Category Archives: wild game

Stop Telling Me Why You Hunt, or, What’s Your Real Motivation?

As is often the case, social media has been a wellspring of inspiration for content on this site, and in this case I was moved to start thinking about motivation. More specifically, I started thinking about what really motivates hunters.  You see, for the last few days I have been seeing all sorts of pictures, and memes, and slogans, and catchphrases from dozens of people about “Why I Hunt”, and two things are baffling about this to me.

First, all of them seem to, at least in part, ascribe the sole motivation of going hunting to items that in my mind are simply component parts of the whole.

Second, since when was an explanation necessary?

To the second point first.  You see it isn’t that I don’t care why you hunt, it’s more that I don’t consider it to be any of my business.  So long as you are doing it within the confines of the law and your outward representation of the hunting tradition isn’t negatively influencing non-hunters and/or baiting anti-hunters, then my stance is that you have no call to justify yourself to me. In fact, unless you are trying to simply get attention for the generally commonplace fact that you went hunting or you are trying to soft-serve the anti-hunting community with more palatable explanations for why hunting is important, I can see no real reason why you need to crow about it.

I appreciate now if anyone wants to point out the irony of my blog/social media presence as being hypocritical to what I just wrote, but read on and you’ll see what I’m driving at.

I, of course, have my own thoughts and standards about what some might call ‘acceptable practices’ or ‘ethical hunting’ and I may not even personally like how, where, or what you use to do it.  But what I think about you doesn’t matter, and I frankly don’t really have to justify my actions or impress anyone else.  Because despite the mass-social-media, let-me-take-a-selfie, bigger-is-better, and gosh-I-hope-the guys-at-Realtree/Mossy Oak/Remington/Under Armor-see-my-feed-and-offer-me-a-sponsorship mentality that seems to be at the corporate root of all things in the modern hunting world, how I choose to commune with nature and find my happy place does not concern you at all, and so long as you’re okay and your actions don’t jeopardize my ability to independently pursue game in the outdoors, then I have no real right or desire to lecture you about what you are doing. I truly could not care less, in the best, most benignly friendly sense of that statement.

Let’s discuss it over a beer some time.

But to the first, and to my mind more troubling point, is my confusion with the willingly or ignorantly delusional stuff I see used to justify or purify the hunting experience.  I see things like (and I’m paraphrasing) “Frosty fall sunrises are why I hunt” or “Seeing game in its natural environment is why I hunt” or “Spring sunsets are why I hunt”, or “Supporting conservation is why I hunt” or my personal favourite “Being outside in nature is why I hunt” and, frankly, you can do all of those things without actually hunting.  In fact, if they are the prime motivator to what you deem to be the hunting tradition, then you can be a hiker, or a birdwatcher, or a nature photographer and (provided that the memes that you have been posting are true) I can assure you that you will get precisely the same level of fulfillment from any of the above activities, and you won’t get any blood on your hands at all, I swear.

Now, all of those experiential and conservation-themed items above are vastly important and I love all of them probably a little too much myself, but they are not the primary reason that I’m out there.  They are a happy benefit to being out there and they are to be cherished and shared in my mind, but if you are hunting…truly hunting… then you are out there to find and to kill game.

Let that sink in.  Not because I’ve just turned you on to a fact you did not already know and have been perhaps in denial about, but rather let it sink in because if you are saying that sunsets, and sunrises, and pretty birds, and peaceful reflection, or money in the conservationists coffers are the things that get you out to hunt, then you can either leave the rifle at home next time and have a less burdensome walk, or you can start to speak in actual truthful terms and not clichés.  When someone says “I hunt for the meat” or “I hunt to challenge myself against wildlife” then they have my undivided attention.  Even people who say “I hunt for a trophy” or “I hunt to make myself feel important” get a bit of my time because although I can’t say I share their motivation, I can be relatively certain that they are telling the truth and to do those things in the above paragraph you actually have to, you know, hunt.

If you’re proud of being a hunter and want to tell the world about it, knock yourself out; I do it all the time and very much to the displeasure of my friends, coworkers, and loved ones.  But paint the whole picture.

Tell that story about the time you sat for eleven hours in a treestand during a snow storm and saw screw-all.  Tell that story about the time you got lost and tasted those first sickening pangs of fear and confusion.  Tell the story about the time you made a snap shot and then had to track a gut-shot deer for hours before giving up and losing sleep fretting that it probably died in agony because you made a mistake. Explain the inner workings of what it takes to gut a moose or skin a squirrel.  Be not profane, but tell the tales about the shitty side of things and make it real, because it is never always a steady stream of magenta sunsets, meditation to a birdsong soundtrack, and one-shot kills.

And if you think it is or that it will be, I’m sorry, but I’ve got news for you.

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.