Canada Goose Paprikash with German Spaetzle

I was laying in bed the other night, thumbing through Instagram in a state of voluntary social distancing, when I came across a post from @TheFreeloadingGoat showing a very appealing plate of Hungarian goulash. Canada Goose Hungarian goulash.

Now I do like goulash, but if there is one issue I have with it (and I’m really quibbling here) it is that it is not quite hearty enough for me. I’ve had excellent goulash dishes in Hamilton, Ontario at the venerable Black Forest Inn, as well as at the very generous Two Goblets in Kitchener, Ontario and both were as authentic as you could find. But I wanted something just a little heavier, a little more emphatic, and I remembered another Hungarian dish, Chicken Paprikash, that was just a little more substantial. The flavors stronger, with thicker gravy that was, as I recalled, more tomato-based.

And I had plenty of Canada Goose meat in order to make this happen.

Paprikash is pretty simple when you get down to it, but it is in the simple use of good ingredients that have ended up as some of my favourite plates.  This stew was rich, filling, and paired perfectly with a Pilsner Urquell.  Of note, this recipe uses smoked paprika because that’s what prefer, but mild/sweet or hot and spicy paprika could be substituted in based on your personal taste.

Where I absolutely agreed with the post I saw was that this rich stew was going to have to go over spaetzle. That meant making some spaetzle, and I have always failed horribly at those elusive but oh so yummy German noodles.  I once tried to make them using a colander, but I ended up less with noodles and more with little boiled dough-balls. Another time I found a ‘hack’ saying that a box cheese grater would do the trick. I won’t speak of the outcome other than to say it did not do the trick I thought it would.

Undeterred I resolved to try again, and this time I found success. My trick? I cut the corner off a zip-top plastic bag and made it into a sort of piping bag.  From there I just piped the noodle batter into simmering water and waited for the magic to happen. Turns out spaetzle is pretty simple too.

As we all find ourselves (hopefully temporarily) social distancing, hunters are uniquely positioned in that we are not as fully at the whims of the supply chain, and we can often rely on some of our own wild caught or shot protein when heading out to grocery stores is less of an option. If you have some Canada goose breasts in your chest freezer, pull them out and turn them into this. You won’t be sorry.

As an added bonus, this recipe makes a big pot of paprikash, so there will be extras. I re-heated the leftovers tonight, then poured them over some savory pancakes and put a fried egg on top of the whole thing.  I can assure you this dish gets even better after a couple of days in the fridge.

Goose Paprikash

2 tbsp vegetable oil

3 medium sized Canada goose breasts, chopped into rough cubes

1 large onion, minced

3 large garlic cloves, crushed

2 medium red bell pepper, chopped

4 tbsp smoked paprika

2 tsp caraway seeds

1 can tomato paste (156ml)

1 can of diced tomatoes (796ml)

Salt and black pepper to taste

1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

  1. Heat 1tbsp of the oil over medium-high heat in dutch oven or stock pot.
  2. Add the goose meat, browning it on all sides in batches, ensuring not to overcrowd the pot. Set aside the browned meat.
  3. In the same pot, add the remaining oil and heat the onions and peppers until they are softened, but still slightly crisp.
  4. Lower the heat to medium-low and add the garlic, stirring it until it starts to soften, then re-add the meat.
  5. Add the can of tomato paste and stir the meat and vegetables together until they are all coated.
  6. Add all of the paprika and the caraway seeds, and again stir until everything is coated.
  7. Pour in the can of diced tomatoes. Depending on the size of your pot, the goose and vegetables should be just barely covered, but if not, add a little water or red wine.
  8. Cover and simmer over low heat for at least two hours, or until the goose meat pulls apart easily with two forks.

Spaetzle

2 cups all-purpose flour

4 eggs

½ cup of water

2tsp kosher salt

2tsp butter

  1. In a mixing bowl, stir the flour and salt together, then make a little well in the center.
  2. Beat the eggs with a fork and add pour them into the well, along with some of the water.
  3. Using the handle of a wooden spoon, stir this until a thick, stretchy batter begins to form. Add some, or all of the rest of the water if it is too dry.
  4. Heat four cups of salted water to just below a boil.
  5. Stir for five minutes until it begins too look stretchy, then put it into a large, sturdy, zip-top plastic bag.
  6. Snip one corner of the bag, leaving a hole roughly the size of a pinky finger.
  7. Squeeze the dough through the hole in the plastic bag slowly, snipping off noodles about an inch long.
  8. When the noodles float and are firm to the touch, remove them to a colander and let them drain.
  9. Heat the butter over medium heat until it melts completely and foams.
  10. Add the spaetzle to the butter, tossing for two or three minutes until they are coated.

