By Lorraine Cheeka
For most families the autumn season brings to mind images of fall foliage, wind kissed cheeks and football. However, in my house, fall brings with it the promise of camo patterns, ground blinds, and the endless pursuit of the big buck. More to the point, for myself and a unique group of woman, November ushers in the season of the “whitetail widow”. While the plight of the aptly dubbed “football widow” has long been acknowledged, the sorority of hunting wives has gone unnoticed. In a country where football dominates the fall, wives and girlfriends don jerseys and learn the basics of the game or spend their Sundays preparing buffalo wings and nachos, while the lesser known “whitetail widow” is drawing back a bow of her own or preparing the game meat, which is the bounty of the season’s harvest.
Unlike the average sports nut, the outdoor sportsman is not only watching from the sidelines but stalking in the fields himself. This type of involvement in the sport of hunting requires the entire family’s involvement. In order to embrace it, a commitment to more than Sunday afternoons in front the big screen is required. The occasional office pool or the acquisition of team paraphernalia will not suffice. The hunter and his family cannot live vicariously through superstars who battle it out in professional stadiums. They must, instead, rally the fortitude to create their own arena in the woods and fields of their own backyards. Such a level of commitment requires more than a passing interest, but rather a deeply held desire to carry on an ages old ritual. When you take into account that the average American household contains two working partners who are average people working long hours at “day jobs” that leave little time for outside interests, it is easy to imagine how simple it would be to forego the effort hunting demands in favor of more passive activities. A true sportsman has a stick-to-itiveness that is infectious. It is this never say die frame of mind that dominates the household, till their obsession becomes your passion. Consequently, the entire family converts into hunting devotees, dedicating their time and attention as well. In this manner hunting is the ultimate team sport.
As a member of one such team I know firsthand what this means; In mid November at 4 am the alarm sounds a muted call to action. Those mornings when it fails to stir my superstar, I rouse him gently, careful not to wake the children. Coffee and camo come next as he collects his gear and laces his boots. Next he’ll drive 20 minutes in the dark crisp morning to a local farm where he has been given permission to hunt. He’ll trudge through the trees to his stand hoping not to jump a deer. Then once settled in the stand he’ll begin his hours long vigil, constantly scanning the area and listening for the telltale sounds of hooves on the brush below. Most mornings he’ll descend the ladder having nary caught a glimpse of his desired prize before embarking on the rest of his day….the wage earning part. On those fruitless mornings he takes with him no bounty, just the beauty of the morning and the potential for a successful afternoon hunt. Occasionally, the fates will grace us with a harvest. On these mornings the community which includes myself, his hunting buddies, friends and family are set in to motion. Cell phone calls from the stand alert us all to the “big buck down”. Although, every call he places is to a dedicated team member, the demands of the regular work day beckon. So a plan will be made to back out for now and follow a blood trail at dusk.
Later the team will gather at my house full of smiles and purpose. I know them all, the plumber the welder, the paver, etc., each a tradesman and hunter alike. They may be weary from a day’s labor but they’ll pile into one pickup or another and head out to the farm, while the widow and children wave proudly from the porch. We’ll wait at home for the phone call or picture message declaring a recovery. This ritual always precedes the boy’s return. As they back into the driveway, my girls run to the door, pulling on coats and hopping into their boots. This is a family affair and congratulations and admiration is due. More neighbors and friends along with their children will stop by to admire the harvest. Soon the deer is weighed and points are counted. What follows is backslapping and tall tales of monster bucks that got away. My girls chat with the other children and remind each other of times they too have ventured into the woods with their fathers. I myself hang back and chat with the other widows as we discuss the recipe possibilities that this harvest will yield. Like many sportsmen, mine will butcher this deer himself and I will welcome the addition to our freezer.
When the deer has been broken down and our friends have gone back to their homes, we begin preparation for the next morning in the stand. As the excitement abates, I set the timer on the coffee pot to 4 am and place his hunting gear by the back door. It occurs to me that while a football widow may eternally search for the cure to “game fever,” my “team” and I are seeking no remedy for the “buck fever” that infects us all. We relish this season not by obsessing over a game we’d like to play, but rather over game we’d like to harvest. This parallel causes me to pause and reflect. I am not a forsaken football widow desperately rooting, not for a team but for the clock, at the end of the fourth quarter. I am an essential component of something larger than just myself or my husband and his hunting buddies. We are, in fact, all part of legacy left to us to maintain. Our legacy may be less common in this modern world, but it is rich in heritage and more steeped in tradition. When you stop to consider the community of friends and family that regularly rally to our side, it becomes clear that I am hardly a widow at all.
Below, I have included a recipe for Swedish meatballs. This is a favorite of my family’s. In fact my 8 year old daughter brought this to school for a holiday party. She was excited to share our harvest with her friends and was delighted to find they all enjoyed it. In honor of the season the children called them reindeer balls.
1 1/2 lbs. of ground venison
3/4 cup of stuffing mix
1 cup sour cream
1 egg lightly beaten
2 tbs. chopped onion
1/2 tbs. onion powder
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 boullion cubes
2 cups hot water *Can be substituted for with 2 cups of broth
2 tbs. flour
Combine meat and stuffing mix. Mix in half of sour cream, egg, onion, onion powder and pepper. Mix well. Shape tablespoons of meat into balls. Brown well in the butter.
Dissolve the boullion cubes in hot water. Pour over meatballs, cover. Simmer for 30 minutes. Remove meatballs. Mix remaining sour cream, flour and onion powder until smooth. Stir briskly into hot liquid. Cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly until thickened. Add meatballs and heat gently.
Yields approx. 35 meatballs.
Serve over buttered egg noodles.
Add one can or one package of fresh sautéed mushrooms to sauce.
If you’d prefer to use your slow cooker I suggest browning the meatballs in the oven on 350 for 12-15 minutes. Then place them in the slow cooker and top with a mixture of one can of cream of mushroom soup and remaining sour cream and seasonings (omit flour). Cook on low heat for up to 8 hours.