Yesterday we butchered Nancy’s deer.

This was the second deer in as many years that she tagged with her archery license. Her hunt required lots of practice, learning about the life of a whitetail deer, looking for deer sign (without the help of a game trail camera) and then putting in hours of practicing stillness on various deer stands. And I might mention that she really doesn’t like climbing up and sitting on small platforms that are nearly three times higher than she is tall.

The young doe died quickly after a single arrow shot and Nancy gutted it with little help.

About two years ago, Nancy was exasperated with the deer come into the garden under the cover of darkness and pilfering her tender crops.

“It makes me want to hunt deer,” she hissed.

“Maybe you should.” I replied.

“It would increase our odds of putting venison in the freezer and besides, I think you might like the zen state of archery shooting. It can be very focusing and at the same time relaxing.”

I suggested she  bow hunt since she could get out into the woods during the fine days of autumn rather than later in the fall when the temps grow colder and snowfall sometimes makes an appearance. Nancy doesn’t do well with sitting still in cold weather.

While I use the tools of bow and arrow for deer hunting, I choose to use a recurve bow with no sights or trigger releases. But I suggested she buy an easier to use compound bow that uses a sight and a trigger for releasing the arrow. The compound bow uses a a system of cables and pulleys to bend the limbs of the bow. It makes it much easier for the archer to draw the bow back as far as possible and take timeto relax and aim at the target.

Several months later she bought a second hand  bow, from our friend and avid archer, Willy, co-owner of Full Draw Archery. He took time in making sure the bow and arrows fit her needs. Willy showed her several trigger releases to choose from and of course she chose a pink camo release.

Last year was her first year in attempting to kill a deer. As I mentored her, I recall one question in particular. “What if I cry when I kill a deer?”

My immediate response was that she should absolutely feel remorse. Crying is totally okay. More than once I have walked up to a freshly killed deer and have had tears well up. Killing an animal is not an easy act. You look at the animal as its eyes glaze over and you realize that only minutes ago this was a noble and fully alive animal. And now you have killed it.

However, I would argue that the charge of murderer can apply to anyone who chooses to eat meat.  I am also complicit in the murder of the convenient rotisserie chicken at the grocery store or the salmon I order in a restaurant. Consequently Nancy and I prefer to eat meat that we have had a direct and intimate relationship with rather than that which is wrapped in plastic or shrink wrap.

As the hunter/executor, I believe you have the obligation to treat the dead deer with the utmost respect. For me it always means a minute or so of silence and reflection with my hand resting on the animal before I begin to the task of gutting and transporting it home to hang.

I added, “The day you don’t feel remorse for killing any game of any size, you should likely not hunt any more.”

So it was not surprising when I found Nancy sitting on our porch steps crying  the evening after killing her doe. We had just readied the deer for skinning it. After the hide was removed we would hang in our cool garage another couple of days for aging before butchering it.

I sat down next to her and put my arm around her. She said, “I’m not sad for killing the deer. I’m sad at the realization that our whole food system is based on killing things.”

She is right and we all should be so mindful of the things we eat.

In killing game, I become responsible for taking the life. Call it murder if you like. But I would also argue that I commit murder when I pull a grown carrot from its nursery earth and then mutilate it by chopping it up. Or consider the green peas, embryos if you will, that I scrape from the wall of the mother pod as I shuck the peas with my thumbnail. If a seed is the promise of life, then I have cut it short by taking them from the pea pod.

We need to understand that all fresh food is made up of life and in harvesting it we are responsible for its death.

Early in the twentieth century, Knud Rasmussen, a Danish anthropologist whose mother was Inuit and his father Danish, traveled thousands of miles across the arctic collecting stories and artifacts of the Inuit way of life. These northern peoples lived a life that depended on hunting for clothing and food. During his dog sled travels, an Inuit shaman told him, “The greatest peril of life lies in the fact that human food consists entirely of souls.” He told Rasmussen that it was very important to gain the favor of the animal’s spirit so they continue to give themselves to the people so that the people might survive.

Last night we dined sumptuously and humbly on her deer’s most tender of tenderloin steaks. We barely chewed the broiled rare meat as we closed our eyes in bliss. The accompanying salad was made up of greens and cooked squash all grown out in our garden. The cranberry sauce was cooked from cranberries we picked on a piece of boggy land located two miles from our house. The apples used in finale of apple crisp were collected from a friend’s apple tree only a handful of miles away.

On many levels, the meal was the very essence of  home cooking.

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