Category Archives: hunting

A Hunt for Four Lifetimes

Few hunts actually capture perfectly every aspect of the hunt. This is one of those however that did, at least for the four lives involved.

It’s been 18 years that we have patiently waited to take my Father on a bull elk hunt. Age and health have pushed this hunt right to the limit for Dad, so it was no small chore to get him prepared and in place. Dad let his .264 Winchester do the walking he couldn’t.
My Brothers and I have dreamed of this hunt since we first heard the bugle of these massive and majestic animals. The only thing missing for the action was my middle Brother who had to leave before all the action went down.

My middle Brother keeping a close eye for movement across the canyon.

We were four days into a week-long hunt, midweek and things were calming down.
We had called and stalked several bulls, but they were either too small or too in a hurry.

Last night as a cold storm blew in, bringing rain, hail, and wind, I felt our luck was about to change. Raking trees and calling into the deep dark woods, wouldn’t bring them out like it had been. So Dad and I worked slowly around a brushy ridge towards more open country. The sky went dark and yellow as the fading sunlight fought through the falling rain.
It was then I spotted the phantom and unmistakable shape of elk walking across a distant ridge-face. In a flash, we confirmed his shooter-hood status, and it was time to engage.
We closed the distance as hastily and quietly as possible, I screeched at him through my reed, hoping to slow him down. He did stop, and turn to answer with his own profanity-laced scream. Dad and I closed the distance down to 575 yards, and just in time as the bull was about to disappear into the thickly wooded Aspen grove.
As my little brother watched from the hilltop behind us, Dad positioned his rifle, and I again sent a challenge call to our bull. After confirming the distance, 2.5 Mrad was dialed to cover the almost six-hundred yards, and Dad settled in behind his rifle, ready to deal swift wrath tempered with respect.
I watched through my shaky binoculars, my heart pounded from both the excitement and the running to get into position.

Dad fired a shot, and I listened for the return of an impact, but none came. The bull took a few steps forward, and Dad fired again. And like the prior shot, we heard no report. The bull walked calmly up the slope and stopped again under a tree. As Dad was about to send another shot I watched through the wet darkness, and as though a switch had been flipped, the bull toppled over and tumbled down the hill. Both of Dads shots had severed major arteries, and the bull had pumped himself dry.
Reduced to primal emotion by the happenings, I nearly tackled Dad with a hug. His eyes still wide open, and surprised, he hugged me right back.

The next 24 hours were a grueling task of cutting, packing, and hauling the incredible amount of meat from the kill-site.

Nothing beats having good friends to come help.
We left little for the buzzards and coyotes, only the spine, pelvis, guts, and hide were left.

We took as much as we could, grateful for every bit of it to share the victory with Dad, and fulfill this old dream of all of ours.

A hard-earned hunt, with plenty of effort, highs, and lows to challenge even an optimistic hunter. Shifty animals, full of heart and spirit that can appear or vanish into nothing. The camaraderie with friends and Family, all leading up to a triumph over the wild chain of life here in the high Rockies. These are the aspects of hunting that I love to live, and the prize we win is more than the meat on my plate or the bones on the wall.
And now with sore legs and feet, we sit around the warm campfire, recounting and sealing the memories into forever, where they should be. Any elk hunt could be a hunt of a lifetime, but this one was a hunt for four lifetimes.

-CBM





The Black and Blue of My First Bear Hunt

It has taken me some time to prepare this story, not only because of the exciting adventure and memories in it, but because there is only so much one can tell with written and spoken words.

There is a place in every adventurer’s heart, a place that seems almost magical like it spawned from your very own dreams. I’ll tell you about the particular place I speak of; it is wild, unpredictable, cold, desolate, and even a little bit scary. But despite its savage nature, it is some of the most beautiful country mine eyes have ever scoured. It is scattered with the most beautiful clear blue lakes you have ever seen, the sound of rivers roar through the towering forest mile after mile. It goes on and on, filled at times with herds of life, while at others completely void. This continental crown lies in the western mountains of Montana, the exact location is almost too sacred to speak lest it loose its magic.

For many years a dear friend of mine had spoken to me of Black Bear hunting in Montana, and I finally gave in to his invitation earlier this year. It certainly wasn’t a lack of desire that had kept me from going, but more of the right situation here at home.
Being my first bear hunt, and surely to be a hunt of a lifetime, I couldn’t go with out bringing my Father along. He too had never ventured after bear, but had enough interest in doing it that he decided to come along, rifle and all.

