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Happy Thanksgiving To All!

November 25, 2016

It’s “Black Friday”, depending on who you ask.  Personally, as I’m sitting here in Dallas (visiting with Kat’s family for the holiday), it looks a little grey outside, but it’s a long ways from black.  Point is, I didn’t get on here in time yesterday to pass along my Thanksgiving greetings to everyone out there, so I’m doing it now.  No reason to only give thanks on one day, but not the next.

I’ve bitched a lot over the past couple of years, but the truth is, things are pretty good altogether.  Not saying they couldn’t be better, of course. I could win the lottery.  That would be pretty great (and the celebration party would be off the hook).  But short of that…

So, I just want to offer up a sincere, “Happy Thanksgiving,” to everyone, with a reminder to focus on the positive.

And, with that, clear your schedule for the next 20 minutes or so… it’s worth it.

Duck Season… At Last!

November 13, 2016

All Geared Up Last year, duck season kind of rolled around and caught me unprepared.  I was also, to be honest, less than motivated.  We had plenty of rainy, grey days, but it was way too warm to get very excited about duck hunting.  Worse, it stayed warm all season.

On top of that, I still didn’t really know any good places to go.  It was my first season being back in NC, and over the 20 years since I moved away, development pretty much swallowed up most of my old hunting areas.  The places on the bigger water, along the Cape Fear pretty much require a motor boat, which I did not have.  The old, freighter canoe and the kayaks are OK for some things, but beating against a 5 to 7 knot current gets a little tiring.  I’m not the young man I once was, and I’m in nowhere near the physical condition I was in 20 years ago.

I’ve remedied some of that with the addition of a motor for the canoe.  This has given me mobility in a very shallow-draft boat, and I’ve been able to get out and do some exploring in the local waters, both the Neuse and the Northeast Cape Fear.  It’s also been a little chillier the past week, and despite the bright, blue skies, I was pretty fired up to get out on the opener.

It’s still early in the season, and up until this weekend, the temps have mostly stayed pretty warm.  I didn’t have really high hopes yesterday morning, but figured some of the local wood ducks would give me some action.  They did, but unfortunately, the action was to buzz by in the first shooting light, and then go on down and light around the river bend.  I never even pulled the trigger.

I have also been really looking forward to getting in a full season with my new(ish), CZ Bobwhite.  I’d been wanting a 20ga SxS for quite some time, and Kat hooked me up for my birthday last year.  I didn’t really get a lot of use out of it last season, though.  I had been a bit concerned because the gun tended to be very difficult to break open after a shot.  At first, I wrote it off to just being stiff and new, but it didn’t really feel that way.  During dove season this year, I killed a few birds, but had to pretty much break the action over my knee every time.

When I finally broke down and took a closer look, I could see a drag mark across the primer.  That’s a pretty good indication that the firing pin is either sticking, or over-protruding.  I considered trying to fix it myself, but decided against the risk of damage, and contacted CZ-USA about getting it repaired under warranty.  They told me to fill out the form (a quick process), then they sent me a repair authorization and a shipping label.  The standard turn-around time for warranty work is four to six weeks, but the rep I spoke to said it’s usually much quicker.  We’ll see.  FedEx picked it up on Friday, and I’m hoping to have it back by the time the duck season gets rolling in earnest.

R. M. Ducks?Iggy, by the way, was pretty excited about the season opener as well.  He’s not a big fan of doves, and usually spits them out when he gets close to me.  Ducks, though… well, he hasn’t had a ton of opportunity, but when he has retrieved ducks, I can see that he’s in his element.  I’m hoping the birds will come on down this season, so he’ll have plenty of chances to do his thing.

California Waterfowl Steps Up Their Advocacy Game

November 8, 2016

Let me start with this.

Many years ago, when I first got involved with Ducks Unlimited, I stayed with the organization because they were focused.  Waterfowl habitat preservation and management were the name of the game.  The organization did not veer off into the divisive politics of the 2nd Amendment, or involve itself in hunting topics that were not directly related to waterfowl or habitat.  “It’s for the birds,” was not just the axiom, but the reality.

Later, when I moved to California, I joined the California Waterfowl Association for similar reasons.  They were focused on waterfowl, specifically CA waterfowl.  It made sense to me, to belong to both DU and CWA, since California is such a huge state, with very localized issues that are critical to the Pacific flyway.  Like DU, they were seldom involved in political issues that did not relate directly to the mission.

But that may be changing…

This morning, in my email, I saw the following press release:

CWA Establishes Legislative Action Fund

The political climate in California for hunting, guns, water supply and land management issues is dire.

That’s why California Waterfowl formed the California Waterfowl Legislative Action Fund. With your help, the CWLAF will protect waterfowl interests and sportsmen from this ever-worsening erosion of our rights.

