Category Archives: lists upon lists

New Year’s (Hunting) Resolutions

I was pleasantly surprised to note that today was April 4th.  Somehow, and without me really knowing it, March slid quietly away to leave us with exactly three weeks to go until the spring turkey opener here in Ontario.  I blame this niggling cold that has been hanging on to me for the last week or so for using a Vicks induced haze to blur my normally acute perception of time.
Initially it appeared that the weather was wanting to cooperate as well; then we had a small blip last night in the form of five centimetres of snow over four hours.  It’s all gone now though because it was followed fast by a midnight thunderstorm…now it is 16° above zero with drizzle and it looks as though we’ll be experiencing a solid string of days above freezing.  Ahhh spring in southwestern Ontario; the place to be if you want to experience five different seasons of weather in less than 24 hours.
So barring another spring snowstorm or cold snap (because seriously, I’ve had enough of them) things should start coming together soon in terms of scouting, nailing down plans, and increased bird movement.  For me, the opener is in a way my real New Year’s Day.  I get to begin another year of hunting, and it starts with spring turkeys.
According to many unconfirmed and anecdotal sources, it takes 21 days to make or break a habit.  So in that spirit, here is another list (see I told you it was a sickness I have) of the 10 habits I intend to make or break for the 2011 spring turkey season.
1.      Stop calling so damn much
As I’ve said in previous posts, I love calling.  I can hear some of you now saying “I call all the time, and I’ve had lots of success” or “I read an article that touted the advantages of constant aggressive calling” and I don’t doubt you at all.  However, this is a the top of my list because this approach has only taken me so far, and this year I’m resolving to only call twice after a turkey stops answering me.  If he answers I’ll keep putting the wood to him, but if he clams up so will I.  I’ll report back here on how that goes.
2.      Learn to sit still
‘Nuff said.
3.      Calm down
I think a significant part of my hilarious ineptitude stems from my excitability.  Thankfully I’m not one of those yahoos that gets excited and shoots at movement or gets so jittery so as to be generally unsafe, but I am admittedly a bit high-strung in the turkey woods.  The euphemistic word would be ‘intense’.  When I’m intently listening for a distant gobble or concentrating on scanning the bush for any signs of movement I get startled easily.  Three years ago a sparrow landed on my gun barrel when I was not expecting it and I almost soiled myself.  Last year some very fresh bear sign in my hunting area had my nerves stretched extra taut.  And so on.  I still enjoy turkey hunting (almost too much) but perhaps if I can take a deep breath and live in the moment, maybe I’ll enjoy it that much more.
4.      Be patient
This is directly related to the “sit still” resolution.  My dear old dad has told me a hundred times that I abandon my stands too early, in all hunting scenarios, turkey or otherwise.  So this year if I hear a gobble and the bird doesn’t rush right in to my serenades (because, after all, they usually don’t) then the bird gets two hours by the clock before I get creative on him.  If I’m not hearing anything…that’s a different and much more difficult scenario.  With limited time to hunt, I often feel that I have to “make something happen”.  Three times in the past this tendency has resulted in me bumping gobblers.  I can’t commit to a time (because again, I don’t have a surplus of hunting opportunities), but I’ll try to hang out on stand a bit longer this year and try to wait out a silent tom.
5.      Pay attention
Twice last year I looked up and saw turkeys that had “materialized” in a place where they weren’t before.  Once it was two hens who apparently had not noticed me yet.  The other time it was a jake that trotted away, and was never really in gun range to begin with.  I’ve had the same experience while deer and waterfowl hunting so I’m really going to try to expand my field of view.  Like most, I tend to focus on key areas that I think look like probable places for a turkey to show up in; this approach has mixed success at best.
6.      Try new things
Last year was my first year of having a fighting purr routine in my calling repertoire.  While it was not the magic bullet that some product marketers might have you believe it is (I found no truth in the statement that “everything comes to a fight”), I did have some success using it to get gobbles out of turkeys, and in the case of that dastardly Pines Gobbler, it almost led to his demise.  This off-season I’ve put in some time practicing a couple of calls and have pretty much mastered the arts of kee-keeing on a pot call and of using a mouth call to gobble to turkeys.  The latter skill should come in handy as a “kitchen sink” tactic for hung up old toms, especially since I usually hunt on private land where this call can be used with relative safety.  I would strongly advise against gobbling on public land or any place else where another, less responsible, hunter could mistake you for the real thing and try to sneak in on your calling.  A face full of lead #5 is not an experience I would relish or wish on another hunter.
7.      Record every hunt (within reason)
Part of the fun of having this blog is the ability it gives me to share the hunting experience with others (seemingly on a worldwide basis).  So this year I’m going to give it my best shot to record every hunt here on Get Out & Go Hunting.  Please stay tuned for stories, lies, photos, cameo appearances from my hunting buddies, and maybe even some video from my 2011 Spring Turkey Odyssey.
8.      QTIP (Quit Taking It Personally)
I’m a very competitive individual, so failure does not sit well with me.  That said, I was raised with the ethic (and I still strongly believe in it) that hunting is not a competitive sport, it is recreation and it is best enjoyed as such.  It is nice to shoot the biggest bird or the trophy buck, but those goals should not be the sole driver of the hunting experience.  Reconciling these two opposing pulls on my personality has led to some hilarious outcomes, and it has deepened my overall understanding of the hunting experience.  Like everyone else, I’m always learning more every time I go out into the forest.  A soccer coach of mine once said it perfectly.  To paraphrase, he said “Winning isn’t everything, but then again, who likes losing?”  To put it another way, the ultimate goal of hunting, obviously, is to bring home some game.  Failure to do so does not necessarily make the hunt worthless, but then again, besting a perfectly adapted wild animal in its natural element, when all of nature’s advantages are tipped in the game’s favour is a pretty special feeling too.  If you’ve been following this blog at all, you probably have a feel for my personality, and I do consider it an affront to me as a hunter that I don’t shoot more game.  That said for 2011, I’m going to put aside the small shred of pride I still have left and just accept whatever hands are dealt me.  Much like resolution #3, this may make the experience even more enjoyable.
9.      Share with my readers
Like I said above, in my efforts to record all the hunts from this year, I likewise intend to put as many of them up here on the blog.  I’ll share what works and what doesn’t work, but this will serve as a proactive disclaimer to state that doing anything I do does not necessarily mean that you’ll be successful.  In fact, given my track record with spring turkeys, quite the opposite is the more likely outcome.  That said, with these tales of hope, failure, and possibly success I hope that can give some incentive for readers to pop in here throughout the season.
10.  Make some new friends
Since I’ll be sharing with you, I encourage anyone that feels so inclined to contact me here with any hunting stories or photos that you may want to share with this little corner of the hunting community.  I’ll apply the filter of the Comments and Terms of Use policies (I don’t think they’ll prevent me from posting anything) and post your experiences up here.

