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The Deer Project

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A few years back I decided that I wanted to try deer hunting. The goal was to kill, clean, skin, and butcher the deer, followed by a grand party. I'm guessing that it was four years ago that I took the hunter safety course and purchased a used Savage 210 12 gauge slug gun with a Nikor scope:




I had not really fired a weapon before the safety course. I'd shot a 22 a bunch of times, taken one shot with a 30-30 deer rifle (I think) and I once went bird hunting with a shotgun. The 12g slugs throw quite a wallop with the kickback.




Then I went to Cabela's website and picked up some cold-weather camo, a blaze orange shooting vest and a blaze orange cap.


I had a few options of land to hunt. My first year I tried a friend's place up in Milan, NY. The next year and the year after, I alternated between a friend in Columbia County and my neighbor, who has 35 acres across the street from me. I hadn't taken a shot. The first year, I sat out about 5 days and didn't see a deer. The second year, I saw two fawns. Couldn't shoot them, but they were too darn cute anyway. Last year, I didn't see anything.


I don't know if you've ever hunted. Many people think that "hunt" is an action verb. It's not. To "hunt," at least for deer, generally means to wake up very early, head outside in 20* weather before dawn, hike into the woods, and either climb up into an exposed tree stand or hunker down somewhere on the ground behind some cover. Then wait. For hours. On the off-hand chance that a deer happens to walk by in front of you. Hours. A friend of mine upstate is in his tree stand by 5:15 for a 6:30 start time. He sits until he gets something or sundown. And, he does this for bowseason, regular season (two deer) and then he hunts turkeys in the spring. (In NY, you can hunt from sunrise to sunset -- official time. I'm told that if a shot goes off too early or too late, a Dept. of Environmental Conservation officer may try to locate the hunter and confiscate the deer.)


It's boring. And cold. I read about 1/3 of Anna Karenina this year. And then I find out that the movie is about to be released!


Generally, I big game license in NY gets you a ticket to shoot a buck and a bear. (I have no interest in shooting a bear.) You an also apply for a Deer Management Permit, commonly referred to as a Doe Permit. A DMP allows you to take another deer of either sex, but it's generally used to take a doe, which are much more prevalent. The DMPs are alloted by lottery and by zone. My house is in Zone 3F, Western Dutchess County. My friend's land to the north is Zone 4Z, Southeastern Columbia. For whatever reason, they did not give out DMPs for Zone 4Z this year.


This year on got up early on the Friday before Thanksgiving for the season opening that Saturday morning. It was cold, and my 26-year old Ford F-150 pickup wouldn't start. I jumped and drove 30 minutes to my friends place. I set the alarm for 6 am, and by 6:30 I was trudging across a large field and into the woods. Although sunup was not officially until 6:45, it was light enough to see. My friend's neighbor's land has a large grass field, behind which are woods, with a "bowl" that funnels the deer down into the field. At the top of the bowl on the left is a plateau; and on the right is a ridge. I went up to the right and hunkered down behind some fallen trees. It was cold. Luckily it was not wet. After about 45 minutes I realized I needed to shift my legs or I would have to have one amputated. The theory is not to move at all, because any movement will spook the deer. As will any odor. Anyone who has been working in the yard with a weed whacker or chain saw, only to turn around a see a deer 20' behind them questions this theory.


The first shot goes off pretty much at 6:45 on the dot. Followed by a volley of shots. I don't know whether there are people who just like to mark the season opening or if they were all waiting on a shot. (Actually, bow hunting season started in october, which was followed by muzzle-loading season. regular season starts the weekend before Thanksgiving and goes 2 weeks into December. It's followed by another short muzzle loading season. I think. I'll have to check.) There are shots throughout the day. Many muffled, off in the distance. Some that sound like they're right behind me. Each time, I think, "damn. One less deer for me." At times someone shoots off a volley. There was a period one day where someone took a shot every 2 to 3 minutes. I'm guessing that was someone practicing or adjusting his/her scope, or someone trying screw up trespassing hunters on his/her land.


