18 November 2009

A New Deer Hunter (at age 70+)

[Notice to sensitive readers: this blog post includes photos of dead animals. -ER]

Frank Ackerman, my colleague in Computer Science, decided to take up deer hunting this year--at the age of 70+. Montana Tech, the little college in Butte, Montana, where I work, is a tightly knit community where faculty are generally helpful and supportive of one another. Frank and his wife, Hwe-Chu Tu, have enjoyed meals of elk, deer, and antelope at our home. Hwe is an excellent cook and became interested in preparing wild game. When Hwe began questioning me about what it would take for Frank to become a hunter, his fate was sealed.

We hunted once for mule deer, walking the steep rocky ridges along the Big Hole River, but did not see a legal buck within shooting range. We hunted once for whitetails at a favorite ranch in the beautiful Ruby Valley and while my hunt was successful Frank's was not. This changed last night as we sat patiently watching many deer for an hour or more--all out of range or at an unsafe angle given nearby houses. We sat patiently watching, the sun dipped below a high mountain ridge, the temperature dropped as cool air slid down the mountain slopes into the valley, and then -- magically -- deer emerged from the safety of dense willows along the river to feed in the hayfields around us .

Frank chose a nice doe, aimed carefully, and fired. The deer dropped and the rest of the herd, startled only momentarily, returned to feeding. "Now what do I do?" (You have another tag?) "Yes." (Shoot.) He did and another deer fell (a spike buck with antlers less than 4"--technically an "anterless deer"). "Now what?" (You have another tag?) "Yes." A third doe died. As light faded from the sky, we gathered our gear, field-dressed the deer, dragged them to the nearby road, and I made a short hike to bring the truck around:

This morning, we hung the deer in their garage prior to butchering. Here are Frank and Hwe with their year's supply of meat (note the deer carcasses are split and propped up to facilitate cooling):

The Ruby Valley is seriously overpopulated with white-tailed deer. Some property owners do not allow hunting, major predators are scarce, and hayfields are planted with tasty alfalfa--a sure recipe for deer propagation. The huge deer population is a problem for cattle ranchers, gardeners and landscapers, and drivers. At the ranch where we hunt, one signs an agreement to shoot at least 3 if possible. It is not really hunting (the best strategy is to sit quietly and watch) but it does require patience, careful watching, and accurate shooting. For a novice hunter, it is a good learning experience and I have started several hunters in this way: my own daughter Emily; "Little Brother" A.J., Howard Smith, and now Frank.

Experienced and novice hunters alike should practice shooting so that are confident of the rifle and the range at which they can consistently hit a small target. Many hunters are terrible shots. There are various reasons: many are too cheap to buy ammo for practice; others are "too busy" to practice; some have never learned basic marksmanship skills. Too many times, I've had even experienced hunters "borrow" my rifle after they missed. This sort of carelessness results in many wounded animals--a terrible fate that any hunter worth their salt should be ashamed of.


Janie said...

Your new deer hunter must be very happy with his success. You are apparently quite a good guide, Eco.
Thanks for the link to you-tube duct taping. Funny. Steve can't compete with that!

Anonymous said...

Your buddy Howard has had trouble getting his deer this year. You need to take him out or at least help him sight his rifle in.

nina at Nature Remains. said...

Thank you for taking the time to visit and comment on Nature Remains. I enjoy the opportunity to share my experiences here, and hope you'll stop by again soon for a "trip" with me.

Maria said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maria said...

crazy typo in previous comment :D
* * *

Good evening!
What a lesson... it's never too late; you're always young enough :)

I admire anyone that can hunt for their own food. I love how the Native Americans always thank the animal for the nourishment it provides. I've read how you do this also~~~

James Bruchac has visited our school several times and explained to us how the Abenaki would use up all of the animal and give thanks for it. Eating with gratitude and connecting with nature in this way... MUST be better than buying meat on a styrofoam tray! I eat less and less meat lately... Now, mostly fish and free range chicken. Thanks for the great story!
All the best ~ Maria

bitingmidge said...

It's always strange to see animals out of home context. Here it is the kangaroos and camels that are in danger of damage through over population, yet strangers protest at the very mention of culling them.

Sunshine Coast Daily Photo - Australia