By Harry Anderson
“We got another one tagged for you, Dick. You’ll find him in Deer Alley on 295, south, about a half mile before the Route 6 ramp.”
The caller had no need to give his name. Richard (Dick) Bourque had been hearing that voice quite often since the onset of autumn – about six or seven times a week in fact. He had the routine down pat: make the twenty-five minute drive from his home in North Kingstown to Johnston, spot the corpse, heft it into his car’s trunk, race to the Smithfield Sportsman’s Club, hang the corpse head down from a beam in the meeting room, eviscerate it, and carefully wrap and date the edible parts and store them in a large chest freezer to be oven-roasted for a future club dinner.
But that mile stretch of Interstate 295 (aka “Deer Alley” because of the frequency of deer/vehicle collisions happening roughly between the new Citizens Bank complex and the exit onto Hartford Avenue) is not the only site the Department of Environmental Management has sent Dick to retrieve a dead deer. The average number of calls to him – 75 per year – have him collecting carcasses from Westerly to Warwick to Woonsocket.
One might think that he earns a living as DEM’s go-to-man. But, to the contrary, for thirty-three years he has been supporting his family by serving papers, such as summons, for the courts of Rhode Island. Richard Bourque is a constable.
“If I gave you the names of some of the people I’ve handed summons to, you’d be amazed! But I won’t. That’s a completely other story unto itself.”
Although still one of the 300 members of the Sportsman’s Club, Dick has resigned from his fifteen year tenure as chef. With a wink he says, “They haven’t had a good meal here since I stopped cooking.” More modestly, he adds, “One member said to me, ‘Dick, you’re a legend around here. Your cooking is that lousy!’”
Familiarity with kitchens and animals (living or dead) set in early in his life. Because his parents often were away at work at meal time, his mother made it clear that, if he were hungry, he had to cook for himself. He was eight. Then, at age fourteen, he assumed the job of second cook at a nursing home. As for getting to know animals, for a summer job before starting senior year at Warwick Veterans High School he worked at the Rocky Point zoo. Included in his duties was walking a 500 + pound Bengal tiger for its daily exercise. To the consternation of his parents, the adolescent Richard carried home an infant leopard to bottle feed it.
The learning curve Dick was on oddly arched from grilling cheese sandwiches and nurturing wild beasts to what became his culinary specialty: game cooking. Under the tutelage of a woman from the old country who teased the taste buds of members of the Cranston Portuguese Club, he developed into a maven at serving up platters of delicious rabbit, pheasant, moose, bear, elk, and of course venison.
“To this day,” the big man with iron-flecked whiskers and a Paul Bunyon-esque face says, “I follow her recipe. You add to the meat lots of chourico, coriander, peppers, and paprika. She’s the one who put me wise to back straps. That’s the roundish meat running on either side of a deer’s back bone. You slice it into medallions and along with garlic, peppers, and onions you fry everything in oil. That’s the best part of the venison – nice and tender.”
Wielding a chef’s knife isn’t all Dick did when he came to the Club’s gated twenty-one plus acres off Walter Carey Road. A pretty good shot with a hand gun, for seven years he coached its pistol team that competed with others throughout the state.
“When I was a kid, my uncle took me here, and I remember saying to him, “ someday I’m going to be a member.” It took a few years, but it was worth the waiting.”
The Smithfield Sportsman’s Club, founded in 1917, last year celebrated its 100th anniversary. Over the years it has evolved from a small tract of land where a member with his hounds in tow hunted fox to a complex consisting of an indoor 50’ shooting range, a covered outdoor 25-200 yard rifle/pistol range, an archery range, a stocked trout fishing pond, and an opened-timbered meeting room with kitchen – all set on 21+ pristine acres.
“I’ve had lots of good times on the firing range . . . and in the kitchen,” says Richard Bourque. And those members of the club who savor game dinners probably would add, when asked, that they thank DEM for making those calls to him.