When the time came, we had everything loaded into Dad’s camper, and made the long and beautiful drive north along the spine of the Rocky Mountains. We truly were loaded for bear, we had enough food to last a fortnight, fuel, ammo, and enough anticipation to stay awake late into the night drive.
I am no stranger to western Montana, but as the sun came up that first morning I was once again smitten with its beauty. Clouds hung low as we made the last leg of our trip into coniferous forest’s covered with wolf moss. The mountains were all dissected by thousands of logging roads, most of which were closed off and gated. But the still many of them gave us untold space to cover, glass, and pursue.
We set camp next to a good sized river, rolling over rocks that hid big Brown and Bull Trout. I could hardly wait to get our gear out and explore, the river pulled at me, and even though I could almost think of nothing better than the beautiful fish beneath, we were here to hunt bears.

I pulled my hunting kit from the truck, it was all my best equipment carefully selected and tuned days before leaving. The basic stuff, survival gear, a days worth of snacks, knives, flashlights, and my choice of rifle. I had decided to bring along my Desert Tech MDR, perhaps a little unorthodox for bear hunting but I found it to be a perfect fit. The MDR is a multicaliber bullpup rifle, this makes it much shorter and compact than a conventional rifle. A piston operated semi-auto would allow for quick follow-up shots should they be necessary, and my MDR shot accurately enough to put first round hits on a paper plate at six-hundred yards. I have several different caliber barrels for the rifle, but for this hunt I chose to go with the good ol’ 308 Winchester. The 308 is a familiar and potent cartridge, and with plenty of energy for black bear sized game. I had recently re configured my rifle with a Minox Optics 1-6 scope, and I had become quite comfortable shooting minute of bear lung targets at distances inside half a mile. So with that formidable firepower under my arm, we set off into the mountains in search of a bear, or two.

After only an hour or so of scouting the huge area we had to hunt, mother nature decided to remind us of her temper. The gray clouds brought us rain, and a stiff breeze that would make sure that the rain gotcha everywhere. It was not what I had hoped for, but we dealt with it as best we could. And that first night we spent much time drying out our socks and other clothes, but we were still ripe with excitement for this adventure. Especially after seeing so much beautiful country in such a short time.

The next morning brought sausage and eggs, and more wind and rain. To my discouragement, it continued like that for four days, it only ever stopped raining long enough to get your hopes up, then it would start again. We had many close encounters though, fresh bear scat was everywhere. We could almost trace their movements by observing the neatly trimmed grass, followed by more piles of bear breakfast. We would hike for hours through dripping forest, and cloudy ridges that were so wild that you whispered. Much like the deer and elk I frequently hunt, I gained a quick understanding that in this wild place I am just one of thousands of animals and we are all made of meat. That understanding and the majesty of the surrounding mountains just demanded a softer tone when you spoke. The huge expanse of country just kept opening up over and over, just when you’d thought you’d covered everything, another draw would open up. And every hill was covered with bear shaped stumps that had been blackened like soot by fires in the past.

After several days of hunting, we had only put eyes on one bear, from a good mile or two away. And unfortunately my friend and his Father had to go back home, leaving me and Dad alone in this untamed country that we had just barely become familiar with. It was a little daunting, we hadn’t seen the sun in days, so much of the time you didn’t even know what direction you were headed. But Dad and I felt up to the challenge, at least we were going to keep after it anyways, despite being complete rookie’s.

The next day we returned to the area we had seen the one bear, roughly sixteen miles away from our camp. We had a plan for Dad to sit and watch a meadow and a small lake that was frequented by bears, many of whom had left many wild berry deposits scattered about. Meanwhile I would make a slow and quiet stalk around a nearby area in hopes of spotting one.

After leaving Dad at the spot we had decided upon, I worked back around the valley anticipating a large circular stalk that would put me opposite him after a mile or so. My hike would take me through damp mossy swamp, and grassy thickets and all the while buried in deep timber. Nothing but the song of birds, and the occasional stream of runoff could be heard. During the entire trip we had only seen a dozen or so other vehicles, and at no time did we ever run into any people. Earlier I said the place was a little bit scary, what made this place scary was the isolation. I knew that there was nobody around, I knew that should something happen to us, it could be days before someone passed by close enough to hear. There was no phone service but for the highest peaks, and even that was sketchy.

