• Add to Collection
  • About

    About

    Martha's Vineyard has a plethora of hunters, and during the shotgun deer season of late November, they do what they do best. Hunt. Hundreds of d… Read More
    Martha's Vineyard has a plethora of hunters, and during the shotgun deer season of late November, they do what they do best. Hunt. Hundreds of deer are killed during this two week span, and I decided to get as close to the process as possible. Read Less
    Published:
Before you go any further, BE WARNED! Some of these pictures could be deemed offensive and/or gross, so if you don't want to see the details of a deer hunt, turn away now!
During the off-season months on Martha's Vineyard, after the leaves fall and the tourists leave, something changes. It doesn't happen overnight, but after a few months with a majority of restaurants closed for the season and even more houses left empty, the true flavor of the Island begins to show. Now that deer season is nearly concluded, I tracked the three major stages of the hunt with locals and washed-ashores alike. It starts with hunters, either in a gang or by themselves, trek into the woods looking to kill some deer. When the group's day is over, they bring the deer to the Island weigh station, where Massachusetts wildlife experts record each kill and its details. Days later, the deer is turned into meat.
I followed a hunting gang, consisting of twleve men. It was a light day, they said, because during the first few days of the season the gang can include up to twenty guys. Once fed at prepared, the guys drove in a caravan to the center of their hunt, which changes each day.
Then the group splits up into the beagles and the standers. The beagles, which are usually the younger and more athletic members of the gang, tromp through sections of the woods hoping to chase the deer towards the standers, who are conveniently positioned at the edge of the section of woods, ready to shoot.
To keep in line with each other, the beagles are constantly yelling so they don't stray too far forward into a potentially dangerous area. If a deer pops out of the underbrush, its very easy to shoot without thinking where the other members of your team are. So, the yelling prevents that.
When they kill a deer, the gang quickly brings it out of the woods to gut it. Then it gets loaded onto the back of one of the several pick-up trucks where it remains until the end of the day. When the day is over, the deer get brought to the Weigh Station located in Manuel Correllus State Forest.
Each deer then gets weighed and recorded by Massachusetts wildlife experts. Aside from sustenence, the hunting season is important to maintain a controllable deer population within the limited confines of the Vineyard, so these records are merely to chart the growth and development of each kill.
Size matters. The person with the largest kill always has bragging rights, and a stop at the weigh station often leads to a huge ego boost.
After the weight is recorded, and in some cases celebrated, the experts slice the cheek to expose the teeth. This reveals the deer's age, which is also recorded. This five-point buck, which was the largest kill of the first five days of shotgun season, was 3 1/2 years old.
Many organs, including the intenstines and the pictured liver, are removed quickly after the killing or weighing. To leave it in risks tainting the meat, which would defeat the entire purpose of the hunt.
The end of each successful day can be messy, but it doesn't phase anyone. They will be at it every day for two weeks, blood and guts in your truck are inevitable.
Like clockwork, the beagles set up evenly apart from each other and the standers drive to the opposite end of the clearing, waiting to make a kill.
The beagles job can be exhausting. At times, the scrub oak became too thick to stand, and Daniel Resto (the beagle I was following at the time) had to crawl through. It can be tricky, so they constantly check their compass to stay on course.
With the deer killed, each gang deals with their meat in different ways. Some, like the gang I followed, send it off-Island to get processed and sent back. But others go to Brian Welch, who tends to the meat himself. So, naturally, I wanted to see what it was all about.
Brian is brought kills by friends to deal with. Before any of the real work gets done, the pelt has to come off. After slicing the skin around the neck and down the middle of the stomach, a wire is tied to the ears, then to an ATV. Slowly but surely, the ATV is put in reverse, and the skin starts to peel off.
 
Once it reaches a certain point, usually around the legs, it gets harder to separate and peel away the pelt. Sometimes it includes putting extra force on it, like stepping on the inside out skin.
Once the meat and muscle is exposed, Brian (left) goes to work harvesting the meat. He has a climate-controlled two room shed on his property where he can store, skin and dissect each deer. His hunting season partner, also named Brian (right), hunts the deer; then he brings to to the first Brian to properly deal with, and they split the meat.
To get the best out of each kill, the deer goes through several stages of harvest. First the larger muscles and meat are cleanly cut off, then it gets hung horizontally (above) to start making cuts closer to the bone. After that, the meat between the ribs and everywhere left gets cut out. Brian can plastic seal the meat, put it through a dicer, or make the meat into patties. He usually does all three!
Then, with the deer nearly completely used, the animals get the rest. Crows and critters eat the intestines and organs left at the kill site, various Island pigs eat the harvested meat not up to human standards, and various farm animals like these ducks get to nibble on the rest.