Earning Our Venison

Sometimes, it’s too easy. Of course, the rest of the process is how we earn our venison.

I went out in search of a deer a couple days before Thanksgiving, with my friend, retired physician, John Jacobson, on a southwest Montana ranch that has been putting venison into our freezer for the last 20 years or so.

It didn’t take long to spot deer, as a good-sized deer bounded away as we drove into a field. A moment later, another deer, a much smaller antlerless deer, trotted away.

Through binoculars, we watched the deer and confirmed that the larger deer had antlers. I really wasn’t looking for antlers on a deer, other than knowing that if a deer has visible antlers, we know it’s an adult deer that will produce a meaningful amount of venison.

We watched it move into a distant fence corner, where it seemed to settle down, and then it lay down. Then it got up and jumped over the fence and disappeared from view in a line of brush on the other side of the fence.

John said, “I think we can drive over there and maybe find it.” 

He was right. I spotted the deer bedded down in the shade of dense brush but with its head up and looking right at me. 

Some Native American traditions subscribe to a philosophy that the animals we’re supposed to take will offer themselves to you. Over the years I’ve come to accept that belief, because that’s the only way I can explain the success I’ve had over the years. 

I’m really not much of a deer hunter, as my main hunting interest is upland game, such as pheasants and grouse, and after it gets cold, I also like to hunt ducks. But, if we want venison in the freezer, we have to go hunting, and time and again, the deer I’ve brought home have mostly stood out in the open while I fumbled with my rifle and found a good rest so that even I could get an effective shot at it. This deer was just like the others. 

I had a clean shot and the deer died instantly. 

The next trick was to get to it. There was a little spring creek that separated us from the deer, and we’d be over our knees in muck to get to it. So, we went back to where we first saw the deer, and then walked to that fence corner and to the deer on the other side of the fence. As these things work, by the time we had the deer dressed out and loaded up, it was a good two hours from the time I fired my rifle.

It was late afternoon when we got home and got the deer hung up in the garage. After dinner, I spent another hour skinning the deer. 

Our daughter, Erin, drove down from Helena the next day to help with the job of converting that deer carcass into cut and wrapped meat in the freezer. I worked in the garage doing the rough cuts, while Erin cut the big chunks into dinner-size cuts, and my wife wrapped the meat, now ready for the freezer. 

All in all, I’d guess that the original half-hour hunt on the ranch resulted in about 25 person-hours of work after the shot was fired. 

Appropriately, most of the work was done by Thanksgiving Day, when we were able to give thanks for the bounty of the land and the spirit of the deer that will nourish our bodies with nutritious, locally and organically grown meat through the coming months. 

A few days after Thanksgiving, my wife and I made our annual Christmas tree hunt in the mountains, and in a shorter than usual search for that wily, wild, perfect tree, we picked one out and loaded it up for the trip home.

With grouse, pheasants and venison in the freezer and a fragrant pine tree in the living room, ready for decoration, we’re in Advent mode, getting ready for Christmas.

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