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Homestead Happenings: bullseye!

September 22, 2010


The man killed an elk with his homemade bow. He shot an enormous bull elk square in the heart at 10 yards.

packing out the antlers

Everyone I’ve told has asked “is Dan on top of the world? Is he soooo excited?” And where Rose and I can burn ourselves out sampling from one day’s menu of emotions, Dan and Col seem to ride on the cheerful side of even-keel.

“I was just in the right place at the right time,” Dan maintains humbly. He speaks of his hunting successes in the vernacular of “getting lucky,” which sounds a little like some leering 70’s guy scoping out his Saturday night. And it’s almost beside the point that Dan “got lucky” with the largest elk he’s ever seen, because he’d feel just as happy, in his even-keel way, about packing the freezer with a plump cow elk.

Dan's hunting partners Jamie and Robert at basecamp, 11700 feet, 3 days after leaving sea level Virginia: warriors all the way.

We’ve been hunched over the butcher table for three days straight, carving up this beast of an animal. We’re like boxers in a marathon match; we get knocked down, pop our arms back in their sockets, straighten up our hobbled backs, jump back up and sharpen our knives for another round.

where the arrow hit the heart

Dan’s Pandora “quick mix” station accompanies the sounds of steel on flesh, inexplicably and gratingly settling on the collected works of Hendrix and Creedence. Our friend and neighbor Jeff, who came over to help one night, said “you know, there are musicians out there that are playing music currently.”

A hind leg unveiled at a late, late hour. Do I look a little scared? I am. That's our neighbor Jeff valiantly working on a shoulder.

This year the kids are nonchalant about the hunks of raw, garnet-colored meat heaped on the butchering table. Every now and then they crash into the sunroom where we’re working, scaring the bejeezus out of me on account of the saber-like knife I’m wielding. But mostly they scamper around nearby, Rose teaching herself to blow bubbles while Col lines up morning glory seeds on a piece of drying elk sinew.

At dinner one night, soon after Dan returned, Col kept interrupting our pre-meal “thankfuls,” his little body simmering with a question for Dan. “Daddy, did you see any carnivores who eat omnivores?”  (Why, yes he did). Rose, who’s the perennially confused member of the family keeps exclaiming “Daddy shot a deer! Yay Daddy!”

Our first night back together was a blur of friends coming by to give Dan high-fives and chew on some grilled elk tenderloin. The story of the nine-day hunt has slowly come out on our butcher table “dates” after the kids are in bed. My favorite is how Dan and his buddy Robert (pronounced the French way: Row-bear), who came out from Virginia with his friend Jamie to hunt elk with Dan, were at the mountain pass where there’s cell phone reception, calling buddies to help pack out meat. Robert, not familiar with Mountain-town life, where many things rank higher than career, wondered how Dan could rally meat-packing troops on a Friday morning, a work day. Robert listened as Dan proceeded to call a roster of guys, several who couldn’t have more Westernsounding names like Sage, and Cody. He called Collin, who’s happily lived in his truck for four years while receiving scholarships for our local college. The capper was when Dan dialed our town mayor, who doesn’t have a cell phone and grows a mean crop of gooseberries outside his 400 square foot home. The mayor! Mountain life.

Robert got an elk too - we ate some of her heart, smoked, last night. Delish.


Meanwhile, the harvest mania continues.

It’s gotten a little Pavlovian, like stick something edible in front of me and I’ll reach for a knife and canning jar. And when it’s been a long day (which really, every day with children seems to be), and I’m still in the kitchen at 10pm, making salsa because a bag of ripe tomatillos fell on my foot when I opened the fridge to get the chocolate-covered cherries, I start to wonder what I’m doing.

But I know it’s just harvest-weariness. I remember when Dan called me from the pass, late in the afternoon, before he got that elk. He was so tired, so humbled by the snarled up mountains, the jumbly terrain full of blow-down trees best suited for 4-leggeds. He was missing us and exhausted. I reminded him of what he told me before he left, about how sometimes it’s the contrast–the temporary contrast–to our regular life that brings great reward. The next morning he shot that elk and we have meat for the year.

Carry on and persevere; pick those apples, stew those tomatoes, write that sentence, hug those children, teach those students, drive that bus, do your ordinary and important work. It matters.

Oh, and 2 more days to enter The Giveaway!

And, go here to read about last years butchering extravaganza, in which the children were not nonchalant about knives and heaps of meat at all.

40 Comments leave one →
  1. September 22, 2010 9:55 am

    Wow…that’s both amazing and a little horrifying.

