Thursday, December 6, 2007

Gutting Bambi's Brother

I get up and write early in the morning. So, I’m usually up around 0500hrs (5AM). It’s usually an hour before the brain clears up enough and I’ve taken care of the dogs, started breakfast, etc. to get started on my work.

On the weekends, I sometimes get started later. A couple of Saturdays ago, I was involved in my morning toilet ritual when there was a heavy pounding on my front door. The dogs started to bark out back. Not too many people would be coming to see me at 0700hrs (7AM). I pull my pants up, muttering impolite things and get to the front door.

It’s my neighbor from up the road. The quiet, polite grandmother who works at the local China-Mart. She’s dressed like a Tennessee Volunteers football fan, right down to the orange watch cap and booster jacket. She’s out of breath and there’s no car in the driveway.
"I got a deer and he locked me out of the house!"
"What do you mean, locked you out of the house?"
"I went down in the bottom, shot a deer and now can’t get into the house! He’s gone to see his mother at the nursing home. I had to walk up here."
"All the way from the bottom?"
"Yes! No! I went to the house first and it’s locked up!"
"Let me get the truck and we’ll go get your deer."

She’s breathless, leaning up against the brick pillar of my front porch. I just shake my head. She knows my edict against coming into my shack. Nobody gets in the door, everybody waits on the porch.
"Just hold on a minute, let me get dressed and we’ll go down and get your deer."
She’s like a kid on Christmas, "It’s a five-point buck, I’m so excited!"
No kidding. I’m not really thrilled myself. Having committed to help her get any deer she shot out of the woods or fields a couple of months earlier, I now realize my mistake.

Before we went down to the bottoms with her rifle a couple of weeks ago and I found out that she’s the Tennessee Annie Oakley, Little Sure Shot of Cherry Bottom. Put a slug dead center through a 2x2 piece of wood, using iron sights, from about 40 yards away. First shot.

So, I told her I would gut her deer, if she got one. Just for the experience. It sounded like a good idea at the time. Get some venison for the table, a few good bones for the puppy to teeth on…The last thing I figured was that she would actually shoot one.

I put on my dark green military pants, field jacket, grabbed my knife and the camera, then head out the door. After making it plain to Thor that he’s not riding in the front seat of the truck, I lock the hubs, put it in four-wheel drive. We go around the barn and down over the hill towards the slough in the bottoms. The brush has grown up in the track and I have to drive through some tall grass and saplings to get to the bottom. Thor bounds along beside the truck, excited at the break in routine. We drive up over the small hill, then down into the mown hay field, hay rolls scattered around the bottom.

Sure Shot points towards the middle of the bottom, "He’s right over there, about where we were when we tried to set up my scope. Which is when I found out she could shoot, even after getting too close to the scope and having the gun recoil and butt her in the head. Her forehead looked like a Klingon from STAR TREK, but the two black eyes she developed over the next few days really got some comments down at the store. She still had the black eyes, two weeks later and now her deer. Who’s laughing now?

Bambi’s brother was lying there stretched out like he was taking a nap, good size, about 80-90 pounds. I pulled the truck up next to him and got out. Thor was unsure, sniffing from about 10 feet away, got down and moved slowly towards the buck. I ordered him to sit. I kneeled down next to Bambi’s brother and checked him out. Sure Shot had nailed him high in the right shoulder and it probably killed him instantly, the so-called ‘painless death’, didn’t know what hit him. I don’t think he took more than a step before he dropped dead. He looks good, his tongue doesn’t have any spots on it. Thor has remained motionless, watching me.

Sure Shot positions herself next to her kill as I work the camera. Couple of shots of her next to the buck, holding it’s head up, one standing next to it, with more background, hay rolls and field. Thor bumping me, trying to get my attention while I’m shooting the pictures. He wants to gnaw on the deer. I tell him to lie down.

I go to the truck, put the camera away, get my stuff, hand the new packet of dish washing gloves to Sure Shot. I was going to use them for laying up some fiberglass on my boat, but they’ll clean up. There is no way anyone is going to gut an animal and not get blood on them. I walk back over to Bambi’s brother.

Sure Shot is circling, telling how she sat and watch four of them playing in the field. She waited until they settled down to graze, picked out this buck and then busted him. It was about 80 yards from where she was sitting, a damn good shot with open sights on a target that could jump in the blink of an eye.

