This Happened to Me: I Butchered a Deer in My Brooklyn Apartment and the Cops Came

Michael Byers

This is a story in our This Happened to Me series, which is based on our long-standing adventure comic first published in 1940.

I HAD ALL the primal cuts spread out on the table and countertop. I was only a few sips into my first can of beer. My knife was still shaving-sharp as I sliced away silver skin from a backstrap. What a nice way to spend an afternoon.

Then I heard a knock on the door of my tiny Brooklyn apartment. 

Surprised, and a little annoyed by the disruption, I wiped deer meat from my hands. I cracked the door open until it hit the chain lock and saw a short, middle-aged man standing in the hallway.

“What’s up?” I asked, doing my best impersonation of an indignant New Yorker.

“Have you seen Wilson today?” he asked. “I’m Wilson’s friend.”

Wilson was an older man with a potbelly and a wispy white beard. If he were more jovial, he could have worked as Santa at a Christmastime mall. But Wilson was a shy man who liked books, and he lived in the apartment above mine. Beyond that, I knew nothing about him.

“No, I haven’t seen him. Sorry,” I said and began to close the door. But before I could close it, the man cut in.

“I think something’s happened to him. Can you help me?”

Damn it, I thought as I looked around my apartment: drip-drying deer quarters, a still-bloody cooler, a few knives scattered across the counter, butcher’s paper ready to be unrolled, and an open case of beer.

I slid the chain lock off the door. 

A Deer Hunter in the City

For a few years in my late 20s, I lived in a 230-square-foot apartment with my girlfriend (who is now my wife). For reference, a Game Changer Redneck box blind has a 48-square-foot footprint. Our apartment was so small that if we wanted to bring home a new item, like, say, a blender, then something had to go—perhaps the toaster (when’s the last time we even made toast?). Every item had a place, and every place had an item. My one large luxury item was a chest freezer that doubled as counter space. But the apartment was relatively affordable and located in a cool neighborhood. Plus the minimalist lifestyle made me prioritize the stuff I actually cared about, which is a good exercise for someone in his 20s. 

I had never wanted to move from my Midwestern homeland to New York. But years ago, if you wanted to be an editor at a national magazine like Outdoor Life, off to the city you went. So I made the most of it. I kept my hunting gear locked in the trunk of my car, which stayed parked on the street. I ate at cheap restaurants and drank at cheap bars and met lots of interesting people at both.

Working for OL, I got the opportunity to travel across the continent for hunts, which made me feel less trapped in my city life. In fact, the only time I ever truly felt cramped was while riding the subway at rush hour and while trying to butcher game.

Butchering a deer should feel like a celebration. You need room to spread out and the time to work thoughtfully, carefully. You need the freedom to crank Led Zepplin without the neighbors banging on the wall for you to keep it down. With each wrapped cut of meat you should get to relive the hunt and all the wonderful things about it.

I was trying to capture at least some of this feeling that fall afternoon in Brooklyn. But the celebration would prove to be fleeting.

Close Quarters 

I now opened the door just enough to slip through it. I closed it tight behind me and took stock of the man before me. He did look worried, distraught even. He also seemed earnest.

“I called Wilson yesterday, and he didn’t call me back,” the man said. “He always calls me back. I knocked on his door and he didn’t answer. It’s unlocked but I can’t push the door open. Something heavy is blocking it. I think something happened to him.”

“Oh man, well, what do you want to do?” I asked, now fully transitioned from New York standoffishness back to Midwest nice.

“Can we go through your apartment onto the fire escape to look into Wilson’s apartment?”

This seemed like a logical plan, except for the fact that I had a dismembered deer strewn about the place.

“OK, but let me explain something first,” I told the man. “I am a deer hunter. I shot a deer the other day and now I’m butchering it. So don’t be alarmed by all the meat. I mean, it’s not like it’s really bloody or anything.…” 

The more I talked, the more perturbed the man looked, so I just kind of trailed off.