I continued my quiet stalk through the woods, and came into a clearing that sort of looked like where I wanted to be. A pair of ducks jumped from a puddle, startling me in the near silence. I was beginning to feel a bit worried, because I didn’t appear to be where I thought I was. Come to think of it, I’m not even sure where I am. As I trod on, it became flat and muddy, so I figured I was getting close to the lake. But things just kept getting different, and after another half hour or so I was seriously worried, considering that I was indeed lost. Not just lost, but lost in unfamiliar bear country, and even worse, I didn’t know if my Dad had any idea where I was, or which way to get back to camp since I had done all the driving. All these worries intensified as the sun got closer and closer to going down, but sheer panic was about to set in on me.
Just as I had about gotten to where I was sure the road was, I found myself again in a grassy clearing. The panic set in when I realized that it was the exact same clearing I had been startled by the ducks in nearly an hour before, it was like a bad dream.

I am not one to get lost, I am usually pretty good at keeping track of my direction and location. But the low hanging clouds and huge towering trees made it very difficult to keep track of where you were.
So I found myself nearing hysteria, not sure where I was, only that I was alone, far far away from anything like civilization, and my Father who relied on me to get back to camp. No amount of yelling could be heard, even shots from my rifle couldn’t reach with any discernible direction.
The fear that gripped me took me right to my knees, where I sought calm, and direction. Lucky for me, there was someone looking out for both of us. And humble as I have ever been, I emerged on a road. It turned out to be the same road I went in on, I had somehow completely turned around, and but for the quiet guidance I felt kneeling in that grassy duck meadow, I might still be up there walking in circles, or worse yet, stacked up with a bunch of grass and berry seeds. I had never felt so grateful to feel my butt in the seat of that Can-Am.

The very next day we were back at it, I was a bit more humble, and quite a bit more aware of my directions. So we continued scouting around the canyons and hills, looking for a black stump that would move. As it turns out, it wasn’t black at all. Dad spotted the first real chance at a bear, standing off in the trees. It was a big cinnamon colored bear, and it was eating away at the lush grass. Dad and I both hunkered over and made our way to a clear spot where we could get a shot. I saw the bear for just a second, and as I raised my rifle to engage him, he must have seen or smelled us. Before I could get a shot off, he bolted through the thick trees. Bear:1 Us:0.

The next day, in another area several miles away, we continued our search. This time we were a bit more successful.
The late afternoon had brought some slightly better weather, the rain had mostly stopped, and the breeze had slowed to where the mosquitoes could dig into you and carry you off. We were coming down a trail for the first time that day, and as always my eyes were in scan mode. Looking right through the trees, at all the shapes behind them.
It happened so fast I didn’t have time to think. My eyes were scanning the millionth patch of trees when I locked eyes with a small black bear, she stood there on all fours and simply watched as we passed her bye. I know better than to slam on the brakes in front of an animal I intend on taking, so I rolled right on, around the bend. As I lost sight of her, she slowly turned and walked off into the forest.
Wasting no time at all, I quickly halted the Can-Am, and grabbed my MDR off the back seat. I charged the rifle, and hoofed into the trees as fast and as quiet as I could. I was so hyped up on adrenaline, I’m not sure I was actually breathing, so much as maybe my heart pounding was enough to draw air in and out. I snuck through the trees, avoiding anything but the soft green grass, with my eyes going a hundred miles an hour as I searched the trees ahead of me. Despite all my effort to keep quiet, she must have either heard me, or smelled me. Because when I did catch up to her, she was looking right at me.
We locked eyes, time slowed as I recalled everything I had told myself beforehand. No cubs, nothing behind her, no hesitation. I drew my rifle up, knowing that any movement either to the ground or otherwise would likely spook her into running, so the only movement I made was to direct fire. As the reticle came to rest on the dark black fur of the bear, I was glad I had the forethought to turn on the reticle in my little scope. I centered it on the middle of the bear, and pulled the trigger.
The first shot hit her, and she immediately rolled over backwards, but almost in fluid motion she rolled back to her feet as she crossed behind a tree. As soon as she came out the other side of the tree, I was very glad to have brought my MDR, because those quick followup shots were exactly what I needed. Three shots (two of them critical) and she went silently to the ground.
I stood there in the silence, all I could hear was the steps of my Dad who came hurriedly towards the sound of the shots. I shouted out to him that she was down, and the excitement caught up to me. I began to shake, and my heart continued to pound as I walked up to the downed bear. My first shot was not a good one, it hit her in the shoulder which from the front is not a good angle of attack. The second and third hits went through the shoulder (broadside) and neck, which obviously put her straight down.