  2. Nancy permalink
    September 22, 2010 9:57 am

    Congrats on the bull elk – impressively shot with homemade bow! We weren’t as lucky during black powder season – but luckily have another shot at one (!) during rifle. We pack out the meat ourselves (60+ years old) – on our backs up out of the bowls – then a game cart back to our car. Husband debones meat in field to make it lighter. Then we butcher our meat – I’m the packer! We should follow your lead on listening to music – instead I sing (off key) songs like, “They call me the packer” Ahhh the joy of having a freezer full of elk meat and a garden full of veggies.

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      September 22, 2010 11:05 am

      Fantastic! I hope we’re still packing and carving away when we’re 60. Hope you “get lucky” for rifle season!

  3. September 22, 2010 9:57 am

    Holy Elk Heart! I feel kind of speechless and queasy at he same time. How amazing it will be to have your freezer full and tums happy all winter long. Way to go Dan!

  4. September 22, 2010 10:20 am

    Wow. I’m impressed. Shot through the heart nonetheless. Good job Dan. And meat for a year? That’s awesome. I can’t say I’ve had elk but I can’t wait to try it.

    I’m jealous of your bounty but with my withering brown thumb, that’s my default state come harvest time. While the rest of us suffer from tasteless winter veggies, you can enjoy the fruit of your labor all year long. I’m positively green (except for my thumbs, that is).

  5. September 22, 2010 10:49 am

    Yikes. I want to be pleased, but I think I might need to throw up first. Dan’s philosophy very much fits into the way I feel about meat: If I am not willing to kill it myself, I shouldn’t eat it. And that’s the same reason I’ll probably always be a vegetarian!

    PS: Enjoy your bounty!

  6. Melissa Neta permalink
    September 22, 2010 11:45 am

    Holy shit.

    I needed some inspiration and voila! Thank you.

    Glad I’m not the only one who questions what I’m doing sometimes . . .

  7. September 22, 2010 12:03 pm

    Congrats on all that bounty! Carry on and presevere might just be my new motto or maybe it should be carry on and preserve ;)

  8. Kristen Roessler permalink
    September 22, 2010 12:14 pm

    Rachel – your words are so true “Carry on, persevere….” you have kept me going today, on a particularly grey, energy-sucking day. Thanks!

  9. Ami permalink
    September 22, 2010 12:40 pm

    Wow – In my dream life I am your family!
    This post is SO appropriately timed, as just this week we’ve been feeding a local deer with our garden and orchard. She and her fawn have managed to find a way into our 3 fenced acres, and today, the puppy had this mama deer so motionless, and entranced, I thought, for a moment, how easy it would be to lure a deer into my front yard, and then have her for dinner….
    None the less, I feel proud to be feeding her cute little bambi, since I’ve completely neglected the garden all summer anyway, SOMEONE, should be enjoying it!!!
    But this is your blog, not mine, and I just LOVE LOVE LOVE it! Elk is our meat of choice around here, but we buy it at the Coop.. and at 6 bucks a pound, you’re sitting on a fortune there! Way to go DAN! Epic! :)

  10. September 22, 2010 1:22 pm

    Holy bull! Soooo impressed. Not so much by the size (which is TOTALLY impressive), but by this: in the heart with a homemade bow! Wow. I’ll have to show this one to my hubs. We both have homemade recurves, but have yet to put meat in the deep freeze with them. What a fabulous hunt; I bet Dan feels pert near an agile four-legged elk himself. Is he growing antlers yet?

  11. September 22, 2010 2:06 pm

    YUM! Nice shot by the way :) SHould make for some kick a** stroganoff with the mushrooms you picked last month!

  12. September 22, 2010 2:39 pm

    horray for our friends. sending lots of cheer from montana… now i am going back to the post to read again. all i saw was 10 yards and heart shot… and the photo of course…
    well done.

  13. September 22, 2010 2:50 pm

    So incredible. Thanks so much for sharing the story and images with us. Especially those of us who would never see anything similar otherwise. I may pack in my fiber crafts and pick up archery.

  14. September 22, 2010 6:59 pm

    You’re so brave with the butchering. I’m not sure I could do it. But man, I’d LOVE to have the freezer stocked with a gazillion pounds of wild, free-range meat. I don’t know what happened to the vegetarian in me.

  15. Judy permalink
    September 22, 2010 7:08 pm

    What an accomplishment, Daniel: knowledge [anatomy, geography, topography, botany, animal behavior, bowyery…to mention just a few key fields], practice, skill, strength, endurance, determination, patience, teamwork – all this and more came together on this hunt. Sweet success!

    – One proud mother!

    P.S. And processing the harvest, distilling your experiences into these posts (with the coordinated photos) – all the while keeping tabs on two active children – this all takes no less of a skill-set, Rachel!

  16. Caraway permalink
    September 22, 2010 7:36 pm

    OMG, I am so proud of Dan! This is huge! Wow, wow, wow. I had a feeling this would be the year! …and we were just bragging about his bow-making to some friends last week. Spectacular accomplishment, for the whole family.
    Love, us.

