minutes earlier. Chris says that he raised his rifle, and (flying in the face of the earlier ballistic calamity), took a perfect shot. He got the deer “right in the engine room,” which led to an immediate and most positively humane end. No struggle, no injury flight; the deer never knew what hit her.
I’ll spare you the details of the post-kill field-dressing, hanging, and bagging, because those are better heard in person and with a chilled, malty beverage or two. But what I will tell you is this: the real work of hunting, even with all the hours of planning, packing, and actively hunting taken into account, happens after an animal has been harvested. Chris had to accomplish what is often done with the help of hunting buddies all alone, not because the girls and I are unsupportive, but because it was 25 degrees and after dark on a school night. He field-dressed his deer, muscled it onto his quad, drove it back to the shed, and devised a homemade hanging system with little more than a piece of rebar, a hoist, and some baling twine. In the middle of all this work, he came into the house to say goodnight to the girls, and some wonderful conversations ensued. Although it was brief, he was able to talk with the girls about having respect for an animal that you have harvested to eat. How it is important to honor the animals that you eat; any waste or mismanagement is disrespectful. We talked with the girls about how the chickens, pigs, and cows that will join us on the farm in the spring are to be revered in the same way. The responsibility to care for and respect the animals and their lives is ours. Taking an animal’s life to sustain our own is an action that should be done with reverence and thought.
All these conversations and experiences will hopefully help our girls to become responsible, knowledgeable omnivores. I want my children to know where their food comes from and who raised it. I want them to understand that in an animal’s quick and humane death, they give us the gift of a healthy life. Harvesting a deer from our own property is the original and most basic permutation of eating organic and locally-grown protein. The respect and understanding that comes with that is something that we hope to extend to our animals and customers here on Yellow Hutch Farm. The animals will get to the farm in the spring, live their lives on pasture, and be ready for all our fellow local, responsible omnivores soon after that. Let’s just hope that it doesn’t take Chris another 34 years to bag his second deer. ~Lauren