Of Pre-Ruts and Abdomen Guts
The deadliest, most lethal animal in the United States is neither bear, nor mountain lion; not a snake, or spider; not even a shark. Responsible for sending over 500,000 people to the emergency room annually and killing north of 100 souls. I give you one of the most aggressive, stinging, swarming, venom spiking, pheromone pumping insects on the planet. The meat-eating, ‘yellowjacket,’ wasp.
“...eastern yellow jackets are the dominant species in the U.S. Bold and aggressive, yellow jackets will pursue anyone or anything they perceive as a threat. Yellow jackets can also become more aggressive in the fall, as the colony starts to die out.” - Arrow Exterminators
Growing up, when my brother and I were still knee-high to a grasshopper, a bee was a bee. Any flying insect that could sting was lumped into this one categorical imperative. Bald-faced hornets, sweat bees, paper wasps, ground hornets, bumblebees, dirt daubers, cicada killers, and yes, honey bees, were all ‘bees.’ As we grew into adolescence we started to recognize the nests by their shapes and the names by their stripes. We grew to delineate between docile bumblebees and pissed off bald-faced hornets. Of all the nests we gathered rocks for, and grew battle-hardened against within our makeshift, stump and timber bunkers, it was the yellow jacket that put up the fiercest fights. The hairless legs and slender waistlines are what give the yellow jacket away as the football-shaped cocoon dwelling wasps that they actually are.
After forty years on this planet and with growing kids of my own, we caution them to first stay calm and be unafraid, and then swiftly move from the area when discovering you’re near a group of stinging insects. I can honestly say I’ve never been within arms-length of a yellow jacket that didn’t want to first bite, and then sting the crap out of me. That is, until this past weekend in September when my son’s first successful youth hunting experience unveiled itself.
What you need to know is, unlike Kentucky and certainly unlike Wisconsin, September in Michigan does not mark the opener of Whitetail bow season. September does however offer opportunities for youth (MYH) and disabled (Liberty Hunt) hunters, in addition to opportunities to fill an early antlerless tag (Early Doe Season).
It’s during these pre-season hunts, what a Michigander might call unseasonably warm hunting weather, can and does occur. What’s unseasonably warm in the northern trough of the Midwest you may wonder. Answer, anything above 70 degrees. Anything below this temperature range and a large, paper-walled, ice chucked cooler works on keeping quartered whitetail just fine. Who needs an overpriced, if not overhyped Yeti when you’ve got Mother Nature, am I right. It’s the price of vanity you’re paying for anyone hunting north of the 40th parallel if you ask me ;)
Awesome coolers with awesome price tags aside, one thing’s for sure when you’re working on a deer in warm weather conditions. Time is not on your side. You’ll need to work diligently to cool the meat down. It is after all a perishable commodity. Need more details: Whereas human body temps run around 98 degrees, on average whitetails run north of 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius). Body temps common for ruminants can prove challenging when ambient temperatures aren’t in your favor. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, as discussed in greater detail here: Whitetail Deer Processing 101
The most efficient way we’ve found to chill your quarters down is by purchasing a used refrigerator and removing the shelving from the lower-half of the unit. Even a medium-sized over/under refrigerator/freezer is capable of holding at least two deer at a time. This accomplishes two things: 1.) you begin chilling the meat down faster (without freezing it); 2.) firm-ish meat is way easier to carve up and process. It’s not overly malleable and exquisitely mushy like warmer meat can be.
Warm weather is one thing. A prepared for, if not expected, happenstance of what we might refer to as pre-season hunting expeditions. Bees, Yellow jackets, Ground Hornets, Wasps, or whatever name you relinquish onto the Meat Bee where you’re from - were, I dare say - not expected.
With my boy still asleep in camp, exhausted from the day’s journey of hunt-scout-hunting, and then romping and wrestling around the campfire with his older cousins into the wee hours of the night, I woke up to tidy up camp, pack the jeep, and finish skinning and quartering our doe harvest. The deer had been tracked, gutted afield, hauled back to camp, and hung up by it’s hind legs using one of our gambrels the night before. Cool temperatures after dark cooled the meat down and set the animal up nicely to go through the process of rigor mortis.
What I didn’t know. What I couldn’t have known, is that those same cool temps after sunset and prior to sunrise, had also kept the meat bees at bay. I was no more than 5 minutes into cleaning that carcass when the first bee arrived on scene. Flies, a fly? No, not a house fly or hoverfly, good, just a lonesome little bee. How naïve was that thought. I can only imagine the dance that little tiger striped wasp did back at the lair for all his wicked little voyeurist friends. With a wiggle and a waggle, and a few twerky turnabouts the entire hive knew they need only head Northeast a few hundred yards and up sixty feet in elevation to find the deliciously, freshly skinned chest cavity of a 6.5yr old whitetail doe! Meat Pie for breakfast everyone!
Carnivorous bees are the worst. They’re the lunchroom bullies of the animal kingdom. You know this already if you’ve ever had one steal your bologna on sourdough sandwich from Grandma’s picnic table. They came in droves, these bees. They swarmed like flies with venomous spear buttoxes. Oh I certainly thought about cutting that Trophy Board from its rope, taking my untethered, half-skinned meat ball and going home. But I didn’t. I shook my head and finished stripping the hide down past the front joints and behind the ears. I put the hacksaw to work too. Without worry or hesitation I did the work that needed to be done to complete the task.
With razor like mandibles they carved hunks of flesh and cinching it closely as they flew back to their hive (which I would later find camouflaged and stealthily located, buried behind the 200 yard rifle podium). If not for the adoration I had gained by working along side hundreds of yellow jackets for the better half of twenty minutes, and without being bitten or stung, I might have perceived that hive location as insult to injury.
Alas, it was neither. On that morning and for whatever reason, behaviorally they were as docile as Hindu calves. On that fall day, when yellow jackets are customarily known to be extra ornery, they were anything but. On the drive back home I considered why. Why was I able to skin, quarter, and package that deer without one incident. When you slice on and tug on hide it’s a disturbance. When you saw bone from bone, it’s a disturbance. When you bag quarters and carve out inside loin and backstrap, you cause a disturbance. Why, when all it would have taken is one pissed off family Vespidae member to grab an arm instead of a steak, lay sting to an elbow joint, and crop dust the entire area with pheromones, to cause a swarm even us Detroit Pistons fans would envy.
These buggers weren’t angry, nor venomously posturing. They were joyous if not exulted. And, they were certainly ‘busy.’ If you were so inclined to anthropomorphize the situation, one could even conclude that these gals (worker wasps, collectors of food for the hive, are all female, while stinger-less drones are all male) were grateful. Occasionally a homebound yellow jacket would bounce off my chest, or arm, or neck. To consider it a brush of gratitude would be taking things quite a bit too far. One thing’s certain though, I was the grateful one.
Article written by:
Mike (Meat Mitts) Hiller