I pull out my combat knife, trying to remember the instructions I had read on the internet about gutting a deer. It’s been almost 20 years since I skinned one up in Kentucky and a lot longer since I had to dissect a frog in high school biology class. Bambi’s brother gets rolled over on his back and I have Sure Shot hold onto one of his rear leg’s while I cut around his anus (a**hole, to you non-medical types). Got to get the guts with fecal matter out of the body cavity first. Then I slice up from there, up around his manhood parts and then on up into his guts. It’s not going well, more like rookie meatball surgery. "This is like watching those old M*A*S*H* TV shows" I say to Sure Shot. She just shakes her head. I cut deep into the hip area, trying to separate the muscles that hold it together and get the large intestine out of the body.

You have to use a sharp knife and be careful not to cut too deep, you don’t want to slice into any intestines or the stomach, ruining the meat. I then cut up to the bottom of the breastbone. The line that I scored with the knife is not deep enough and I have to go back over it, trying to cut just deep enough to separate the skin, but not cut his intestines.

Sure Shot it fascinated, although having seen this done plenty of times, but not actually done it herself, "This isn’t making you sick?"
"I worked in a hospital for about a year. Had friends in the E.R. Sometimes I had to help out there. I’ve seen blood before and torn open bodies."
"Yeah, but still…

"Had a guy bleed all over me one time, up in Ohio. He had hit a large metal pole head-on in an old 1960’s Cadillac. Must have been doing 50 miles per hour. Power seat went forward and drove his knees into the dashboard, face into the steering wheel, no seatbelt.

A buddy of mine and I had just dropped off his girlfriend, three of us riding tight in his 1964 Corvette. I was early 20’s, just out cruising, you know. We were headed to another bar, came around a corner and here’s this Caddy, embedded into a large metal pole. Dude had to be flying, car hit about three feet off the ground. Must have just happened, no one out of the house it’s in front of and the car’s steaming from a busted radiator.

Ed stopped the ‘vette and I jump out, ran over and jerked the door open. The guy’s still alive, talking to me, wants to get out of the car, babbling about he can’t get caught. I try to move the seat back, but it’s jammed, his knees buried in the all metal dashboard, blood pumping out of him from his legs and face. Ed stood behind me, dazed by the whole thing. Our evening buzz was gone.

I run up to the front door of the house, pound on it and an old man jerked the door open almost immediately. He started yelling at me to leave him alone, he’s already called the police, doesn’t want to get involved. Which sounded like a good idea. I turn around and Ed is in the ‘vette, engine running. I don’t need to think, there are sirens screaming down the boulevard, about a ½ mile away. I ran and dove into the Corvette. We go up a block, take a right and stay off the main drag, backtracking through some high-dollar neighborhood.

When we got to my house, we realized that my jacket is covered with blood. I take it off and put it in the wood burning stove in the shop and burn it. We down a six-pack, talking about it. We looked in the paper for a week, but never saw anything about the accident, don’t know if the guy lived or died. Must have been some high-roller’s kid."

"So blood doesn’t bother you?" Sure Shot persists.
"I’ve seen enough of it, mine and other people’s. I don’t think that you get used to it. When I worked at the hospital, a couple of the doctors thought that I should go back to school, become a doctor. Not the job for me."

I’m cutting around Bambi’s brother’s intestinal wall, trying to get deep enough into the cavity to ease the intestines, liver, kidneys, lungs and heart out, without making a really bloody mess of it. Sure Shot has now got blood up over her gloves, staining her Volunteer jacket sleeves. Thor is being a very good dog, lying on the grass, watching me, knows the pecking order. It’s my kill as far as he’s concerned and he knows better than to mess with my food.

The guts just won’t cooperate, they refuse to come out of the carcass. I get frustrated, grab the deer’s head and pick him up, flip him over, drag him about six feet, trying to get the innards to fall out. All I get is blood all over the ground and on the legs of my pants and front of my jacket. I drop him on his back, pick the knife up and put my hands into his chest cavity, trying to cut his esophagus loose from his stomach. Finally, I cut enough that his stomach, intestines, the whole mess falls out onto the ground when we tilt him up. Thor sniffs the air, sits up and starts to come towards me. I tell him to sit and he does.

"He a really good dog, most of them would be all over the place" Sure Shot nods toward Thor, impressed by his restraint.
"He knows better. He doesn’t get to eat until he sits and obeys me."

I continue cutting and now am reaching into the body cavity, pulling out fat, pieces of gut that I missed, random body parts that don’t look too edible. There’s a pile on the ground that probably weighs about 20 pounds. I look around and gauge how to handle the next problem. The tailgate on the truck is broken, the bed is full of junk and I need to get this deer up and over the tailgate.
Thor is watching intently as I go over to the truck and call him. He runs and jumps in the front seat. Close the door and go back to move Bambi’s brother over to the truck and hold his head up. Have Sure Shot grab his head while I climb into the bed of the truck. Then I reach over and take his head, pull him over the tailgate and into the truck bed. Don’t want to break the small rack he’s got, as that will probably be going on the wall. The three of us crowd into the truck cab and start off to Sure Shot’s house.

