Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Second Chance Buck: The Aftermath

It's been more than 48 hours since I killed my first deer ever, and I'm still buzzing. Sometimes I'm calm and I think about other things, like work. Then I see a student who's into guns or hunting, and I say, "Wanna see my buck?" and the whole spazzing thing starts over again.

This has been both a time of reflection and a time of work.

I've reflected on how lucky I was that the buck did exactly what I needed: Hold still and present a good target.

I've reflected on how grateful I am to have made a good shot that killed him in no more than 20-30 seconds - and really, isn't that the measure of what a good shot is, a quick death, not a feat accomplished over great distance? It's probably what I'm most proud of. I know it's something to be thankful for, not to take for granted.

And I've reflected on the sheer volume of congratulations that have come in from quarters I never expected - schoolmates I haven't seen in 27 years! Crazy stuff.

Then there's been the work.
Boyfriend has been doing his thing, breaking down the meat into all the parts he loves - brisket, flank, tenderloin, backstrap.

My job, aside from writing labels on the vacuum-seal bags, has been prepping the skull for a
"Euro mount," or, as my family says, "skull."

It started on Sunday when Boyfriend announced that it would be my job to skin the head. Not bad, compared with the work he was doing. So I set to work:

Here's what I learned in that process: If you spend much time worrying about someone poking your eyeballs out, stop worrying - they're very firmly attached. My mother, who's a durable soul, happened to arrive at my house in time to watch me digging the eyeballs out of the skull, and she had to avert her eyes for a good 10-15 minutes.

Once skinned, we popped the head in the stock pot for a few hours to help cook stuff out. Yeah, stuff.

Then, this morning and this evening, I picked "stuff" off and out of the skull - cartilage, meat and even brains. I've never seen cooked brains before, and I'm here to tell you, it looks like foie gras - white and creamy.

No, we didn't eat it. But my Argentinian neighbor Silvia would probably be distraught to know that we hadn't. Last time we brought game home, she wanted to know what we did with the brains. "Heart," she said, "ees for thee cats. But I love thee brains."

Silvia, I'm not there yet. Maybe someday.

Anyway, what I'm left with is this:

The skull, picked mostly clean, will now go into a bucket of water in the back yard, where we'll let bacteria finish what I started, probably for most of winter. When it appears to have been picked clean, we'll bleach it, and it'll be ready to hang over our mantle, right next to the deer Boyfriend got this summer, Spork - a harder-earned trophy than mine by a million miles.

Even the side-by-side trophy has significance: I started hunting several years after Boyfriend, so almost everything I've done for the first time is something he's done long before. But for both of us, this was the first year we killed blacktail deer. And while the trophies may pale in comparison with the whitetail that cover so much of our country, these hunts are just as hard fought, the accomplishments no less meaningful.

In just a few days, we'll be duck hunting - a pursuit that will consume much of our free time until the end of January. But we'll have plenty of venison to add to the dinnertable mix this winter, and plenty of deer-hunting memories that won't disappear with the first shotgun blast. And for that, we're grateful.

© Holly A. Heyser 2009


native said...

The after glow is very evident in this piece Holly and just as you never forget your first love, so goes it with your first harvested deer! ;-)

Terri Lee Pocernich said...

It's a pretty big rush! This will go on not just for days. You will talk about it like that forever!

Marian Ann Love said...

Hope you have been able to sleep OK Holly...now you will start dreaming of deer. :) I'm still so excited for you!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations Holly on your first deer! I've recently started investing vast amounts of time duck & goose hunting here in Vermont, you are in part my inspiration for the new sport! Thank you!

Carolina Rig said...

Holly, first off, congrats on your blacktail. I've always dreamed about chasing blacktail out west one day. Your story has reignited the flame! I'm curious about the Euro mount and your method. Do you think boiling it will weaken the skull? How are you going to bleach it? I've been told that sending off the skull to have beetles work on it is the way to go...but that costs a bit of $$$. Thanks.

Holly Heyser said...

We simmer the skull, and we've done it several times and it hasn't weakened it. For bleaching, we use 1/4 cup of household bleach in a five-gallon bucket of water.

As for beetles: My cousin actually has the beetles, and if I felt like driving 2 hours to her place to drop it off, I'd do that. But 8 hours total driving seems like a lot of gas money, so I'm fine just putting it in a bucket.

