Mike Harvests His First Deer: Whitetail Hunting In The Alberta Foothills

** NOTE ** This post contains graphic photos of a deer being gutted, skinned, and processed.

It all started with a Remington .308 and some yellow tags.

My Doe Tags!

In the spring, Mike and I obtained our firearms permits, via Nelson Firearms Training here in Calgary (we HIGHLY recommend them, they were awesome) with the intention of taking up hunting this fall. Mike had never hunted before, and even though I come from a long line of hunter/gatherers, it’s different when you do it on your own as an adult.

Neither of us are interested in hunting for sport, or for trophy. We simply want to fill our freezer with cheap, hormoneandgodknowswhatelsetheyputinthere-free meat. We like making jerky, and canning, so having a supply of protein over the winter that we harvested and put away ourselves seems like an obvious and perfect plan. Plus, we finally read enough rangefinder reviews to make a decision and now we get to test our new rangefinder for real!

Last weekend, after recruiting our most awesome friend, Jess, we headed out at an obscenely early hour on Saturday, in the hopes of filling one of our 6 collective whitetail tags (Mike and I pulled 3 each). The season was only open in some parts of the foothills and mountain regions of the province, so we drove away from the prairies and into the woodlands to try our luck.

It wasn’t the most thoroughly planned outing, since we were so excited, we completely neglected to pack appropriately. We didn’t bring water, or snacks, or rope, or any of the things you really need to spend a day in the woods and deal with a deer. Oh well, at least we all dressed warmly!

Muddy Trails

We hiked around the woods all morning. We saw plenty of sign, in the form of droppings, scratches (from antlers) on trees, and tracks, but no live deer. At least the scenery was beautiful and we were all getting tons of fresh air an exercise.

Hiking All Morning

Towards noon, I could tell Mike was getting pretty discouraged. We decided to call it a day and treat ourselves to a nice lunch out somewhere before heading home to get some things done.

No Deer Yet, Sad Panda

We were a bit defeated, but it was our first trip out after all, and some hunters spend days in the woods before they get anything.

On our way out, when we weren’t paying much attention at all, Jess spotted some deer not far off, among the trees.  They were whitetails, does obviously, not a buck to be seen.  They had obviously been accustomed to humans, because they didn’t dart off immediately.  Mike and Jess pursued them slowly through the trees for a ways, until Mike was able to take a clear shot.  Shooting in the woods is difficult, because a clear line of sight can be tricky, and deer can cover a lot of ground and disappear quickly if you don’t manage a clean kill.  Fortunately, Mike downed the deer right away, so there was no tracking it through the woods.

When we got up close to her, she was larger than any of us were expecting.  We were all a bit stunned, and sort of stood around awkwardly for a moment, until we realized that we really had no way of field dressing it, and the only thing to do was take it home and deal with it there.

Mike And His First Deer

It’s not optimal to leave the guts in an animal for any length of time after you’ve killed it, but fortunately we weren’t that far from home, so after a considerable struggle, which included much cursing, a tarp, and lots of gore getting all over everyone, we got the thing into the box of the truck. I was so glad that we had Jess with us, as Mike and I would have had a terrible time with it on our own.

We were all starving, and still in shock, but being covered in deer blood, we decided we should stick to drive-thru. After grabbing burgers on the way home, the discussion turned to what we were going to do with the carcass and where were could butcher it out. Mike and I don’t really have a place to hang a deer, and I was going to have to discuss with my boss/landlord an appropriate place to gut it.

We all felt a lot better after eating, and once we were at our place, it was determined that the deer could be cleaned in the back field and then left in ice water overnight until we decided what to do with it.

Since it was Mike’s deer, he wanted to do the lions share of the gutting and cleaning, and so we took it to the back field and got down to things. He got right in there like a champ, while I assisted where I could (he made me cut out the anus, of course).

Starting The Cleaning

Gutting His Whitetail

The entire process is infinitely easier if you can hang the body and skin it first, but I am glad in a way that we had to do the more difficult method because at least now we know that we can in a pinch.  There was some bloat already, but aside from the smell, the fact that all of the organs were still in one piece made gutting pretty easy, under the circumstances.

Once we successfully got all of the insides, err…outside, we cut off the head, threw the carcass back into the truck, and then took it home and HAULED IT INTO THE BATHROOM. Yep, pretty redneck, I know. However, you make do with what you have. I like to think of it as resourcefulness, not being total hillbillys. We put it in the tub, and I started skinning it out while Mike called everyone he could think of to tell them about his successful hunting trip.

Cal Skinning A Deer

Skinning took a while. Halfway through I couldn’t stand feeling so covered in gross anymore, so I took a really quick shower while Mike made us some coffee. We sat in the kitchen and drank coffee and marveled at how much work goes into getting ones own meat. Then we got back to it and team-skinned the rest of the deer. We got the hide off in one piece (minus bullet holes) and were very pleased with it. After a brief rinse, it got rolled up, yucky side out, and tossed in the freezer for tanning at some future juncture.

Whitetail Cape

We cut off the legs, rinsed the whole thing many times over, and then filled the tub with cold water and salt and ice and left a fan on it to keep it cool. Another round of showers, and it was finally time to fall into bed exhausted but very pleased with ourselves.  The following day would mean butchering out our prize, which is a load of work in itself, but that will have to wait for another post!

About the author

Mike & Cal have been backpacking around Alberta for the past decade. This site is where they share trip reports, photos, and tips and tricks for getting outside.

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