Dad caught up to me, and the two of us marveled at the first bear either of us had ever laid hands on. Soft black fur, that was much longer than I had expected. And she was such a beautiful animal, with brown patches on the side of her nose. Her feet and claws were fascinating to me, her soft ears, and stubby tail.

We took a bunch of pictures, and then cleaned her up. We happily made our way back to camp, where we hung her up and I skinned my first bear, which I thought I did a pretty good job of. The feelings had gone from a desperate panic, to complete triumph in the course of one day, I had never felt so grateful.
We built a huge victory fire that night, and the sky cleared for a spectacular show of stars.

Dad didn’t get a shot, and we never got another chance after that. But we were still satisfied with our first bear hunt. Not only did we get to see some of the most beautiful country there is, but we got beat down and humbled by it, only to make a great comeback and finish our very first bear hunt with bloody hands, and cut tag.

It will be hard to out-do this hunt, as I said in the beginning, it was hard to decide what parts of this story to tell. Almost like a birthday wish as you blow out the candle, I didn’t want to spill it all, for fear of it loosing it’s magic. I believe I will go back someday, with new dreams, and remembering my humility, to that special place where beauty abounds and calamity could be right around the next duck meadow, and bears of all colors wander through the most hallowed and cloudy timber that is.

-CBM

Reflected Majesty

Warm rays of sunshine, long awaited since the cold darkness of early morning, poured through the Pinion pine trees. At first they were weak and shallow, but they soon began to warm the soft brown soil beneath me. Shadows retreated, and that familiar sensation of sunlight beating down against your back brought comfort to my half frozen body.
As my watery eyes wandered through my binoculars, my minds thoughts also wandered through heaps of memories, dreams, and expectations.

As I paused my glassing to blow into my fingers, I noticed the contrast of the sunlight and shadow. The rays of sunlight beat down, and it’s waves absorbed by everything it touches. So much more to absorb awaited us that day, my trembling hands would soon find.
It was November, and I was lucky to be along-side my Brother Spencer on a limited entry bull elk hunt. I say lucky because my Brother had waited fifteen years to accrue enough points to draw a tag, and in my eyes, there is nothing more exciting than hunting the biggest of Rocky Mountain Elk.
This late season hunt had the elk down from their summer ranges in the nearbye high rockies, they were now spread across their wintering grounds which consisted of a desert-like landscape, though still seven thousand feet above sea level. Sagebrush, Ceadar trees, and Pinion Pine’s covered miles and miles of country, all the way up to the pinetrees and aspens that grow above.
It was there in this landscape that my Brother and I waited, looking for the elk who’s tracks and sign were spread through the draws and hills.

With the help of some friends, we had wasted no time in getting close to the herds of bull elk that typically gather together after the rut. We had hiked several miles everyday, looking at elk, figuring out their patterns and bedding habbits.
We’d even had a look at several good bulls, but not long enough to make a play on them.

I knew this hunt wouldn’t be easy, nature has a wonderful way of testing you. Elk are an extremely tough animal, and bringing one down is no small task.
Today was our fourth day looking at elk, and trying to find one that would make all the time and effort worth it. And perhaps even more importantly, one that thirty years from now will still remind us of the amazing adventure and privilege it was to get him.
This particularly cold morning started out with a bit of a bust. We had moved to a slightly newer area but still close to where we knew the bulls to habit, and in a hasty move we were busted by two bulls who were paying better attention than we were.
Elk can be both like ghosts, and like a plague. So many times they have surprised me by being nowhere, anywhere, or at least somewhere besides here. And then suddenly, out of thin air, they appear.
In hopes that it had been just the two, and confiding that they would make their way off and hide. We continued our plan, moving slowly towards a high point that would give us a good outlook towards known elk territory.
The biting cold was just starting to loose its grip on our day, either that or the rush of blood and adrenaline took it from us.
We walked over the last of what seemed like endless highpoints, and there before us stood the ghost we had been searching for. He walked slowly up a clearing about five hundred yards from us, and as far as we could tell, he had no idea we were there.
We watched his antlers glistening in the sun, and my brother got into position behind his rifle.
It wasn’t just any rifle either, it was there for a reason. Years of diligent practice had paid off, and there was no doubt that my Brother could park a bullet right through the boiler room.

