I have just returned from my first real hunting trip. I went last year, but it was more of an introduction to see if it was something I could even handle or want to do. I decided I could handle it, and that this year I endeavored to do everything on my own, from stalking to shooting to gutting to skinning to butchering.
My step-dad Larry and step-bro Brandon kindly had me along on their annual deer and moufflon hunt at our family's property on Stuart Island. BTW, a moufflon is a wild sheep, and you can read more about them here on Wikipedia. They are legal to hunt at any time, and smaller than a deer, so that seemed like the perfect animal to start with as a neophyte huntress.
The first day Brandon and I tracked the moufflon ALL day. They seem to know when it is hunting season, and get more skiddish once they have heard any shots. After a day of tromping up and down hillsides, bushwacking, and climbing over logs in the drizzling rain, all with a gun in hand, I was tired and tired of feeling like I was in boot camp. All day Bjork's song from Homogenic was running through my head, "I'm a hunter... ooh, ooh... I'm going hunting..."
But thus far, it didn't really seem like I was a hunter. After the excitement of the prospect of harvesting my own wild meat, I had a reality check that it was very possible that I wouldn't get a moufflon after all. I got a good night's sleep and woke up optimistic, though it was raining even harder than the day before. Brandon and I set out down the road to again start at the far end of the property and work our way back along the ridge.
After less than a 10 minute walk, we saw a small herd of ewes grazing in an open meadow on the side of the road. My adrenaline began pumping. We had a clear shot, a safe backdrop, and they didn't know we were there yet. "This is my shot," I whispered to my brother. He nodded, and we both kneeled down to take aim. I was shaking but tried to steady myself and my breathing while not making any noise. I hadn't actually shot a gun since target practice when I was a kid, oh, maybe 17 years ago. I picked a dark moufflon at a good angle to me and pulled the trigger.
They all ran up toward the woods. Again the reality hit me that hunting is no easy undertaking, and not only is it sometimes hard to find the animals, but people miss targets all the time. Bran and I went down to the field to check for a possible blood trail and try to track the herd. We walked about 30 feet into the woods and there on the ground was a dark female moufflon. "You got her," Brandon said. "No way, I missed!" I said. He put his hand on her belly and shook his head. "She's still warm." And then he felt the neck and showed me where the bullet entered.
At this moment sets in the strangest mix of feelings, of pride and confusion and horror. This mammal was alive and eating a minute ago, and through some remote action with a firearm she is dead on this cold, grey morning. But that moment passes, and I feel completely able to take responsibility for my action, for doing it with intention, and for embracing the intimacy of interacting with an animal that I will eat. And even beyond that, I feel attentively calm and focused on the next step of cleaning the animal well. I watched the guys field dress last year, but had never done it myself. Brandon walked me through it verbally, from slitting the throat to drain the blood, to slicing open the belly, to pulling out all the organs, to the careful cuts around the pelvis to remove the tail and reproductive parts cleanly. And this is no clean business. The smell is indescribable. The guts are eerily warm and steaming. The blood that doesn't drain from the neck is thick and goopy and must be scooped out of the body cavity. Some organs don't want to come out easily and must be yanked.
By the time I got her back to the cabin, I was totally drenched. I changed clothes and drank some hot chocolate before heading back out to find Larry. Brandon wanted to continue hunting on his own, so Larry would help me hang the moufflon and skin. I actually am pretty experienced with skinning, but it's nice to have an extra set of eyes. He also helped me spread open the chest to get more air circulation in there and cool the meat faster. Soon the work was done and there was nothing more for me to do except wait the 3 days for the meat to cure before butchering, which a friend would help me with later back on Orcas.
The most profound part of the weekend for me was just becoming so comfortable with the blood and gore of it all. As people who know me well can attest, I have serious issues with blood. I have to lay down to get my blood drawn, can't donate, and have been known to get nauseaous and/or faint at the sight of a small cut on myself or others. Friends have to censor really graphic parts in movies and I cover my eyes until the blood has past.
Yet. Somehow when it comes to animal blood, I do just fine. In fact, the instinctual drive to preserve the animal makes it easy. Where this comes from I don't know, but it's pretty empowering for a person who normally has to lay by the toilet for 10 minutes after cutting her finger slightly on a kitchen knife.
I'm a writer and editor in Seattle. I started this blog in 2008 to chronicle my travels in Latin America, and continued writing through jaunts in Europe and Asia.
Now I'm back where I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, and can't stop hiking to fire lookouts in the Cascade Mountains.