Monday, August 13, 2018

Do you Field Dress your Kill?

A debate has recently emerged - again, from a hunting forum I follow concerning those who field dress their deer, vs those who prefer to pay someone else to do it for them. It is a debate that has raged for at least the past forty years I have hunted whitetail deer in South Carolina, and it continues to this day.

In certain parts of the country, it is common, and even expected to field dress your kill immediately, or as soon as possible. Hunters from the midwest, can be found slicing open the middle of their deer and removing the entrails before loading it into a truck, UTV or other mode of transport from the field. Hunters in the west, due to the remoteness of the hunts, tend to not only field dress, but also skin and butcher the entire animal for removal. Usually having to pack out the animal on their back, or the back of livestock.

In the southern states, it seems to be an anomaly to field dress your kill. The practice is even fraught with old wives tales about the practice. Case in point, about fifteen years ago, I was hunting some new ground with a buddy of mine. I was fortunate enough to kill a decent eight point buck. Upon recovery of the buck, I field dressed it and got it ready for removal. While I was walking to get my truck, my buddy showed up and offered his assistance. - What follows is as close to reality as I can remember it is not embellished at all. When he saw my buck with the entrails removed, he went ballistic - I mean ballistic -flailing his arms, screaming and cussing like I had never seen before. "What in the he%$ did you do?" He screamed. Me, looking puzzled at the question said, "I gutted the deer." "Why in gods green earth did you do that?" he said. "Uh to remove the guts." I answered.
"You have ruined this spot for the next two years, and probably killed every turkey on the place."
"What in the world are you talking about?" I asked
"No deer will come near this place for at least two years." He said. "And if any turkey finds that gut pile, they will get 'limp neck'" and die.
"What?" I asked. "What is limp neck?"
"If a turkey finds that gut pile, and eats any maggots that are in that, the maggots will get in his craw, and paralyze his neck and he wont be able to hold his neck up."
Trying not to laugh at his obvious conviction in this. I knew I would not get anywhere with this logic. So I offered to get a garbage bag and remove the guts before he had a stroke. Which I did. He hasn't spoken to me since.

Contrary to his belief, since that occasion I have field dressed dozens and dozens of deer, and never found a single turkey walking around unable to hold his head up. Not only this, but I have killed a deer in the morning, field dressed the deer, and killed again from the same stand that afternoon. Field dressing has zero effect on the deer in the area. For those of you who believe it does, here is my question. When a deer dies to a predator, or of natural causes, his carcass decomposes and feeds the animals. Does this cause deer to evade that location for two years? Does every turkey in the area get 'limp neck' if they happen upon a naturally dead deer?

Another example involves a buddy of mine who went to Colorado on an elk hunt. While there he killed a bull. He immediately called me and said, "Pete, I killed a bull elk! -how do I clean it?"
While he was there, I talked him through cleaning his bull elk from here in South Carolina. Had he field dressed his deer here, he would have learned how to properly field dress his elk. The process is the same regardless of the animal. Field dressing whitetail deer is the same as field dressing a moose. I have done both, one is much bigger and takes longer, but the process is the same.

Field dressing, skinning and general care of your animal is the responsibility of the hunter. Some hunters prefer to do it themselves, others opt to pay someone else to do their work for them. It comes down to a personal preference and misguided beliefs.

In the forty three years I have hunted, I have cleaned 100% of the animals I have killed. I believe it is part of the experience. Hunting, cleaning and processing my game is my responsibility. Granted, until recently I paid a processor to cut up my deer because I didn't know how and didn't have the equipment, but I always gutted and skinned my game. Now I do it all myself. I believe everyone should.

There are those who will disagree, I have seen those comments and have had those conversations. The fellow who lives in a subdivision says, "I don't have a place to clean my deer." Most subdivision homes have garages, use your garage. The guy living in an apartment says, "I don't have anywhere to clean my deer." The woods have trees, a little bit of pre-planning and you can hang your deer from a limb in the woods and clean it. I have done that dozens of times.  Gut it where it lays, and skin it from a limb. There are also winches and gambrels made to fit inside the receiver hitch on your truck to make cleaning easier.

In reality, it comes down to a simple - "I just don't want to do it." as some say, "why go through the hassle when I can pay the processor to do it for $20 more dollars?" My answer is - because it is your responsibility as a hunter to care for your animal after you have killed it.

