Category Archives: hunting

Comfort Food: Deerburger Bowls

In what promises to be a neverending winter I’ve been working my way through the 2017 deer season’s venison supply (although as I write this, a cold March rain riding on the back of a blustery late-winter wind is decimating the snowpack at the end of my driveway).  This past November, the two camps I hunt out of managed to harvest four deer, and since we’ve got to split that meat between up to a dozen hunters, I’ve been stretching what I’ve got as far as possible.

To that end, I’ve started making one-bowl dishes that incorporate venison at their base before I add in other ingredients that I really enjoy.  One of my go-to meals is what I call a Deerburger Bowl; it starts with seared ground venison and then I add in whatever I like and have at hand.  This dish is rich, moderately spicy, and like most preparations of wild game, if treated simply and cooked properly it is ridiculously delicious and ultra-healthy.  The recipe below packs nearly 70grams of protein into a single bowl, is low in fat, and has all the ‘goodies’ inherent in quickly searing raw asparagus and leaving it crunchy. I imagine this would be all the better to the enterprising forager that procures some wild asparagus this spring uses it in making this dish. I’ve also used other seafood and greens, but this is my standard.

Deerburger Bowls

(Makes 8-10 servings)

  • 3lbs of ground venison
  • 2lbs of 26/30 size (extra-large) shrimp, de-veined and peeled
  • 40 stalks of asparagus, trimmed and chopped into 1 ½ inch pieces
  • 1/8 cup of water
  • 5tbsp olive oil
  • 3tbsp sambal hot sauce
  • Salt & pepper to taste.

Using a deep, heavy pan or a deep wok over medium-high heat, heat 3tbsp of olive oil.  Add the ground venison, salt and pepper to taste, and increase the heat to high.  Brown the venison quickly and thoroughly before removing it to a separate bowl using a slotted spoon.

Add 1tbsp of olive oil to the same pan and add the shrimp.  Cook over high heat until they are firm.  Remove to the same bowl as the venison and mix the two together.

Add the remaining olive oil to the same pan and add the chopped asparagus.  Sear the asparagus and toss to ensure even browning; it should be hot but still crunchy because no one in their right mind likes stringy, overcooked asparagus.  Once the asparagus is seared, add the water and mix in the hot sauce, browned venison, and shrimp. I stir this over high heat for a minute or two more to coat everything with the hot sauce before I pour the whole thing into bowls for storage for the week.

These bowls are great underneath a couple of sunny-side up eggs for a quick hearty breakfast, or heat one up for lunch or dinner (or both!) and serve it over wild rice before pouring yourself a cold beer.

You’ve earned it.

Fifty-Seven-or-so Signs that You Might (or Might Not) be a Hopeless Turkey Hunter

So, in case you hadn’t noticed, it is that time of year again.  I call it ‘silly season’ and it is the time of year when all the hunting magazines and websites regurgitate a few dozen different articles full of tips, tricks, and gear reviews aimed at perpetuating their existence while simultaneously moving some inventory for their sponsors.  I’m not cynical about it anymore, after all staff writers and editors must eat too, and those are the spiritual compromises that come with the territory in the print-media world.

I get it.  I don’t like it and I try not to partake too heavily in it, but I do get it.

It is the time to hear about “dirt naps”, “floppage”, “beak-bustin’”, et cetera, et cetera. If you can’t find a headline that boasts a better way to call to a hung-up turkey, or that assures you that these seven pieces of essential equipment will put a longbeard in your lap, or a piece that tackles the thorny issue of turkey reaping while simultaneously advertising for tom decoys that clip right to your mother-loving shotgun barrel, then I can confidently say you aren’t really looking at all.  Because that sort of thing is ubiquitous now; it has been since at least mid-January and it won’t disappear until sometime in July.

As handsome a bird as I can hope to see this spring.

Somewhere along the line, between the quaint magazine by-lines of the 1950’s and 1960’s and the shift to an advertising-centric approach that materialized in the late 1970’s and 1980’s, we lost our way and nothing was off-limits or unthinkable anymore.

The truth is there aren’t really that many different ways to safely hunt turkeys, and much of the “innovation” we see in the marketplace is flash and gimmick. I’m perfectly content to just sit under a tree, yelp, scratch in the leaves, and listen, but based on social media advertising campaigns set on full-saturation levels, I’m just a throw-back and not nearly extreme enough to be relevant anymore.

Sigh.

Turkey season will approach and take place nonetheless, and I’ll be out there enjoying it on my own terms, but might I suggest that if you don’t find turkey hunting exciting enough the ‘traditional way’ that you at least try not to do something reckless or offensive?

