I have always been a poor excuse for a hunter. Growing up in northern Minnesota, this is not a good thing. It’s akin to being a member of the Andretti racing family and not knowing how to drive a stick shift. I flunked out of hunting school as a teenager and never went back.
I’m not anti-hunting. I used to be, but not anymore. As a father of three boys, I feel guilty that I don’t have it in my blood to, well, spill blood. (I’ve killed lots of mosquitoes, but processing their meat is tedious.) There has never been any father-son bonding at deer camp in my family and perhaps we have missed something in our lives, our relationships, and for that, I am sorry.
My eldest son, Jesse, bagged his first deer the other day — a nice doe. He plugged it neatly from a deer stand he helped build. He had done his research (no dad involved) and was able to remove the insides of the body cavity and drag the deer to home base. He skinned the animal and cut up the meat. I pan-seared the tenderloin in butter while he cut, and we ate it on the spot (dad involved!) as if we were participating in some sacred male hunting ritual.
Jesse borrowed a meat grinder and made venison burger. He borrowed a dehydrator and made some wonderful jerky. (Dad helped; hey, this story is getting better.) He cut up steaks and chops and now a space in our freezer is filled with a variety of lean, tasty protein.
I’m no hypocrite — I love the stuff. In fact, I’m slow-cooking a crockpot of venison stew as I write this column.
After all was said and done — from building the stand and sitting in it for days without seeing anything, to eventually getting his deer and processing it himself — Jesse learned many valuable lessons. He also knows hunting is actually very hard work.
But as he looked at all the freezer-wrapped packets of meat and the big plastic container filled with jerky, I saw his face glowing with a sense of pride and accomplishment. He was happy, and that made me happy, in a father-son hunting bonding sort of way.
He has officially become a hunter. I am the father of a hunter. Life is good.
As far as my white-tailed deer friends are concerned, the hunting season is over and they’re still hanging out in my yard, trading survival stories, laying high-fives and saying, “What’s up, man?”
I tell them I’m working on a really good venison jerky recipe. “Venison” means “chicken” in deer language, so they’re not too nervous. That’s OK — they’ve got another year to figure it all out.