Sunday, December 15, 2013

Goodbye Bambi, Hello Venison

I wish I had grown up in a hunting family.

More specifically, a deer hunting family where you grew up steeped in the knowledge that deer were good, healthy, meat on the hoof; that fall meant hunting season and going out to sit motionless in the woods near a game trail or bait pile and waiting for that perfect combination of lighting, deer size and range; where I would have seen a deer shot and dressed so many times that I would have an easy acceptance of the process.

Of course, at the time I never had that thought. I was all about Bambi. Ah, the damages done to children by that wonderful Disney classic. Deer were mommies and daddies, beloved by their little children who still needed them at the time hunting season rolled around; hunters were evil, careless people who would just as soon set the woods on fire.... Well, I still like the movie, but the reality isn't quite the same.

Instead, I grew up in a farming family. My grandfather each fall toted some unlucky steer, and most years an unlucky pig as well, to the slaughterhouse and returned with loads of beef and pork. Without any thought on our part, we filled our freezer with some portion of that beef. Sometimes we went over so the adults could help make sausage and liver pudding, and season and wrap the hams and shoulders for hanging, and we children could be both fascinated and appalled by the pig's head (from which Granny would clean the brain for Pa's breakfast) and his sad, blank eyes.

Even though I was as into Charlotte's Web as Bambi, (why has no one ever romanticized beef?) and sometimes knew the pigs who had started out as bottle babies in the house, because that was part of my upbringing, I accepted it. I might wonder how Pa, who had actually fed the piglets and toted corn and hay to the steers, could kill his animal, but I didn't turn my nose up at eating it.

Squirrel and rabbits, which my grandpa did on occasion hunt when I was younger, were sometimes part of the Sunday dinner. I don't remember eating rabbit, but I know I rejected squirrel based entirely on how it looked in the pan. Despite the hoard of squirrels that dine for free with my hens, I know I would never get past that mental image to hunt and eat squirrel unless I was desperately hungry.

On the other hand, deer, or perhaps I should say venison, is my everyday meat of choice. Other than a steak or burger now and then, I haven't bought beef or pork in about a year. My neighbor, who is a devoted deer hunter and whose wife doesn't like the meat, provided me with a large, dressed out buck last year. He even transported the meat to be processed and sent me to pick it up and fill my freezer.

Now I'm down to a few pounds, he hasn't bagged a spare animal, and the deer I can see frolicking in the field behind my house make me want to take up a crossbow or rifle and go hunting.

A church dinner where teenage girls were bragging about how many deer they had taken this year only made me more acutely aware of what I was lacking. A roadkill deer left by the side of the road makes me angry.

I want to take up deer hunting, but I don't know where to start. Even if I were a dead-on shot with a weapon, I wouldn't know what to do past the shooting part. And although, intellectually, I'm good with it, I know that even if I did know what to do, the reality would be different. No amount of YouTube videos or hunting games would be the same as the real thing.

I'm also hampered by the fact that, although my neighbor would take me with him, my time is limited and doesn't always correspond with his. Early mornings would work for me, most days, but evening hunting is impossible thanks to my other duties as Ma. Still, I think I'm so desperate to learn that somehow I'm going to have to find the time, even if it means long fruitless hours in the cold. I want to experience it and know I can accept it. Then, by gosh, I want to do it.

I want to, somehow, even at this point in my life, become part of that group of people who spend their spare time in a deer stand and fill their freezers with venison. I want to go past counting on the good luck of a friend to being able to depend a little more on myself.

Yes, I know some of my animal loving friends may be a bit shocked by this, but I seriously want to be a hunter. I want another degree of separation from the factory farms and steroid/antibiotic fed meat of the beef/pork industry. I want a healthier alternative, not to mention cheaper.

Like planting a garden and raising laying hens who may also fill my freezer, I want to be more food independent for a wide range of reasons.

Somehow, I'm determined to make it happen and have another skill to pass on to the little people around me, who already accept venison comes from deer and we eat them.

Still, it would have been so much easier if I'd just been raised in a hunting family.

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