A Tradition of List-Making

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

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

Huntin’ Songs

I like music, and I think it is safe to say that most other people do as well.  You may like classic rock or new country, and you may not like what I like (in fact, because my musical tastes are absurdly diverse, I’m almost certain that you don’t) but that’s okay because allegiance to certain bands or genres of music is strictly personal.  I’m far from a music expert, and my analysis of an album may be skewed and entirely off-point, but I know what I like to hear.
Some people have a “desert island list” of songs or albums that they absolutely would need to have with them if they were stranded on a desert island; I have a “hunting camp list”, because there are some tunes that just put me in a hunting frame of mind.  Some of the songs may seem ridiculous to you my dear reader, but that is just the reality of the situation.  Likewise, some may be songs that you love as well and that equally remind you of a hunting camp, or your first deer, or other treasured hunting remembrance.  Almost all of them could be considered ‘camp songs’ in the sense that they are best played in a cabin, cottage, or some other out-of-the-way place where you could hypothetically sing, dance, and let loose.
So in the interest of letting you know a bit more about me, and maybe turning you on to a more diverse spectrum of bands and songs, here is a list of my five favourite musicians and their songs/albums (in no particular order) that remind me of, or make me feel like going, hunting.
The Lowest of the Low, Shakespeare My Butt!
This Toronto band, fronted by Ron Hawkins (not the 1960’s Ronnie Hawkins, a different one) released the album Shakespeare My Butt! in 1991 and I had a cassette copy of it for years (when cassettes were still accepted as a medium for music).  I picked up a CD copy about ten years ago and listening to this album while I make the 3 hour trek up to the Bruce Peninsula to hunt deer, waterfowl, or wild turkeys has become a ritual of mine; sometimes I listen to it three times in a single one way trip.  When I slide this album into the CD player in the car, it is a sure sign that I’m ‘gone hunting!’
It is a blend of folk, pop, and rock which at the time fell into that cavernous, early 1990’s abyss of music that was known as ‘alternative’.   I have a different name for the genre: campfire music.  Every song on this album just has a vibe that could be sung by a guy with an acoustic guitar while sitting around a bonfire or a camp stove.  For those who value music critic’s opinions, this album was named one of the Top Ten Greatest Canadian Albums ever released.  My favourite tracks include 4 O’Clock Stop and Subversives, although honestly this album is strong top to bottom without a bad cut to be found on it.
Hank Williams, 40 Greatest Hits
This is classic country, and it just does not get any more ‘down home’ than this.  Although I’m sure this is not the actual album that gets played three or four times a week at the deer hunting camp, many of the songs by the late, great Hank Williams that are vital to a week in our deer camp can be found here.  From classic ‘heartbreak’ ballads like I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry and Your Cheatin’ Heart, to raucous good-time songs like Jambalaya, Hey Good Lookin’, and Honky Tonkin, for my money Hank Williams playing at the deer camp is just plain old right.
Again, you can’t really go wrong with any songs here, but my top Hank Williams song is a toss up between There’s a Tear in My Beer and Kaw-Liga.
I’m not certain if I equate Hank Williams songs with deer hunting because there is some rural, wilderness aesthetic inherent in Hank Williams music or because I’ve grown accustomed to hearing those songs at least every other day for a full week of deer hunting for the last 15 years or so.  Probably a bit of both.
Don Messer & His Islanders
This is another classic deer camp album for me.  Our deer camp patriarchs were all born in the early & mid-1950’s and all grew up in a world where for a period the CBC was primarily the only television station they could watch.  Don Messer was a folk musician on the CBC who played the fiddle (violin to all you aficionados out there) and for a while was the star of the most popular television show in Canada (even outdrawing Hockey Night in Canada!) so the men who passed the deer hunting tradition down to myself, my brother, and my cousins also passed along an appreciation for this little-known (at least outside of Canada and the Eastern US seaboard) musician.  Don Messer’s fiddle sings a lively brand of East Coast-style music; songs like Red Wing and Little Burnt Potato are alive with a spirit of good times.
