Category Archives: wild game

A Week on the Bruce!

Reflecting on a week spent up in the Bruce full of friends/family, food, the great outdoors, tales of glory (or lack there of) and the occasional deer of course.


 

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Ready to hit the road, one day we’ll trade that ol’ Coleman in for a Yeti!
Loaded down for a long morning sit
Loaded down for a long morning sit
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A familiar sight, glad to back in the bush!
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Feels like home in the stand after a year away.
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A view from one of my favourite sits all week. This ridge was a great look out and we had some surprise visitors as well.
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Well hello there!
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Lest We Forget!
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Breakfast of champions.
Reflecting with a slight breeze blowing towards me, luck is on our side today.
Reflecting with a slight breeze blowing towards me, luck is on our side today.
Another Day, Another Stand.
Another Day, Another Stand.
Trekking out of the bush listening to the stories of yesteryear.
Trekking out of the bush listening to the stories of yesteryear.
Blaze Orange 'Get Out & Go Hunting' toque, a must for the serious deer hunter! ;)
Blaze Orange ‘Get Out & Go Hunting’ toque, a must for the serious deer hunter! 😉
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Camera is always packed, 99% of photos posted are from iPhone. Hmm…
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#meateaters
Bear country, they sure love their Beach trees.
Bear country; they sure love their Beech trees.
The view is worth it, every time.
The view is worth it, every time.
Fortunate enough to get some meat in the freezer this past fall.
Fortunate enough to get some meat in the freezer this past fall.
Last time up in the the stand until next season.
Last time up in the the stand until next season.
Packing out!
Packing out!
Mr Clean...
Mr Clean…
Cleaning, packing up and then we're off.
Cleaning, packing up and then we’re off.
Another deer season on the Bruce in the books.
Another deer season on the Bruce in the books.

Old Gun, New Gun.

I’ve expressed my fondness for various styles of guns in this forum on more than one occasion, and I’m usually for older, more proven models than new, fancy, cutting-edge models, but that’s not what this is about.

This is about a foible of human nature.  This is about an affinity for ‘things’ and the very human practice of ascribing them emotional value that sometimes exceeds their worthiness. About infusing metal and wood and polymers and glass with memories, hopes, and aspirations.  For some people the object is a talisman or a token, some bauble that becomes a representation of deeper meaning in their lives.  Photos, trinkets, keepsakes, and antiques, they all fall under this umbrella.

For me this is perfectly distilled in two deer guns.  One with a pedigree forged in years and primacy of place in a young boy’s hunting initiation, the other with no outwardly special graces but still imbued with deeply personal significance.

My father bought the old gun from a work acquaintance, back when those kinds of transactions between hunters were less meticulously controlled.  I do not know (mostly because I never asked) if it was Dad’s intention that this gun was intended to be for one of his sons, but I can suspect that he had it at least in the back of his mind.  It is a beautifully-crafted Remington Model 14, and it is at least 80 years old by now, and possibly even closer to a century has passed since it left Ilion, New York.  Chambered in .30 Remington (a shell that isn’t even manufactured anymore) it is smooth to the shoulder, extremely ‘pointable’, and about as nice a brush gun as you could hope to have.  I remember being put through my paces with it one Thanksgiving at the farm, just weeks before I would take up arms in my first deer hunt.  I was taken through the proper loading, unloading, safety and aiming rituals of the gun. Convinced I was safe, Dad then took me into the hardwoods and had me shoot at a knot on a split piece of hardwood at fifty paces; I missed the knot, but I was in the neighbourhood and Dad said it was close enough to kill a deer if I was lucky enough to have the bead on a deer’s front shoulder.  I just recall that the bullet split the wood as smoothly as any maul would have.

Next we stood perpendicular to the big hill behind the farm and dad affixed a cardboard target inside an old tire.  He kicked the tire down the hill and I tried to hit the bouncing, wobbling target.  This time I was more steady and poured a couple of shots into the kill zone.  With that I was deemed ‘ready’.  A few weeks later I swung the bead onto the form of a running deer and through the rear peep sight I calmly squeezed the trigger, knocking down a fawn.  I don’t even recall feeling the gun’s recoil in that moment, but the sounds and smells and feelings of that morning are seared into my mind.