So, I sit and I stare. I play on my iPhone. I read Anna. At about 10:30, I glance up and see to does walk over the hill onto the ridge above be. I'm in 4Z and don't have a DMP. I also don't have a shot. Whenever you shoot, you need to make sure, of course, that you know what is behind the deer. If the deer is standing on a ridge and there's just sky, you can't take the shot. Going against all advice, I decide to move further up the ridge to give myself a downward shot onto the plateau. I figure that I'll spook any deer in the area, but they'll probably come back. I move up, find a new spot, get as comfortable. as possible and look up. There's a big, fat doe right in front of me. I could have spit on it. It looks at me. I look at it. It knows that I don't have a doe permit. It saunters away looking for some food.


yada yada yada.


It's 4:30. Not a buck to be seen. I walk out of the woods exasperated and frustrated, cold and stiff.


The next day, well, to make a long story short, same thing. Although I saw a buck with a small rack, on another ridge and didn't have a shot.


And this deer. Which spent about 20 minutes grazing in front of me and then walked over to say hello:




Monday, I had to start dealing with Thanksgiving. We were expecting 30 people on Thursday and had a lot of cooking, cleaning and general annoyance to deal with. Monday morning early I went out back on my land. there's a deer trail through the woods leading to my property, and it's always got fresh droppings. But I know that there are two hunters on the parcel behind me, so my chances of getting one are slim. I sat out for 4 hours and didn't see or hear a thing.


Wednesday before thanksgiving my neighbor stops by to say hello. He mentions that he's seen does and a large buck in his yard every after noon around 4 or so. He's got 35 acres across the street from me. He has two old friends who have "dibs" on the land. One has a stand on the Western edge, the other on the Eastern edge. Generally, I'm told that if I don't see pickups on the side of the road, I can go in, but if they show up, I've got to leave. I'm cool with that.


He also has this great little hut on the hill. The hill is in the middle of where the other guys sit, and it slopes down to the woods. The hut is just a bunch of pallets nailed together with tarps over them. But there are chairs inside and it's out of the wind. I sat in there a few times in other seasons, and never saw anything. This year, I went out on Friday after Thanksgiving, around 2:30. At 2:45, Chuck, one of the other hunters showed up. I offered to leave, but he had gotten a buck in this morning and said I should take the spot. He sat and we chatted. Nice guy.


At 4 p.m. still nothing. Sundown was 4:28, so time was running out. At 4:15, Chuck said, "there they are." Two does came out of the woods at the bottom of the hill, about 50 yards away. "Those are big ones," he said, "but wait. There should be a buck behind them."


We're in the "rut" when all of the bucks are out to mate. Apparently, wherever there are does, a buck is bound to show up soon enough. So we waited.


No buck.


I decided that I didn't want to risk another season without taking a shot. So I took the shot. The doe was broadside, with the left facing me. I aimed just behind the shoulder, towards the bottom of the rib. My biggest fear, was a gut shot or a leg shot that would cause the deer to suffer. And, if it ran into the woods, I'd have to search for it and put it out of its misery. There is an organization called "Deer Search" in NY, which has volunteers to help track wounded deer. If you shoot one and can't find the body, call Deer Search. They'll send volunteers out to help with the search.


Since I'd only taken 4 shots at this year's "site in day" with the shot gun in 4 years I wasn't terribly confident in my abilities.


At the shot, the doe jumped up, turned around and dropped. It didn't even kick. We waited to see if a buck would come out after it, but it was getting dark. We walked down to the doe.


"Perfect shot," Chuck said, pointing to the small blood mark on the deer's side.


Check went to get an ATV to drive it out of the woods. Then I started to field dress the deer. I was too hesitant, and it was getting dark, so Chuck did it for me. Very nice of him. I could have done it, but I was very worried about cutting out the digestive tract. Chuck did it all in 5 minutes. Without too much detail, I'll just say that it wasn't nearly as bad as I'd expected, with almost no smell.


The liver and heart went into a plastic bag. And, I'm kind of proud to say, the heart has a big hole in it.


