I grew up in a place where hunting is a part of most people's lives. Many of my close family members were hunters. But I was never really interested in it when I was growing up. I ended up marrying a hunter as well and it still took me 12 years to decide it was something I could do too. Last summer, I decided to take a Hunter Education course and thoroughly enjoyed it. I found out that I knew a lot more than I thought and it was great to see the variety of folks getting into hunting - young kids, teenage girls, adult men, and women around the same age as me were all in my class.
It wasn't until the next fall that I was able to go on my first hunt. I'm not going to tell you some elaborate story about the pursuit of my first deer because it was a pretty simple process. I was able to harvest my first animal on my parents' land in Northern Wyoming. There wasn't a lot of scouting, hiking, etc. involved but it was the perfect experience for my first hunt (especially since I didn't have to go too far from my 5 month old baby) and left me feeling confident in my ability to try something more difficult next year. It was a gorgeous October evening, everything lined up perfectly, and I couldn't have asked for anything better.
While the hunt itself was nothing extravagant, I still have a lot to say about how it made me feel. I decided to get into hunting with one goal in mind - meat in the freezer. I've always been in charge of the food in our house (by choice) but apart from my sad excuse for a garden, I had never truly been able to bring something to the table from start to finish. Now that I have 2 little boys, that desire to provide for my family has grown immensely.
Game meat is not something new to me. My husband has been bringing home various animals to feed our family for years. I was prepared for the process - the hunt, the field dressing, the butchering, the clean-up, etc. What I wasn't prepared for was the emotion that comes with it. If you're a hunter, you know what I'm talking about. It's hard to put into words what it feels like to walk up to an animal that you've taken the life of. As I ran my fingers through her silky coat, adrenaline still pumping, I felt a combination of many contradictory emotions - respect for her existence, gratitude for the food she will provide, pride and a sense of accomplishment, and remorse for taking her life. This overwhelming flood of emotions is something I had never felt before and I hope I never forget how this day made me feel.
Butchering meat is something that I grew up around. My family gathers for an annual pig butchering as part of a tradition from my Belgian ancestors. I have many fond memories of being with family, running around with my cousins, trimming sausage meat, and eating good food on my grandparent's farm. Even so, it was a whole different experience butchering my doe. I found myself taking the most careful cuts, trying my hardest to not waste any bit of meat. The whole process probably took a lot more time than it needed to, but I was so afraid to mess it up.
Now that it's all in the freezer, I find myself afraid to cook it. I'm afraid to ruin it and waste any of that precious meat. I'm afraid that if we eat it, we will run out. Hunting is a funny thing. You do it to provide food, but once the freezer is full it's almost like a treasure chest of pretty things you want to look at instead of actually eat. Of course, you eventually get over it and it's all worth it when you have that first bite. Admittedly, I've only made 2 meals from this doe so far (recipes linked below).
Ultimately, I accomplished what I set out to do. I put meat in the freezer and provided for my family. It is the most rewarding feeling in the world to see my boys enjoy the meat I brought home. My little guy even got to try some as his first meat he loved every last bit of it! I feel so fortunate to have had my first hunting experience in the place that raised me. I look forward to many years of hunting from here on and I hope that if my boys choose to get into hunting, that they get to experience their first hunts in the same place.
In the words of my 3 year old: "Thank you Mrs. Deer for all of your yummy meat!"