I strongly believe it is your responsibility to care for your animal. You took the animals life, for food, sport, or whatever reason you chose. To drop it off for someone else to gut and clean, seems to me, to remove yourself from the fact that you killed it. When you gut and skin your kill, you gain a better understanding of the process of hunting and feeding your family. Moreover, you now control what your family will eat.

Regardless of what any game processor tells you, you never get your deer back. When these places make deer burger, they throw deer into the hopper and grind away, you are getting yours, Bill's and Susan's deer all mixed together. For me, I want to know that I am getting my deer. So I control every aspect of it.

When I kill the deer, I field dress it - usually- take it to my home or cabin and hang it to skin and butcher. Then I let it hang and age for 7-10 days depending on the weather. (If it is early season, I age it in a cooler) Then I butcher and process the meat myself.

A few years ago, I made a video on how to field dress your deer. There is one flub in the video where the camera fell, but it picks up and shows the process. With practice, you can field dress your deer in under five minutes. 

Take the time to learn how to do this, it will save you a lot of headache and give you a greater appreciation of the whole process of the hunt.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Are You Out of Peanut Butter?

Several years ago, a friend of mine who is now deceased and I were having a conversation about why some of our mutual friends had stopped attending church with us. She said, "I guess they must be out of peanut butter." I was confused by her comment, and I guess she could tell by the look on my face so she followed it with - "That excuse is as good as any." Her point was - there really is no good excuse.

In today's world I am still amazed at the number of hunters I talk to who refuse to wear a safety harness. Each year as an outdoor journalist, I receive reports of  hunters who fell from a tree stand. Either while hunting, climbing or descending. Far too often, those hunters who fall do not live to hunt another day. Instead, they leave a wife and kids without their husband and father. (No offense to the women out there - but statistics show that women hunters are five times more likely to wear a harness than a man is)  The DNR does not track treestand accidents that occur while hanging a stand or removing a stand. Only accidents that occur while in the actual act of hunting. This dramatically skews the data. There are far more accidents that occur in hanging and removing stands than while hunting.

As a warning, I am not officially on my soapbox.

I have had a lot of conversations with hunters who do not wear a safety harness and the response is either - "They are too expensive" or "I am careful."

In the dozens of people who I have personally interviewed who have fallen out of a stand at some point, not one of them ever told me they intentionally fell. Each time, it was an accident. Four individuals lost their footing, slipped or a limb they were trusting suddenly gave way. Seven fell while hanging or removing a stand. Five of these said it never occurred to them to wear their harness while working on the stand.

Six individuals, four of whom are either paralyzed or permanently disabled fell because the tree stand broke in some fashion. (I couldn't interview the dead ones, but investigations showed - old frayed straps on climbing steps and strap on stands, homemade climbing stands with broken welds, and one poor soul, just fell out of his stand. Three times, I talked with hunters who admitted they fell asleep and fell out of their stand. Anyone who says they have never fallen asleep while hunting is lying.

Two years ago, I made it mandatory on the property I own and manage, if you are going to hunt with me, you will wear a full body safety harness. If I catch you not wearing it, you will not hunt with me again. I care too much about your safety to let you climb a tree without a harness.

Honestly, with the bevy of brands out there that offer safety harnesses, there is no real reason not to wear one. I like Hunter's Safety Systems (No I am not paid by, nor sponsored by them). I like them because of the simplicity and I like the vest that holds my rangefinder. I love the multiple hook points for using a lineman's belt while hanging the stand, and the lifeline that will secure me from the ground up. I just clip in and start up my climbing sticks and never have to change, unhook or anything. At around $100 dollars it is cheap insurance.

Other good harnesses include Muddy Outdoors, and Summit, Gorilla Gear

One of the other elements that confound me is the same guys who complain about a harness being too expensive, drive up in a $40,000 truck pulling a $12,000 UTV, wearing $300 camouflage and toting a $1,200 bow. All while hunting on a lease that costs him $2,000 per year not to mention all of the extra stuff that goes into it. But they cannot afford a $125 safety harness?

I tell my children all of the time. There is a big difference between an excuse and a reason. There is absolutely no good reason that hunters are not wearing a safety harness. They only have an excuse, and none of them are good enough. "I guess they must be out of peanut butter."

Be an example for your kids and your fellow hunter. Wear your safety harness.