A couple of other deer have fallen to that gun in the intervening years, and I’ve done some missing with it too, but every time I took it to the range it told me that operator error, and not some malfunction in the weapon, was the real culprit in my poor shooting.  It was always the first thing I reached for in November and the action has become so well worn that it almost falls open when released.  The recoil does a large part of the work in pumping the gun after it is shot and the patina it has from my hands is unmistakable.  It glows after a dose of oil and the stock and fore-end have a warm chestnut brown sheen that reminds me of bread toasted over a mid-day bonfire and a chill November breeze across my face.

That gun and I…we have history together.

But there’s another gun, and it lacks the heritage and character of the Model 14.  It is non-descript and in many ways indistinguishable from the thousands of other cookie-cutter rifles on the market.  It’s existence in my gun cabinet comes from a casual observation I made in 2012.  My younger brother and I were discussing rifles, and platforms, and calibers when I mentioned that I was thinking about buying a .308WIN in a bolt action with a drop-out clip.  It was not a burning desire, not an immediate need, and certainly nothing more than a passing thought at the time.  I owned (in fact had won) a perfectly serviceable .243WIN in a raffle, but it had two strikes against it.  First I was considering starting to moose hunt, and I thought .243 would be a bit light in caliber, and secondly, it was a top-load, top-eject model and it was fairly annoying to load and unload.  So like I said, I mused about buying a .308.

The local gun shop was offering good prices on the Savage Axis in that caliber with a standard scope package and I was tempted on several occasions to splurge on it, but we had just bought a new home and there just wasn’t room in the budget for a rifle/scope combo.  So in my mind it was just an idle daydream.

At the same time, my mother was dying.  She had cancer that everyone was certain was going to be terminal at some time in the not-so-distant future, and we had all more or less made peace with that sobering and not particularly pleasant fact.

In early 2013, Mom’s health continued to decline to lower ebbs and repeated treatments were really only staving off what was clearly an inevitability.  It was a stressful and truly shitty situation, most of all for Mom who had lost a lot of her energy and vibrancy in putting up the good fight for many years against the disease. She still made all the appearances and efforts she could, and one evening in early March, I arrived home to find Mom, Dad, and my younger brother over visiting my wife and (then) very young sons…the youngest wasn’t even a year old yet.

After some pleasantries, my brother disappeared out the front door for few minutes and came back in carrying a large box that on sight, I knew held a gun.  He had been on a bit of a gun-buying spree at the time so I presumed that he was showing me his latest purchase, which was a Savage Axis with a scope in .308WIN.  I was about to jibe him for buying ‘my gun’ when I was left speechless and a bit stunned when Mom just smiled at me and said two words.

“It’s yours.”

I probably stood there with a goofy grin, and with nothing to say for a few seconds before I started laughing and saying “thank you” a dozen times. There weren’t any tears that I could recall, and it all unfolded that my brother had mentioned that I was thinking of a new gun, and that she had leapt at the opportunity to get it for me.  I also distinctly remember mom saying something about probably not having many more opportunities to get me something to hunt with.  It stung me to hear her open admission of her own mortality, but it also was just like her.

She adored that ‘her boys’ (by which she always meant my Dad, my brother, and I) hunted together and shared a passion for the outdoors, and whenever she could she tried to stress the importance of having us get together and go out into the fields and woods. That gift was just one more of those gestures. I thanked her and my brother and my dad some more and then we eventually just settled in for a nice visit.

She was gone from cancer not even 90 days after that gun took up residence in my house, and she never had the chance to see a picture of me standing next to a deer, cradling her gift. In fact, to date no one has because I haven’t harvested a deer in the three deer seasons since she gifted me that rifle.  But now, in a way to honour her gift, and also as a way to get off the ‘zero’ that the .308WIN is carrying, I reach for it first on almost every hunt.  It is light, with a synthetic stock of Mossy Oak camo. The Bushnell scope, and the new caps I put on it last year are primed and ready. The clip slides smoothly and snugly into place, and the trigger is crisp.  It is nice-looking, nice shooting unit, and some day it is going to do its job and put venison in the freezer.

So even though it is the ‘new gun’ it’s just as saturated with emotion and expectation as the Model 14, which is the crafty, aged veteran of the deer woods, not only in my hands but from whatever hunts and experiences the previous owner(s) had taken it on.

It’s so hard to pick a favourite in this circumstance, so I guess I’ll do what I do every year.

I’m packing up both.

Two Guns

Stop Telling Me Why You Hunt, or, What’s Your Real Motivation?

