Dressing

In the barn, the deer hung on something that resembled a sadistic coat hanger.  The ends were sharpened spikes that pierced through the skin between the small bones in the deer’s lower hind legs.  The hook was a loop of metal hung on a fat tack, resembling a small railroad spike, in a beam of the barn.  The deer dangled, spread-eagle, over the vegetable tray from the beer fridge.

He’d killed it only two hours before and field dressed it, so it only smelled of blood and wild animal.  Gamey.  He’d let the dogs in to sniff around, and when he set the body to swinging, the lab licked up the dribbled blood while the rat terrier went berserk.  It leapt at the deer’s face, snapping until it latched onto the tongue.  The dog jerked its head from side-to-side, wrenching the deer’s neck in a blur of motion.

“That’s enough now,” he said to the terrier and herded both dogs outside so he could butcher the deer.  “We start with the saw.”

He lifted a rusted wood saw and put the blade against the silvery-brown fur of the deer.  “Right here, just above what we’ll call his elbow,” he explained as the saw slid through fur and skin, through tendons and ligaments and the joint.  For a moment, he held the lower right front leg by its ankle.  With a casual flick of the wrist, he flung it outside the barn, with the result of excited, shrill barks from the dogs.  He repeated the process on the other front leg.

When he’d made all the use he needed of the saw, he set it aside and picked up the fillet knife.  After poking a small hole in the skin above the shoulder, he slid the knife between meat and skin, being careful to cut off the silver skin as well.  “You gotta get it all.  It’s awful eatin’,” he said.  “Chewy as hell.”

The butchering went in stages – separating skin from meat and meat from bone.  All the while, the steady drip, drip, drip of blood and juices giving rhythm to his work and the twitching of the body as friction countered the knife blade.  When he finished, he had filled a large Tupperware tub with meat, and the deer was now a stripped skeleton with only its head intact.

“It’s not pretty enough to mount,” he complained, grabbing the antlers and staring the deer in its filmy eyes.  “Here,” he gestured to the tub, “take that on up to the house and let the dogs back in for just a minute.  I’ll let ’em play.”

“Yes, sir,” I said, picking up the tub.

I heard the yips of the terrier and deep-chested growls of the lab mix in with his laughter as I crossed the yard to the back door of the house.  In my hands, the meat was still slightly warm.

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