D  e  s  e  r  t     E  x  p  o  s  u  r  e      february 2005

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Dead Reckoning

After the shot is when the hard work of hunting really begins.

It both amuses and amazes me how non-hunters and hunter-haters think it is so easy to go hunting. For me, there are many functions to a hunt: There is the planning stage, then the scouting stage, the actual hunt for said critter, the decision whether to shoot an animal, then the work stage.

As I sit here, three-quarters of the way through the butchering process of that work stage, I can sincerely say that hunting ain't easy! Not when you look at the total plan.

I'm not going to tell you about all of the time and effort that goes into all of the sum total of these various stages, but rather just speak about what is entailed once the shot has been made and the critter is down on the ground. I'll use this past hunt's deer as an example.

Once my adrenaline has turned down a notch or two and I'm done admiring the buck and said a word or five of thanks to the Creator, I go about the chore of dressing out the carcass. That means reaching blindly far into the cavity with both hands, while holding a sharp knife and doing my best to cut away the innards without inflicting bodily harm on myself.

Then the carcass is rolled onto its belly, the legs spread-eagled so that all of the blood can drain completely. This act usually entails some sort of a wrestling match with a lifeless, limp body. If you've ever had the experience of trying to move a conked-out drunk from one place to another, you'll get my drift as to how this operates.

Now I'm faced with a dilemma: How to get the body out of the woods and off the mountain? If I have my four-wheeler and its small trailer, the problem would be solved, but I don't, because of bad weather and rotten, muddy roads. So my first choice is to try dragging the beast uphill. I make 30 yards and play out; this ain't gonna work! I can't carry the beast out, either, because my special weight tape indicates it weighs close to 267 pounds. That leaves me with two other choices: Leave it overnight and go fetch my ATV and come back in the morning, or go fetch Ol' White, my pickup, and try to drive it back to the buck.

Even though the weather is somewhat clear right now, the powers-that-be are calling for bad weather tonight. Not wanting to take the chance of not even being able to return here, I decide to go get my truck. Besides, leaving an unguarded deer carcass is an invitation for every coyote and lion to eat it all before I get back!

It's dicey and slow maneuvering the pickup to the deer, trying to make as little impact upon the land as possible. Like my campsites, I prefer to leave no trace of evidence that I've been in an area. Finally, after a slow crawl, carefully avoiding trees and brush and huge boulders, I reach the buck. It is then I recognize another obstacle—I can't lift the deer onto the tailgate; it's too heavy and unwieldy.

First I lift the head and rack and prop it with my body as I tie it off with a bungee cord, then go to the other end and lift one rear haunch. This I tie off with a slender rope, then go to the head again to try to lift the front legs up. At this point the rope breaks on the rear and the carcass crashes to the ground.

After 30 minutes of grunting and not succeeding, interspersed with a whole lot of fervent prayer, I just do a squat and grab the body around the chest and give a mighty heave-ho. I barely get the buck onto the tailgate as my legs tremble.


When I get home I call my grown, 200-pound son to come help me, but we can't lift the deer up high enough to hang it—that's a first! We finally accomplish the chore by using a hand winch.

I've read that really expensive and great tasting beef gets that way because it is hung at 40 degrees for three weeks or more. The temperature on my carport is hovering between 32 and 45 all of the time this time of year, so I leave the carcass to hang for four days to age it just a little.

After that time I must lower the bulk and change it around to hang feet-up. Then I begin to skin it out, a chore that takes me two hours because I'm meticulous and don't want to make a hole in the hide; a friend wants both hide and head.

I'd like to have the hide tanned for myself, but can't afford the nearly $300 that would cost. Nor will I have the head mounted, even though this is by far my biggest buck, because that would cost nearly $500!

Next I quarter the animal and take one piece at a time into the kitchen, where I start to butcher it. I remove all of the meat from the neck and ribcage; this will be burger. This chore takes me two more hours.

Next I spend seven and a half hours more to cut up the steaks and roasts, plus cut off every single scrap of fat and "bad meat" for the dogs. This is another slow process because the buck has two inches of fat in places; I leave on about 10 percent of the white stuff to give moisture to the meat.

Once the meat is all cut up, I have to put the non-steaks through the grinder, not once but twice; that takes another 90 minutes. Finally I have to meticulously clean all of the equipment so that it is ready for the next critter. I use hot, soapy water and rubbing alcohol.

Now it's time to vacuum-pack all of the meat, and that is a tediously slow process because it takes approximately 90 seconds per package. Not only that but the sealer overheats every 20 packages and I must shut it off and allow it to cool down.

Time is adding up and my legs and back are screaming with the discomfort of standing on a hard floor in one place for so long. It is now 9:30 at night as I write this, and I still have to vac-pack all of the burger, but I'm tired and so I will put that off until morning.

To sum it all up, I try to utilize everything on a big game animal; I even cut up the larger leg bones for the dogs to chew on. And of course, I'll mount the antlers on a plaque for a memory when the time comes that my body can no longer negotiate the outdoors. Only the skeletal bones and 20 pounds of pure fat will not be utilized.

Do you still think my hunting is a breeze?

As always, keep the sun forever at your back, the wind forever in your face, and may the Forever God bless you all.


Larry Lightner writes Ramblin' Outdoors monthly for Desert Exposure.

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