What I don't know is exactly how we'll fix this to the wall. But I've got some time to figure that out...

Phillip said...

"The Afterglow"... perfect way to describe it, Michael! I've been there. First buck, first elk, first mallard... etc. If I sit and think quietly for a minute, I can still feel it, and trust me, those events (except for the elk) happened a very long time ago. Lots more have fallen since, but nothing will ever replace that first one.

Anyway, nice work on the euro mount. Skinning the head is always the toughest part, I think, although getting downwind of the boiling pot can get ya too. My friend, Scott, uses dermestid beetles, and they do a great job. Problem is keeping them fed and healthy.

By the way, I used to love brains until all this Mad Cow and CWD craziness kinda spooked me off of them. They're better than you might expect, especially served on a corn tortilla with grilled green onions, or scrambled up with some eggs and red onion. YUM!

SimplyOutdoors said...

After helping my brother prepare one Euro Mount, I'm going to be completely honest: the next time I'm taking it somewhere and having it done. What a mess, although I admire that you did it.

And this post makes me hungry. It made me think of the backstraps that are just sitting in my freezer right now, waiting to be eaten.


Holly Heyser said...

You know, the skull work really didn't bother me - there was a lot of interesting anatomy to learn there, what's connected to what and such.

Even the simmering didn't bother me, perhaps because we couldn't get the tufts of hair at the base of the antlers into the water, so there was no cooking hair. That will be bacteria's job.

And Phillip, I don't know if CWD is stopping me from eating brain or if it's just food biases. The biggest immediate stopper I identified, though, was when my neighbor said you have to crack the skull to get at thee brains. I don't think so! I have loved skulls since I was a little kid, and this is my first I've been able to save, so it means a LOT to me.

suzee said...

I'm so glad you're enjoying every part of your "first deer" experience! That's what it is all about! I wish I could find the blog we put up many months ago on european mounts... but alas it got deleted when Tom was redoing the web site. My dad has a great way to make the mount hang nice and flush on a wall...Perhaps I can try and put the information together again and post it soon!
I'm enjoying your afterglow too Holly... I just keep thinkin Way to go girl!!

Carolina Rig said...

Well, I'm sold. I'll definitely give it a try...

As for a mount, I just finished up a little project that mounted a tom's beard, spurs, and tail to a piece of laminated walnut. I had to fiddle around with attaching the various items. A combination of gorilla glue, leather, wire, and screws did the trick for me. But a turkey is not a deer!

vickie gardner said...

Dear Holly...it's truly an amazing feeling getting your first deer...it's actually a bunch of amazing feelings when you make that clean shot...combo of joy and pride and saddness and I could go on and on as only started hunting a few years ago and just thinking about sneaking around in the woods brings a big smile to my face! I'm just delighted to be able to hear about your adventures...it's like it's happening to me again.
Vickie Gardner-Alpen Optics

Jon Roth said...

Holly, you should have your mom do one of her famous 'glass art' sculptures with your trophy. That would be cool hanging on the wall. Congrats again.

hodgeman said...

Glad you're enjoying the aftermath of your hunt. I'm kinda excited to see what Hank cooks up in the kitchen off of this one. Blacktail are some good eating and it sounds like yours is perfectly "skillet sized" as they say back home.

A glass mosaic skull would be really interesting. A local lady does these with bison skulls and they're incredible. A plain Euro mount is nice too.

jryoung said...

Great story. Brings back fond memories of my first buck, first elk, and just this year I got my first hog. Which reminds me, I need to dig out the skull I've had buried in the yard for the past 5 months. I think by now the earths critters have done a number on it.

Holly Heyser said...


If anyone's wondering about the glass skulls my mom does, click here.

Hodgeman, do you hav photos of the glass mosaic skulls you're referring to?

Bright Idea Outdoors said...

Congratulations on your buck. If you ask me, you took the hard job. Dealing with the skull is a lot harder than processing the meat.

Good luck with the ducks!

Chas S. Clifton said...

Congratulations on the deer, and how lucky to have a partner who's into the butchering. I do my own, but without much finesses. It's just "get 'er done."

Toni Lane said...

I know the feeling! I killed my first buck last Saturday and am still beaming. I've been showing the pictures to everyone I see, just like a little kid with a new toy :) Congrats to you!