The rifle is a custom Remington with a Bartlein 260 Remington barrel. It road in a KRG Whiskey 3 chassis, upgraded with a Trigger Tech Diamond, a Vortex Optics Gen one Razor, and a Thunder Beast suppressor. Hornady 140 gr BTHP match bullets is all it eats.

It happened so quickly that I barely had time to get all my gear ready. I was hoping to spot the shot through my spotting scope, but instead watched through my binoculars as I fumbled blindly through my pack.
Everything went quiet as we anticipated the shot, the bull stopped his walk, and stood broadside to us, his beautiful color shining in the warm sunlight.
I watched silently as the bullet trace arched through the air, conditions were ideal for spotting the trace. Time slows as it often does in these tense moments, and I watched the trace disappear as it hit the bull. Seconds later, as the bull staggered, we heard the report come back to us. The sound of a bullet hitting flesh is a very recognizable one, and sure to get a hunter’s blood pumping.
The big bull continued to stagger about, as he forced himself to run, almost directly at us. Looking through my binoculars I thought his right front shoulder was broken, then I finally put hands on my spotting scope and pointed it at him. As he slowed down to stop, his legs looked buckled, his elbows almost touching. He crashed forward into the sagebrush, and lay there, head still up and looking for the threat.
Round two was hot on its way by then, again I watched the trace rise and then fall. The bull was laying down facing us, Spencer aimed the kill shot to go right inside his shoulder. The impact was severe, and the bull instantly dropped his head to the ground, leaving his mighty crown laying sideways in the brush.

We made our way over to the big bull, and as usual it was absolutely surreal. The size of these animals always impresses me, as does their beauty.

There is something majestic about every one of these animals, each one a fighter, each one a champion of his environment. This bull had actually broken his leg, either by accident, or someone broke it for him. But this incredible animal survived, and healed. His shoulder wasn’t broken, his right leg was crooked, it had healed at an angle.
Majestic almost doesn’t do honor to these magnificent creatures. Their strength, and their endurance is beyond impressive. Their instinct and natural wisdom, born of an unimaginable series of lifetimes that led right up to this one. Not only do I feel an incredible debt of gratitude for all of these merits, I feel inspired by them. Much the way the sunlight is absorbed by everything it touches, the merits, memories, and all that this animal is, will soak into our minds and memory.

Love, honor, and respect for these animals. It takes a lot of work to get the best of one, they live here everyday, they fight to survive, simply put, they are better at it than we are. The only way to feel good about besting an old warrior, is to be the best of yourself. Living right on the razor’s edge of your dedicated hard work and skill, and the utter failure of loosing him. And then, having triumphed, recognize the lesson, the hard work, and even the luck. You can see now why I said lucky before, lucky and grateful to have had such majesty, reflected upon us.

-CBM


Remington Bartlein KRG Whiskey 3 Trigger Tech Vortex Optics Thunder Beast

Sacrifice, Harvest, and Killing

Do you think we are the only predators on this planet that contemplate these actions? What separates you and I from other top predators?
I have given it much thought over the years, and today I thought I might write about a death we should be satisfied with.

I often hear people refer to hunting and killing an animal as a harvest. This nomenclature has never sat well with me, as it is typically used in referrence to an agricultural crop. The commercialized hunting market seemed hasty to adopt this word, and for perfectly understandable reasons. Hunting and hunters are unfortunately ever less popular in modern society, and Harvest sounds friendlier than Killing.
That said, I dont like the word. You dont harvest a deer, I dont walk out in the pasture and pull a bundle of deer out of furrows. Nor do I pick a flock of ducks from a bush.

Hunting is so much deeper than that, more intimate. There is a very dedicated effort wherein a good hunter exhausts time, money, and practice of his craft in order to take the life of his prey. Better hunters spend even more time researching, scouting, and perfecting their skill. The crux of all this effort is to be a more effective and ethical predator, a skilled killer. It is a costly investment, both materially and emotionally.
I am a killer, I kill animals, and for that I make no apology. There are many reasons I hunt, most of which you’re probably familiar with if you’ve read much of this blog; food, game management, and especially the participation in natures way of taking and giving life. We are part of it, not some distant observer.
You may have heard “wolves lose no sleep over the opinions of sheep”, and just as the wolves sleep soundly in their dens, we should not apologize or soften our stance as both apex predators, and as stewards of the land we rule. Removing ourselves from the food chain does a disservice to the overall ecology, especially when it’s for self righteous reasons.

