All posts by Shawn West

I've been tagging along hunting with my family and friends since I was eight years old. Over twenty years later I still hunt waterfowl, wild turkeys, deer, and small game whenever I get a chance. "Get Out & Go Hunting" combines my two passions, hunting and writing about hunting. Hope you enjoy it, and if you like what you read, please subscribe to have posts delivered to you via e-mail or feed reader.

Excalibur TwinStrike, or, Some of the Reasons That This is Bad Idea

I woke up on January 7th unaware that I was going to see (without hyperbole) the most unnecessary piece of hunting equipment to be marketed in my recent memory. I even managed to make it through half the day, blissfully unaware of its existence. But then during my lunch hour I scrolled through Instagram and was confronted with the Excalibur TwinStrike. I blinked my eyes, hard. Surely, I was experiencing temporary double-vision. I drew my phone closer to my eyes; maybe I needed bifocals now. Then I checked the date to make sure I had not been time-warped ahead to April Fool’s Day. But all the above were incorrect. I was looking at a legitimate picture of a twin-bolt crossbow.

My first, admittedly ineloquent, thought: “This is pretty stupid.”

As I delved deeper, I was heartened that literally hundreds of hunters were likewise confused and incredulous, in fact the vast majority of hunter feedback ranged from scathing to hilarious in their condemnation.

“The answer to a question nobody asked.”

“A chance to break two sets of recurve limbs.”

“Now I can ruin two $20 bolts instead of one.”

And so forth.

Now of course the hunting entities benefitting from Excalibur as a sponsor had excited, glowing, predictable things to say promoting this elegant monstrosity. Praise like ‘game-changer’, and ‘innovative’, and ‘revolutionary’, and ‘a new era in archery’ were being bandied about as though they were true, but it was either transparent or hypocritical or transparently hypocritical.

To anyone (it would seem) outside of those beholden to Excalibur, this should be so obviously awful that the fact this cleared the conceptualization, design, and build phases is utterly shocking.

Now as a disclaimer, writ large, I generally like Excalibur. A stable Canadian company and for a long time the makers of arguably the most reliable and simplistic crossbow interface on the market. And I guess that’s the problem. You see when you sell a solid product, how do you improve on it? The answer is you do not, or more accurately, you probably cannot. So now we have the Excalibur models of recent times. Smaller, lighter, some corners cut (google the limb reliability issues cropping up in more recent models if you’d like), more mass-produced, and ultimately formulated into a take-down model. Because that’s all you can do with an initially strong product; tweak and tinker with it. Try to convince a consumer to get ‘the latest thing’.

Thus, the TwinStrike.

Photo c/o www.excalibur.com

 

So enough about how I think we got here, let’s talk about just a few reasons why this looks to be bad for hunting.

The Slippery Slope Away from Traditional Weapons

We are not going to wade into an argument about the place of crossbows in the archery/traditional weapons/special season category because that is a fundamentally fruitless debate. What we will say is there are very contentious feelings around crossbows. For the majority of jurisdictions, they are considered archery equipment, so we’ll leave it at that. But that classification for so long has been predicated on the understanding that the interface is one arrow/bolt then the hunter has to reload the weapon. The only way this new product is innovative is that it is going to challenge that paradigm.

Now, do traditions and classifications change? As a firearm owning Canadian, I can assure you that classifications do change, but rarely to the ‘inclusive’ side of that ledger. Imagine dropping over $2k on a weapon that (I honestly hope) will not allowed for bowhunting.

Of course, a modern compound bow is also technically advanced, and hardly a traditional weapon either, but it is still one shot at a time. What would anyone think of a hunter with a compound bow if they drew back a bow string and arrow in each finger?! I have no doubt that modern muzzle-loading firearms are again nothing more than accurate single shot high-powered rifles, but still, one shot at a time. Progress is absolutely inevitable, but what amounts to a ‘double-barreled crossbow” is hardly the technical progress hunting needs.

Wounding Game

Even if I could concede ground that this mutant crossbow is still “technically” archery equipment, a much more pressing issue here is my belief (and the belief of many other hunters based on social media commentary and banter) that this will contribute to more wounded animals. I believe that as much as I believe the sun will rise tomorrow.

Now of course I can hear you stammering a riposte that the weapon is not to blame, hunters must take responsibility for ethical shots, know the capabilities of their weapon, etc, etc, etc and I agree with all that, in a vacuum. But I’ve been in situations where I have that second shot in my rifle or shotgun so that I can back up a miss, and I can tell you that in 100% of cases when I have to use that second shot, it has been more challenging than the first shot.

