Déjà vu. It is the first day of school. Only this time I am riding in a long yellow school bus full of excited, screeching women who are headed to the shooting range. The “shooters” all have on pink Ruger caps given to them by the gun company. They bounce along down the road in their matching caps, happy campers leaning over seatbacks to be heard better, yelling and switching seats like fifth graders. The energy is high and there are a lot of them. This is the first time shooting for many of them.
I, on the other hand, am in the way back with my eight other classmates. We are like the bad girls who used to sneak cigarettes in the back seat of the bus. We are the “gutters” and I do believe that the rest of the women on the bus may be avoiding us—the crazy women who are about to disembowel some large cute mammals.
I don’t know anybody so I strike up a conversation with my seatmate—she is an attractive redhead with a big smile. It turns out she has lived in Moscow on and off for the past fifteen years. I worked as a midwife in the “radoms” or maternity hospitals in Moscow in the early 1990s, so we have a great conversation about the deplorable state of women’s healthcare in Russia. We chat with occasional Ruskie phrases sprinkled in our language. She had much the same experience I did with the realization that Russia is really an impoverished third-world country. I like her immediately.
The shooters are dropped off at the firing range and the nine of us continue on to our “Field Dressing Big Game” class. We come to a clearing in the woods and the sight is initially very shocking. There are eight deer carcasses and one bloated black bear lying on the ground roughly in a circle. It looks like the aftermath of a horrible attack. Carnage everywhere.
The deer all have broken legs; these animals are road kills. NH Fish and Game has gathered these animals and kept them in a freezer waiting specifically for this class. The first thing that assails me is the horrific smell. Our instructors tell us to shove Vicks VapoRub up our nostrils to disguise the odor. This works—temporarily. I have to renew my gooey nose plug several times over the course of the next few hours.
Our main instructor is a burly retired Fish and Game warden named John. He is exactly as I imagined he would be; seasoned, knowledgeable and patient. He also has a dry sense of humor—a very necessary trait in this line of work. He starts the gutting of a large doe immediately after briefing us about knife safety and sharpening. One classmate is afraid she might be sick but after John’s demonstration and straightforward anatomy lesson, all of my classmates are eager to dig in.
I pick a smallish doe because a Mourning Cloak butterfly has landed on her nose. Bambi. I am a little disconcerted by all the flies but after I make the first incision and open her up, I relax and am in my element. This is all very familiar to me; skin, fascia, muscle. The hunting knife is extremely sharp and the eviscerating goes easily. I have a little bit of a struggle with the esophagus and I have to go in up to my elbows but soon the entire mass of entrails breaks free in a glistening mass and slides onto the ground. Out of curiosity, I open up the stomach and find my little doe had been eating beechnuts. Sweet thing. I feel confident that I can field dress game now to cool down the meat.
The last lonely carcass is that of a male black bear whose abdomen is expanded as tight as a drum. I think we have all been avoiding him because he is so bloated; he looks like he will explode in a burst of foul-smelling, released gas with the first incision. So, of course, John asks me to do the honors.
John says, “Carol, so now you have your game. You are all alone in the woods. Now what do you do?”
Something about the way he says this causes me to automatically drop to my knees at the bear’s side and shout,
I shake the bear and say, “Bear! Bear! Are you alright?”
No response. I find the xyphoid process and position my hands and begin CPR (well, the C-part anyway—the pulmonary part would be virtually impossible because his teeth are sticking out about four inches from his lips).
John looks around warily and says, “Jaysus, you women are seriously starting to scare me.”
And I was right. This bear is so unbelievably stanky that no amount of Vicks VapoRub is going to prevent this gag-fest. Holy Ursus! I smell this poor rotting bruin on my fingers for days. But I sincerely thank his Bear Spirit for allowing me to learn from him.
On the bus ride back to camp, I chat with another gutter in my class. It turns out she did all the black and white photographs in the original edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves. Wow! We have a poignant recollection about running around with speculums looking at cervixes during the height of the Self-Help Movement of the 1970s. I am astounded.
Where else on earth could you possibly eviscerate an animal and then have a scholarly discussion about global women’s health? [from Becoming a NH Outdoors Woman class: Field Dressing Big Game]