As is often the case, social media has been a wellspring of inspiration for content on this site, and in this case I was moved to start thinking about motivation. More specifically, I started thinking about what really motivates hunters.  You see, for the last few days I have been seeing all sorts of pictures, and memes, and slogans, and catchphrases from dozens of people about “Why I Hunt”, and two things are baffling about this to me.

First, all of them seem to, at least in part, ascribe the sole motivation of going hunting to items that in my mind are simply component parts of the whole.

Second, since when was an explanation necessary?

To the second point first.  You see it isn’t that I don’t care why you hunt, it’s more that I don’t consider it to be any of my business.  So long as you are doing it within the confines of the law and your outward representation of the hunting tradition isn’t negatively influencing non-hunters and/or baiting anti-hunters, then my stance is that you have no call to justify yourself to me. In fact, unless you are trying to simply get attention for the generally commonplace fact that you went hunting or you are trying to soft-serve the anti-hunting community with more palatable explanations for why hunting is important, I can see no real reason why you need to crow about it.

I appreciate now if anyone wants to point out the irony of my blog/social media presence as being hypocritical to what I just wrote, but read on and you’ll see what I’m driving at.

I, of course, have my own thoughts and standards about what some might call ‘acceptable practices’ or ‘ethical hunting’ and I may not even personally like how, where, or what you use to do it.  But what I think about you doesn’t matter, and I frankly don’t really have to justify my actions or impress anyone else.  Because despite the mass-social-media, let-me-take-a-selfie, bigger-is-better, and gosh-I-hope-the guys-at-Realtree/Mossy Oak/Remington/Under Armor-see-my-feed-and-offer-me-a-sponsorship mentality that seems to be at the corporate root of all things in the modern hunting world, how I choose to commune with nature and find my happy place does not concern you at all, and so long as you’re okay and your actions don’t jeopardize my ability to independently pursue game in the outdoors, then I have no real right or desire to lecture you about what you are doing. I truly could not care less, in the best, most benignly friendly sense of that statement.

Let’s discuss it over a beer some time.

But to the first, and to my mind more troubling point, is my confusion with the willingly or ignorantly delusional stuff I see used to justify or purify the hunting experience.  I see things like (and I’m paraphrasing) “Frosty fall sunrises are why I hunt” or “Seeing game in its natural environment is why I hunt” or “Spring sunsets are why I hunt”, or “Supporting conservation is why I hunt” or my personal favourite “Being outside in nature is why I hunt” and, frankly, you can do all of those things without actually hunting.  In fact, if they are the prime motivator to what you deem to be the hunting tradition, then you can be a hiker, or a birdwatcher, or a nature photographer and (provided that the memes that you have been posting are true) I can assure you that you will get precisely the same level of fulfillment from any of the above activities, and you won’t get any blood on your hands at all, I swear.

Now, all of those experiential and conservation-themed items above are vastly important and I love all of them probably a little too much myself, but they are not the primary reason that I’m out there.  They are a happy benefit to being out there and they are to be cherished and shared in my mind, but if you are hunting…truly hunting… then you are out there to find and to kill game.

Let that sink in.  Not because I’ve just turned you on to a fact you did not already know and have been perhaps in denial about, but rather let it sink in because if you are saying that sunsets, and sunrises, and pretty birds, and peaceful reflection, or money in the conservationists coffers are the things that get you out to hunt, then you can either leave the rifle at home next time and have a less burdensome walk, or you can start to speak in actual truthful terms and not clichés.  When someone says “I hunt for the meat” or “I hunt to challenge myself against wildlife” then they have my undivided attention.  Even people who say “I hunt for a trophy” or “I hunt to make myself feel important” get a bit of my time because although I can’t say I share their motivation, I can be relatively certain that they are telling the truth and to do those things in the above paragraph you actually have to, you know, hunt.

If you’re proud of being a hunter and want to tell the world about it, knock yourself out; I do it all the time and very much to the displeasure of my friends, coworkers, and loved ones.  But paint the whole picture.

Tell that story about the time you sat for eleven hours in a treestand during a snow storm and saw screw-all.  Tell that story about the time you got lost and tasted those first sickening pangs of fear and confusion.  Tell the story about the time you made a snap shot and then had to track a gut-shot deer for hours before giving up and losing sleep fretting that it probably died in agony because you made a mistake. Explain the inner workings of what it takes to gut a moose or skin a squirrel.  Be not profane, but tell the tales about the shitty side of things and make it real, because it is never always a steady stream of magenta sunsets, meditation to a birdsong soundtrack, and one-shot kills.

