LITTLE ANNIE OAKLEY
I’ve been hunting since I was about six. My first gun was a single-shot .410 from Sears & Roebuck; with it, I learned how to hunt quail. From there, my next gun was a Sako .222, equipping me to join my father and brothers on deer hunts at the family ranch in South Texas, and elsewhere.
Our parents taught us to take responsibility for anything we killed, so early on I learned to clean quail and prepare them for the skillet or the freezer. As well, taking care of bigger game, to include field dressing, skinning and butchering deer, became part of my ranch skill set. That I was a girl not only made no difference in my level of responsibility versus the boys, but was even celebrated at the hunting camp and at the family deer packaging sessions. Those were fun times to be a girl!
THE BUCK STOPPED THERE
Being capable in matters of deer disposition recently came in handy, when at the country home of my niece and her husband, dogs chased a young buck into and through a barbed wire fence. The deer hit the fence hard, and fell to the ground. He was observed for several hours, during which time he raised his head and even got up and walked. There was hope that he would survive, but it was not to be. He went back down and never got up again.
I received a message from my niece that the deer had likely died. I knew that if he hadn’t sustained internal injuries, there was a good chance that the meat could be harvested, which would be the best thing that could come of this unfortunate incident.
Anyone who’s ever field dressed a deer, or helped, knows that you often learn what you need by not having it…as with many things. If you’re smart, that only happens once. Thereafter, you make darn sure that you never don’t have exactly what the job demands. Out in the field, you need the appropriate instruments. It seems disrespectful to the deer not to do it correctly.
So, I have all the right stuff, to include a knife set that has a blade for every field dressing need, a sharpener, and a pair of loppers. Loppers are marvelously handy and useful. I keep some in my Suburban for photography outings, when I might need to remove a branch from a setting, or make cuttings to create a nice scene where birds land for attractive photos. Everyone should have loppers in their car. Just sayin’!
One might wonder why loppers are needed in field dressing a deer. To get all of the entrails out without cutting into things like intestines and the bladder, the contents of which can ruin the meat, you must open the pelvic bone. Loppers get it done quickly, easily and cleanly.
My niece took the deer’s fate very hard, so when she let me know about the animal’s injury and then, its death, I knew what to do. I needed to have her work with me to transform the animal into something that would feed others, to give value to this loss. On the surface of it, I was heading over there to gut, skin and butcher a dead deer. But in truth, I was there to provide closure.
I arrived at the location and my niece showed me where the deer was. First order of business was confirming that the deer truly had expired. A traumatized deer can leap up and charge, and inflict much damage to a human being! But he was gone, no leaping. I got him properly situated and began the process of opening him up and removing his entrails, to include heart and lungs. I first wanted to make sure his injuries didn’t taint the meat. It appeared that the cause of death was a ruptured artery in his neck, so the meat would be fine.
With my niece’s help, we got that part done. The little buck was ready to be skinned and quartered, meaning that I would remove the shoulders and hams and the back straps. I hadn’t skinned a deer in many moons; since the last time, I’ve put on a few years…the old back didn’t give out on me, but I sure felt the strain! As with part one of this endeavor, part two was a team sport, my niece and I working together to take the meat.
We packaged up everything to take to the deer processor, and then sat on the front porch and had a beer. We’d worked hard and needed to relax for a bit. She and I chatted about everything except the deer, saying without saying it that life needs to go on. Her husband arrived home from work, we visited for a few minutes and then I left for the processor.
Many people today are against hunting. With some of the buffoons and jerks who hunt, and by their attitudes and actions that do damage to nature and to the reputations of ethical hunters, I can see how people believe hunting is barbaric. I get both sides of the argument.
The outcome of what happened on that day last week, however, is a testament to the value of knowledge gained through hunting. Had I not spent all the time I have in the field, learning what I know about what to do when a deer dies, our young casualty might have gone to waste.
Also, had this happened one year ago, there’s no way I could’ve exerted myself the way I did in taking care of that deer. By this time last year, I’d had most of the chemo I was to receive; I was weak and weary, barely able to lift a leg, much less a deer. We are, in this life, exactly where we are supposed to be.
The processor just called and said the meat is ready. After I pick it up tomorrow, I’ll head out to the South Texas Children’s Home, a wonderful charity not far from Beeville. It seems appropriate that one young life lost will go to benefit many other young lives that are just getting started. The circle of life is complete once more.