Sacrifice is an acient principle, it is a beautiful and fullfilling concept that gives meaning to what can often seem like a sufferable existance.
Men have sacrifced animals (for various reasons) since the beginning. And again, I often hear the phrase, this animal gave its life for us. It is used as evidence to care for and respect the flesh of the animal, a fine result but based on a flawed perspective.
Much as I dont care for using Harvest, I also dont feel right about This animal sacrificed its life for us.
Because if it were up to the animal in question, it would still be alive. I draw a similar distinction to my previous point about nomenclature, it goes much deaper than just This animal sacrificed its life for us. This animal was sacrificed against its will for us to live from its loss. There is a big difference you see.
Our agency allows us to choose what to sacrifce in our lives. Parents (both two and four legged) sacrifice for their offspring, soldiers sacrifice themselves for their countrymen, etc. But when a sacrifice is not made of free will, it carries an extremely heavy responsibility. When sacrificing an animals life, honor demands that its flesh be used with little to no waste, in a respectful and responsible manner.

These truths I believe are eternal, and there from comes our moral ethos as responsible hunters. It is what separates us from other apex predators like the wolf. It is the reason our conscience is so heavily taxed when we lose an animal, or when we cause un-nessesary suffering.
It is difficult for man not to think very highly of the animals we hunt. We spend so much time watching, admiring, and challenging them with our own skills, Yet even so we are frequently bested by them. This relationship betters us both, and elevates its value to us.
It is also what gives us such great satisfaction as we eat a tasty venison dinner. A meal that was achieved through great effort, and sacrifice, tastes so much better than one that was not.

Say what you mean, and use the appropriate words that accompany your actions. There is no doubt about the intentions of our brother the wolf when he stares down his nose at his prey. Neither should there be any doubt about our own intentions, and we should honor the sacrifice by giving the most swift and humane death we are capable of. A death we ourselves could make peace with.

-CBM

Make that Slaughterhouse a Slaughterhome

If you haven’t noticed yet, I love to eat. Nothing is more satisfying than a home cooked meal made from ingredients procured by my own hands. Whether its tomatoes grown in the garden, or a lean trimmed elk roast that I cut out by hand in a cold October garage.
One of the ways I maximise the flavor and the satifaction that comes with it, is by butchering all my own animals. It started long ago, when as a child I watched my Father bring home deer to be butchered on the kitchen counter.

Many years later, more out of necessity than desire, I began carting my own deer carcasses into the kitchen. Being a bit of a germaphobe, as well as a bit picky at the table, I couldn’t fathom leaving the cleanliness of my food to the hands of some game processer. Just the look and smell of those outfits is enough to make me toss my lunch, so I was determined to do it all myself.
In the beginning, I’ll admit it wasn’t great, but I have become pretty good at it. I think its important to share a couple of the advantages that I have by doing it myself.
I am in complete control over what gets used and how. Being particular about my food, I like to know it was well cared for both before and after it was butchered. I always take great care of my animals, trying to get them gutted, cleaned and cooled as soon as possible. I have seen overwhelming evidence that the crucial time between death and freezer has a huge impact on the flavor and quality of your meal.
Once the carcass is cleaned, and cooled down, comes the aging. I think that aging the meat is very important, second only to the quick cleaning and cooling of it. Call me crazy, but I like to age my venison a minimum of four to five days. I actually wait until the first signs of decomposition start to show. When little specks of white mold start showing on the carcass, its time to start cutting. Much like a good piece of fruit, the best flavor comes right before it spoils. Obviously this must be done in a state of refridgeration, lucky for me, October temperatures here hover around freezing.

Not only does the flavor and texture of the meat improve, but its easier to handle and separate. Meat peels right from the bone, leaving a clean white surface. All the hard work of removing tendons and silver skin is also simplified, little to any coaxing is needed to fillet them right off of your favorite cuts. The meat itself takes on a softer, stickier texture, it almost feels greasy in a way, like near room temperature bacon.
Another benefit of butchering my game at home, is the ability to cut the meat the way I want to cook it. I have recently explored many different bone in cuts that not only increase the quality of my meats, but also cut down on waste. When cutting bone in pieces, you get to eat all the meat in between the bones that is typically discarded.

