Every year, Deus Ex Machina gets his hunting license, but as a bow hunter, the act of hunting is a bit more of a challenge than those who use guns will experience. First, he has to be much closer to his quarry, and second, he has to be very sure of his shot. Maybe he shoots the animal, but if he doesn't do it right, the animal will run, perhaps bleed to death, and there's a very good possibility that he won't find it.
The worst thing in the world for a hunter is to believe that he's injured the animal that will die a very slow, very painful death, and that death will be for naught ... well, except maybe to feed an opportunistic coyote.
He teases me about hunting groundhog, and while I have no particular love of ground hog, or squirrel, or wild rabbit, most of those animals are only one meal - unlike a deer would be. We raise meat rabbits in the back yard, and to me, to kill a wild animal to eat when we have an equivalent already is borderline unscrupulous. It would be different if we were actually starving and needed that animal, but to consciously choose to kill a groundhog just so that we could eat, when we have no real need of that meat ... well, just say that I have strongly discouraged the idea, and Deus Ex Machina has always acquiesced to my resistance.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should also say that my resistance has nothing to do with not wanting to eat groundhog, as I have no qualms, whatsoever, about consuming the meat. I am a meat eater, and I'll try most things - once. I do have my limits, which include most carnivores (the thought of eating something that kill me for food is a little unsettling, and I haven't been able to get beyond it - so any canine or feline is pretty much off my food list, at least for the time being), but I have eaten some small, wild animals, including squirrel and beaver, and the meat was palatable.
Sunday is Foraging Sundays, which means that Deus Ex Machina and I have challenged ourselves to eat only foraged foods for the day. It's been quite an experience, and there have been a few Sundays when our meals were thin soup with a few greens that I was able to forage from the yard.
We've also enjoyed wild caught fish from friends and family who've gifted them to us, but we've always known we couldn't depend on others to fill our bellies. One week we had periwinkles. Yes, I, now, know without a doubt, that I can, easily, eat escargot, and I would completely enjoy the experience! If nothing else, this challenge has taught me to be absolutely not squeamish about my food choices.
Sunday was an incredibly bountiful day. Big Little Sister, Little Fire Faery, and Precious picked several pounds of apples on Saturday from a feral apple tree in our neighborhood. So, for breakfast, we had applesauce. Ignore the worm trails in the apples. Protein, right?
Deus Ex Machina cut the apples into pieces, and then, using the awesome food mill that my very good friend from Florida (Hi, Judy - waving enthusiastically!) sent to us many years ago, he sifted out the skins and cores. It was a lot smoother than we usually make our applesauce, but delicious! Oh, yes!
Big Little Sister and Little Fire Faery had planned to work at the yard sale their dance school is having, and so Deus Ex Machina drove them out there while I worked. In addition, he had a few other local errands to run, and while he was out on the road, he figured he might stop a couple of places we know where the foraging might be good.
On his way to the dance school, he called.
"So, how would you feel if I brought home whistle pig?" He asked, after I'd picked up the phone.
"How fresh is it?" I asked.
When I was a kid, I lived in this wonderful suburb that was truly on the fringes of a newly expanding city. The closest shops were, at least, two miles away, and the subdivision was built just beyond, but not connected to, a country club. We lived four miles or so from the by-pass. We were a fifteen minute drive from the schools and a half hour drive from the military base where my father worked.
We used to walk up to the country club during the summer to use the pool, which after having been originally a private club for the well-to-do set, suffered financially during the 1970s economic collapse and oil crisis, and finally opened to the public. It was mile from my house, and I spent, at least, two entire summers there as a 'tween.
The walk to the pool was along a road that was bookended by woods on either side. It was still a fairly "country" area, and the road dead-ended at our subdivision. There wasn't a lot of traffic, and indeed, there weren't even any lines painted on the road to delineate lanes.
Once, as we walked along, we smelled this sickly sweet odor, and then, we saw this bloated carcass, teeming with little white larvae. The smell and the maggots made me gag, and while my friends wanted to explore the dead thing, I just wanted to get out of there. One of my friends threw a rock into it and it burst, and I almost emptied my lunch right there on the tarred road.
When someone says "road kill" to me, that's what I usually think.
But Michael Douglas, the owner and head instructor of the Maine Primitive Skills School explained during his appearance on the Doomsday Prepper television program a few years ago, that roadkill can be perfectly safe, and the fact is that Deus Ex Machina and I have enjoyed a road kill in the past. Our son-in-law witnessed a deer being hit, and the driver of the car who hit the deer did not want it, and so our son-in-law took it and brought it to us. It was about 60 lbs of free venison, and we enjoyed every morsel.
This seemed a bit different, however, as Deus Ex Machina neither hit the ground hog himself, nor witnessed it being hit.
"I don't know, but wasn't here yesterday when we passed, and it's here today. So, it's been less than twenty-four hours?" He said.
According to Michael Douglas, to test for freshness when encountering road kill, one must pull the hairs on the back of the animal's neck. If they come loose, it's not fresh.
"Smell it," I advised him, after I told him the freshness test.
He assured me he would.
"I'm telling you that you need to really smell it, because if it smells the least bit bad, I won't eat it." I emphasized.
An hour or so later, he was home and butchering it on the picnic table in the yard. He brought it in when it was cleaned, and I took a sniff. It smelled fine.
He cut off the considerable fat stores, which I rendered, giving the cracklins to the dogs and cats, and pouring the fat into a jelly jar to use later.
He cut off the legs, which we stored in a plastic baggy in the freezer for another day.
The rest of the carcass, I boiled - half went into soup, which we ate for dinner. The other half was shredded and put into a pint jar in the refrigerator. We're planning to make it into a chipped-beef kind of gravy to go over mashed potatoes, which we can't have for foraged Sundays, but we can have as a part of our eating from the homestead challenge.
When we started this challenge, I told Deus Ex Machina that I didn't want him to go hunting for a whistle pig, which are always "in season" here in Maine. It just seemed a little unconscionable to kill an animal - like that - just so that we could have meat on Sunday - when we have rabbits in the backyard. I wouldn't want him to kill a crow or a seagull or a turkey, either, just for this challenge (although he did shoot a turkey a few years ago, which we ate for Thanksgiving, but it's not turkey season right now, and we couldn't have a turkey - now - even if we wanted one).
I guess it felt different than fishing, which he and Big Little Sister have been doing - mostly because he already knows how to hunt, and the fishing has been an attempt to learn a new skill. It felt different, also, because we don't raise fish - yet.
But when he called to let me know that he had a road kill ground hog, I figured, we could try it, as long as it was fresh.
I know that a lot of people can relate to my story above of when I encountered road kill for the first time I can remember, and most people probably think of that - a bloated, wriggly carcass that smells sickly sweet and a little stomach-turning. That's not what we had.
But I'll probably be a little careful about where, in my real life, I share the story of our road kill supper.