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.

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.

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.