Celebrating a button buck
There was a time when shooting a button buck would have been the last choice on the list of which deer to shoot. But then there was also a time when deer were plenty and I was not so secure in who I was as a hunter. Times have changed.
There is a huge dichotomy in deer hunting. On one hand, there are times I feel a bit sorry for the white-tailed deer and those male deer that have pointy things growing out the top of their head. Sporting antlers really makes hunting much more complicated than it should be. It makes some people act kind of crazy. It takes the focus of hunting away from the ultimate purpose of hunting which is killing for food in order to live. I often wish deer hunting were as simple as small game hunting. That I could just go out and shoot a deer so that I could eat a deer. But seldom is anything so simple for us human beings who carry around a brain that likes to think beyond basic survival.
And with that, you have the “other hand” of deer hunting. Because not only sex but also age class of deer can be figured out while a deer is still running around alive, those of us who hunt deer have the ability to thoughtfully choose what to shoot. Do we shoot a young female, an older female, a young male or an older male? There are circumstances where it would be appropriate to shoot any one of those classes of deer. Think how wonderful it would be if when the rabbit population was on the downward part of the natural population cycle, that a hunter could go out and shoot only male rabbits. Well that is exactly what can happen with deer. When the deer population is too high, a hunter can shoot more does. When the deer population is low, a hunter can shoot bucks and leave the does alone.
Which all leads up to deer season 2015 on my farm. One would have to be living under a rock to not realize that across many Midwestern states, deer populations are decreasing at least in areas with open access to hunting. Although there are still a decent number of deer on my farm, there is a definite downward trend to the deer population here as well. The only thing that will stop the downward trend is to leave more does. Most years we take two does and occasionally three off the farm. The plan this year was to cut that down to one doe and truth be told I would be just as happy if it were zero does. The problem is that I really really REALLY love venison and I’ve become very accustom to eating it year round. So the plan was to shoot one deer of either sex and then buck only after that. And I had an additional thought creep into my head. I took the entire week of our deer gun season as vacation from work. The weather was mild. I have always wanted to try and butcher a deer on my own but lack of time and hands that do not function well in cold weather always kept me from trying it. Time was not an issue and temperatures were forecast to be warmer than most of our past deer seasons. I told my husband that if either of us shot a young deer (button buck or doe fawn) that I wanted to do this. I wanted the first deer that I butchered to be a small tender young one. The best of both worlds would be if one of us shot a button buck. We would save a doe and get meat for the freezer. For the first time ever, I was hoping that one of us would shoot a button buck. My how times have changed.
My husband and I went forth into the week long gun season with much enthusiasm. Every morning I hunted a different spot on the farm. And every morning I saw no deer. The only place we ever saw deer was a 20 acre field we call the “side field” and we only saw deer in the evening. Part of the field was picked corn and part of it was planted in radish cover crop. Every evening six deer would come out into the field, mostly into the radishes but sometimes into the picked corn. So every evening my husband and I would choose a location to sit based on wind direction and where we thought the deer would enter the field. We sat on the south end, the north end, to the east and to the west. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, each evening the deer entered the field from a new location and each evening they were out of reach of our guns.
On Friday evening, my husband sat in a spot one of us had occupied for the previous two evenings. I chose a new location at the opposite end of the field. The wind was marginal for both of us but this was our fifth evening in this field and we were just trying to make something happen. As light was fading, I sat there enjoying the evening but also seeing no deer. And then a shot rang out. With 15 minutes of legal shooting time left, a doe and a button buck had come into the field near my husband. The details of his story escape my memory, but it was the button buck that presented the best shot. Soon after the shot the text messaging started. “Deer down” my husband said. I asked “buck or doe?” He answered back “doe” (he didn’t even check). I was hoping for that button buck but I was OK with the one doe. He texted me that he was going to walk back to the barn to get a tractor. I know my job in all this is to field dress the deer. I am much better at field dressing a deer than I am driving a tractor: a fact which my husband never lets me forget. The walk to the other end of the field was around 400 yards. My husband waited in the corner of the field for me so he could tell me exactly where the deer was laying and then he continued on his way to get the tractor. It was dark by the time I got to the deer. I was wondering if it was a mature doe or a young one so the first thing I did was slip my hand between the rear legs to feel for mammary gland development. That is when I felt testicles. Some doe I thought. Here was the button buck I was hoping one of us would shoot. My first adventure in butchering a deer by myself was going to happen.
