WARNING: The following post contains graphic images, so don’t scroll down if you’re bothered by seeing blood, guts, or dead animals. If you’re bothered by seeing where meat comes from, then you should probably go vegetarian.
It was still early when Katie found Peter and me to tell us that we had a roadkill. She’d been behind the string of traffic that formed just after the deer had been hit. She’d gotten permission from the game warden to pick it up, since we were having a class, and so Katie, Bartle, Peter, and I loaded in the Whistle Pig and went.
She was a petite doe. Her ears were so soft and still warm, and we saw immediately that she was pregnant. We all loved on her to thank her, and Peter put a bit of grass in her mouth as a last meal to send her off. When we got back, we tied her up to skin. Katie said that, ordinarily, she’d hang them by their hind legs, but the doe was a little broken. Our goal that day was to skin and quarter the deer, and then we would butcher out the meat the next day. Peter and I had the option to watch Katie and learn, or to jump in and do it ourselves with some guidance. Neither of us hesitated to jump in.
To skin the doe, we cut the skin around the top of her neck, and then made a vertical cut down her center, through the fur, skin, and the membrane beneath. This work felt very natural for me, my knife right in my hands, and the layers just fell back, exposing her warm muscles and sinew. After creating the opening in the skin, it was time to gut her. The two major cuts to make before working out all the organs are the trachea and the anus. I was about to say that I’d prefer the windpipe when Peter piped up that he’d quite like to have a go at the anus.
When Peter finished the anus cut, it was my turn to release the windpipe and pull everything out. A small slit across the doe’s windpipe, some quick flicks of the tip of the knife to release connective tissue, a long slice down her abdomen, and a little work opening up the chest cavity. The goal is to work your arm up through the chest, grab the windpipe, and pull down. I had to get almost shoulder deep in the deer and put a little weight on it, and it was still hard. But finally, it broke free, and we got to see everything that had kept the doe’s body nourished and alive pour through our fingers, still warm.
Before plopping the organs into a bucket, we’d cut away the uterus—it held twins—and sat it aside. I cut them out of the uterus, but left their amniotic sac intact. The two tiny bucks were furless, completely white except for their little black noses. Their hooves hadn’t yet hardened. Though they were still warm, there were no heartbeats from their little bodies, so intertwined as theirs would have been with their mother’s. I sat with these babies for a while before getting back to skinning, not sure whether petting them was a way to soothe them or myself.
I lost two pregnancies last year, which was not just the intense pain of the physical loss, but the gut cuts of the emotional loss. I had pictured these two children growing and playing, causing me laughter and tears and everything in between. But all those thoughts of what I’d hoped to be were interrupted by a quick striking blow, and I was left with hands filled with blood and tissue, instead of the vibrant young lives that I’d dreamed of.
Pulling the hide off a deer is hard work. We cut her hocks off and then knife-skinned a little at the neck, to get things started. And then Peter and I pulled down, using arm muscles and weight, and occasionally, the flick of the knife to keep things going. There were some places, like the armpits, that only the knife would do.
When her hide was finally off, we wrapped it up and set it aside to be tanned later. We wrapped the doe in a sheet to keep the flies off, making her look like a doctor or mental patient. Then, we ate one of the her back straps for lunch, but we didn’t even sit down to finish as we headed off to collect the next roadkill that we’d heard about.
This time, it was a buck, and he was a little stinky–as most men are, Peter pointed out. He was a little ass out, so we had to hang him by the neck as well. Bartle showed us how to skin a bit faster, giving pointers on the techniques that she’s learned from practice.
As she worked on the buck, Peter and I started quartering the doe. Following the lines of muscle was pretty easy with the deer, but I struggled a little with breaking the bones. Thankfully, we left the rib cage intact, since we were planning to make a giant cauldron of bone broth. When I cut the skirt steaks, and said they would make good tacos, we decided on making wraps for dinner that night–with skirt steak, liver, kidney, and green peppers.
I tried a very rare piece of kidney during the cooking process. The taste wasn’t completely horrible, but the texture was. I chewed for a while, making faces that made Peter laugh, before I had to skulk off and spit it out. It was much, much better cooked. I actually liked it a lot more than the liver, which I’ve learned is one of those pieces that you either have to quick fry or cook for a long time. Or, Harmony says, just eat it raw.
It was amazing to watch mine and Peter’s hands quickly transform an animal into food, food that will be put to good use sustaining our little clan over the next couple of weeks.