I’m old enough to remember when the conventional wisdom of the culture was to sit under a tree, call like a sexy old hen, and above all else try not to get shot by another hunter; that said I’m not so old that I was indoctrinated into the school of “yelp four times every hour until the tom shows up”, but I’ve read about enough respected elder-statesmen of turkey hunting to see the wisdom in that ethos either. Was it accurate, in the fledgling years when the pastime was a fringe pursuit that lagged far behind deer, quail, and waterfowl hunting, to imbue the wild turkey with some of the feats of wily intelligence attributed to it?  Possibly not, but it did breed a healthy respect for the quarry.  After all, did Tom Kelly or Charles Elliott ever utter the words “thunder-chicken” with anything other than likely derision for the term? I can’t say for certain, but I can make some inferences.

And what of safety? I was fortunate enough to take the Ontario turkey hunter’s education seminar all those years ago from two of the very men instrumental in the re-introduction of wild turkeys into Ontario.  They both scoffed at the idea of stalking gobblers, and each was gravely concerned with the safety ramifications around even entertaining the thought. But this is 2018 and extreme, like sex, sells. So long as someone, somewhere puts ‘if it is safe to do so’ in their piece about fanning, stalking, circling, boasting of 80-yard kills, or hiding in waterfowl layout blinds (yes, this is a thing in the turkey hunting world now) then they have sufficiently rendered themselves culpability-free.

It’s like saying “Go ahead, drink and drive, as long as you’re sure no other drivers are on the road” or something else comparably irresponsible.

Of course, I am not entirely immune and I do have some of the usual trappings of the modern turkey hunter.  The decoys, the precision-made crystal friction call and finely-tuned mouth diaphragms, right to my ergonomic and luxuriously thick seat on my turkey vest.

Still, I’ve never once put a tom or jake decoy out on public land because no amount of turkey meat or close-encounter adrenaline is worth a torso full of searing hot lead pellets.  I’ve missed birds, but never out to 70+ yards as I’ve heard and seen on modern social media.  I have equipment that would have made those Pennsylvania and Alabama forefathers of the hunt sneer and chuckle at my gullibility, but even still my 870 isn’t tricked out for tactical turkey killing, my ammunition didn’t cost me the equivalent of a rib-eye steak per round spent, and while tempting, I’m not really inclined to crawl up to a gobbler just for some much-hyped thrill over and above the one I’ll experience should I be lucky enough to hear a tom sound off in response through the breaking light of an early May morning.

So, what exactly am I hopeless for?  I’m bereft of optimism that things will change for the better.  There is money to be made, a market to shill for, and so many born every minute that I have a better chance of stopping a freight train with your bare hands than I do of making any meaningful impact on the direction the sport is moving in.

I’m completely aware that I get cantankerous this time of year; just go back through everything I’ve written here in every month of March since 2011.  I’m deep into withdrawal.  I’m fed-up with the glitzy, whore-like makeup applied in thicker layers every year to the serenity of a spring ritual I’ve grown increasingly addicted to, and most of all I’m helpless in the face of change and pathetically prostrate to the throes of my turkey hunting impulses. Just go ahead and hunt them how you want I suppose, because all my pissing and moaning likely won’t make a convert of anyone that doesn’t already think what I think. Have some fun and try not to get yourself shot.

It only comes around once a year, and if you’re reading this from a region where your season is underway, I hope the gobblers are willing and that your patterns are tight.

If you have not been out there yet in the thick of it, enjoy those “firsts” that might happen this season.

First mornings. First gobbles. First hunts with your kids. First birds ever.

We hope that you enjoy the hunt, respect the bird, eat well, and be merry. All this silliness will seem so very far away soon, and the season will slide past all too quickly, just like it does every year.

Wasted Gifts

I was doing laundry and taking stock of my equipment for the upcoming second round of my rifle season for deer here in Ontario when the storm broke on all of my social media platforms. Another “TV hunter” or “hunting-industry celebrity” or “outdoors personality” or whatever term is in style right now was allegedly caught poaching deer. I was instantly depressed, but I had to know more.

The case in question is of one Chris Brackett, host of “Fear No Evil”. Video surfaced yesterday of what is allegedly him shooting two deer in Indiana, when he was only licensed for one. There is also the nature of the killings, which I’ll touch more on below, and the aftermath which I’ll also delve into, but what I want to primarily focus on here is the alleged act.

Never mind that this person has a litany of detractors for his personality and how he generally comports himself; I can excuse being a bad person to a degree because there are a lot of bad people all over the place in the world. I do not really expect a man or woman to be a good person just because they hunt too.

