I love the holidays. I love fall weather. I love family gatherings, drama and all. I love to cook. So, all-in-all, this is win-win for me. This year, I had the added excitement of embarking on a new adventure – I joined the family hunting trip. Ta-da!
I’ve wanted to attempt deer hunting over the past couple of years (which, I realize, seems in direct opposition to my whole “I’m not a country girl” thing). I like learning new things and I’m curious as to what all the hoopla is about. Between toddler duty and letting kids have their first hunts, I usually end up giving my spot up so that someone else can have a shot (no pun intended). So, this year’s plan was “Mommy gets a deer first.”
Don’t hold your breath, kids.
We headed west Friday – locked, loaded and ready to go. As we drove in our unusually quiet car (we only took Luke and the dog, the two younger kids stayed behind), my mind drifted back to my very first deer/hunting interaction. It was with Gregg, of course, and even though it was almost 20 years ago, I remember it with complete clarity.
We were freshmen in college and had been “hanging out” without actually dating (whatever that means) for a month or two. Translated, we were still too cool to make the first move, but in the “I need to impress you with how irresistible I am without seeming to try too hard.” Gregg was at his house which, to my mind, was out in the country and I had driven over to “hang out”. We couldn’t go anywhere because he had shot a deer the evening before and it was hanging, field dressed and ready for him to skin and quarter. Naturally, the super cute Wonder Girl persona I had cultivated prompted me to volunteer my services and help him out. After all, I was dissecting stuff in Anatomy lab and pre-med at the time. How hard could this be? Plus, for all my insect and scorpion phobias, mammals don’t make me squeamish. And Gregg looked as impressed as he did shocked, so I figured it was the right call.
We went out to where the deer hung and, after a brief “Aw” moment, I was ready to work. Gregg gave me a small handsaw and began reciting very specific instructions, which I actually listened to without allowing myself to become overly distracted by his dimples. Or height. Or muscles. Did I mention he was really cute? Believe it or not, in my younger years I was way more focused and less ADD than I am now. I blame the children for this loss.
Sorry, I digress. See?
Instructions: I was the quarterer, which meant I had to remove the legs (if you are squeamish, you might want to skip ahead. If you are a card carrying member of PETA, just skip this post altogether). The method I was to use was to saw halfway through the leg tendons, twist and pull, popping the leg off. Repeat for each leg. Gregg did the actual skinning, and was impressively fast at it, until he got to the head/neck area – he then sat on the ground to work with more precision (obviously, the deer was hanging upside down). This was my cue to being working on the hind legs. Show time.
As I stated earlier, this was a time in my life where I was incredible focused and very literal. I took the handsaw and sawed through exactly 50% of the tendons with extreme specificity. I may have even counted fibers. So far, so good. I carefully set the saw down, reached up for the leg, twisted and pulled. Nothing. Hmmm…. I twisted a little further and pulled with more force. Still nothing. I repeated the twist/pull pattern with incremental increased in force for three to four more repetitions. No luck. The leg was still firmly attached.
And now, it was personal.
I had followed the instructions without deviating and it was not working! My type A personality could not reconcile this, so my mounting frustration may have made me a tad irrational. I totally forgot about Gregg’s presence and became completely immersed in the woman versus deer leg struggle for dominance. Bring it on, Bambi!
I raised all the way up onto my tiptoes, wrapped both arms around the leg and turned my body so that the deer leg was positioned under my armpit and lodged against my ribs. I placed my foot on the tree trunk, braced myself and started yanking with my arms and body while shoving my foot against the tree for leverage. I’m pretty sure there was grunting. I struggled this way for a good minute, hair whipping wildly, tree bark flying, the deer swinging back and forth…..until, breathless, I realized two things: 1) this deer leg was no closer to coming off at this point than it had been before I started and 2) Gregg was still there. Oops.
I slowly turned my head and lowered my gaze to see him sitting – stunned, silent, not moving at all, as he stared with wide eyes at the lunatic hanging on his deer. After an awkward pause, he asked, “What are you doing?” There really was no dignified response here, so I simply said, “Twist and pull.” We learned that day that I was not strong enough for the 50% rule. My success rate with the other legs went up exponentially when I sawed through 90% of tendons instead.
Fast forward 20 years to the inaugural deer hunt. We dropped off our stuff, our son (he had no interest in going since the focus was not on him…so much for supporting Mom) and the dog, then headed to the deer lease. I was quite excited, although more than a little apprehensive, truth be told. I’ve mentioned on more than one occasion how busy we are, and the holiday season only magnifies this. While I have shot guns before, it’s been a while. With our crazy schedules, we never got around to practicing with the gun I was actually going to use. So, when Gregg handed me the gun and said, “Ok, babe, rack a round and put one in the chamber”, I just sat there blinking at him. I mean, really. Who did he think he was talking to? Where would I have just picked that up as a skill? This was probably his first red flag. The second came as we were exiting the vehicle and I turned to him with the question, “So, where exactly am I supposed to shoot the deer?” Nothing like waiting until the last possible minute to get the basic info.
