Sometimes the best tool for a job is a tool that is not yours. So you borrow it. That’s why the first time I skinned a deer was in a U.S. Air Force missile test bay on Hill Air Force Base in Ogden, Utah.
Four miles north of the main area of the base was the missile test facility on Hill. We had equipment to shake, bake, heat, freeze, and simulate high altitude. We stressed missile engines (not warheads) then test fired the engine bolted to racks. The smaller missiles, like the Sidewinder, we fired right on post. When we fired one of the three engines of the three-stage Minuteman missile, we fired on a range on the west side of the Great Sale Lake.
To shake, we called it vibration test, the missile engines we used a 300,000-watt electro magnet—essentially a really big speaker driver. Bolt an engine to this vibration machine and it could be shaken back and forth, up and down, left to right fast or slow, soft or hard, smoothly or with jerks. Then we fired the missile on a test pad to see if the vibration broke it.
To hook the missiles to the electromagnet we used a crane on a beam running the length of the test bay.
One Monday morning we were waiting to see the week’s tests when Sgt. Robert Reineccius whispered for two of us to give him a hand. We went outside and followed the sergeant across the sand to the vibration test building. Before sun up, Reineccius had backed his pickup truck into the bay, hooked the deer he bagged that weekend to the crane and pulled the carcass all the way up. Our job was to skin the huge, stinking carcass before work started so he could drop the deer carcass back and the truck and cover it with a tarp.
The deer was impressive: a 12-point buck he bagged in the mountains, which was why he needed a crane.
He really wanted that skin in one piece. So we climbed up on the test bed and started pulling from the inside of the thighs where Reineccius had already slit the skin. We pulled and twisted and pulled some more. After twenty tiring minutes, the skin was on the test bay floor and the sergeant was lowering the deer back into his Chevy pickup.
Reineccius covered the animal with a tarp. He would drive to the butcher at lunchtime, but he had the skin now. Back in the 70s military, enlisted men did whatever sergeants told them, even skinning a deer first thing Monday morning.