I woke up early this morning, just after daylight, and was treated to a beautiful scene in my back yard. The leaves were white and crispy, the sun was angling its way across the lawn, and a four-point buck was milling around in the grass, oblivious to my presence at the dining room window. Seeing a deer in my yard wouldn’t be a big deal if I lived in the country, but I live in the city of Flint and it’s almost November 15th.
To many Michiganders, November 15th is just another cold day in a month that kicks off another long Midwest winter. But to others, this date takes on the significance of a religious holiday. Yup, it’s the opening day of rifle hunting season for the white tail deer.
Most normal people would agree that happening upon a deer draped over the back of a Chevy like a roll of living room carpeting is enough to send any unsuspecting motorist careening off the road and into the ditch, but the very sight of a well displayed trophy kill has been known to bring grown men to tears. (You can’t convince me that GM never toyed with this concept for commercials as a way to boost Midwest car sales in November.)
While government offices don’t close on this date, a lot of Michigan employers, Like GM, do offer it as a paid holiday. Northbound I-75 traffic is as busy right now as it is over Labor Day weekend. The public schools don’t close either, but some of them should because attendance plummets on opening day.
I was a substitute teacher in the Mt. Pleasant school district in the late 80’s while working on my Master’s degree. My first-ever teaching assignment fell on opening day of deer season. And wouldn’t’ you know it, I was assigned to teach woodshop. Since I wasn’t trained to use band saws or lathes, the principal, who also “took the day off” made it clear that I was not allowed to turn on any machines in the shop. I didn’t’ make a fuss about it, mostly because the three kids who didn’t take the day off to go hunting shouldn’t have been left alone with sharp objects anyway.
Even though I hunted as a kid, I mostly did it to please my dad, whose passion for killing things was more than a little disturbing. Hunting for this man goes way beyond sport. It’s a way of life. One of my high school football friends dubbed him the Woody Hayes of hunting, and the title was well deserved. When I was growing up, the meat staples in our house were rabbit, squirrel, duck, pheasant, woodcock, partridge, and venison. The freezers, yes freezers, were packed to the hilt all year with wild game. With all the hunting he did, I honestly don’t know where my dad ever found time to work.
If the State of Michigan ever created a hunting season where you could only go into the woods with a loin cloth and a spear, my dad would be the first to sign up. I remember him shooting a deer one year, and after tracking it and finding it lying in some tall grass, he realized it wasn’t dead yet. This is when his prehistoric hunter instinct kicked in. He pulled his hunting knife from its sheath, charged this mortally wounded animal, mounted it like a rodeo cowboy, and enthusiastically finished the job.
As he retold the story over dinner that night, my mom sat wide-eyed on the edge of her chair, as captivated as my four year old daughter during reading time. My mom, after all, has never been a typical mom. She had no interest in hanging with the girls while the men went off to dear camp. Nope, she sported her own 44 magnum rifle, and she was as deadly a shot as my dad, which is how she earned the nickname Granny Oakley.
I love my mom for bucking the trend and rejecting the gender stereotyping associated with events like hunting. Others, however, embrace deer hunting in Michigan as an equal opportunity holiday. In Flint, for example, a number of planned events are taking place this weekend for the non-hunters of our clans. Friday’s edition of Changing Perceptions of Flint lists some of those events. One option is a retreat at The Holiday Inn, Gateway Centre, hosted by Women2Women Michigan. Best-selling author Kim Lavine will be the keynote speaker. She is the author of “The Mommy Manifesto” and “Mommy Millionaire.” Participants can also enjoy “a Chico’s fashion show, pampering, and how-to workshops.”
I’m not sure I’d want to be outside in a rural area while half a million people with loaded weapons are on the loose, but if you’re the daring type, then you might want to check out “Ladies Night Out at Crossroads Village.” For five bucks, you can enjoy “a holiday shopping experience of craft and baking demonstrations,” or “make-it-and-take-it craft projects.” As a bonus, you can ride the animals on the indoor Parker Carousel, although considering the occasion, it seems a little creepy.
But let’s not kid ourselves. The flagship event for the non-hunting crowd is “Widows Weekend at Birch Run Outlets.” More than 80,000 shoppers are expected to flock to the outlet shopping center for this 14th annual event. It’s being billed this year as “a shopping extravaganza in honor of wives and girlfriends who remain as husbands and boyfriends head out for the official start of deer hunting season.” More gender stereotyping. I wonder what Philip would say about this?
Personally, I’m neither a hunter nor a shopper, but I feel compelled to mark this holiday in a way that speaks to my own interpretation and appreciation of it, so I plan to feature the white tail deer in a recipe I’m going to cook over the weekend. I can’t bring myself to kill an animal, but I have no problem cooking and eating it. And thanks to the skill and generosity of my bow hunting kin, I already have a chest freezer (oh God, I’m becoming my father) packed with venison steaks, burger, and the highly coveted tenderloin. I’ve used this deliciously lean meat to cook such dishes as stew, chili, pot roast, and venison stroganoff. This year, I’m cooking up venison burritos.
I’ve created this recipe on my own, but like any honest cook, I stole parts of it too. I watched my sister Theresa make her version using shredded potatoes, which added a creamy texture and slightly sweet flavor. It’s now a main ingredient in my own. The meat itself can be prepared in two ways; you can either grind it like burger or, if you don’t have access to a grinder, you can always chop it into bite sized chunks. Either approach will yield a deer-licious alternative to beef or chicken.
BOB’S VENISON WET BURRITOS
(for the innards)
2 pounds ground or chunked venison
2 cans refried beans
2 large potatoes, peeled and shredded
1 large chopped onion
1-3 fresh jalapeno peppers, finely chopped
1-2 chipotle peppers in adobe sauce, finely chopped
1 packet burrito seasoning mix (you can also make your own if you have the time)
½ cup beef broth
Brown venison on stovetop and transfer to slow cooker. Add beans, potatoes, onion, jalapeno peppers, chipotle peppers, burrito mix and beef broth to the slow cooker and stir until well combined. Turn dial to low and let it cook all day.
(for the sauce)
1 twenty-eight ounce can tomato sauce
¼ cup canned chipotle sauce (Meijer carries this)
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine ingredients in medium sauce pan and cook on medium low heat for twenty minutes. It’s that easy.
(for the plating)
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 onion, chopped
2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 bag shredded lettuce
1 bag of the biggest flour tortilla shells you can find
Spoon large amounts of burrito mixture into a tortilla shell. Add cheddar cheese, lettuce, and a big spoonful of sauce. Fold it up and place it seam side down on a platter. Top with lots of sauce and lots of cheese. Pop it in the microwave for 1-2 minutes (this is a key step). Top with tomato lettuce, sour cream and onion. Serve with a big ole napkin!