Serving

  1. Put a layer of spaetzle on a big plate.
  2. Pour the paprikash over top.
  3. Sprinkle with parsley.
  4. Eat it greedily while not speaking to anyone else at your table.

Black Bear Bourguignon

There had been four shots all told, and whomever had fired them had not been sitting too far away me. The startled adrenaline was flowing as I quickly went through the mental mathematics on who it could have been, all the while readying my own rifle in case the deer came running past my stand.

It was a cool and calm November evening, the first we had experienced so far for the 2019 deer season, and I strained my ears for hooves thumping through leaves or the snapping of twigs that happen when fleeing whitetails move fast and heedlessly from danger. The reports had come with the cadence of an autoloading rifle, and that disqualified a few hunters in the group from being responsible, and only two or three hunters would be in the vicinity of where all the action was happening so I had my list of suspects fairly soon.

Calming down in the silent minutes after all the noise and having had nothing sprint through the hardwoods around me, I pulled out my phone and texted the group. No one that responded fessed up, so I went back to my business of peering through the woods as darkness descended around me. Before I even broke out of the woods and into the field surrounding the cabin, I could hear the stories being told.

Someone had seen some shooting, and I hoped to find a deer gutted and in the hanging tree. To my surprise though, we were soon talking about a bear, and the only man in camp holding a tag for one was my dad.

The tale was not without drama, and those details are for another day, but when all was said and done, I was happy for dad to get his bear, but I was most excited for the bear meat. I already had my mind well set on a special type of dish. Now, eating predators gets a bad wrap in some circles, and bears in general get their share of flack. But a truly wild bear, cooked correctly, is a rich and complex meat, and to the non-hunter it is not dissimilar to beef.

I have been fortunate enough to have had slow roasted bear, BBQ pulled bear, and bear burgers, and all were exceptional, and yes all were “beefy”, but they were also all deeper than that. I cannot find the word to exactly do the taste justice but heavy, musty, intense, and rich all come to mind, all with the most positive of meanings.

I have always thought that bear stew would be excellent, and I fiddled with Irish Bear Stew or maybe a Bear Brunswick Stew, and those would be excellent choices, but they were just too rough in my mind. As an experiment, I wanted something just slightly more refined, something still rustic but also elegant that would be a way to show that all those bold and concentrated bear flavours could be married with something luxurious and a cut above “stew”.

So, Black Bear Bourguignon became the plan. A once rural preparation of stewed onions mushrooms and beef that had been heightened by French masters, and in place of the beef, we were going to insert the bear. Was it as easy as throwing it in a slow cooker? No. Did it take more than half a day to make? Yes. Am I being a food snob? Maybe. But what matters most was that it was good, in fact it was better than good. It was both objectively and subjectively the best wild game dish I’ve ever eaten. The methodical process, the range of ingredients, and the patience needed all make it worth it, and the taste is something you need to experience to understand.

Shot a bear? Make this. It is worth all the efforts and really the bear deserves no less.

Ingredients

8 slices thick bacon, chopped

3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

3-4 pound bear roast, cubed roughly

2 medium carrots, sliced into coins

1 medium white onion, sliced thinly

2 tablespoons flour

3 cups red wine (authenticity demands Burgundy or Beaujolais, get the real stuff, you won’t regret it)