Our Goals:

  • Better educate officials, particularly state and federal legislators, about water conservation, wetlands and hunting heritage issues.
  • Improve access and influence for waterfowl interests and sportsmen at the State Capitol and Washington D.C.

California is becoming more urban, and a greater number of state and federal officeholders are elected who do not understand the important role hunters play in wildlife conservation.

Meanwhile, animal rights and anti-gun organizations are increasing their influence at the state and federal levels.

On top of all that, competing demands for water continue to increase, while waterfowl habitat is threatened by urban growth.

The California Waterfowl Legislative Action Fund was formed to fight these trends through political advocacy, education and public outreach efforts.

It is critical that we be as effective as possible in informing legislators and the general public about sportsmen’s important contributions to society.

By supporting us, you will make those necessary education and outreach efforts to decision-makers more successful.

You will also help us fight back against anti-hunting and anti-gun extremists threatening to take our outdoor heritage and rights away.

So donate today! Visit www.calwaterfowlactionfund.org.

At first glance, I was a little bit disappointed to see this.  While the goals stated above appear to maintain the focus on waterfowl and habitat, I saw it veering into the murky realm of defending “gun rights”, and possible entanglement in the sucking morass that is the battle against anti-hunters in Sacramento.  While I’m not a member now (I don’t live in CA anymore), I don’t think I would have been happy to see my membership fees diverted from habitat protection, acquisition, and management.

In comparison, this is generally ground that Ducks Unlimited does not tread, and I think they have benefited from keeping clear.  DU funds go to the specific mission, and nothing else.  Bypassing the divisive political issues, like 2nd Amendment or broad ethical fights that have nothing to do with waterfowl or habitat, has allowed the organization to keep a fairly diverse membership across the country.  Of course, their position has not come without criticism, but the results have been largely positive.

Still, Cal Waterfowl is not DU, and California is not the whole country (plus Canada and Mexico, where DU is also engaged).  There are very real and specific, localized threats to all hunting in the state, including waterfowl hunting.  The more I thought about it, the more I recognized that this change is probably necessary.

Most of the organizations in California that profess to hunter advocacy have morphed, in one way or another, into gun rights organizations.  The focus has shifted to fighting gun policies, which is mostly justifiable, but the platforms are verging on NRA-level extremism.  The fact is that many hunters do not agree with these extremist positions, and as a result, they withdraw both their support and their engagement… and with them goes a critical degree of political strength.    In California, of all places, hunters need all the political clout they can get.

With the exception of the Sportsmen’s Alliance, Golden State hunters really have no organization committed to fighting the myriad threats to hunting, whether it’s misguided legislation or threats to hunting access on State and Federal lands.  And no other sportsmen’s organization is taking on the water issues that are wracking the state right now.  CWA is generally respected and well-positioned to take up that banner.

Like I said, I’m not in CA any more, and if I’m completely honest, I’ve sort of surrendered much hope in changing the political direction of gun and hunting policies in that state.  It’s one of the reasons I chose to move away.  But for those who are still living there, by choice or by necessity, I think it’s worth giving the Cal Waterfowl Legislative Action Fund a close look… and maybe giving them a few of your hard-earned dollars as well.

Be Still My Heart…

November 4, 2016

Deer heart tacos… so I can eat you.

Iggy isn’t the only one to get treats when I kill a deer.  It’s been pretty good eats around here the last couple of evenings.  As usual, there are two parts of the deer that I like to celebrate with right after a kill, the heart and the tenderloins.

I cooked up a tenderloin Wednesday night, pan fried with butter and garlic.  With a reasonably decent Malbec, I have to admit I was feeling a little decadent.

I was going to hold off on the heart until this weekend, but as last night rolled around and I was craving Mexican food, I decided to whip up some heart tacos.  There they are in the photo, and they were much, much better than they look.  I’m no food photographer.

I can hear you saying, skeptically, “heart?”

Absolutely, and if you have never tried it, you’re missing out.  It’s not like liver (which I can’t stand) or other wobbly bits.  It has a texture more like a firm steak, and the flavor is concentrated, meaty goodness.  It’s also easy to deal with in the kitchen.  The only thing you should do differently than other cuts is wash the blood out of the big vessels.

Now, I’m no Hank Shaw, and I don’t really use recipes when I cook, but I generally do OK.  Not that it’s particularly difficult to do a good job with venison heart.  The trick, as with any game meat, is not to overcook it.  Personally, I like it cooked somewhere between rare and medium rare.  I also, personally, like to let the flavor of the meat take the main stage… so no bacon wrapping, or marinating in strong flavors like Italian salad dressing (yes, that’s a thing).

For the tacos, I trimmed the tough parts off of the heart first, and then cut it into cubes about 1/2″ or 3/4″.  What are these “tough parts”, you ask?  It’s hard to describe, specifically, but if you have ever handled a heart, you’ll know what I’m talking about.  Nothing about processing wild game meat is rocket science.  Seriously, you can do most of it by feel.

