Monday, December 19, 2011

The Skinny on Girl Hunter (A Book Review)

How did I end up doing a Book Review?
I received an email this past June from Georgia Pellegrini asking me to review a book called Girl Hunter and since I am a newbie outdoor blogger, I didn't realize this is how reviews are arranged.  I disregarded the email as an elaborate attempt to get my address (because we all know that is really valuable information, ha, ha).  Then in November, I came to my senses and researched who Georgia Pellegrini really is.  Turns out she has a wonderful Blog that makes my site look like a toddler put it together.  I decided to send an apologetic message to Georgia asking if the opportunity to review her book was still available.  She responded that same afternoon to let me know that a book was on the way, but I would need to read fast since I was late to the game!

The Story
Once the book arrived, I dove right in and was hooked by the stories.  Georgia worked on Wall Street as an analyst, but after determining that finance was not the her path, she studied and graduated from a French culinary school.  As she worked in the food industry, her desire to know more about where our food comes from evolved into a quest to learn about hunting.  This book takes you along for the ride as she chronicles that journey.  The stories are punctuated with colorful characters and Georgia's descriptions of them and their mannerisms paint a vivid picture.  There is a wide variety of game Georgia pursues not to mention all the locations as she journeys through multiple states as well as across the big pond to England.

The Cons
There was really very little that I didn't like about the book.  There was a miss characterization that I took issue with.  Georgia stated that in Texas, there is relatively little public land and few hunting leases that require less than ten thousand dollars per gun.  As a Texan, I can assure you that there really are many public hunting opportunities and lower cost lease options here in Texas.  This was a small point at the conclusion of one chapter and is really just me being nit picky.

The Pros
I like the fact that Georgia was not afraid to write about the unsuccessful hunts.  It is very easy to elaborate on the outings that end with a bird in the hand instead of in the bush, but this book begins the journey with an unsuccessful turkey hunt that made me smile and laugh out loud!  I enjoyed reading about her hunting experiences as she relays the joys and sorrows of the process as a new hunter.  A perspective that will have you remembering your early experiences in the field.  She also relays a contagious excitement about, not only the hunt, but the meal that the hunt makes possible.  As a bonus at the end of each chapter are several recipes pertaining to the game that was the subject of the chapter.  These recipes all look delicious and are definitely not "run of the mill"!

Trying Out Recipes
I couldn't do the book review without trying a few of the recipes.  I have not been trained at a French cooking school so I started with what appeared to be an "entry level" dish, Fried Venison Back-strap.  I was able to complete the dish and it turned out great.  Her instructions were clear and the result was awesome!

For my second attempt, I turned it up a notch and chose Axis Venison Loaf.  I had one strike against me since I didn't have any Axis meat, but I did have deer burger.  My first attempt failed miserably because I didn't know the difference between a food processor and a blender.  My wooden spoon paid for my lack of knowledge with its life.  The second attempt (after I procured a small food processor) was much better.  The result was a meatloaf that had a unique flavor that I haven't encounter before and it will definitely be added to my usual rotation of wild game dishes.

My Failed First Attempt

Successful Second Attempt

The Skinny
I would recommend this book because it feels authentic.  Georgia doesn't attempt to portray herself as an expert hunter.  Instead she tells it like it is.  She is an talented chef who is learning to hunt.  You will enjoy reading about her experiences that likely parallel all of our journeys as outdoors-men and outdoors-women, examining what hunting is really about, and picking up some excellent recipes along the way.  I have come away from this book with a new excitement in broadening my own culinary experiences regarding wild game.  Buttermilk Fried Rabbit, Squirrel Dumplings, and Quail Kebabs here I come!

Thanks Georgia, it was a good read!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Ron's Long Shot Deer

The last weekend of deer rifle season found Ron and I again in the deer woods.  I had tagged out with a buck the week before and although Ron had seen some good bucks, he hadn't yet pulled the trigger on one.  Leading up to this weekend we had some logistical problems and we knew the weather would be wet, but we were determined to overcome it with some planning.  Ron traveled to our hunting spot the day before me so he could set up a hunting blind in anticipation of the 90% chance of rain for Saturday, while I had a business meeting occupying me on Friday.  I met Ron at our staging area on Saturday morning a little after 6:00 AM and although it had rained a little that night, a quick check of the radar on my smart phone told me that another wave of rain was approaching fast and we had a brief "dry window" to travel to our blind.  I showed Ron the radar and we immediately agreed that the ATVs would be needed so we could successfully leave our hunting location after the rains hit.