This video has apparently been suppressed frequently in the past 36 hours, and the most recent place where I can still find it as at http://whackstarhunters.com/chris-brackett-accused-poaching/ so check it out for yourself, but know that it is not pretty and for sensitive viewers there is some language and some cringe-worthy visuals.

The short version of the story has it that while hunting in Indiana with a muzzleloader a few years ago, Chris Brackett was instructed by a landowner to shoot a 10-point buck on the landowner’s property, but to pass on a younger, tall-racked 8-point buck, which the landowner wanted to continue maturing. Video has surfaced with purports to contain Chris Brackett not only defying the landowner request and making what clearly looks like a fatal shot on the 8-pointer, but then (with no cutaway and on the same reel of film, if you will) making a critically wounding shot on the 10-pointer. The 10-pointer is obviously paralyzed from being hit in the rear of the spine (which is commonly known as a “Texas Heart Shot”, and in my strictly personal opinion is an absolutely unacceptable shot to take on any deer, let alone a huge trophy whitetail) and it crawls and struggles off frame, with no documented follow-up finishing shot. The accusation continues that the 8-pointer was never recovered, and the 10-pointer was recovered quite some time after the shot, so I can presume that trophy animal suffered a very painful and unpleasant death. Audio on the video even states that someone (either the cameraman or the shooter) has no idea where the 8-pointer ran off to.

So, two dead deer, one tag, one hunter disobeying a landlord request, one arguably unethical and cruelly wounding shot later, here we find ourselves.  It is tough to watch.  Without hyperbole, I can say I was legitimately sick to my stomach watching it all unfold, especially after the hunter cripples an absolutely huge and beautiful deer.

Apparently, the video is surfacing now because the cameraman had been struggling with his conscience, the landowner was also looking to go public with footage, etc, etc. Again, these are likely all valid reasons, but they are corollary to the actual allegations of poaching.

Now this video quality isn’t great, and defenders of all sorts are saying that it proves nothing other than ‘someone’ shot two deer (one very badly) and then at the very least did not document any recovery efforts. I’ll grant that, but there are apparently also supporting statements from the cameraman and the landowner to back up the allegation, and the Chris Brackett camp has been suspiciously quiet. All social media for the accused has either gone silent or has been shut down, no official defending statements have come out, and his television sponsors in the industry are either making ominous statements or dropping him outright.

I believe in “innocent until proven guilty”, but the internet and corporate sponsors are not necessarily of the same mind. It is a big, unpleasant mess to say the least.

So, what are we, the hunting laity, to do? Does it matter if a handful of us stop watching his show? Are product or network boycotts effective? Or have we become so jaded to this that it just meets our expectations of what televised hunting is?

Because the real issue here is that the public-facing arm of the hunting tradition, which is no doubt an ‘industry’ and as such is tasked with making content, selling advertising, and generally being profitable is more and more often being exposed to the public as a field littered with questionable characters that are not really conservationists, or stewards of the resources, or anything other than opportunists interested in fame and growing nominally wealthy via hunting.

They have been given the gift of being able to live out their lives hunting beautiful wild game in beautiful places for hundreds of thousands of viewers, and time and again these gifts are wasted, not only at their personal cost, but at the cost of another public black-eye for the hunting tradition. It’s truly upsetting and although I do not in any way doubt their ‘love’ of hunting, which I honestly believe is the same love you and I have for the outdoors, I do doubt their character, and will keep doubting it until I see compelling reasons to stop.

Are these celebrity hunters ‘under the microscope’ or subject to greater scrutiny? Probably and that’s a good thing.  It is a common theme on this forum and it bears repeating again, even if I do sometimes feel like the lone voice crying in the night.

How hunting is popularly represented is far more important than what hunting truly is.

Like it or not, the violations committed on camera and the dodgy ethical decisions made by a Bill Busbice or a Chris Brackett or a Ted Nugent, or a Warren Spann, or whomever inevitably comes next are the demons we’ll have to fight with. These things become the fodder for anti-hunters and they poison the opinions of the neutrals.

Let there be no doubt about it, we need the ‘neutrals’ more than anything.

So, in all it has been an unpleasant 36 hours or so for me and my mindset on ‘the industry’, but hey, at least I’m back in the woods in a day-and-a-half, which will ease some of the pain. Maybe I’ll put some venison in the freezer this week…stranger things have happened after all.

Likewise, I’m sure (even if he arguably does not deserve any sympathy) it has been a real shit-kicking for Chris Brackett the past day or so.  If anything positive can come out of this wasteful, morally ambiguous situation unfolding in the public sphere, it is that we will all hold these heroes and celebrities to the highest standards, and perhaps those heroes and celebrities will take notice and hold themselves to the same level. But sadly, I’m not hopeful.

