A great day today....
First we received a call from my mother in law; if I wanted to have a deerskin?? Well, ehmm, yes! Offcourse!
The story behind this is kind of sad, though. One of the deer that has been fed all winter by my parents in law had started to limp and it grew worse every day for the last two weeks. Yesterday it was so bad, that they decided to call a neighbouring hunter in order to put the animal out of its misery. After the animal had been shot, it turned out that one of its hindlegs was broken and she had been dragging it along all this time. It was beyond healing.
So after the animal was shot, my mother in law called me, knowing my interest in the outdoors and the old handcrafts involved, which includes hidetanning.....
So I ended up driving to their place to collect one bag, containing a hide and a head with brains. Upon arrival I looked into the bag and saw a hide and head and swallowed.... If I'd like some coffee first. OK, love to. Than they told me that the bag on the porch actually contained the hide and head of another deer, which had been frozen all winter, but had thawed out now. I could have that one, too and I could come and get the female's hide after it had been butchered. That meant 2 hides to learn from!
When I came home I though about how to handle it all. I had never killed an animal befor, never butchered one, except the bird a while a go and here I was....left with a bloody, messy hide and a head, from which I still have to extract the brain. OK, take a deep breath, put on some latexgloves, both because I have wounds on my hands and because I had never actually touched something like this befor. Didn't know what to expect and didn't want to overdo it either.
So I needed a flat and hard underground to put the hide on and after thinking thought the balcony would do just fine. Holding the hide felt weird, holding up its head even more so. And that smell.... No, not the smell of decay; the smell of the animal, the hide, the blood..... It'll take some getting used to. I scraped off the lumps of flesh still attached, salted the hide and contacted a fellow outdoorsman, who has done this a few times himself. I just left it at that, because it was getting late.
And about an hour later one of our "neighbours" from the village called and asked if we'd like to have some fish. Ehhh.... sure... I didn't know the person in question, but my daughter did. Turns out that it was the woman living 2 houses further down the street. She's from Russia and they appearantly like to icefish. The fish were caught only minutes befor. Right from under the ice, into a bag and into our hands..... after I had removed the hook from the animal. It was a doublehook with a spring, but like a pincer. So I have to learn how to handle and tan deerhides AND how to clean up fish.... Two very important lessons in the life of a Dutch cityboy. I talked to our neighbour for a while, because we had never met befor and this was a bit of an awkward introduction.
When I got home I put the fish into the refridgerator and later in the evening I took them out, because my youngest daughter wanted to see them, too. And did they have a surprise for me! My son saw them moving! They were still alive! So I was left with the task of killing them.... Great.... Never killed an animal befor.... And these were big fish, about 40cm in length. How do you kill a fish?? I remembered having read something about knocking the hard on the head or bang them with their heads on a rock. Ehhhh....OK.... I can do that..... but with what? Where's a club or a stone when you need one? Then I had the bright idea to take them out onto the balcony and smash it's head in against the railing. Not a rock, but still hard. Shit.... how do you handle such a big and slippery fish without letting go of it? And boy... I so do not like the smell of fish!!!
So yet again I put on gloves, grabbed the fish, thanked them for the food they'll provide us with, took a deep breath and hit them hard with their heads against the metal railing. Boïïngggg..... That's one. Boïïngggg and that's two.... I had just killed my first two animals...ever. And it did not make me feel like a great, selfrelying outdoorsman. Too much of a sensitive charactre, I guess. So I took the fish back in and put them back into the glass oventray. That's that and tomorrow my wife can show me how to clean and prepare them. I turned around and in the corner of my eye I saw movement. One, the biggest, still moved. Damn.... so the ritual repeated. I hit the fish again..... and again.....and again.... Godd*** How much can such a fishskull take?? Do I really need a hammer?? At long last both stopped moving and they left me a little unnerved... to say the least. And I want to learn hunting? Actually aim at a living animal, seeing its beauty and pull the trigger???
I don't know. I still have a long way to go and a lot to learn untill than. Maybe I'll just stick to a camera, but one day I will try....
I think I crossed two main lines today, yet the cityboy within me is still a bit shocked. I guess it'll get easier with each time, but I am sure it will never be really easy...
Ohhh the species of fish is locally know as Gädda (Esox lucius)
The pike we de clean that same evening, after ringing my father in law. He told us to do that right away, so we did. My wife took care of the first one. That's the one who's head I smashed in... She had never handled a fish this big befor, but figured it would be the same as a herring, only bigger. Turned out these fish are quit a bit tougher! Upon opening them, we discovered that both were loaded with eggs. We discarded those as neither one of us likes that stuff. After she had finished the first one, it was my turn of nr.2. Well, I did struggle quit a bit with this slippery bugger. And then they say slippery as an eel!
As for the deerhide; well, that one ended up in the dumpster. Too bad, really as I liked the fur on it a lot.
But I had contacted someone who had done this quit a number of times and he told me that is was very hard to keep a winterpelt pretty. The hair will fall out quit easily.
As I went to work to scrape the hide clean, the first thing I noticed that it was quit hard to do so, after it had dried! And it was dry.... it felt like cardboard or even stiffer. That salt really does drain liquid from it. Also I found quit a few small flies in it, despite the salt. I guess I missed a few spots. The hide did have quit a number of larger holes in it. Round ones, as it it had been cut out... or eaten? I know there is a bug, which does that, living under the skin of deer and such. I only forgot what it is called. Ot maybe the skinner wasn't the most lighthanded one. Actually I know he's not the most lighthanded and delicate guy around, so...
What really ended this "class" was the discovery of many small holes in the hide. Did some animal take a bite? Maybe a bird pecked at it? Then I discovered metal pellets. Quit many of them with a diameter of about 3-4mm, imbedded in the skin, just below the surface. Someone had shot at this deer with buckshot! Given the spread of the impacts, I'd say from a pretty close range, since most of the pellets were within a 25cm radius from the next one. The whole leftside had been punctured, but the hindquarter got the majority of hits. The pellets had penetrated the fur and skin, but not the flesh, rendering the hide useless in my opinion. This animal must have suffered quit a bit, I think.
I am no hunter and have little knowledge about it, but this kind of ordnance does not seem to be the right one for this kind of animal? Damn triggerhappy yahoos!!
Well, I am still thankfull for this gift. I got to experience things up close. Got to see, feel and smell what is is like to work with materials like this. Got a pretty clear idea that I had no real idea of what I was doing and that someone explaining it to me and pointing the do's and don'ts should prove to be usefull! Like with the fish....
They say there's a first time for everything and I am happy to say that there are a few firsttimes I can tick off now. Many more to come!!!