It’s not officially over but it just might be that due to the gosh-durned weather my fall hunting season is all but complete. This was a season of some firsts for me. And some seconds and even some thirds!
It was my eighth season hunting deer. It was the first season that I saw so many deer while actively hunting, well over a dozen. It was also not only the first season where I shot and missed a deer, but also the first year that I shot and missed three times! (I also hit three different trees!) Thankfully after those three missed shots, my fourth shot fired made this season the second in eight where I successfully harvested a deer. Finally, it was the first season since I started hunting with my partner that he harvested a deer (before I came along he used to get deer many of the years that he hunted). We won’t get into the size of that little deer, in the interest of preserving his manly pride.
There were other firsts, like first times hunting in several different areas that I’d not hunted before. Also, my first time hunting with a muzzleloader; during the regular gun season, mind you, and I never fired it, but still.
I hunted a lot this year, several times in October and nearly every chance I got in November. Definitely plenty enough to say that I put in my time. During the early bow season I was out several days, and two of the missed shots were taken with my bow. On those two days I was very close to three different bucks. That was a pretty exciting first, especially when one of them wandered in and took a half-hour nap within twenty yards of me. This took place in a new-to-me hunting location on Crex Meadows Wildlife Area, a place I named Crane-song Woods.
I’ve discovered some pretty great places to hunt on the vast and plentiful acres of county forest land and state wildlife areas that I am so lucky to live near. One thing I really like about hunting these particular public lands is that the roads are so well maintained that I can drive my little old prius on them. Also, these miles and miles of county forest roads zigzag and cross each other and there are so many options and so few people out and about most days. The busiest day where I noticed a lot of folks driving pickups around, many with hunters sitting on tailgates, was the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving. I also noticed a lot more groups doing drives through the brush prairies at Crex Meadows those days.
There are a few days of Muzzleloader season left and a whole month of bow season left, and I haven’t filled either my bow buck or gun buck tag yet. But with two (1 & 1/2 really, who are we trying to kid) whitetails hanging in the garage, I don’t feel such a sense of urgency to get out there now, especially since it’s been so cold! I got a nice big healthy doe on the last Saturday of the gun season. I used my little Marlin .30.30 because it was rainy and snowy that day and I didn’t want to do any damage to my new muzzleloader. I could have made the thirty-yard shot with it though.
The doe is deliciously fatty. I harvested her on the south end of Crex Meadows not far from some cornfields just outside the wildlife area. She is the largest deer I have taken (another first?). No antlers, but for me its more about the meat. Forsaking age, doe meat tends to be milder and more tender than buck meat. Young meat is even more tender yet. The other deer hanging, while having much less meat, will surely prove to be the most tender.
I’ve discovered that I really enjoy processing the deer myself. I skinned both deer myself and scraped the fat and thin strips of meat off the hides and they are now salted and put into the freezer to tan in the spring. I have removed all the meat from the doe and just need to cut it into steaks and roasts and grind the burger and dog food. I’ll likely get the other one finished up during the long evening hours next week. Its a nice peaceful time in the garage with the wood stove going to take the chill out of the air, a good mix of music (mostly blues, jazz, and a few Christmas tunes thrown in) playing on Pandora, and maybe a beer or two while I cut away at the carcass.
I am planning to do even more with the leftovers, like save some of the bones for tools and crafts and use most of the rest to make venison bone broth. Of course the dogs will get some to chew on as well. I will dig out and save the brains to tan the hides with. I will also render some of the fat and turn it to tallow to rub into the finished hides. Big plans that I hope to follow through on, even just so I can say I’ve done it. Its fun to try new things.