The other day I let you guys know that I was no longer playing games with my game. That 2016 was finally going to end, along with the lives of my flock of guinea fowl.
Well, I was mostly true to my word despite the shakiness of my convictions. On the last day of 2016, I was unable to sleep in at all. I knew what the day would bring and I was nervous about doing the dirty deed that needed doing.
I was up before the sunrise and began the mental preparation. I enlisted the help of my friend Kevin for the day of hunting. I needed help catching these high-flying screaming ninjas, but I also really needed emotional support. I caught one early that morning, but couldn’t bring myself to kill the little thing quite yet, so I let it go.
When Kevin showed up, the hunt was on and I was resolved as much as I could be. It wasn’t going to get any easier for me emotionally, so I had to suck it up. So we armed ourselves and headed out into the wilds of my urban backyard.
We had a few clean shots in the beginning, but the bow and arrow proved to be utterly useless for the dead-eye accuracy we needed. With a few shots off, the guinea fowl were on to us and quickly took shelter in the giant pepper tree.
This meant that I had to run around the front of the house and down the back of the dirt lot next door. Up over a cinder block wall and up into the tree. I climbed about 20 feet up to the top where I could scare the fowl down to the ground.
This time we tried to use the crossbow. But here’s the problem, you can’t take a clean shot unless the arrow will go into the ground if we missed. And missed we did! The sight was no longer calibrated properly so we had to do the best we could. We did manage to kill a shed and a metal door with the bolts, but not a single shot hit it’s true intended mark. I had about five shots that would’ve surely killed a fowl, but it was too dangerous to take them with all the houses around my yard. It just wasn’t safe enough to try the crossbow much longer.
So we improvised. We tried to catch them by hand. I would climb the tree or hop a fence to try to scare them towards my friend. After about three hours, I estimate that I had climbed the tree over eight times and hopped over about twenty five walls or fences.
It was just impossible to catch them and I was getting crazy tired and sore. It was just like watching Ninja Warrior. Except it was three hours long. The sun was beginning to get low in the sky and all four guinea fowl were about four houses away from us at this point. I couldn’t press any further for fear of getting shot myself by wandering into a strangers property.
With much weariness and frustration, we called it quits. Guinea fowl 4, humans 0.
I was saddened that I couldn’t finish this dark deed before the end of the year, but couldn’t figure out any other way to snag the beasts. So, we questioned our manliness and hunter/gatherer status and made preparations for new year eve sorrow drowning.
My resolve was tested and my promise to you readers was broken. In shame and defeat, I decided to drink heavily at a tiki-themed party in Mission Hills.
The first day of 2017 found me on the couch half undressed and nursing a large hangover. An extremely stoic vibe ruled my mind as I gave thought to my life, my decision to drink last night, and the ear-piercing cacophony taking place in my yard.
I went to the back door to see all four guinea fowl on the garage roof mocking me in my sunken eyed and dehydrated state of stoic shame. They had returned even after beign so terribly hunted. I mumbled in a raspy voice, “you little fuckers” and closed the door again.
At the front of the house, Sasha was making some racket at the front gate. I went out to find my friend and neighbor Daryl was giving Sasha a nice treat. Daryl is Sasha’s boyfriend. She’s obsessed with this guy. It’s very cute.
While Daryl and I talked smack over cedar fence posts, the noise from the back yard wafted towards us. He said, “damn! That’s loud!”. I told him about the following days events and he laughed at my attempts and extreme workout. We walked around to the back so I can show him just how hard it is to catch them.
He surveyed my weapons stash in the garage and I went over the fine points of each. He talked me into trying the BB rifle again. I said it was too weak to do any damage. But we busted it out anyways. At the very least, I could scare them away and get some hungover peace and suffer in silence.
At this point, the fowl sensed something was up again. They no longer trust me and follow me around the yard. The time for peace had long passed. Fight or flight was the only rule of law on this day my friends. As such, they had taken refuge in the giant pepper tree again.
I loaded the rifle and we made our way into the back of my property. We took a few shots, but they seemed unscathed and disinterested in the tiny air-powered bb. Then I gave ol’ Bessie a few extra pumps and decided to give it one more shot.
This time, I took a moment and just breathed as I looked down the sight at my quarry. A light breeze fluttered through my majestic mustache and the sun peeked out from a cloud as I breathed. Calm and cool, I took a deep breath and slowly exhaled while my finger gently squeezed the trigger.
From the thick growth of the pungent pepper tree came a loud rustling of branches and the distinct sound of flapping wings. I had hit the mark. The fowl came down to the ground in my neighbors yard. It’s wing was hit at the joint and was now a ground dwelling beast.
