First was the hunters safety course. Since I had never had a hunting license, I needed to take the class with Oldest Son to get my license. For the record, Oldest Son only got one question wrong on his test, and his father still did better! Now we were licensed and ready to hunt, but the season hadn't started yet.
Virginia has a youth hunt day before the regular season starts where anyone with a license between 12-15 years old can take any deer on one day. Oldest Son went with some friends to their cabin to give it a try, but didn't see any deer that day.
Several friends we have made here in VA go deer hunting, and several were more than willing to take us out and show us the ropes. But being an engineer, I like to get some hands on instruction before being set loose in the woods. Too many things can go wrong and I wanted to be sure that I was prepared. So it seemed appropriate that a class was in order. Luckily for me, Jackson Landers teaches a class up in Charlottesville. This is a two day, hands on class that goes through hunting tactics, shooting range experience with various caliber rifles, actual hands on butchering of a deer, and cooking of the deer that the class butchers.
WARNING - The below photos may be graphic to people that are not used to hunting or butchering animals!
There was a surprise snow storm up in the hills west of Charlottesville on the Saturday that we were at the rifle range. We went up to a public range in the George Washington National Forest southwest of Staunton.
The trees were still in color, the grass was green and the slow was covering the ground. This made for some postcard photos, and a cold day at the range.
It turned out to be a cold day, but the sun was out and our minds were more on the range than the weather. We got to shoot all sorts of rifles, including .30-06, .30-30, .270 Winchester, .22 and .308 among others. Not sure what other calibers were there, as these were the main ones that I tried. We started with a .22 out a 25 and 50 yards, then moved onto the higher power rifles at 100 yards. At the end, a few clay disks were stuck out at 150 yards. Jackson had a new hunting knife as a trophy for whoever could hit one of the clay targets in the fewest shots. One guy hit it on one shot. My first shot I anticipated, and pulled it to the side. My next shot was dead on. One shot too late.
The next day was butchering after some more class time. One of the additional instructors, Fergus Clare, got a fallow deer from a deer farm. Unfortunately, the deer farm will be closing this year, so Jackson will only be having two more classes this year.
Everyone in the class got a hand in skinning the deer. It was done in a worst case scenario on the ground, without hanging the deer in a tree. He told us that if we could process a deer on the ground, we could do it anywhere.
Everyone took turns as Jackson and Fergus showed us what to do. I got to cut off a quarter and take out a backstrap, along with assisting in the skinning.
Interestingly, there was a lady filming our class as she is working on a documentary on Jackson. We'll have to wait and see if any of us in the class move on to become a star. Although one of the students is an actor, I'm not sure if this class would help his career. Surprisingly, she stuck right there with everything as we processed the deer.
This class is geared towards adults that want to start hunting deer. It has appealed to the slow food and locavore movement, where people are wanting to take responsibility for where their food comes from and have meat that is not stuffed with hormones and antibiotics. A wild whitetail deer is as free-range and natural as it gets. This class showed us how to use all parts of the deer. As you can see below, by the time we were done, there wasn't much left of the deer.
Now that the deer was processed in the field, it was time to head to the kitchen. Jackson showed us how to clean up the cuts of meat and how to get a much meat as possible from the deer for consumption, including grinding the lesser bits for use in things such as tacos, etc.
We started out with a few medallions pan seared with some olive oil and salt and pepper and some fresh thyme. Then it was on to the backstrap with some butter, salt, pepper and thyme.
|Backstrap being prepared for cooking.|
The hind quarters were then cut up to show us how to get the most out of that portion of the deer. For being a smaller doe, it did provide quite a bit of meat.
The meat was delicious. We talked a bit about the misconception of the "gamey" taste of venison. That is due to the poor handling of the meat between the death of the deer and getting the meat into the freezer. Picture Bubba driving around town with his deer tied on the hood of the truck over the hot engine for a few hours showing all his friends his prize buck. If handled properly, you can not even tell the difference in the taste of the meat from very lean beef. The meat that we ate was incredibly tasty.
I can't say enough about this class. It gave me the confidence to go out and try to take a deer by myself, although I hope to go with one of my experienced friends at first, just to have the backup assistance if things go wrong. This will be something now that I can pass on to Oldest Son and later Middle Son and Youngest Son if they have the interest.