If the first shot you took at a deer or a turkey or a bear or whatever else you are shooting a TwinStrike at was poor, it is not unreasonable to think that the animal will likely be moving away, making the follow-up shot likely longer, likely at an alert and moving target, and likely at a range that will need to be guessed at, since the thought being able to pull out the trusty range-finder and ensuring the follow-up is true seems about as likely as me purchasing a TwinStrike. And, for that one time that you miss that first shot and the animal takes one or two steps and just stops dumbfounded, well, I’ll ask if that one scenario is worth all the others where the second shot is rushed and at indeterminate distance?

It is all a matter of risk reward when you boil it down, and if you as a serious hunter can look at me straight-faced and without a shred of doubt tell me that this gives hunters anything more than an opportunity to wound more game, that tells me a lot about your level of responsibility, braggadocio, and capacity for cognitive dissonance. Yes, I (and others) will be rightfully judging you.

 Just Because You Can, Does Not Mean That You Should

All hunters make mistakes, I do it, hunters in my circle do it, hunters you know do it, and ‘professionals’ on TV and social media do it. There are all kinds of ways to screw up, but for me all fall into either errors of omission or are errors of commission. You either forget to do something and it leads to a mistake, or you actively (although I hope unintentionally) do things that lead to a mistake.

I recall being in my Hunter’s Education class with ten other candidates some decades ago, in the converted basement of a suburban home, the small space lit by the glow of an old overhead projector, listening to my instructor talk about the above two points. In this lecture, my instructors stressed with much gravity that the key difference between a gun and an arrow is that while both require practice and expertise, archery was a vocation requiring much more precision, composure, and required the elimination of as many errors of commission as possible. If I make a mistake with a shotgun slug or a high-powered rifle bullet, there is still a chance the animal will sustain hydro-static shock and trauma on even a marginal shot; an arrow wound in a marginal spot may just end up with your deer being a lame piece of coyote bait one county over. I have four other rounds in my .308 to redeem myself with, and for turkeys, two more rounds of lead pellets that wallop like a hammer. At the time, crossbows gave you one chance to get it right. You owed it to the animal then to be sure, and you still do now.

I like to file the TwinStrike under what I call errors of false security which are type of ‘commission error’. The belief that ‘there’s another round in the chamber’ (in a pseudo-metaphorical sense for this particular weapon) can actually create the circumstances for the excess wounding that I’m concerned about above.

I cannot see into hunter’s minds and souls, but as fallible humans, I can reasonably presume that someone with this weapon may take a risky shot at a quartering or moving deer, because they have that second bolt primed. A hail-Mary second bolt arcing into a rear ham or up a turkey’s cloaca. Elegant isn’t it?

Likewise, I cannot wait for the rapid-fire YouTube videos I’ll no doubt have to witness where sportsmen and amateur marksmen try to show how quickly, and in their minds accurately, that they can send two bolts downrange. Just keep building up that hubris, because I also know eventually a non-sportsman is going to post a picture or a video of a deer with two non-lethal crossbow bolts sticking out of it. And then we’ll all have some explaining to do, even if we were morally opposed to this weapon from the get-go.

Standing Up to Ridiculous Things

This ties directly to that last paragraph. We all like to have cool things, and a lot of us also like to have the newest cool things. I’ve fallen for it, but generally for harmless things like overpriced under-engineered duck, goose, deer, and turkey calls, or gimmicky ammunition that promised good things and let me down emptied my wallet faster than I could empty my gun. But this is different. This is bad for the sport, for all the reasons above and likely more if you’d care to add your opinion.  I can assure you that I will never own one of these, even if given as a gift, because I believe each of us has a personal responsibility not to encourage things that negatively impact the tradition, the perception of the tradition to the non-hunting public by whom we have the privilege, and the debt of respect we owe to the wild game in making their end as prompt, clean, and precise as we humanly can.

It is dirty business, killing for your food, and the reverence for the act lies in its expedience.

I am not going to over-philosophize you here, but this weapon does not pass that test, not even a little. So, please just call it what it is, a gimmick designed to appeal in its controversy and peculiarity, and devised to increase a corporate bottom line. But as a sound and ethical means of killing game? Hardly.

Now of course, “you do you” dear reader. I’m not talking about banning or boycotting or pulling anything off the shelves. I am not some crotchety old man who hates progress; in fact, I was looking at an Excalibur Matrix on New Year’s Day as a way to extend my deer seasons. I’ve been given pause for reconsideration right now. But if this appeals to you, I’m shocked honestly that you made it this far into my missive against it. I congratulate and thank you for sticking it out through almost 2000 words of contrary opinion, the world needs more of that these days.