3 to 4 cups beef stock

1 small can tomato paste

4 cloves mashed garlic

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1 bay leaf, crumbled

24-30 pearl onions

3 1/2 tablespoons butter

1 pound mushrooms, fresh and quartered

Salt and pepper

Preparation

  1. Cut the bacon into chunks and begin crisping them in a dutch oven or deep stock pot. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon, reserving the fat.
  2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F (230C).
  3. Ensure the bear cubes are dried. Add the bear to the bacon fat and brown on all sides. Do this in small batches so that the bear meat browns and does not steam in a crowded pot. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside with the crisp bacon.
  4. In the same bacon (and now bear) fat, brown the carrot and sliced onion. Once done, pour out as much of the fat as you can.
  5. Return the bear and bacon to the pot on top of the vegetables and stir with salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Then sprinkle on the flour and stir to coat the beef lightly. Set pot uncovered in middle position of preheated oven for five minutes.
  7. Stir the meat again and return to oven for four minutes or until the flour is just beginning to brown and make a crust on the meat.
  8. Remove the pot and turn oven down to 325 degrees F (160C).
  9. Pour in the wine and two to three cups beef stock, just enough so that the meat is barely covered.
  10. Add the tomato paste, garlic, and herbs. Bring to a simmer on top of the stove.
  11. Cover pot and return it to the oven. Let this simmers very slowly for four hours. The meat is done when you can tear it easily with a fork.
  12. Go have a glass of any of that wine that may be leftover. You’ve got time.
  13. When the bear meat has one hour left in the oven prepare the pearl onions and mushrooms.
  14. Heat one and a half tablespoons butter with one and one-half tablespoons of the oil in a large pan until the butter is melted and bubbling.
  15. Add the onions and sauté over medium low heat browning them evenly.
  16. Add one half cup of the stock, salt and pepper to taste.
  17. Cover and simmer slowly for 45 minutes until the onions are tender and the liquid has evaporated. If the liquid is gone but the onions are still not tender, add more stock and get back to simmering them.
  18. Set the onions aside, and heat remaining oil and butter over high heat. As soon as you see butter has begun to bubble again, add the mushrooms. Brown them and then set them aside.
  19. When the meat is finished, strain the meat and vegetables, reserving all the cooking liquid.
  20. Put the bear, vegetables, mushrooms, and pearl onions back in the pot.
  21. Skim as much fat as you can off the cooking liquid, and then boil down the sauce for a minute or two, skimming off additional fat as it rises. The sauce should coat a spoon lightly when you are done. Taste for seasoning and add additional salt and pepper.
  22. Pour the reduced cooking liquid over the meat and vegetables. Simmer two to three minutes, stirring to coat the meat and vegetables with the sauce.
  23. Serve with crusty bread or pour over egg noodles.
  24. Dark beer or good red wine are mandatory when eating this.

Them Post-Election Night Blues

I should probably sleep on this, or edit it, or something. But then this would look like some sort of “professional writing outfit” and who wants that?  We do not wade into politics often or at all in this forum, and this may be our only shot at it. Buckle up.

So many who self-affiliate as the “hunting industry” (whatever that even means any more) have more or less, and without a shred of irony, proven why the PC’s did not win a majority in the Canadian federal election last night.

No nuance, no insight, no civil discourse, and pretty thin on facts. A lot of bruised egos, and a whole lot of re-confirmed confirmation bias, but that’s about it. Doom and gloom. Conspiracy theories. Overt racism. Pouting and sour grapes. Threats of violence. Blaming the enemy. Typical internet stuff, really.

Our fault really for looking to the internet for reaction.

Not to trot out the old cliché (but we’re about to) but if the sporting community made a bridge instead of a wall, to try to get people to understand instead of to ostracize them as the enemy, then maybe this would be a bit easier.

But no. We’d rather be a base. A pawn. A tribe.

To go out on a limb and stating something that will make us exceedingly unpopular.

There are hunters who like hunting and there are people who want to be identified as hunters but who really prioritize guns…or at least like conflict and catering to a base who prioritize guns. The latter are much, much, much louder than the former, and they usually have some economic skin in the game.

Because here’s the deal: let’s say that in a broad sweeping motion, on January 2020 all guns are banned. I’ll hunt with archery equipment. Of course the slippery slope argument will come up that “ARCHERY EQUIPMENT IS THE NEXT TO BE BANNED!!”. Guess I’ll hunt with a slingshot then, or take up trapping, or whatever it takes. Because here is the difference. The gun is way down the line in the equation. For me it’s the wilderness, the wildlife, the encounters, then the kill.

Then we feast.

Sure as hell is hot, there are irrational people who will never be pro-hunting, or pro-gun, but they are the minority, just like the strident and irrational gun-nuts that want an NRA North are also the minority. Both groups want polarization, they want a faceless enemy that they can group as ‘us’ and ‘them’, ‘conservative’ against ‘liberal’, ‘populist’ versus ‘elite’, whatever labels they can to give their world view validation and a reason to exist.  Add in the many (conflicting) lobbyists that want your allegiance and your money, and it is a colossal, bloody mess and frankly, exhausting to wade through. But I believe that they do not represent the sizeable, rational, and reasonable middle ground.

And we are not special. There are thousands and thousands of hunters and gun owners just like us. To whom the gun is the tool, not the focus. To whom calculating rationality may be preferable to hysteria.