We get there and I find a wooden skid to put Bambi’s brother on, while Sure Shot goes to see if her roommate has returned from visiting his mother. Nope, so we unload Bambi’s brother and I tied him up so we can hose him out. There’s no way we can take him to the check-in station with the 4X4, it doesn’t have real good brakes.

Thor takes a place on the driveway and watches while I hose the blood off the deer, the truck and myself. Sure Shot’s roomie finally shows up and we load Bambi’s brother into the back of her mini-van. He’s riding on a tarp, to keep anything from getting too nasty. I decide to ride along, in case there’s any questions about where he was shot and the registration.

At the deer check-in station, it’s like Mardi Gras for camo freaks. Whole families dressed in the latest camouflage fashions. There’s camouflage trucks, ATVs, children, mothers, all on display. We roll in driving a 15 year old mini-van, looking like we just came from either the football game or the barn. The rear hatch goes up and people wander over to look at Sure Shot’s buck. They think it’s mine. Which I enjoy correcting them about it. Then they’re really shook up. Sure Shot doesn’t look the part. She moves slow, has a bad leg, doesn’t look like she would get off the couch, much less sit in the woods and take down a deer.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resource crew check over Bambi’s brother, note his rack size, estimate his age at a year and a half, give us some tips on gutting deer for next time. Sure Shot gets all the paperwork done and we go back to the mini-van. Just then a dude pulls in with a huge buck, probably a 10-12 point rack. Sure Shot pulls forward 100 feet, stops the mini-van, she’s got to see this buck. I get out, not all that enthused, dead deer are dead deer.

Sure Shot is all over the buck, the dude who shot him doesn’t act too happy about being questioned by her. Then I ask where he shot it. It’s over on the other side of the farm, near where people have been poaching on the old man’s property. The game warden busted a guy a couple of years back. It cost him quite a bit of money, lost his gun and his truck. They still do it, just like the ones who spotlight deer from the road and then are surprised when they’re caught.

We get back in the mini-van and leave, heading for the butcher shop. Sure Shot was supposed to have all this figured out. Knows somebody down at the store, who’s son knows the guy who processes the deer. It’s not call ‘butchering’ any more. The crew at the deer check station didn’t know how to get to this guy’s place. The game warden told me he bought a meat grinder and does it himself.

We drive towards the deer processor, but I get bad directions when we stop at a local corner store. The lady behind the counter talking on the phone, while giving the lost Yankee, which I’m not, I just sound like one, directions. Which were wrong. Or maybe I misunderstood.

We drive about 10 miles, miss a turn in the village we weren’t told about, go back towards the burg after we get to the county line, now knowing we're too far out. During our drive towards the general vicinity, me making cell phone calls using her cell phone and getting people who are surprised when I start talking to them. The ambiguous male accent throws them off, then I explain that Sure Shot got her deer and everybody’s congratulatory and friendly. Where’s the deer processor?

When we get back into the burg, Sure Shot stops at the local trading post. The guy inside tells her the correct directions. We head down the road, drive about a mile and we’re there. Some kid, about nine years old is out front of the building. He’s got thick glasses and is wearing the full camo rig. Hat, jacket and pants, hunting boots. Sure Shot asks what to do with the deer. He tells her to unload it, put it on the concrete and he’ll skin it for her. She can’t believe that he would skin it.

I get the rear hatch open and the kid comes over. He wants to help unload it and goes to grab the head. I ask him to switch, I’ll grab the heavier end. He grabs the rear legs, pulls the deer out of the van, with me holding the front and drops Bambi’s brother on the gravel. Embarrassed, he picks the deer up and staggers over to the concrete pad, me following his lead. I thank him as we put the deer down.

Sure Shot is standing talking to the deer processor’s wife, who’s got a clipboard, noting down what she wants in the way of cuts and sausage. Then comes the big question. The deer processor comes out and asks if she is going to mount the head. It’s only ten bucks to cut it off properly, but the taxidermist is going to want around $200 to mount it.

Sure Shot shakes her head, so the deer processor asks if she wants the rack.
"Well, yeah, how much does that cost?"
"Nothing," he replies.

Then he reaches over for an electric saw and immediately cuts the top of the deer’s skull open. One slice down from the rear, above the ears and the other across the front, just above the eyes. Pops the top off and hands it to me. Nice clean gray matter, exposed to the world.

"Is that the brain?"
"Yep, sure is," answers the deer processor.
Sure Shot leaned up against the mini-van, I thought she was going to faint right there.

After all that blood, a little bit of brain got to her.

We got in the mini-van and left.

It’s all over but the eating now.

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