Two weeks ago, my wife and I traveled to Taghkanic, New York, at the invitation of friends, New York City residents with a lovely country house set at the top of a steep driveway and overlooking farmland and distant hills. I was their first visitor to ever arrive with a Summit climbing stand and a Mathews Switchback compound bow.
Laurel had often described all the deer on her property and how much damage they did to her plants. I casually mentioned I could help with her problem. My wife, Norma, well attuned to my ulterior motives, suspected something when I suggested we take our first off-Island trip in more than four months. She was not surprised to learn that the New York state bow season opened two weeks before the Massachusetts season, which began Monday.
Ed and Laurel are not hunters. Not even close unless I widely expand the definition to include finding a specific item on a crowded shelf at Zabar’s, the wonderful specialty shop in Manhattan. But they are wonderful and relaxed hosts.
After all, how many people would put up with a house guest who began the dinner he said he would cook, and left the stove only to return a few hours later splattered with deer blood and gore?
I had planned to cook venison shanks, the remainder of last season’s harvest. Cooked slowly with carrots and onions in beef broth and red wine with spices and herbs, it is delicious. I braised the shanks, but when I realized that dusk, the time when deer tend to emerge from the woods, was fast approaching, I asked Laurel to take over at the stove and dashed out of the house.
My biggest concern as I sat in my tree stand on the edge of a small grassy field overlooking a fire pond that is a magnet for deer in the area was that I not miss a vital area. Every bow hunter knows it happens. On the Vineyard I could call on help from fellow hunters to find a deer. Not in New York, and I did not want to have to spend hours tracking a deer alone in unfamiliar woods crossing private property and encountering stray rottweilers.
Out of nowhere I heard a crunching sound to my right and saw a big doe eating acorns. The doe came closer. When she stepped behind a tree I drew my bow. My shot appeared to hit the deer well. I watched her direction of travel closely as she ran off.
It is always best to wait before tracking a deer. Unpressured, a deer will most often lie down and expire. I waited as night fell and the woods quieted.
“I shot a deer and I need to go find it,” I told Ed and Laurel after I returned to the house where everyone waited patiently for dinner. Up to then the notion that I might actually kill a deer on their property had been a vague concept. “But it’s dark,” Laurel said.
The deer had travelled only about 80 yards. I field-dressed the doe and dragged it out. I returned to the house about 45 minutes later. Four feet protruded above the bed of my pickup truck
I had done some research before we left the Vineyard and discovered that I would be only a 20-minute drive from Malafy’s Meat Processing, owned by Joe Malafy, a man Frank Miniter, executive field editor of American Hunter magazine described in a story as the best butcher he had ever met.
Joe is not the most willing conversationalist you will ever meet. He does not stand around and listen to hunting stories. Thin, wiry and all business, he is in perpetual motion. “Got to keep moving,” he told me when I stopped by to take a look at his operation and got him to pause long enough for a photo with his wife, Sallie.
“My husband is a hard worker,” Sallie told me as we walked through their facility set on an open piece of land off a country road in the small town of Milan. “He built the business slow and steady.”
In a part of America where it still matters, his hard work had paid off. Malafy’s is a modern, clean facility with large coolers, freezers, and a commercial smoker. One section is devoted exclusively to deer, another to domestic animals. The family home, a large contemporary country house, is set on a nearby knoll.
Joe began butchering deer when he was a teenager working for an area supermarket. He later went into business for himself. Strict Federal regulations prohibit any sharing of space or equipment when processing domestic and wild animals. Last year, the Malafys completed the demanding process of becoming a USDA inspected meat processing facility for resale. Malafy’s now provides custom butchering services of cattle and hogs for local farmers and farmer’s markets.
Malafy’s processes about 1,000 deer annually, Sallie said. The basic charge is $120 to skin, cut, wrap and vacuum seal all basic cuts. For an additional charge a hunter can also order from a variety of products that includes all manner of sausages, salami and a whole, ready-to-eat, smoked leg of venison.
Joe has a well-earned reputation built on high standards that he applies to the animals brought to his shop. The Malafy’s website makes it clear that he will not accept deer that have not been properly cared for in the field.
“We have some very unhappy people,” Sallie told me. “A regular customer just cursed out Joe because he would not accept his deer.”
For my money, I would rather know my butcher sticks to high standards. The hunter’s permit and a tag that describes the type of cuts the hunter has selected follow the deer through the process from cooler to cutting room to freezer. “Our business is based on what we do with the deer,” Sallie said. “We process a lot and take it very seriously. And it starts with how the hunter harvests the deer.”
The key is a clean kill, and a hunter who knows how to field-dress a deer. It is also important to immediately begin the cooling process. Bags of ice inserted into the deer’s body cavity will help cool a deer down when it must hang overnight in warm weather.
The first thing Joe did when I drove in with my doe was inspect the body cavity. He smelled inside it for any sign of deterioration as I waited anxiously for it to make the grade.
I thought it was a big doe and pretty good shot. There was no chit-chat. Joe had my order tag and was filling it out. Did I want all the hindquarters made into steaks or just the best parts, he asked. I pondered too long. “That’s a yes or no question,” Joe said. He had to keep moving. Another pickup truck with another deer was waiting.
On Friday, Ed and Laurel called excited about the big box of steaks and sausage they had just picked up at Malafy’s. Laurel said she has found a good recipe for venison scallopini and wondered when we would return for another visit.