I was splitting logs, a doubly productive activity—providing firewood for the next day’s lesson while simultaneously draining frustration from teaching rowdy kids. Whack. The dry pine sprang apart. I wiped the sweat from my forehead and adjusted my suspenders.
“HEY, KLAAS!” yelled my coworker Casey, calling me by my teaching alter ego.
“The weirdest thing happened when I was taking the kids up,” he said.
“We flushed a grouse and it hit the dining hall window,” he said.
“No way,” Casey smiles perpetually, so I was unable to discern whether he was being serious. I leaned on my ax and spit. “And died?”
“Well, where is it?”
“C’mon, let’s get it. We should eat it.” I eagerly followed Casey. Sure enough, he led me to the still-warm Ruffed Grouse. It had left a large smudge on the window. We admired its intricate plumage and the fringed scales on its toes.
“So, what’s the best way to clean it?” I asked.
“I don’t know—I’ve never cleaned one,” said Casey. This shocked me. I had assumed that Casey--a northern Michigan hunter type--would know how to clean a grouse. YouTube came to our rescue. The video made me nauseous.
“Well, you ready to do it?” Casey demanded.
“Are you sure you don’t want to?” I asked, feeling squeamish.
“Nope, you’re doing it.” Casey ceaselessly tries to nurture country tendencies in my urban hipster soul, and he wasn’t about to budge. With no small amount of trepidation, I carried the bird outside.
The actual act of dismembering the bird was much less disturbing than the video of the same procedure. Now that I’ve ripped apart a grouse with my own hands, I can watch the video without the slightest ill feeling. I am calloused.
Our rough parody of the YouTube Oracle!
The YouTube Oracle that almost made me sick.
After fifteen minutes of pulling/twisting/cutting, I finally freed the breast from the wings. At this point, we simultaneously realized that we had no idea how to best prepare grouse meat. Casey phoned Dave Mahan for counsel but reached voicemail. He left a facetious message: “Hi Dave, it’s Casey. Me and Neil were out in the woods and saw a grouse in the trail, so I threw a rock at it and killed it. We were wondering if you had any good recipes.” He hung up, and we collapsed laughing.
An hour later, Lynn Drew, office manager of Au Sable, knocked on our door with a recipe in hand. “Dave called. This is my son’s favorite camp recipe for grouse.” I glanced at it—butter, potatoes, onions. Had to be good!
As dinnertime approached, Casey selected some country tunes to play and opened two brown ales as I set about the difficult task of de-boning the breast. The volume of usable meat was small—smaller than I would have expected from a grouse. Soon, the delicious aroma of meat frying in butter permeated the house.
The result was delectable. Perhaps it was the copious amount of butter, perhaps it was the freshness of wild meat, perhaps it was the excitement of ripping apart a bird—but, for whatever reason, I’ve enjoyed few meals as much as that one.
I eagerly anticipate the next day I will eat grouse. This absurd experience of wrangling wild flesh into a meal affirms my desire to take up hunting. It won’t be easy for a suburban-bred boy like me, but I figure I can begin by walking around the woods carrying a large sheet of glass.