It was odd shooting the deer. I can't say that I liked it. But I can't say that I felt very bad about it. When I was "dealing" with it after, I just tried not to think about what it was.


More on the skinning butchering later. I'll spare you the photographs.

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A few years back I decided that I wanted to try deer hunting. The goal was to kill, clean, skin, and butcher the deer, followed by a grand party. I'm guessing that it was four years ago that I took

No cameras set up prior to hunting day? All the cool hunters do that, so they can check out the action before they get there.

stone's the guy in camo with the painted face, under the leaf pile

Better yet you could set up a blind in Williamsburg and hunt hipsters.




Like the doctor's muntjacs they're considered vermin too. Splinky wouldn't object because they're not particularly cute and lord knows the hipster herd really needs to be thinned.

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Better yet you could set up a blind in Williamsburg and hunt hipsters.




Like the doctor's muntjacs they're considered vermin too. Splinky wouldn't object because they're not particularly cute and lord knows the hipster herd really needs to be thinned.

they are waaaay too scrawny to be any kind of good eating

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Skinning the deer.


So, you've got this deer handing upside down from a gambrel, which is basically a "hanger" with pokey ends that stick into a cut between the deer's achilles tendon and bone. I've learned now that I was supposed to skin the deer immediately and take out the tenderloins. I let the guy hang over night, and then skinned and butchered. Some sites suggest hanging the deer for a few days to a week, but I was worried about high temperatures.


I watched a bunch of youtube videos on skinning. Basically, you cut off the front hooves, using a hacksaw or a sawzall. (I need to clean my sawzall.) The hind legs (which are sticking up), you carefully cut the skin around the knee, without cutting the tendon. You don't want it falling. Then you just take your knife, put it under the skin with the sharp edge facing out, and slide down the leg towards the "dressed" cut. When you can, you insert two fingers under the skin to pull it up and away from the meat. This helps keep the blade from cutting the meant. It's a little difficult to start peeling the skin off the nether-regions. But, eventually, you're just peeling it down like a banana peel, and scraping gently with your knife to separate the skin/outer muscles from the body. I had expected that the skin adhered to the body with a sticky membrane. It was more like a resinous epoxy -- similar to what the Alien used to stick Paul Reiser to the wall. You just keep pulling down until you get to the fore-legs. Then, run the blade down the front of the legs the whole skin will slough down around the neck. Back to the sawzall, if you know what I mean.


For the butchering, I followed Willies

on Youtube. It was pretty straightfoward. I used a flexible boning knife for the whole skinning/butchering process, with the exception of the sawzall now and then. (Did I mention that I need to clean the sawzall.)


First remove the forelegs by cutting around the shoulder joint. The next out are the tenderloins from inside the cavity. I should have taken these out the first night. They're a little dry. I'll still try to grill them -- or maybe just jerky. Then, you use the sawzall to cut the spine just above the ribs (remember, it's hanging upside down). Then remove the backstraps. These are the long muscles along the spine on the top of the back. Just run the knife down each side of the spine and gently run it down the curve of the ribs. They come off with some fat/muscle from the side of the ribs and up by the neck. But it's pretty easy to trim. Take off the rest of the spine and pull down the pelvis/hind legs. Set this "saddle" on the table and follow the back of the spine to separate the hind legs. The butcher in the video makes it very easy to locate and remove the top round, bottom round, sirloin and tri-tip. I removed a bunch of muscles, but who knows what they are. A whole lot went on the sausage pile. The shanks were easy.


The I vaccuum sealed all the parts. One mistake I always make is to seal the packages with too much inside. I should have sealed each tenderloin, backstrap (you end up with 4 pieces) and roast separately, and made smaller packages of grind meat. I don't want to thaw anything more than once.


When you're done, you have a big pile of bones (apparently, deer ribs are not worth cooking or trimming) and a pelt. I carried it all out back and left it for the coyotes.


That's good eats.


(I do have some interesting pics of the skinning/butchering, but don't want to post them if people will find it offensive.)

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