After a year of plenty an eager bowhunter makes the most of a tough season, with a little help from a young buck.
Last year I shot my first buck, made good use of a salvage tag for a deer a friend had hit with his car, and was gifted a pile of ground venison by my thoughtful sister. Suddenly I was venison rich, but it didn’t last. I also have a lady in my life with an equally voracious appetite for wild game, so even though we tried to make the meat last all year, we soon found ourselves with very little venison left in the freezer.
Our goal is to have as much of our meat come from wild game as possible. Its free-ranging nature means that it’s way more nutrient-dense, and doing the hard work required to obtain it just feels right. Earlier this season I tried elk hunting and came up empty handed. Then my first bow shot at a nice big white-tailed doe had unfortunately deflected off a small stick; my arrow completely missed the deer.
After recently thawing out and cooking up my last venison shank, the main ingredient in what would become some tasty barbacoa tacos, I told myself I needed to head out and bag the first deer I ran into. Soon I was driving to an Iowa county for which I held an unpunched antlerless tag, obtained with the thought of supplementing my statewide tag. Just maybe, I had reasoned, I would have the opportunity fill a couple tags during one exciting sit. Or maybe I had become a little desperate.
The night before my scheduled hunt I had trouble sleeping, so I rose early and nervously got my gear together. I figured being a bit tired was nothing the chilly predawn air couldn’t cure, and I was right. After a strong cup of coffee and some brisk morning air I felt alive and refreshed, hiking into a promising area I had scouted earlier in September. I had tabbed the area an unmistakable high-traffic zone complete with lots of deer sign and great cover: A mix of downed timber, brushy brambles, and tall grass where deer feel safe. It’s my favorite kind of terrain to hunt from the ground.
Within minutes of arriving I had unfolded my hunting stool and placed it where I could sit relaxed, and have the dense backdrop effectively break up my outline—leaning up against a tree trunk while holding my bow upright and ready on my lap. I knew leaning on the tree would help keep me extra still and comfortable during a long sit.
I had the wind in my face and was expecting the deer to emerge from my left, or maybe in front of me on one of two distinct, well-beaten trails. I’d brought some rattling antlers to clash together once I’d settled in, and did just that. When nothing charged right in I resolved to remain silent. Maybe a half-hour in, the spike seemed to appear out of thin air. Suddenly he was there in front of me at 20 yards, completely unaware of my presence.
I waited for the young buck to make the first move and soon he did just that, sniffing the ground and taking a long step forward. As he did I drew back. The buck noticed me just as I got to full draw, but the advantage was now mine.
I’ve hunted out of treestands a few times and love that perspective; up high you can sometimes see animals 100 yards out with ease, and when hunting in a good wind I find the sensation of a swaying tree invigorating. But being at eye level with a deer, or watching them walk by slightly uphill, is just wild. The wind has to be perfect if you expect to be successful, and finding the right cover can be complicated at times, but it’s hunting. Even with the helpful and accurate HuntStand app showing the way, the outcome is far from certain. But that’s fine by me. The struggle is half the fun, and a successful hunt on the ground makes me feel like I truly earned the meat.
Speaking of earning meat, the spike is now the second deer I’ve shot at the location, and both have run down a super-deep ravine and were found piled up near a large downed log. The first I packed out in quarters, slung over a shoulder with backstraps tossed in a plastic bag I luckily found stashed in my truck. This year I made a pledge to pack in game bags on solo hunts; I quickly quartered the spike using the gutless method, then loaded the boned meat in the game bags. Doing so I was able to pack the whole deer out, alone, in one trip. It didn’t come easy. After butchering the deer on the ground, then packing the 100 pounds to the truck and finally, up the stairs to my apartment, my legs, predictably, were trashed.
Now came the fun part. I decided that I wanted to try vacuum-sealing larger chunks of venison so I purchased the least-expensive unit I could find, and went to work processing my meat. I know many hunters happily use commercial meat processors, but I prefer to know I get my own animal back. I also don’t grind a lot of meat before freezing, and prefer my backstraps in larger pieces for grilling whole. I even bagged a whole front leg for some future curing/smoking experiments.
In the end, the entire processing ordeal required a solid eight hours of work, but I’m no longer in a meat crisis. I’d have preferred a doe, but the spike will do quite nicely. As a bonus, in my home state of Iowa a spike counts as an antlerless deer (a buck requires a forked antler), so my any-sex tag is still valid for hunting a buck this season. More than anything, though, I’m thankful to have the honor to take another animal, and hope to create as much nutritious, beautiful food as I can out of respect.
In the coming months I’ll be sharing some of the process of preparing the meat using some classic recipes, as well as some chef collaborations.
Editor’s note: Caleb Condit and his fiancé, Rebecca Norden, are talented photographers and content producers currently situated in Iowa. As relative newcomers to the hunting community, we can look forward to more of their fresh perspectives through future contributions at HuntStand Media.