HOMEGROWN Life: Deer Season on the Oates Place
It’s a fine time of year in West Missouri. In my book, it’s the finest. Maybe it has something to do with the workload. Maybe it has something to do with the weather. Maybe it has something to do with the quality of sleep.
Some find their poetry in the spring greenup. Some find their happiness in the so-called “summer vacation.” I love the October through December chilling season, when food and feasting takes centerstage for a brief period in American culture.
I, of course, am just coming off the seasonal high that is Thanksgiving. On what other holiday do we get together, family and friends, in such a broad way to focus on a celebration of food and the counting of blessings? What other holiday is so noncommercial (beside the large grocery bill)? Yes, there’s the gluttony of eating and drinking with reckless abandon. But mostly there’s conversation and catching up and tasty multicourse, multigenerational feasting.
Here on the Oates place, we grew up operating a small-town meat processing plant. My grandparents and my dad and my uncles and those of us in the now-raising-children generation spent Thanksgivings standing around a couple of tables, cutting up deer. Deer season was a key time of year in the butchery business. Processing hundreds and hundreds of locally harvested wild game, we worked three or four weeks nonstop. Doing so helped make the whole enterprise work, financially.
The butcher shop burned down a little more than a decade ago, and we never rebuilt it. But we still get together as a family to hunt and cut up deer. Deer are plentiful in our bottomland hardwood forests and in scattered fields and pastures. Harvesting the wild game is a key component of our annual family protein consumption. We eat deer (venison, if you want to be “fancy”) in many ways. Deer sausage. Deer chili. Deer tacos. Deer spaghetti sauce.
It’s funny. I often write about the abundance of the wild creatures and plants that surround us here on the farm. I would guess that’s because I love harvesting wild plants and animals as much as I love growing spinach and onions. The truth, to me, is that the blending of the so-called “wild” and the cultivated is a great gift. I believe that every farmer should participate in the walking and watching around our rural landscape. It’s important that we learn from the parts of the farm that we don’t control. It’s there where we learn the lessons of true sustainability. We are what we eat. And we are a product of the landscape in which we live.
Bryce Oates is a farmer, father, writer, and conservationist in West Missouri. He lives and works on his family’s multigenerational farm, tending cattle, sheep, goats, and organic vegetables. His goals in life are simple: to wake up before the sun, catch a couple of fish, turn the compost pile, dig potatoes, and sit by the fire in the evening, watching the fireflies mimic the stars.