I defy anyone who listens to this album (or any music by Don Messer period) to not be inclined to start skipping a little jig or to find themselves walking with a bit more of a spring in their step.  One of the sadly deceased members of our deer camp was known for playing the spoons along with the tracks on this album; he also had a small pair of sticks he referred to as ‘bones’ that, when played similarly, would tap out a sprightly rhythm that was downright infectious.
I find that the musical stylings of Don Messer and His Islanders are best enjoyed after the dinner hour, when a hunter has a full belly and an inclination to enjoy their favourite drink and partake in some good conversation.
The Animals, House of the Rising Sun
This song has a lengthy and muddy history, and it has been covered more times than I can count (or research on the Internet).  Bob Dylan’s version is excellent as he growls and throats his way through the story of a wayward young woman in his own inimitable fashion, accompanied only by an acoustic guitar.  Older versions I have heard (where it is entitled The Rising Sun Blues) also have their appeal but for this hunter the unmistakeably grim, rolling notes of the classic guitar riff that kicks off the version performed by Eric Burdon and the Animals is the definitive essence of this tune.  So aside from being a great version of the song with a timeless riff and soaring, soulful vocals, what warrants the inclusion in this list of songs that remind me of hunting?
While slightly embarrassing to admit, I do occasionally get bored sitting in the ditch overlooking a few dozen goose decoys or while on stand during a lull in the action while deer or spring turkey hunting, and it is this song that I sing in my head during those (sometimes lengthy) periods.  Usually something else grabs my attention after a few moments and I’m then engaged doing something else such as calling for game, watching a blue jay chase a chickadee, paying attention to my surroundings for some sign of game approaching, or enjoying a small snack (I find that those mini Coffee Crisp bars are the best for that).  But at least two or three times a hunt, I find myself quietly listening to House of the Rising Sun and that iconic almost menacing lead guitar riff in my mind.  Perhaps if I did less of that and more of the ‘paying attention to my surroundings’ thing I’d be more successful, but then again maybe not.
Stompin’ Tom Connors, Gumboot Cloggeroo
I have a younger brother who kind of likes Stompin’ Tom…except during deer season when that Canadian legend’s album (Stompin’ Tom’s, not my brother’s….he hasn’t even released an album yet) is played almost ad nauseam inside the cabin.  That is when my brother quite quickly grows weary of Stompin’ Tom’s vibrant guitar playing and twangy but mellow singing tones.  I’m actually a big fan of Stompin’ Tom but I will admit that by mid-day on the Friday of deer camp, after three or four days of The Hockey Song and Sudbury Saturday Night playing on a non-stop loop, even my normally tolerant orchestral nerves are beginning to become a bit jangled.  But frankly, even when played constantly and at a volume bordering on the torturously loud, the Gumboot Cloggeroo never gets tiresome.
This song has a beat that makes want to do more than just tap your foot; it makes you want to hunker over, round down your shoulders, stomp your foot like Stompin’ Tom himself while simultaneously clapping your hands in time, shouting the lyrics, and generally rattling the cabin walls and windows with a raucous good time.  For some unexplained reason, it feels like this song embodies all the camaraderie, spirit, and unbridled relaxing silliness of a hunting trip.  Even my brother, jaded though he may be by the constant barrage of The Ketchup Song over the week of deer hunting, gets in on the act every time we “do a little gumboot cloggin’”
So there you have it, far from my complete list, which includes Charlie Pride, CCR, Bad Religion, The Mamas and The Papas, Rise Against, The Doors, George Thorogood, and Johnny Cash (see what I said earlier about diverse?), but definitely five songs or albums that make up part of my hunting tradition.
I’m sure you’ve got your own list too, but then again you might even add something from my list to yours…who knows?