I am also fully aware that no one is forcing myself or anyone else to buy this terrible, terrible idea. Yes, I am also sure that there are many equally ridiculous and unnecessary things out there being marketed to hunters, and I’m likewise sure this is a business and product marketing decision equally as much as it is about really improving the state of hunting as a tradition.

After all, no reputable hunting company would mortgage out the future of hunting or the fair and ethical pursuit of game simply to make a buck, would they?

Sous-Vide Black Bear Steak Sandwich

So there you are. You have black bear steaks in hand, and you march over to your grill. You have heard of trichinosis in black bears and you are experiencing an existential crisis. Maybe you are even having irrational panic of contracting some other unknown illness from undercooked wild game. So, you put those steaks on the grill for a hard sear. You flip them, and press them, and hell, you maybe even cut into them to see how “done” they are. They are still red, so you close the grill cover and wait. Then you check again. Still too pink for your comfort level. Maybe you run in and get a meat thermometer or check the Google machine to research foodborne illnesses, but by the time you’ve done all those things, your poor bear steak is well-done, blackened on the outside and grey and flavourless on the inside. But since you shot it, you choke it down like the ethical hunter you are and then you resolve to not eat bears again.

It is okay, that’s natural, and this happens all the time. But it does not have to be this way, and you are not doomed to a life of choking down overcooked, tough-as-shoe-leather, ashy bear meat. Properly cooked black bear meat is high on my list of the finest wild game a person can consume and with steaks, you can get them perfect every time.

All you need is a sous-vide or immersion cooker, patience, and a trust in science. Armed with those things you can make one of the most delicious and tender wild game dishes you have ever had.

Ready? Let’s go then.

Ingredients

2 bear loin steaks (approximately 1lb each)

½ tablespoon olive oil

Salt & pepper to taste

Two hamburger buns

6 slices of processed cheese (3 per sandwich)

Dill pickles, sliced

Your favourite hot sauce

Any other optional toppings and condiments you prefer

Preparation

  1. Set your immersion or sous-vide cooker to 140 degrees Fahrenheit (we went to 145 to be extra-cautious) and place it in a large stock pot of water.
  2. Season the bear steaks with salt and pepper and a light drizzle of olive oil, and seal either in vacuum-sealed bags, or very tightly in zip-top bags. We use the latter and I actually use a thin straw to suck out as much air as possible.
  3. Once the water is to temperature and holding, place the bags in the water. Since I use the zip-top bags, I like to hang them from a wooden spoon using bulldog clips, but if your bags are vacuum-sealed, they can be clipped to the side of the pot or in some cases just dropping them in whole is fine. The best practice would be to ensure you follow whatever method your sous-vide cooker manual recommends.
  4. Set your sous-vide timer for at least two (2) hours. Be patient, trust the process.
  5. While the meat cooks, prep the pickles, cheese and buns, as well as whatever other garnishes and toppings you like.
  6. After two hours, remove the bear meat from the sous-vide and either pre-heat your grill or prepare a cast iron pan over high heat. We went with our backyard grill and had it heated up to over 600 degrees, but without a doubt the hot cast iron pan option would work just as well.
  7. Remove the meat from the plastic and apply a hard sear on the grill for 1 minute on each side or just enough to get some solid, crispy browning.
  8. After searing, set the steaks aside to rest for five (5) minutes. Slice in half.
  9. Put cheese on each side of your bun and one slice on one of the steak pieces.
  10. Stack up the whole thing with pickles and hot sauce (we are loving Bunster’s “S**t the Bed” 12/10 hot sauce lately) or whatever you like for toppings, and then enjoy one of the most delicious and tender steak sandwiches you’ve ever had.

What can we say? This sandwich blew our minds. The toasty buns with the melty cheese and the absolutely perfectly done, juicy and tender bear meat was just a higher level of awesome than we were prepared for. The pickles and hot sauce were bright and offset the richness perfectly. This was a sunny-day burger that screamed out to be paired with a cold beer, which is what we did.

After we made this sandwich, we posted some pictures and a review on a couple of wild game social media sites. While the feedback was overall to the positive, we were still a bit surprised by how many people came back to chide us for under-cooking our bear meat and that were warning us about how sick we were going to get. Multiple reputable sources stated that the “kill temperature” for trichinosis was in the 135-140 degree range, so we went just a bit beyond that to 145 and held it for two hours there. We were confident that we would be fine.

That was two months ago, and we have had no issues at all, so the lesson may be to exercise patience and trust the science. Still, that reaction speaks to a lot of the fear and misinformation around eating black bears and if we can do our part to dispel some of those myths, we are happy to do so.

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.