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Hearts In Their Mouths

Hunters make pact to take bite of heart at Deer Camp

Hearts In Their Mouths
One of the prizes of patience and persistence. (Courtesy Brandon Nelson)

Eating the heart out of a freshly killed animal was tradition among some Native Americans. By doing so, Indians believed they could receive all the qualities of the animal – bravery, strength and agility.

Northern California natives Brandon Nelson and Logan Estrada knew the history behind the tradition, and made a blood brother-like pact at their Deer Camp in eastern Oregon. If they killed a mule deer on their week-long hunt, they’d take a bite out of its heart.


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Hearts In Their Mouths


The childhood friends, now in their early 20s, trekked an estimated 30 miles throughout the week, scouting deer and elk in a 25,000-acre area. Elk season had not opened yet, but both Nelson and Estrada wished it had.


“There was a plague of elk there,” Nelson said. “We honestly think that there were more of them than deer.”


A persistent pursuit and patience proved pivotal for the stalk hunters. Each morning, they’d map out their trail and make sure the wind was in their favor. They saw plenty of deer daily, but each held out for a better trophy.

“On the last day, we started hiking up a hill that we previously couldn’t see because of the glaring sun,” Nelson said. “I got the urge to glass, and I saw antlers. I couldn’t see anything but antlers. We got closer, about 100 yards away, but the deer wasn’t spooked.

“Logan aimed his .300 Winchester short magnum, and BAM! One shot and dead. Another one popped up and BAM! I killed that one, which was about 200 pounds.”

That’s when Nelson and Estrada paid homage to history. They knew a bite from the deer’s hearts wouldn’t necessarily impart the animal’s qualities to them, as Indians who perhaps hunted on the same plot of land might have.




Nelson and Estrada both cut out the heart, held it up to sky and took a bite of meaty, dripping tradition.

After they took both deer back to Deer Camp, they processed the meat and vacuumed packed it. Nelson’s group of six killed one deer each, and Nelson walked away with 65 pounds of meat.

And a bit of deer heart aftertaste.


For a video recap, click here.

Go to 2013 Deer Camp

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