Category Archives: hunting

The Times They Are A’ Changing

I’ve probably written about this weekend before, but if I did it was over a decade ago and to be perfectly honest, I can’t even find it anymore in the morass of scribblings and jotting that I’ve put down here. Perhaps I imagined I wrote about it, but really didn’t. No matter.

You see, for me and many in my circle, this is the most important weekend of the year.

Now, like most of you, I look forward to all the annual milestones that make up a hunter’s calendar but this weekend, the much-heralded Double Opener, is without a doubt the only one that has become sacrosanct and essentially non-negotiable when it comes to my attendance.  As a disclaimer, I did miss one in 2010 as I had parental duties with my wife as we navigated sleep training of a 13-month-old child with her then weekend work schedule, but the less said about that the better.

I have not missed one since and I have no intent on missing any future ones so long as I can control things. My employer, my family, and my friends understand the importance and they respect (or at least tolerate) that I am but a faithful servant to the waterfowl gods for that few days.

For a long time now, the Ontario “early goose” season has had a split in it whereby we can hunt resident birds starting around Labour Day, but then the season closes for a brief window in mid-September. There are conservation and biological reasons around this, and far more qualified minds can likely comment on it, but what is important is that the goose season reopens on the same day that the duck season opens in our zone. Hence the creatively-named Double Opener.

Early iterations of this weekend were famous for their debauched gluttony and heavy partying. We were but a bunch of dumb, invincible twenty-somethings, with little regard for our brains, livers, gastrointestinal tracts, or prescribed bedtimes. The memories are comical, the photos unfortunate, and the hangovers were the stuff of legends. Our mentors and parents shook their heads at us and reprimanded our behaviour, but we felt like we were the vanguard of something new and exciting, and man did we have fun. Those weekends in the late 2000’s and early 2010’s did more to age me than all the workplace and marital stress I ever experienced, but we bonded with friends, we hunted as hard as our pounding heads and wobbling stomachs allowed, and we laid the foundation for a tradition that still goes on. We laughed, argued, teased, and occasionally we physically fought, but we also killed geese and ducks, and we ate like soldiers about to face their final battle.

Then there was a shift, and although the precise year is tough to pinpoint, sometime in the mid-2010’s we actually became good at waterfowling. It is not an immodest overreach to say that at least in the locales we frequented, we developed a name. Guys wanted to hunt with us, guys wanted to eat with us, and guys wanted to party with us. In some ways it almost became an outfit, an operation that required planning and maintenance, and the weekend took on an identity of its own. For one weekend a year we ran a restaurant/hotel/guiding service and by the end, some of the luster would fade when hunts did not pan out, or when we had to split the group and track who had what decoys, who was calling for what group, and did we even have enough trucks and fields to accommodate everyone. It is not melodrama to state that we grew big, and we grew fast, and despite the challenges when our ranks grew, and the equipment at our disposal grew, and our access grew, we enjoyed some absolutely heroic waterfowl hunts. Big limits with big groups, more ducks and geese and memories than I could process in this space, and even to this day I’ll hear a story from one of those Double Opener weekends and say “Right, I was there for that” and quietly lament that I had forgotten those particular finite moments, while also wondering how many others I had filed away gathering dust in my mind. In those same moments that we matured from a bunch of rowdy yahoos into seasoned successful waterfowl hunters, we were also maturing into family men with careers and businesses to run, wives and children to consider, and mortgages and obligations to service. Double Opener was now also a reprieve, a chance to be immature in pantomime, and a time to keep forging those new experiences in the fields and marshes and “on the cricks”.

And now, I’m afraid to say, I notice it changing again. The demographic has changed. The professionalism we once aped has actually blossomed in the form of leaseholding guide operations forcing out the locals, as well as a whole new generation of goose hunters that have come into the mix. The lands we used to monopolize (for better or for worse) have been sold and changed hands, and with that, so has our once seemingly easy access.

None of this is bad, but as the song goes “competition’s getting younger, tougher broncs I can’t recall” and I don’t say that in bitterness, or to begrudge them their success. They are what we once were and now we’re the “old fuckers” we once laughed about when we were the impudent upstarts. All things change and as frustrating as a closed field or another set of guns after the same birds can be, I do smile to know that maybe in a small way, we contributed to strengthening the tradition.

Now to say we “inspired” something would be too much, and archetypes we are not, and all of this is to say nothing of the future that all of our kids have in this greatest of sports we call waterfowling, because just as we built a tradition that grew, morphed, and evolved, as will they hopefully with the positive parts of whatever lessons we can impart on them in hand. If one day I cannot hunt a Double Opener because my kids or the kids of my friends have all the good spots on lockdown and are filling all the beds in the cabin, then I’ll lay down the calls for a little while so they can experience what I loved. There will be many other mornings for me to squawk at geese and pound my shoulder with fruitless winghsooting.

But still, this piece is not a eulogy to Double Opener, but more of a reminiscence and a recommitment. All the above notwithstanding, we are still going to have a sometimes raucous, definitely memorable time in just a few short days. We will eat with abandon, and we will crack cold ones. We will pretend, in some ways, that we are 27 years old again, and we’ll be slow to rise. But this time it will be backaches, and bum knees, and frozen shoulders, and hernias hobbling us, and not the rotten guts and well-earned hangovers of 15 years ago.

Enjoy every part of the duck camp experience friends, for they can be fleeting.

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?

Fried Smallmouth Bass Burgers

Fishing has always been a great family past time for us.  I have so many great memories catching loads of Bluegill and Crappie on Lake Benton in Southern Illinois with my Dad and Grandpa and am now passing on the tradition to my children with many fun filled days on the Kawartha’s in Ontario fighting some of our favourite fish to catch, Smallmouth Bass.

While the majority of fishing I do now is catch and release it’s nice to enjoy a fresh caught shore lunch or fish dinner from time to time to reward a hard days work on the water.   Here’s a great and simple way to spruce up your traditional fried fish sandwich with a remoulade that packs just the right amount of heat!

Ingredients:

  • Fresh Ontario Smallmouth Bass
  • Ciabatta buns
  • Lettuce (shredded)
  • 1 1/2 cups canola oil
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Fish Crisp:

  • 1/3 cup cornmeal
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper (ground)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp dried garlic (minced)
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp dried parsley

Kik-a-boo Remoulade:

It’s Fish Burger Time!

1.  Mix all of your ingredients for the Kik-a-boo Remoulade sauce together and refrigerate while you are prepare and fry your fish.

Check out the Kik-a-boo Shop –> HERE

2.  Cut your Bass Fillets into 3″ sections or long enough to fit your bun of choice and pat dry.

3.  Mix together the whole milk and fresh lemon juice and marinade your bass fillets for 5 minutes.

After 5 minutes drain off any excess milk

4.  While your Bass is marinating measure off and mix your fish crisp in a large flat dish or dinner plate

5.   Dredge fish until it is coated evenly on all sides

6.  Fry until golden

Remove from oil and let your fish drain on paper towel while you prepare your buns

7.  Toast and lightly butter your Ciabatta buns, add a healthy portion of Kik-a-boo Remoulade on both sides of the bun, add shredded lettuce, fried fish and ENJOY!

This also makes a great side dish or appetizer! 

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.