In the meantime, I’ll see you in the woods everyone.

Cubby Calls the Shot

Thursday’s weather was promising to be miserable.  Meteorologist-types were calling for a reasonably clear, but quite cold, morning that promised to quickly devolve into rain, then sleet, then snow, all which would be riding on the back of a wild, swirling, raw November wind. The previous night’s festivities ran somewhat long, as many hunters had, given the forecast, written-off any forays afield at all.

I resolved to make my morning sit a productive one.

While others shuffled past me back to camp for lunch, I stuck out another hour-and-a-half until I felt the first drops of rain.  Then I too made my way to warm confines of the cabin for hot soup, a thick sandwich, and a few rounds of euchre.  All the while the wind whistled and rain, sleet, and snow whipped about beyond the log walls of the camp. We remarked that it was good weather for deer movement, while concurrently acknowledging how unlikely it was that we would actually hit the woods in such an inclement environment.

I even slipped in a quick 45-minute nap.  But something in the back of my mind knew that it was good weather for making deer get up and move around, and that fair weather or foul, my camp cot had poor chances of being the spot the deer walked past.  So, I donned an extra layer, put on a balaclava, and headed out with my cousin Luke for our stands. As we left, my uncle Kevin was also getting geared up, and he said he’d be heading to his tree stand. None of the remaining five hunters in camp stirred, so our trio made our way out the door.

My uncle Kevin has a nickname.  People call him “Cubby”.  I’ve heard a handful of origin stories for this nickname, but they are ultimately unimportant.  Although I still call him Kevin, a lot of the time he answers to Cubby, and he does not really seem to mind it at all.

Lukas and I were hoofing it, but uncle Kevin was going to take the ATV part of the way back to his ladder stand; as he passed us he shouted his prophecy over the hum of the motor:

“ONE OF US IS GOING TO SHOOT A DEER TONIGHT!”

He said it matter-of-factly and nodded a certain nod that he knew his statement to be true.  Lukas and I said something like “Damn right we will…” or something similar and uncle Kevin continued down the trail, out of sight and soon out of earshot.

I arrived at my stand for just ahead of 3pm and there was already a fine dusting of snow on the ground; Lukas made his way onward to his treestand and we agreed to meet back up on his way past me after 5pm. We wished each other luck and I hunkered down under heavy layers of clothes, and inserted a heater pack in each glove. With uncle Kevin’s statement fresh in my mind, I settled in for the rest of the afternoon.

The weather had plans to make me quit early, and I was buffeted by wind, ice pellets, and snow. For a while I could not even look to my left side without my face and eyes being stung by blowing snow. My gun barrel was frosted with a layer of ice and sleet, and I flicked built up snow out of my scope. All around me was streaky white snow, and I pulled up my hood to keep it from working its way down my back. Deep inside my layers of windbreaker, hooded sweatshirts, and thermal underwear, my cellphone buzzed, and after extricating it, the simple message from my cousin was an expletive about the conditions.  I imagined his treestand swaying noticeably.

For a short time, just around 4:30pm, we caught a break in the squally weather.  The sky above me cleared temporarily and for a moment I thought we might get a brief view of the sunset; but winter had other ideas.  The wind picked up again, snow blew in all directions, and I longed to be drinking a hot whiskey by the woodstove. I was just about fed up when, at 4:55pm, one lone shot rang out from my uncle’s position. I marked it in my mind, and went back to scanning what little woods I could for deer movement. What I soon saw however was not a deer, but my cousin Luke’s blaze orange jacket cresting a hill into view.  He had called it an evening.

He got over and simply said “Kevin shot a buck.” That was that; he had prognosticated it on the way out and uncle Kevin had delivered.

We made the 15-minute walk to Kevin’s position and by the time we arrived, my uncle was just wrapping up the field dressing job in approaching darkness, while snow blew around the last resting place of the respectable 7-pointer. One of us reminded him that he had predicted this happening, and he took us through how the deer had shown up and milled around, providing him with an unrushed opportunity to make a quick, ethical kill. It was two deer in two seasons for uncle Kevin and he was grinning as we loaded the deer on the ATV and made our way back to camp.

We arrived an hour after legal shooting light had expired, and despite the near-blizzard outside as we rolled up the camp deck, everyone was out to inspect the kill, hear the story and help winch the deer into the ‘hanging tree’.

Later, as I grilled steaks, my cousin Dane and I stood in the snow by the barbecue, happy that we had a second buck down for the week, and ready to celebrate the evening success with the family and friends in camp. Repeatedly, we kept coming back to the prediction that had come true that evening.

Because Cubby had called his shot, and in a way, no one was surprised about it in the least.