Murder by kayak
an incidental deer hunt on the North Fork of the Nehalem

 Chained to my desk, grinding through the crummy day paperwork, I watched out the window as pea sized droplets strafed the newly muddied garden and drained away in rivulets.  Sucessive waves of windy liquid blitzkrieg broke leaves and stalks off any crops who'd been lazy about shoring themselves against the season.   As the hours ticked by I developed a foot tapping, chair rocking fidgity palsy that I remember all too well from gradeschool.  With less than two hours 'till dark I pressed save and send and scrambled downstairs, grabbing my drysuit and rifle as I fled my captivity.   Blowing and pouring, it was good weather for hunting, in fact the only weather I can ever seem to catch a deer off guard in the frustrating coastal underbrush.   On the other hand, it takes a lot of rain to bring the North Fork up to a runnable level and with the river finally swollen it seemed a great tragedy to miss even a single descent.   Eyeing the flooded brown river behind my shop, I extracted my Necky Jive from a literal pile of wet kayaking gear and boats, and left the loaded rifle in it's place.   One has to have priorities.  I shuffled into my skirt, PFD and helmet amidst the dissaray and piled into the 'death mobile' for a shuttle upstream to the put in.

The North Fork run is not the prettiest or the hardest river I've ever paddled, but 4 miles of continuous class 2 with a few class 3-4 drops through moss lined gorges, draped with cedars and trickling everywhere with waterfalls is certainly nothing to complain about.   Racing the twilight I pushed the entire run, and when I arrived back at the shop, swirling in the eddy I peeled my drysuit cuff back and stopped the stopwatch at 43 minutes.   I scratched my way up the muddy chute with the
Jive in tow until once again I was level with the lawn, back on terra sponga.  

Standing there, dripping in the fading light, it took a moment to register the unexpected presence, a male blacktail deer standing twenty feet to my right.   Two weeks of hard hunting, miles into the wet scratchy brush, and here was my quarry, a legal buck, standing on my lawn.  I set the boat down slowly and tiptoed over to the barn, expecting him to bolt or simply dissapear, like any normal deer.  Dripping wet in all of my gear and wielding the .243 I crept back to the field, fully expecting him to be gone, yet he was right where he had been, happily chewing away at the grass.  He was beautiful.  He looked up at me, curious, tentative, gentle.  A wave of guilt washed through me, it felt like I was shooting a pet deer.   I didn't linger too long on the thought, I decided long ago I'd rather kill these creatures than condemn a cow to a life of misery and torture in the commercial meat industry.   I took a perfect shot, the deer jumped, collapsed, and was dead by the time I walked over to it.   I'd later find that the bullet fragmented inside the heart, tearing it to shreds instantly.   I thought about cancer, coyotes, starvation.  For human or beast, one could do a lot worse than a bullet to the heart during dinner.

I dragged him inside by forked horns, leaving a trail of blood on the concrete floor.   Always fascinated by these things,  my neighbor Dave came over to watch as I dealt with the messy bits, carefully removing the parts that could spoil the meat.   I held up an armful of intestines and mocked a Kids in the Hall comedy skit "I'm a bad doctor, no really."   He helped as I hung the deer from a beam in the shop and stripped the skin off of everything but the head and hooves.   The dangling carcass spun slowly against a backdrop of kayaks and tools strewn everywhere.   I dug through my truck, finally unearthing this years deer liscence tag, I marked the date and spiked the whole thing onto the horn, and turned out the lights.

For the next four days, it hung there like a crucified pagan god, red muscles and tendons exposed, looking very much like one of Valverdes anatomy illustrations, or an Iron Maiden album cover perhaps.   The fascia turned hard protecting the meat, while bacteria carefully moderated by temperature softened the meat and improved it's flavor.   I'd rather it were colder, but 50 degrees was acceptable.   An occasional fly landed but could not eat or reproduce, neither flies nor maggots can feed on fresh meat.  Passing by I'd stop to stick my none inside the ribcage and inhale; sweet, dry, and coppery, the smell was unexpectedly pleasant.  I fleshed the hide with a draw knive and nailed it hair down to a sheet of plywood, covering the whole thing with rock salt.  This would ultimately leave me with nothing more than a stiff rug, but it was better than wasting the skin.

An old timer might have waited a week, but for me four days was long enough, and I recruited Ginger to help with the butchering.  We set up tables and knives and wrapping paper.   "First," I said, "I need you to hold onto the horns while I cut the head off with a sawzall."   "Oh god."  she winced and gripped the head with a grimace.   With the head off we lowered the carcass onto the table, where it looked all too much like a skinless human being.    For the next 4 hours we carved, large pieces went into a pile for steaks, small pieces went into a pot for hamburger, fat went into a pan to be rendered for candles or soap, and the rest was dumped into a can to be packaged into crab bait.   I flensed every last morsel of meat until all that lay before me was a skeleton, showing more white than red.  I dissaembled the spinal column with an ax, chopping it into pieces that would fit in the crab pots.  Natives would have found use for the intestines and organs and tendons as well, but this was the best I could do and I hoped it would honor the deer well enough.   I made the same quip I always make whenever I speak of honor and murder in the same sentence.  Imagining the deers' point of view:  "If you really want to honor me, how about not shooting me through the heart?"  Fair enough.  I don't have an ethical answer but I am glad that the blood is on my hands.  I've never felt right about paying someone to kill for me.

That night I used an old hand crank grinder to make some deer burger, and to celebrate I baked a pumpkin pie, made from fresh pumpkin, eggs from our chickens, and honey from our neighbors bees.  With the wood cookstove crackling in the background, Ginger and I ate cheeseburgers and pumpkin pie, while we carved Jack-o-Lanterns, and watched Heros on my Mac Laptop, powered by electricity from the micro-hydro, churned by the impulse of falling water.   As I chewed the on the excellent cheeseburger
I felt stoic, calm, and just a little more resigned to my own eventual demise.  After participating so closely in the cycle of life it's impossible not to feel one's mortality draw a little nearer.  Today I was the deer hunter, tomorrow, I might be the deer.

Back to Cape Falcon Kayak