Conservation is the focus. $13+ billion dollars contributed to the Canadian economy by the outdoors is the focus. Providing clean protein and wilderness experiences to our families in an increasingly urbanized culture have become the focus. Not what the fringe on either side thinks of us.

But then again maybe we just read too many books.

I personally remember, just after I turned sixteen and had started hunting, I still militantly believed in things. Bill C-68 came into effect that December and every gun-aligned group again decried that it was going to be the end of hunting, the start of widespread firearms confiscation, and the general start of an anarchy-driven class war between rural and urban/suburban Canadians. I wrote a letter to Allan Rock as part of a high-school political science class, haranguing the minister like only a semi-informed but embarrassingly emotional high school aged firebrand could. I later came to realize that my outrage, much like the hand-wringing from the gun lobby and various pundits, was well overwrought and generally proven false.

Was Bill C-68 bad legislation? That’s debatable. Was the long-gun registry an absolute waste of time and money. Absolutely, and I applaud its demise. But did it legitimately impact anyone’s hunting experience, or was that just a dog-whistle call to stoke fear?

Were you moderately inconvenienced with trigger locks? Was it a bad idea that perhaps firearms should be in a safe? Did you not go hunting because ‘the government’ made you register your Browning?

I never seem to get an honest answer to those questions.

So call this elegant social media suicide if you like, and call us personally what you will. We can handle it.

This is hardly the end. It is hardly hunting’s “death by a thousand cuts”. It is not the tipping point of a revolution. But what it is, maybe, is a chance to take a sober, rational look at how we portray ourselves. Maybe this is an opportunity to be less insular. Maybe we can go back to things that I thought hunters cared about, like securing public lands for hunting, sound science-based wildlife management and environmental policy, and a focus on growing the tradition as opposed to making it an exclusive enterprise open only to those that think the “correct way”.

Spend your license dollars, not begrudgingly, but knowing you are contributing where thousands of others are not. Eat at the small-town diner that profits off of hunters, act civilly, and tip generously. Take a kid hunting and tell them what you know, as well as what you don’t know. Without arrogance, offer to share some wild game harvest with an open-minded neighbor and take no offense if they aren’t up for it. Start a polite conversation where maybe, just maybe, you come from an angle where you don’t know everything. And stop caring about who someone voted for and maybe focus on why they believe what they believe. You’ll find the irreconcilable, sure, but you’ll find it less often than you’ll find a connection.

To anyone who reads this that is furious. Sorry about that…as you were, thanks for stopping in.

To anyone who reads this that is curious. We are listening.

We are not the foremost experts on anything really, but we love to hunt and tell the stories, we love wild game, we are civil to talk to, and we don’t hate you. If you’re in that middle ground, if you have an open mind, and you have some ideas to bring to the table, that’s a far better starting point than what I’ve seen in the last ninety days from those who profess to be “protecting the tradition” and can’t figure out why we aren’t on “their side”.

And lord knows, that would be damn refreshing right about now.

Memories & Guns

The dog was awake before my alarm was. He’s not a hunting dog, but he knew when I laid boots, and shells, and a gun case out the evening before that I was planning an early morning excursion.

He followed me to the bathroom in the pre-dawn, and his tail thumped hard against my thigh as I brushed my teeth.  For a brief moment I considered taking him with me, but he’s a big dumb rescue dog that likes to zoom and bound headlong through the woods. He would have fun, but every bird for a hundred-yard radius would be busted and even if one flushed in range, the big white frame of the Husky-Shepherd-coyote-whatever mutt that he is would almost certainly be between the barrel and the target.

So, I patted his side and softly sighed as I told him “Not today, pal.” As dogs are, he was unoffended and trotted back to the bed, hopping up and making himself comfortable on my side of the mattress with a stretch and a groan.

I dressed in the dark, feeling somber and tired and not as enthused about the prospect of chasing ruffed grouse in the county crown lands as I had been when my head hit the pillow the night prior. In the kitchen I grabbed a granola bar and threw back a glass of milk while a purring tomcat circled my calves and tried to get me to feed him. I nudged him aside with my foot and he trotted to the door and took to rubbing his face on the corner of the gun case. I bent down and with one hand picked up the case, while I used the other to scoop up the cat. I set the cat on the edge of the couch, and I swung the door open to set the gun case on the porch, followed by my boots and my ammo box. Indiana Jones-style I grab my blaze orange hat just as I have the door swinging shut.

It was cool and breezy that Thanksgiving Monday. It had been raining for the last hour or two, but by the time I put my boots on and surveyed the coming morning from my porch, it was barely a sprinkle. I was bulldozed by the silence; in the very early morning of a long weekend in October, no other people were up driving the suburban streets of my neighbourhood.