I ran around the block and asked the neighbor if I could grab the guinea. There she was injured and afraid in the back under the tree. With a little back and forth and some ninja moves, I was on her. At that point she was surprisingly calm. Perhaps resigned to the inevitable end that was neigh. I calmly walked her back around the block.
Donning my fathers old college sweater from Buffalo State, my baggy-eyed self made the determined and stoic walk back home. I could feel her heartbeat begin to slow down as I soothed her as best I could.
I knew that she must have some wing pain as there was a little blood on her feathers. We sat together in the back yard for about ten minutes until she was peaceful and calm and her heart had slowed.
Note: While I won’t get too graphic in my explanation below, please be warned that some of the following may be disturbing to some readers.
It was now or never. A surprising calm determination came over me. Also a great gentleness. I gently lowered her upside-down and she began to go into a trance. I tied her legs so that she would be suspended in that position and did my best to sooth her with gentle words.
She gently closed her eyes and fell asleep. With my sharpest paring knife and a surprisingly steady hand, I made the cut.
The cut was true and immediately she began to bleed out. The whole time I was holding her and telling her to go gently. She slowly began to fade away and I thanked her aloud for her final sacrifice.
As hard as this moment was, the amount of reverence I felt helped the moment pass calmly. Her death would not be in vein and now there was much to do to insure that sentiment. I let her drain out as I went inside to boil the stockpot of water for the feather removal.
I’ll spare you any more graphic imagery from here on out. It seemed inappropriate to add more and you can look elsewhere if you’re curious about the process. The one that I watched was a little old lady in Southern France. She was very determined and helped give me strength.
Once the pot was boiling, I brought it outside and dipped the guinea fowl into the hot water for a moment. Then she was de-feathered over the compost bin so that nothing would go to waste. I followed along with a YouTube video for the gutting, cleaning and dressing of the carcass. Oh, and if you’re still not composting, here’s a great way to get started…
I was surprised how un-grossed out I was for the whole process. A curious determination was all I felt. I must finish what I started and the death must not be in vein. Once I had prepared the meat, I dressed the bird and placed it into the fridge. Off to the farmers market for supplies! For today, I am The Hunter…
I decided that I would try this recipe out as a base idea. The video was really fun to watch and this guy is clearly awesome. Plus, he made it all look so damn tasty. I decided in lieu of peas, I would make a lovely sautéed kale with shallots and minced garlic. Then top that off with sautéed portobello mushrooms.
The bird itself would be browned in butter and then quick roasted in a hot oven with whole shallots and garlic cloves. After 30 minutes, it was ready to come out. After it rested, I began carving away the legs, wings and breast. with the bones I made a lovely sauce using hard cider and chicken stock.
Here’s the final plating and the application of the delicious gravy…
This was the first time I’ve ever culled one of my animals. It’s something that I’ve always known I would have to do at some point but was always afraid to do it. Taking a life is not something that is easy for me. Nor is it something I take lightly. Knowing that myself and my girl Sasha will be well fed for the next day really helps make this whole process easier on my giant sappy heart. Sasha is now passed out as I write this from a full belly of fresh meat and raw bones. I’ll do a stock with the remains of the carcass as well which will feed me again.
As hard as this might sound to some of you, the fact is that this guinea fowl had a very happy life. She was totally free-range and was able to come and go as she pleased. She hunted happily in the tall grass of my neighbors yard (thanks Tyree!) and she drank from cool artificial streams. She flew with her siblings onto rooftops and treetops all the live-long day. Her “song” was sung with reckless abandon (unfortunately). And when it came time to leave this mortal coil, she did so peacefully and with someone who loved and cared for her (as best I could with an asshole bird) and raised her from a hatchling.
When I think of where most of my food comes from and the conditions in which it was raised, I can think of no better way to feed my little family than this. Seeing what it takes to put this on my table gives me a whole new perspective on store bought meat. Eating animals that can feel love and fear shouldn’t be as easy as dropping them into your cart. It should be as hard as today was for me. I can honestly say that I earned this meal more so than any other meal before it.
And for her final sacrifice, I am very grateful and humbled. That said, I’m still determined to continue the culling until the peace has returned to my urban farm. The error in judgement of getting these beasts in the first place makes me feel that I deserve to feel this guilt and horror at taking a life. The guinea fowl don’t deserve to pay for my mistake, but now I must do what’s right and honorable by fixing my error. No one else can take this burden from me so I’m kinda glad that nothing was hunted yesterday. Going it alone today and seeing it through all the way to the tasty gravy seems somehow more appropriate.
I hope this one hasn’t grossed you out too much or made you feel less of me. It was not an easy day and it’s hardly over still. In the interim, I’ll just have to savor the delicious and sorrowful gravy slathered yumminess that graces my humble table.