Some of these great examples are cutting whole T-bone steaks. Since some deer arent that big, I actually cut them as Cross-bone steaks, basically two T-bones that haven’t been split in the middle. I cut them about 1.5” thick, and sear them in a pan, till rare (120*) at the center near the bone. The only way to improve backstraps and tenderloins is to serve them together on the bone, with butter and rosemary.

Another great cut that Ive tried is a bone in Frenched rib rack. This is done by again leaving the backstraps attached, and sawing the backbone and ribs out. You can then either cut lengthwise down the back, splitting the two, or go really fancy and leave them whole.

Sawing the shanks is another great way to use bones that are almost always discarded. Cooked slowly the shanks are a very tender and tasty piece of meat.
I also like cutting out the meaty ribs of deer and elk. Cooking them twice, first in a pressure cooker, and then again in the oven. This melts off the undesirable fat from the ribs. I then season them a second time and slow cook them in the oven, it makes for an extremely soft and tasty meal.

All these custom cuts and preparations can be done at your own pace, and even cooked without having ever been frozen. I love a good fresh celebratory meal during the hunt.

I like to use a good fillet knife for processing my game. The flexible blade, and the razor sharp edge allow me to skin the dried rind off of most of my meat, exposing the perfectly aged and protected meat below. It also allows me to shave off any damaged parts, leaving as much meat as possible.

I start out with a sharp knife, and regularly sharpen it during the process, to keep the edge from dulling. The sharp blade easily separates broad tendons like those found on backstraps, just like skinning a fish fillet.

Many people grind a lot of their meat into burger. While I enjoy and love a good burger, I rarely grind mine until Im ready to eat it. Part of the reason I think so much meat is ground by so many, is because of the large scrap piles of meat that accumulate during the butchering process. I try and avoid this as best I can by keeping the meat in the largest pieces possible, and the scraps that I do get, I set aside for bottling.

Bottling venison is an often overlooked process. I have had spectacular results putting my venison into jars instead of the freezer. A big benefit to this approach is no need to keep the meat frozen, and subsequently no loss should a freezer go down, or a power outage.
If those reasons arent enough, then the simple fact that it tastes so good should be enough. Bottled venison is extremely tender, and when bottled together with other ingredients like tomatoes, onions, or even a complete recipe, it is a whole meal ready to eat. One of my favorites is a simple chilli that consists of venison, tomatoes, roasted red or green peppers, onions, garlic, barley and black beans. Thrown together in a bottle with some salt, and cummin, it makes a delicious meal that requires nothing more than a source of heat to bring it to life.

Bottling meat is a slightly different process than you may be used to, do yourself a favor and look into it.

When I do grind venison, I like to do it just before cooking. I also add in some pork fat, either straight fat, or fat with a little meat. This, as well as some good seasoning and some garlic and onions mixed into the burger will make one of the best hamburgers you will ever eat.

Butchering an animal myself has led me to several practices while still on the mountain. One of them is a valiant effort to get the animal out whole if possible. Sometimes it is just too difficult, and an animal must be halved or quartered for extraction. I always prefer to get them out whole, this minimizes the amount of meat lost. For every cut that is made before the butcher table, there is meat lost. Whether it be from drying, contamination, or some other reason.
Keeping the animal whole keeps as much meat as possible protected from the elements.

Another field tactic that I use is the gutless extraction. Some of the places we hunt here in the Rockies are quite close to home. Almost every year, one or two of the deer or elk we kill, are close enough to home, that I can have them home, skinned, and washed out within thirty to forty minutes after the coup de gras is fired. That being the case, I will often leave the guts in the animal until we reach a vehicle. This avoids getting the chest cavity contaminated with dirt, leaves, or any other debris. The animal is then gutted, and transported home where it is skinned and washed in preparation for the aging process.

Another big lesson I have learned, for antelope in particular, is to get as much blood out of the animal as you can. In my experience, one of the best practices is to take head shots. This leaves the circulatory system intact, allowing it to evacuate its volume even after brain-death has occurred. Obviously this practice is not recommended for an animal who’s head you intend to mount, or save. But for antlerless and meat hunts, it works great. Not only does it empty most of the blood via the headwound, but it does little to no damage to the eatin bits of the animal. And its much easier to gut and clean.

I cant believe how much venison I could have enjoyed so much more over the years, instead of suffering through it. It doesn’t take a huge amount of effort to put these things into practice, but it will make a night and day difference in how you enjoy all that beautiful game meat that you work so hard for. I hope these tips help make your meals better and more memorable, and please feel free to offer any tips you may have!

-CBM