  17. Diane Petersen permalink
    September 22, 2010 7:43 pm

    I am humbled!!! Do you actually sleep??!! I’d like to sign up for lessons…

  18. Brigid permalink
    September 22, 2010 7:55 pm

    Wow Rachel. I am amazed by the story! Dan is pretty amazing huh? Happy meat processing!!!! That is an impressive shot of the heart.

  19. jamie permalink
    September 22, 2010 9:40 pm

    Amazing! Your Hubby’s shot, the SIZE of the elk, heart, leg! Your endurance during your long distance harvest race! I wish I could….

  20. Steph permalink
    September 22, 2010 10:26 pm

    I actually love the photo of the elk heart! (Imagine that!) Pretty cool that the evidence of the arrow is there too.

    Congrats again to Dan!!

  21. September 23, 2010 1:31 am

    Amazing! What a beautiful shot. So envious of that meat – and why have I never see your blog before? It’s Enchanting.

    xo, Sustainable Eats

  22. September 23, 2010 7:19 am

    Wow! Im impressed. I love how much you guys live from what you gather, road kill and all!! As a vegetarian, I just came from a post that mentioned cramped living quarters and unhealthy cows, which makes my skin crawl that people eat such things. But this I think is beautiful. Even looking at the meat doesnt make me sick. It is beautiful because it was an animal that gave its life respectfully to Dan who is doing it all himself (and you and neighbors) that you will use and appreciate. As always, thanks for sharing!


  23. Row-bear permalink
    September 23, 2010 9:33 am

    Awesome column Rachel! A wonderful celebration of a most epic adventure. I never will forget how impressed I was that you all could rally reinforcements for the pack-out on 24 hours notice. Just one more example of what a great community of friends you have out there. And I’d vote for your mayor any day. I love gooseberries.

    Hope you got everything in the cooler. Love the shot of you tackling those enormous hindquarters — where do you even START on those things???

  24. September 23, 2010 10:21 am

    We have one animal-rights-inspired vegetarian in our home and one put-the-dinner-on-the-table hunter. It makes for very interesting dinner discussions.

    I’m growing every year from these children’s talk. I love the respect they have, one for the other. And it has made me keenly aware of what I put in my mouth.

    I love the celebration you bring to your food here. It makes me feel nourished.

  25. September 24, 2010 6:19 am

    WOW. That first pic of him with the antlers reeled me right in. But then the whole story told in the pic of the heart! WOW WOW WOW. Way to feed the family, you two! : )

  26. September 24, 2010 6:34 am

    Um. Your man is so cool. That photo with the antlers on his back?! I’d bet passion ensued when he crossed the threshold of your home.

  27. Ryan Brown permalink
    September 24, 2010 11:55 am

    Wow. wow. wow! OMG! Wow! Those antlers are effin huge! Did you have buy a second freezer? I wanna come home now…

  28. September 24, 2010 4:20 pm

    Rarely does my husband look over my shoulder while I’m at the computer and say, “Wow. Nice rack.”

    Impressive. What an incredible experience for your children. Last fall, my girls helped make deer meat burger with the Kitchen Aid grinder. They loved it and we thought we’d done such a great job explaining where the deer meat came from and how daddy got it. An hour later our oldest said, “Does it hurt the deer to take the meat out?” Oh well.

    Enjoy elk fajitas – my favorite..

  29. September 26, 2010 8:01 am

    What a great post. We don’t have many elk here, but this reminds me of growing up with deer camp (a group of family friends who stayed in our barn every November), and with the idea of hunting for our year of meat (how many deer for every elk?).
    I loved your line about Dan being “humbled by the snarled-up mountains,” and the thought about contrast. Real and true.

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      September 26, 2010 3:09 pm


      Our friend from Virginia said the small-med cow elk he got was equal to 3 1/2 whitetail deer! The bull elk Dan got, maybe equal to 6 whitetails!

  30. Dan permalink
    September 26, 2010 9:43 pm

    Thanks to all for reading and appreciating. And super-thanks to Rachel for crafting it all into words and images knitting us all together on the wwweb.

  31. liz permalink
    September 29, 2010 6:13 pm

    so amazing. I’m not a meat eater but I am so impressed and fascinated. enjoy your year of elk.

  32. rowie permalink
    September 30, 2010 9:39 pm

    It looks so familiar. My husband and I have spent many a day cutting and wrapping deer or elk meat. Thanks for the post.

  33. October 1, 2010 1:43 am

    honestly, i am completely struck by the beauty of that ginormous heart. i had to show my husband when i read/saw this. i’ve never harvested my own meat, and wow. amazing. blessings to you!


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