This seemed like a logical plan, except for the fact that I had a dismembered deer strewn about the place.

“As long as you’re not cutting up Wilson in there, I don’t care what you’re doing,” the man replied. Good enough for me. I shrugged and let him in. 

The man looked around the apartment quickly while I opened the window to access the fire escape. He had the same look on his face that I’d seen strike subway passengers right after another rider vomits: a mix of disgust and revulsion, masked by a deep resignation to not run away screaming.

I very badly wanted to explain the situation more thoroughly. 

The thing is, this meat is actually better for you than the stuff you get in the grocery store, I wanted to tell him. I wanted to explain how I’d learned to butcher deer from my dad when I was a kid growing up in Wisconsin. I would have gone on to talk about how deer hunters in New York help manage the state’s deer herd from booming out of control and how our license dollars fund habitat conservation …  

But there was no time for that. So I just muttered “sorry for the mess” like that subway vomiter who must sit there quietly, in embarrassment, until the next stop. 

Breaking and Entering

We climbed out onto the fire escape and then went up a level to Wilson’s window. We peered into a dark apartment. We did not see any sign of Wilson. What we did see was books—lots of them. There were books stacked from floor to ceiling making little hallways that Wilson must have had to turn sideways to walk through. A full library of books crammed into a tiny one-bedroom apartment. 

The man knocked on the window and hollered, “Wilson! Are you in there?”


We climbed down the fire escape, back through my apartment and then into the hallway. 

“So, do you eat it?” the man asked.

“Yeah, I eat it,” I replied, not knowing what else to say.

I followed the man up to Wilson’s door and then watched him bang on it and holler again, “Wilson! You in there?”

He turned the knob and sure enough, the door was unlocked. He tried to shove the door open, but something was blocking it. He lowered his shoulder and rammed the door, opening it maybe just a quarter of an inch.

Wilson!” He yelled, more frantically this time, and rammed the door again.

At this point I was struck by the thought that I did not know this man—or Wilson—at all. What if Wilson was on the other side of the door waiting with a baseball bat, ready to club the two maniacs trying to break into his apartment?

I could also hear the crackle of radios and surmised that the authorities had been called.

I told the man that I had to go—he didn’t seem to notice amid his door ramming and hollering—and retreated back to my apartment, locking the door.

About 15 minutes later I heard more voices in the hallway. I could also hear the crackle of radios and surmised that the authorities had been called.

“Yeah, we got in there,” I heard one man say loudly on the radio. “He’s dead.”

“We’re going to need more guys up here. He’s a fuckin’ hoarder. There’s books everywhere.” 

The idea of cops and firefighters pouring into my apartment building suddenly made me very nervous. Butchering a deer in New York City is not illegal, but it’s the kind of thing that might take some explaining if for some reason the police wanted to talk to me. 

I could imagine one of the cops in the hallway shouting into his radio: “The guy says he’s a fuckin’ deer hunter. There’s bloody meat everywhere.”

I stashed the quarters back in the cooler, washed my knives and my hands, and did a quick sweep of the place. It looked totally normal, definitely not like a murder scene. I threw on a jacket and slipped into the hallway. I walked down the stairs, past a few firefighters, to the street, where I saw Wilson’s friend talking to a cop. Tears were streaming down the man’s face. He never looked up at me.

Not sure what to do, I headed to a nearby bar to hang out for a while. If nothing else, I would finish the beer drinking I had started.

The next day, I finally did get to butchering that deer. And as I trimmed and cut, I blasted “Stairway to Heaven” as loud as it would go. Maybe even loud enough for Wilson to hear it.

Read more OL+ stories.

This Happened to Me: I Almost Froze to Death on a Solo Bighorn Hunt

This Happened to Me: I Flew a Plane with Zero Training

The post This Happened to Me: I Butchered a Deer in My Brooklyn Apartment and the Cops Came appeared first on Outdoor Life.

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