I was just finishing field dressing when my husband drove up with the tractor. I was bent over the deer with my mini mag flashlight firmly clenched between my teeth and finishing up cutting around the anus. My hands were covered in blood and I did not want to take the perfectly positioned flashlight out of my mouth. I held up the testicles and grunted at my husband. It was difficult to see in the lighting but after a few failed guesses and several more grunts from me with the flashlight still between my teeth, he finally figured out what I was holding. With the deer placed in the bucket of the front end loader, it was back to the house, try to remember where the gambrel was, find a tarp, find a bucket, find the step ladder, find something to attach the gambrel to one of the trusses in the garage and hang the deer. Dinner was in the crockpot, we were tired and the night was cold so I would start butchering the following day. I spent the evening watching YouTube videos and giving myself numerous pep talks. Heck, I have butchered so many chickens that I could do that with my eyes closed. Certainly I could do a deer with my eyes open.
The next morning I got up early and hunted until lunchtime. I was in a new spot and was very optimistic. I saw no deer. So home I went to eat lunch and start my butchering adventure. Skinning the deer was much easier than I thought it would be. That was until I got to the neck when things slowed way down. I kept thinking that it should not be this hard after all the legs and body were a piece of cake. That’s when I realized I forgot to slice the hide all the way down the neck. I was trying to remove the hide like removing a turtleneck sweater turning it inside out. And the head was still on. OK first lesson learned. I was sure there would be more. I finally finished skinning the neck and removed the head. I removed the front legs next. Just as with any animal I’ve butchered, the front legs were easy. I take that back. Chicken wings. Enough said. Next I took off the backstraps. I cut down the spine just like I should but had a bit of difficulty figuring out the second cut that is needed to start peeling the cut of meat off the spine and ribs. There was a bit of swearing and a little bit of hacking of the end of the loin but eventually I figured it out. The main backstrap looked good but the end looked a bit like someone gnawed it off with their teeth. I swear I didn’t. The tenderloin was next and that was easy as pie once I figured out I had to cut the flanks out of the way to get easy access into the body cavity. Next I cut the flank meat totally off, deboned the neck meat and placed those cuts in a bag to be trimmed and ground later. Then it was on to the rear legs. I’ve since learned another way that I want to try and do the rear legs, but for this adventure I removed both rear legs. It was not as easy as removing legs off a chicken, or a rabbit, or a squirrel. Yeah yeah they are built pretty much the same, but I believe I was a bit intimidated by the size. I have come to the conclusion that there are too many attachments back there. Eventually though muscle and tendon gave way to my knife. The button buck was now in respectable pieces. I worked well into the afternoon and did not make it out to hunt in the late afternoon. At this point I was questioning my decision to do this. I really missed hunting that afternoon.
Later that evening I trimmed and packed the tenderloin whole. I trimmed the backstrap and cut it into steaks which I butterflied. I also deboned one rear leg, saved two roasts and threw the rest of the meat into a bag to be ground later. The next morning I skipped the morning of hunting and I went back to the garage to start deboning the other three legs. It was much colder and instantly my hands quit functioning. This is a big reason why I have never butchered my own deer. I’m missing out on hunting the morning and my hands are so cold that my Raynauds is flaring up and I’m asking myself why I’m doing this once again. One leg at a time, I went into the house to finish deboning and trimming where it was warm. The deboning was not bad. The trimming took forever! All my reading had told me to remove as much fat and silver skin as possible. I may have gone overboard. Or maybe not. After all I have never seen this part done so I was just “winging it” as the saying goes. In any case, I ended up with four gallon sized bags full of meat to grind. I did make it out for the final evening hunt of deer season and saw no deer but enjoyed a wonderful sunset.
The next morning I borrowed a meat grinder and finished butchering my first deer. I suppose I may surprise a few folks by how I felt at the end of this mini adventure. I cannot say that I felt like I had accomplished any great feat or that I really had any great sense of satisfaction. I know I did save some money. I also know I missed out on one evening and one morning hunt. I learned that I truly appreciate the guy that normally processes my deer for me but really I already knew that. Mostly I felt tired. In the end, I accomplished what I set out to do and that was to butcher a deer by myself at least once in my life. I learned a good bit and I know that if I do this again, it will go much quicker. Will I do it again? Time will tell. I really have no great desire at this moment in time.
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