Anyway…

I put the cubes in a bowl, and tossed them with a little olive oil.  Then I mixed up my own version of “taco spices”, including some salt, a liberal dash of black pepper, some cumin, some onion powder, and some garlic.  That may or may not have been everything.  A family friend brought me a bag of little hot peppers (not sure what kind, but they look like Thai chilis, and they’re hot as hell), so I finely diced three or four and tossed them in with the spice mix.  I like really spicy stuff, so if you’re jotting this down for future use, consider your own heat tolerance.

I squeezed a lime over the meat before tossing the whole mix into the iron skillet with a very light coating of bacon grease to saute for a few minutes.  I use my judgement on when things are done, which isn’t very scientific, but I’m reasonably good at it.  You can test doneness by pressing on the meat to see how much it gives.  It should be just firm.  Mushy means it’s less done, and hard means it’s over done.  Personally, I’d rather err on the side of underdone than risk overcooking.

For the topping, I just diced a tomato, an alligator pear (avocado), and a few more of those little peppers.  I added a half spoonful of chopped garlic and some cumin, then squeezed a lime over this as well.  I would have loved some diced onion in the mix, but I’m out of onions right now, so I lived without.

I love to fry my corn tortillas lightly in the skillet, but last night it was getting late, so I buttered them and stuck them under the broiler for a couple of minutes.  They weren’t perfect, but they still had that toasty corn deliciousness.

So that’s how I do it, and I was really happy with the results.  If this is too non-specific for you, and you’d prefer to use a recipe, I highly recommend taking a look at Hank Shaw’s latest book, Buck, Buck, Moose.  Hank’s recipes are generally easy to follow, and well-researched as well.

By the way, I like to eat the hearts of every type of game I hunt, from deer to wild hogs, to game birds.  They’re all wonderful on the table.

Iggy The Tracking Dog Has Deer Feet

November 2, 2016

It started in his first season, as we settled into our new lives in Texas.  I’d just killed a whitetail, and really without a thought, I tossed the feet on the ground as I cut them off.  Still a puppy, Iggy nevertheless recognized the boon, and quickly made off with one.  He chewed it, tossed it in the air, and pranced around proudly with the hunk of bone and fur for days afterward.

That single experience set an expectation, so that any time I killed a deer (or hog, or turkey, etc.), Iggy got the feet.  It didn’t take long for him to realize that he couldn’t play with all four at once, so he started carrying them off to “hide”.  The field and pastures around Hillside Manor were soon littered with deer feet in various stages of decomposition.  We’d be out walking, or working the horses, and he’d bolt into a little patch of agarita or persimmon and emerge with one of his treasures.

When it comes to a bounty of wildlife feet, Texas must have seemed a paradise to the growing dog.  I hunted year-round, so after whitetails, it was axis, auodad, and feral hogs.  When hunting got slow, my work processing game at the smokehouse kept a steady supply.

Since coming back to NC, of course, that’s slowed a bit.  And this season, in particularly, has been off to a slow start.  Since settling into the new place, hunting has largely taken a back seat to all the other things that I’ve had to deal with.  And when I have gone hunting, opportunities have been limited.  The weather has been ridiculously warm, and deer activity on the farm was seriously disrupted by the construction work.

But that’s all starting to come around now.  Deer activity at the feeder and food plot has picked up and become pretty consistent.  I’m also seeing a lot of activity around my other stands, especially as the rut is starting to come on in our area.  That’s the motivation I needed, and after one last go with the crossbow (still un-blooded), I pulled out the Savage.

I passed a couple of shots recently, more out of silly sentiment than any good reason.  I think I’m getting a little soft-hearted.  I watched a doe for fifteen minutes or more the other night without taking any of a number of easy shots.  I raised and lowered the rifle indecisively, time and again, until finally Iggy barked at something back at the house and she scooted into the woods.  Another evening, I watched a doe walk out into the pasture and I never even picked up the gun.

The season seemed to be slipping away.  Kat hadn’t even had a shot opportunity yet.  I’d passed a few, and spent many fruitless hours on stand without seeing anything at all (only to check the cameras and find I’d missed the deer by minutes).  The freezer is hardly empty, due to past seasons’ successes, but I can almost see the bottom now.  Even worse, I’m pretty much out of steaks and good grilling meat.

Iggy loves his deer feet!

Iggy loves his deer feet!

So, last night, when the lone doe took a few mincing steps out into the open end of the pasture, I didn’t hesitate.  It was the shot I’d been waiting for, since she had no youngsters with her.  There was still plenty of shooting light, and I held off until she gave me the perfect angle.

And now, Iggy has deer feet.

 

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