Monday, November 24, 2008

From Hunt to Home

My friend told me that his neighbor hunted elk and butchered it at home. I thought it would make a good photo essay so he called me when his neighbors came home with this year's hunt. I blew off all my Sunday plans and hung out with the butcher family all day. Then I decided to cover all bases of the story; writing and photos. It ran on the Sunday life page yesterday.

BOULDER — Once a year, Kelly Bacon, Bobby Hailey and Leon Palmer head to the mountains to hunt elk.

But once an elk is shot, it has to be processed.

“It always takes me a minute to put the knife in them the first time,” Bacon said.
“Pulling the trigger is pretty hard, too,” Hailey said.
“Yeah, especially if you have to pull it twice,” Bacon said.
“That is why the aim is always to get it done as quickly and painlessly as possible,” Hailey added.

This year, the three brought home three female elk, or cows, from their hunt at Hahn’s Peak near Steamboat Lake. Transported from the mountains in the back of a pickup to Palmer’s driveway in Boulder, the elk quarters now hang on hooks across a pipe in his garage, and a smell of raw game fills the air.

“There are times when the smell will start to get to me,” Hailey said. “So I’ll chew gum, and that seems to help ease the stomach.”

In the past, the men took their meat to Steve’s Meat Market in Arvada to be processed, which ended up costing them $365 to $450.

Now they have a cheaper alternative.

For about a week, Palmer’s house turns into a butcher shop. With the help of several loved ones, processing the large load of meat has become an annual family event, beginning the day after the hunt, lasting all day and carrying over into the week.

The men — Bacon is Palmer’s brother-in-law, Hailey his son-in-law — set up their station in the garage on a fold-out table, cutting meat off of the elk quarters and separating various cuts into different bins. The women take the bins upstairs into the kitchen, where they then process and package the meat into steaks, hamburgers, sausages and jerky.

“It’s actually really neat family time. I love it when the guys get to go out together to hunt, and it’s fun for us to hang out in here together,” Kina Palmer, Leon’s wife, said while grinding elk burger meat in the kitchen.

With each cow weighing 300 to 600 pounds, the group has to process nearly 600 pounds of meat. But the work is well worth it.

“Unfortunately for the elk, they taste pretty darn good,” Leon Palmer said.

According to Kina Palmer, the meat is of the highest quality, because it doesn’t have the fat and gristle of other meats.

For Bacon, who at one point suffered from high cholesterol, elk is indeed better to eat because of its lean nature.

However, for Palmer, Hailey and Bacon, hunting is less about filling their freezers up with a year’s supply of meat and more about the time they spend with each other in the wilderness.

Under a sky full of stars, they wake up at 4 a.m., have a cup of joe and a roll for breakfast, and race to their previously chosen hunting location.

The goal is to beat the sunrise, because as dawn breaks, the elk start to move and bugle.

“Hearing them bugle that early in the morning is pretty impressive,” Hailey said. “I’ll never forget the first time I heard them bugle. I was actually scared.”

But scaring the elk is what the men worry about.

The animals have excellent noses, so sitting downwind from them is critical.

If the elk smell the men, they will retreat immediately.

“You have to sit there and be quiet and use all of your senses,” Hailey said. “When you finally see one, your heart starts pounding and you can’t keep your gun steady at first.”

Although their adrenaline kicks in at that moment, this hunting trio takes no pleasure in actually shooting the elk.

Rather, the quality of the meat is what keeps them hunting year after year.

“Either you hunt it or you have a friend that gives it to you,” Palmer said of how to obtain elk. “Good luck doing the second.”

1 comment:

Debbie said...

Females?? there must be babies out there somewhere looking for her, how's a mom thing :):)