I pulled out and in minutes was headed down a county road towards a tract of Simcoe County Forest that I’d been hunting for more than a decade. The radio was jarring babble so I switched it off as quickly as I’d put it on. I headed down the road in pensive silence, never encountering another vehicle.

Things were not great. Now I know that as an employed, well-fed, generally healthy, middle-class white dude in Canada my worst day is a lot of other people’s dream day, but that also doesn’t preclude things from sometimes getting shitty. A high-pressure project at my 9 to 5 with an imminent and pressing deadline. Two kids, that frankly are simultaneously wonderful and absolutely maddening, were going through a maddening phase full of pre-teen drama, stressing my wife and I and taking up a large piece of our relationship. Fall chores around the home needed doing before winter hit, and a further litany of self-inflicted commitments that loomed large all combined to put me in a bad spot mentally.

Irritable. Apathetic. Terse. Weighed down. Tired.

I took the time on the drive to try to organize my thoughts and reconcile all of the puzzle pieces, but that made it worse, so I just thought about the woods as I drove westward. The late-setting full moon glowed like platinum ahead of me as it snuck in and out of the wispy clouds.  It disappeared behind the trees for good as I turned onto the gravel road that led to the forest that I intended to wander that morning.

I pulled off to the soft shoulder and popped the trunk, fishing a double handful of .20 gauge shells out of an old cardboard box that was sitting open on the front passenger seat. I grabbed way more than I needed really, but there’s no optimism like that in the mind of an upland bird hunter before they start walking, so I stuffed my pockets and zipped them up. Walking around to the back of the vehicle, I reached into the trunk and unclasped the hard gun case that had seen close to thirty-years of hunting trips, before softly slipping the trigger lock off the one gun I covet more than any other.

A smooth, sleek, light, intuitively-pointable Ruger Red Label Over/Under. It is dad’s gun and I find myself borrowing it every fall in that period after the opening of grouse season. I shot my first wild game (a single snowshoe hare ahead of a beagle) with it in the winter of 1994, and I have been fairly adroit with it chasing ruffed grouse for the last five or ten years…when I can get my hands on it.

I flipped the lever on the top and the gun fell open invitingly. Dropping two rounds in I flipped it closed with a snug ‘thunk’, checked the safety, and started down the bush road. A blue jay scolded me as soon as I was past the gate at the roadside, and somewhere deeper in the bush a squirrel chattered and barked an alarm at my blaze orange and faded denim frame in response. A thought that I might kill that squirrel crossed my mind, and I filed it for future consideration.

Right then my thoughts were only of plump ruffies, intruded upon now and then by a wave of all of life’s problems.

The woods were splendiferous in their colour, and although many trees clung to leaves that were still green, birches and elms and oaks in their various hues of yellow and orange were mixed in and here and there the woods were spiced in flashes by blood-red flames of fall maple leaves. Nature abhors a straight line and everywhere she was trying to rub out the tidy, arrow-like rows of pine trees planted by the county, and she was having some success with ferns, and saplings, and thorn bushes obscuring the understory.  The pines, for their part, had been shedding needles for years and years, making the trails pillowy soft and hushed under my bootheels. Still early in the autumn, many of the trees still held many or almost all of their leaves and their limbs reached for one another over the trail to make a cathedral ceiling painted in a kaleidoscope interference of fall foliage. For a while I think I was just walking in a trance and staring at leaves, not really looking for grouse, just listening for their peeping calls or for the abrupt whirring of wings.

Solo hunting ruffed grouse without a dog is not for everyone. It is long on walking and short on action. It can be chokingly thick in some areas I frequent, and just as often as not the clever little buggers will hunker down until I walk slowly by before thundering off with a startling thrum of clumsy, short wings headed back the way I came. My strategy has always been the same when doing this on my own: walk the trails until one flushes, shoot it if I can, or mark it’s flight path and stalk slowly up on the bird, hoping to get a crack at it on a second (or sometimes third) flush. I do this with that lovely Red Label when I can, holding myself to wingshooting as often as possible. When that particular gun is not availed to me, I will resort to a .22LR, which takes wingshooting completely off the table, but does pose its own unique challenges in stalking up on the deceptively cagey little birds.

