I have a confession to make. A lot of outdoor writers don’t field dress their game because that’s what guides do. In fact, a lot of those writers don’t scout and some of them don’t even walk very far into the woods. I always seem to get the 6’6″ tall guides who like to walk a lot.
Recently, I learned to field dress a deer – in the dark, by the light of an ATV.
That experience got me to thinking about connecting to the whole process of field to table. Last year, I hunted during Missouri’s doe season with the Women in the Outdoors program, and shot two does within 30 seconds. Our guides field dressed the deer (as we all watched) and then, proceeded to cheer on a local college team on a televised football game all afternoon. We huntresses became concerned when unusually warm temperatures climbed higher and our guides started checking their eyelids for cracks.
So, five of us headed out to the shed, hoisted up our deer and began what we believed to be the best butchering process. My husband summed up the results later with this question: “Did the thought of a roast ever come to mind?” Let’s just say there were a lot of strips.
So, fast forward almost a year later and here I was in the woods, in the dark, with an ATV humming and shining its headlights on a button buck. Here’s what the lesson might have sounded like to a passerby, which I doubt there would have been in the woods on that Saturday night, but here goes …
Husband: You’ll have to reach down in there, find it and cut the windpipe, Barb.
Babbs: I can’t find it. I can’t find it. I can’t find it. I don’t think he has one.
Husband: Feel for it.
Babbs: OK, I found it.
Things went well until I looked down to see an enormous water balloon at the base of the deer’s internal organs, near its pelvis.
Babbs: Ohmygosh … what’s that? What’s that?
Husband: That’s the bladder. It’s full. Never seen it like that before.
Babbs: Ohmygosh, what if it pops and sprays me with urine?
Husband: Just don’t get it on the meat.
Babbs: Ohmygosh, it popped.
Husband: We’ll rinse the meat.
Babbs: Peepee meat … in thought bubbles above her head.
I then helped my husband field dress a doe. And when we took the deer to a nearby meat processing plant, we mentioned the whole full bladder thing to the guys working there. They said that sometimes, when deer “hole up” during the season, that they don’t urinate or mark their territory for a long time, and hold their water. Interesting.
I started thinking about what it was like to work with those internal organs. It’s nothing like dissecting a frog. I recalled hearing Brenda Valentine, my hero, talk about field dressing deer and how her kids helped her. I’ve spent a few hours in public schools, as a student and a teacher, and I believe that we need to connect our kids to what they eat. I don’t know that I could do that in a sophomore English class, though.
We already know that there are fewer hunters in the upcoming generation, but kids don’t have to hunt to appreciate a source of protein. Field trips to meat packing plants, or to the local game processing businesses, or how about if the 7th grade biology teacher brought in a piece of qualified and certified road kill and cut it open right then and there for the kids to see? And feel. Still warm.
All I know, is that when I make a meal out of the venison I shot and butchered and ground or trimmed last fall, I appreciate it a lot more than a chicken or cow or pig I never met.