And if you think it is or that it will be, I’m sorry, but I’ve got news for you.

A Tradition of List-Making

For those of you who know me and my family you will be aware that we have a quirky little idiosyncrasy of no determined origin; we are known to make lists.  My Dad does it, my brother does it, I do it, and to a lesser extent, my immediate family of uncles and cousins on my paternal side do it as well.  This post is but one of many examples of list-making that will grace the virtual pages of this blog, as is this earlier post.
If anything, lists serve as a jumping off point for conversation, and many a rollicking deer or duck and goose camp conversation has sprung up around the topic of such lists.  These can be lists of any sort in a hunting camp: favourite foods, favourite types of foods (soups, pies, fruits, vegetables, cuts of meat, etc), favourite hunting seasons, preferred times of year and weather, least favourite rifle calibres, most-respected ancestors, funniest comedians, and so on in perpetuity.  I find nothing more entertaining than seeing the passion with which grown men will work themselves into while extolling the virtues of minestrone soup, or bisque, or why the autumnal equinox is so damn awesome in relation to the vernal equinox.  These are memories to cherish, and for the uninitiated, a bizarre ritual of bonding.
I firmly stand by the belief that this proclivity to catalogue and have debates about the order of things with others is what drove me into historical studies as a younger man.  It also drives my lifelong affinity with learning and trying out new experiences both in hunting, and in my limited life outside of the sport.  This is why I compete in calling contests, read a wide variety of books, the reason that I now own seven harmonicas (and hopefully…soon…a banjo.)
In a semi-corollary vein, something near and dear to my heart and the ultimate goal for me when hunting, is the capture of wild game for consumption.
For those of you who have not tried wild game I can only say that you may be missing out on one of life’s finer pleasures.  For the readers who simply say that you “don’t like” wild game, I may posit that you just have not had it properly prepared for you.  If you think wild game is one-dimensional, strong, without subtlety of flavour, or something otherwise unappealing, I would direct you to read anything by Gene Hill, a wordsmith and hunter who had the ability to simultaneously paint vivid scenes of the wilderness while also describing supra-palatable culinary adventures in wild game.
So in an unholy marriage between my appreciation for the cooking and consumption of wild game and my compulsively twisted and uncontrollable need to organize things into lists, I give you my top five favourite game meat dishes.  One of these is something I’ve had only once, and I long for it again.  Others are treats, while a couple are staples at hunting camps or in my suburban kitchen.  All the preparations are simple and straightforward.
Bon appetit!
1.      Pan Fried Ruffed Grouse
I’ll start with this because it is my absolute favourite wild game treat, and it is exceedingly simple to make.
Take a grouse that has been field-dressed (also an extremely simple process) and cut the breasts into medallions.  Melt as much butter, oil, or other delicious fat as you like in a pan (but not too much, this isn’t deep frying, here…although that would be good too.)
Pat the grouse medallions dry and dust them lightly with flour.  In a small bowl or shallow plate whisk two eggs, and in another bowl have some bread crumbs ready (I actually prefer to use soda-cracker crumbs, but to each their own I say).  Dredge the medallions in the eggs and then in the crumb coating.  Add them to the pan and cook over medium heat until slightly browned and just cooked through.
These can just be eaten straight away as a finger food, but I also find them good in a sandwich with some mayo, ball park mustard, lettuce, and cheddar cheese.
2.      Deer Heart
Not only does someone shooting a deer in November mean that I’ll be getting some venison for the winter, but it sometimes means that we’ll be enjoying deer heart for lunch or dinner that day.  Those who dislike organ meat should probably move on to recipe #3.  Those who do like organ meat, well, it just doesn’t get any fresher (or more ‘organic’ than this).
Soak the heart in cold water for a few minutes to make sure all the nooks and crannies are rinsed out, then (starting at the top of the heart) cut it horizontally into ½ inch thick ‘steaks’.  Dust these in flour and pan fry in the same way as in the grouse recipe above.  I do recommend that heart be cooked to slightly more ‘well-done’ state…no, I don’t have a specific temperature to tell you.  When it is cooked through, give it another minute or two in the pan.
3.      Pit Roasted Bear Shoulder
I’ve only had this once and I don’t have the recipe specifics, so I’ll just try to explain the basic method and what it tasted like.
At the end of winter up on the Bruce, some of my friends and acquaintances have a bit of a party to celebrate the close of their winter coyote hunting.  In 2009, someone at this (aptly named) ‘coyote party’ brought a bear shoulder roast, put it in a roasting pan, dug a hole in the ground, put the roast pan in the hole and then covered the whole thing with hot coals.  And I mean hot coals.  I don’t know what they spiced, rubbed, or marinated this cut of meat with, and I have no real clue how long it was in the ground, but they did keep piling coals onto it for a good while.
When this meat came out of the ground, a large group of men chased the aroma into the cabin, and I can say that this bear roast did not last 15 minutes from carving to total and absolute consumption.
Think moist, tender, flavourful, cooked to just a hair beyond medium, and with a texture that was ‘beefier’ than beef.  I’ve heard some hunters say that bear meat is only good if it is ground up and masked with fillers in the form of sausages or pepperettes.  After this preparation, I would beg to disagree.
If I ever get a chance to have it again, I will ensure that I get the full recipe and share it with my readers.
4.      Dry Roasted Venison aux Poivre
This is a concoction of my own design, and it is based on Steak au Poivre.  It is pretty rich, but I enjoy it as a comfort food and I personally would rather have this than venison tenderloin (sacrilege, I know).  Moose, elk, sheep, or any other big game animal for that matter could be substituted for the venison.
In a heavy, dry skillet toast some ¾ cup of whole peppercorns until they are aromatic.  Remove the peppercorns and set them aside to cool.  Once they are cool, put them in a plastic bag and beat the bejesus out of them with a mallet or rolling pin until they are crumbled (not a fine grind, just rustic looking).  Add a bit of salt to taste and then pour the whole thing onto a sheet pan.
Preheat your oven to 400° F.
Take the venison roast (I prefer shoulder or neck, although some like a shank) and let it thaw to room temperature.  In a heavy skillet bring a mixture of vegetable oil and butter to a high temperature (be careful of grease fires!).  Sear the roast on all sides and then roll it around on the sheet pan of salt and smashed peppercorns until the roast is coated on all sides.  Put it back on the heavy skillet and put the whole thing in the oven until a meat thermometer inserted in the middle of the roast indicates the doneness you desire (I prefer a perfect medium of 145° F; others may like it more or less done).  Wrap the meat in tinfoil and let it rest for 15 minutes.
While the meat is resting add a cup of red wine (of your choice) to the skillet and reduce it vigorously over high heat while scraping all the brown bits off the bottom of the pan.  Once the wine reduces by half, cut the temperature to low and add 1/3 of a cup of heavy cream while continuing to occasionally stir.  Also, optionally, you can add a handful of whole peppercorns and salt to taste.  Once this sauce reaches your desired thickness you can just keep it warm on the back burner.