I was forty minutes into my morning when the sun finally broke through the clouds and began to warm the day. About this time, I found a wide, open clearing to one side of the trail, and I stepped into it almost unconsciously. In all directions all there was to see were the orderly rows of pines and their shed needles blanketing the forest floor.  Here and there a low stump served to memorialize a tree taken down, and I found one appropriately wide enough to serve as a seat. I leaned the gun against a tree a few feet away and just sat there. For how long, who knows. Couple of minutes at least.

Some chickadees flitted around, and far off a crow rattled a staccato series of calls. The breeze lifted and fell. Another blue jay screeched and flew by, and I just looked at the forest and listened. For some reason, I looked at the gun’s blued steel coldly stark and the rich brown wood gleaming in the morning sun, and I was struck by melancholy thoughts.

Dad’s gun.

Someday dad won’t be around anymore, and all that will be left will be memories.

Memories and guns.

Then another thought.

My guns.

Someday I won’t be around anymore, and all that will be left will be memories.

Different memories and different guns.

What kind of stories will those be?

You see, not every hunting story we churn out is a feel-good tale.

Then as quick as those thoughts came, before I could neither dismiss nor dwell on them, I was startled back to the task at hand. Not by feathers, but by fur. A big black squirrel (I like to think it was the same one I had heard at the roadside earlier that day) was headed my way, bounding from tree to tree and he was making some racket. Hot on his tail was another big black squirrel, chirping and barking to raise hell. It became quickly apparent that they were going to run through the treetops in front of me, flush broadside.

As though by magic I found the gun in my hands, and my eyes set on an opening that I was sure they would have to jump through. I began to swing the gun up, and as it always has it shouldered like a dream, like it was made to measure. As the first squirrel made the leap between two limbs, I painted the stretched length of his shiny sable body from tail to nose, right to left with the shiny bead on the top barrel. As I saw daylight between barrel and snout I did it.

“Bang.” I went softly in my head.

His nemesis didn’t flinch at my movement and kept chasing recklessly forward. As he sprang through the air, I did the same to him. They rambled onward down the line of trees, skittering and knocking down acorns and tree bark until they faded from earshot and I smirked, pleased at my virtual double and sure I would have bagged the brace of them had the mood struck me.

You see, squirrels weren’t on the menu that morning, and as it turns out ruffed grouse weren’t either.  I found some things that made my morning better, like the side-by-each tracks of a doe and fawn pawing acorns out of the pine needles or the redneck-ingenious mineral lick bolted to a tree inside an old wooden wall sconce. I eventually came out to the gravel road, opened the action and slung the gun in an inverted “V” over my shoulder, walking slowly back to my car, barely interested in firing a shot really. A truck rolled down the road towards me, gravel crunching and popping from under the tires, and a smiling elderly man slowed and rolled his window down.

“Any luck?!” He shouted in the way that old folks do when I believe they are hard of hearing.

“Not today.” I shouted back, over the hum of his engine and with a head shake in case he’d missed it.

“That’s ‘cause yer on the road! Got to get into the bush if you wanna kill somethin’” He shouted and laughed hard at his joke, and I couldn’t help but laugh back realizing I had a broad, involuntary smile on.

“Think I’m about done anyways,” I yelled “that’s me up there.” and I nodded to my car.

He shouted “Thought so…well better luck next time then” and started to roll his truck forward while powering up the window, giving me the universal head nob that means a respectful, rural goodbye. I gave him a little wave and touched the brim of my cap before walking down the roadside back to my ride.

But I did feel better. Lighter. Not quite so downtrodden. The outlook wasn’t as gloomy anymore.

Maybe because I had been hunting and even though my morning was over, I had seen nature doing what nature does everyday; regardless of whether I even pulled the trigger, the outdoors have always been therapeutic for my family and I, after all.  Maybe on account of the human connection I had just had with that old fella, maybe because of his broad, infectious laugh.  Maybe for the way he was just driving around the forest and country roads early on a fall morning like I remember my grandfather doing with me when I was small.

Who knows?

There were still the problems of the real world to deal with, and as I write this I’m speeding through the night air towards Edmonton, about to tackle that big project milestone. But in that morning, just after I stood under a blue sky to put that gorgeous gun away and drop all the shotgun shells back in their box in orderly rows, as I drove home to an ever-growing list of things to do and to manage two boys who make life a joy and a headache, I stopped to get my wife a coffee, with the intent that we could just sit and connect with each other before it all got busy again and I flew across the nation and another line got added to our to-do-list.

And when I pulled into the driveway, it all felt just a little less heavy. But that’s the outdoors for you.

Hunting. Not Hype.