We set off on foot across the lease and I felt pretty official in my black wool beanie, five layers of clothes, Gregg’s camouflage vest and a rifle in my hands. This particular lease doesn’t have many deer blinds and we got there after the feeders had gone off, so the plan was to walk the lease and find deer to hunt. This requires stealth, a good eye and quick response time. Perfect. Sounds like a recipe for success to me.
Still, I had promised to be a good sport and follow directions, so I squared my shoulders and soldiered on. Gregg led the way and we wound our way throughout the terrain. It was really fun. There was wildlife everywhere – we saw jackrabbits and hawks and foxes, and there was a veritable cacophony of birdsong. It was so great to spend time, just the two of us, enjoying nature and fresh air. I almost forgot we were stalking deer. Almost…..the gun wasn’t exactly light. At intervals, Gregg would turn to me and do the two fingers at his eyes, then at me, then out at the clearing. I would nod and look around dutifully. He would motion to get down. I would duck and squat. He also did a whole bunch of other signs that made no sense to me whatsoever and I couldn’t begin to guess at their meaning. I just kept nodding. He seemed so excited to communicate in that way, I didn’t have the heart to burst his bubble.
As the sun began to set, we became resigned to the fact that this trip was unlikely to garner the result we had hoped for. We began walking back towards the suburban. All of a sudden, Gregg started flapping and pointing wildly while squatting and motioning for me to do the same. Okay! Okay! I got it. He duck walked/ran over to me, put his chin on my head and began speaking under his breath. I thought this was a great trick, by the way. I know, focus on the point. He had spotted a doe in the field across from us. Sweet! I turned to look where he was pointing. Nothing. He pointed again. Nothing. Again. Nothing. What the heck was he looking at? I mean, the man can’t find his keys when they are six inches from his face, but he can spot a partially hidden deer at 200 yards?
He told me to sneak along the fence line past the bushes and I should be able to see her. Ok. Got it. So I slowly began this awkward lunge/squatty/duck-like walk along the fence while hiding behind the bushes. It was ridiculous, and only the thought he would kill me if my laughter scared off the invisible deer kept my giggles at bay. I stopped and stared. Nothing. He pantomimed for me too look through the rifle scope to see if it would help. Oh, my gosh. Have you ever tried to do that? How does anyone see through those things? Gregg snuck over to me, told me not to put the scope so close to my face or the recoil would give me a black eye (great, something new to worry about) and said there were now two deer. Because I was having so much trouble seeing them, he would go around and see if he could “encourage” them to come towards me by making a little noise on the other side. What?!? Then, he says, “This means you’re gonna have to be quick, Bec. I mean, no hesitation. Click off the safety, get your gun up, aim and shoot. They’ll be moving, so you won’t have much time.”
Again, who does he think he’s talking to? It’s like he’s never met me!
Needless to say, this plan was not successful. I never did see the deer. Maybe they flew away…..Christmas is coming, you know.
Walking back to the car, we each spent a few minutes in our own thoughts. I was a little disappointed, but still had fun. My main concern was that this had to be the most boring hunting trip ever for my husband. The man has been hunting his whole life. He doesn’t even rifle hunt anymore, preferring to use a bow. Here I am, candidate for Clueless Hunting Rookie of the Year. Gregg was walking a few feet in front of me. He paused for a moment, turned, and said, “I can’t tell you how happy I am that you came along. It means so much to me that I got to share this part of me with you.” I felt my heart lift, my spine straighten and my face break into a smile. As he turned to keep walking, he casually tossed out, “And you look really cute in that hat.”
Victory!! As far as I’m concerned, this hunt was a roaring success. Any time a good-looking outdoorsman walks away from an empty-handed hunt with a smile and a compliment, noticing your adorableness, you’ve won the day.
After all, isn’t that what we all hunt for throughout our lives? Aren’t we tracking down people and occasions that leave us feeling loved and beautiful and worthwhile? We equip ourselves as best we can to find positive reinforcement and incidences and individuals that are able to celebrate our relationships over our results and our company over our competence.
This is why community and friendship and sisterhood are so important. We were created to embrace them…and each other.
So celebrate that every opportunity you get, and even stepping outside of your comfort zone won’t feel so daunting, I guarantee it. It made a cold, intimidating hunt much more enjoyable.
Getting to watch him walk around in front of me in his jeans was just a bonus.
Solidarity, sisters. The hunt is on…..