Carve the roast and dress with a spoonful or two of sauce.  This is great with grilled asparagus, garlic mashed potatoes, and heavier red wine (Shiraz, Dornfelder, or red Zinfandel)
5.      Rory’s Goose Camp Rolls
Although this is last on my list, it would not be a complete “Top 5” without this little dish.  This is ideal for early season geese that may not have a good layer of fat on them.
Remove the skin from the breasts, and then remove the breasts from the goose (don’t forget the tenders!).
Take a goose breast and cut it into thin, flat strips.  Marinate these for a couple of hours in a bottle of your favourite vinegar based salad dressing.   I am partial to Balsamic vinaigrette, but sun-dried tomato, Greek, or plain old Italian style vinaigrette works in a pinch too.
While the goose is marinating, soak a bunch of heavy wooden skewers in water for about an hour.
Once the marinating is done (after say a couple of hours), lay some bacon out in flat strips and then lay the goose strips on the bacon.  Roll them up like a cigar and hold them together with the skewer.  Fire them on the grill until the bacon is crisp and the goose strips are cooked until they just barely pink in the middle (I would not recommend eating this dish any less done than medium…I’ve had rare goose…the outcome was unpleasant).
This dish is great because unlike something that is bacon-wrapped, these bacon-rolled pieces have crispy bits of bacon throughout.  The vinegar in the salad dressing helps to tenderize the goose meat, and it also adds flavour.  One side note for this dish.  Historically these get eaten quickly, but they are also pretty heavy and very easy to over-indulge in.  Consider yourself warned.
So that’s my top five.  There are countless honourable mentions including braised goose legs, deep-fried wild turkey, a variety of chilli permutations, and plain old roast mallard.  I’m sure that this will not be the last post on the subject of food and recipes I post though, so stay tuned.