We sprang into action and coaxed the four wheelers to life as they coughed and sputtered in the cold morning air.  We were under way fairly quickly, but we weren't making good time as we spun out and mudded down the dirt road.  We were about five minutes from our blind when the first big wet drop hit me in the face.  "Oh no, here it comes!"I muttered, but before I could finish the sentence, the heavens opened up and drenched us both.  I sped up and tried to out run the rain, but it was no use, we were gonna get wet.  Ron and I both had on rain gear, but I couldn't keep my hood over my head, I had left my rain gloves back at the house, and while I was driving and my rifle case kept slipping off the rack so I had my hands full.  Finally we reached the spot to park our ATVs and we trudged through the mud to the blind.  I have never been so happy to see a little pop up tent before!  We hurled ourselves inside the blind, zipped up the door, shivering, wet, and cold.  Ron looks over at me and says "we're having fun right?"  I agreed that we were having fun and that the small adversities just make it more memorable.  Really, which trips do you remember best?  The ones where everything is perfect including the weather or when all heck breaks loose and you still pull off a successful hunt?

Ron had done an excellent job (as usual) of setting up the blind.  He had cleared the grass, leveled the floor, and set up camp chairs inside so we would be comfortable.  He had also concealed it fairly well within a plum bush.  I normally don't like hunting from these blinds, but today I was all for it!  We could hardly hear each other talk because the noise from the rain pelting the blind and I didn't think we would see a thing until the rain passed, but sure enough a small buck came by about 7:30 AM.  He had a small four point antler on one side and a even smaller spike on the other side.  Unfortunately I have seen several of these lop sided bucks in the area.  Apparently there was a buck like this several years back that all of us had seen, but nobody wanted to shoot him.  Well, it looks like he has passed on his genes and in a weird sort of way it is a benefit to the deer since most people will pass them up.

About 30 minutes later another small buck ran past us, but didn't get much of a reaction from Ron or myself.  By 9:30 AM, the rain had let up a little and nature was calling me (if you know what I mean) so I asked Ron if he would mind if declared this a bathroom break.  We agreed, but first took a good look around the blind to ensure nothing was approaching.  Just then Ron spotted a good buck running into our area.  I grabbed my binoculars to assess him.  Although he wasn't huge, he was a good eight pointer with a tall rack.  We only had about 15 or 20 seconds to get a look at him and decide if he was big enough.  Ron couldn't see him from his position so we switched sides in the confined space that was available.  Once he settled in and acquired his target, I began to wonder if he was in range.  It looked like a long shot for me, but then Ron is comfortable with long shots as he competitively shoots up to 600 yards at times.  The buck continued to walk toward a ridge covered in brush. He stopped for a couple seconds at the edge of the brush.  A few more steps and he would be gone.  Ron's rifle rang out and the deer spun around and ducked into the foliage and out of sight.

We assess the shot and both agreed that it appeared he had hit the deer well, but since it was raining we should go after him sooner than normal so the blood trail wouldn't wash away (if we needed it).  We walked to where the deer had been standing and Ron ranged the distance with his range finder to be 199 yards!

I assumed that the deer would beyond the cover that he had ran into, but we didn't see him anywhere.  We both began to scan the ground for any evidence left by the deer.  The first sign we found were his fresh tracks and soon after that we found some blood.  We proceeded slowly watching the trail ahead just in case he jumped up.  We came to a several "forks in the road" along the trail where he could have gone left or right.  Each time we split up until one of us found additional sign.  After a slow methodical trailing job, we finally spotted him laying in a thicket with his head down.  We eased up, but our caution wasn't needed as the bullet had done its job.

Ron had pulled off a great long shot with only seconds to set up and make a decision not to mention he had done all the work in setting up the blind the day before.  We made quick work of field dressing the buck and hoisted him up on the ATV for the trip out.  It was a wild ride with the additional inch of rain that fell on the dirt trails and roads out that day, but these are the things that memories are made of.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Accidental Buck

Opening deer rifle season weekend had come and gone without success.  Ron and I hunted diligently for two days and saw numerous deer, but they were all young fork horns or six pointers.  I am really not fixated on hunting deer with big racks, but I had already killed a spike during bow season and really wanted to take a mature buck in rifle season.  Monday was a loss with a torrential rain storm lasting most of the day, but Tuesday would present another opportunity try to fill my remaining buck tag.

I awoke early that morning to find that the rain had ended, but the weather stations indicated almost 2 inches of rain had fallen the day before.  I would need to take an ATV to get into my hunting area or at least that was my plan.  The four wheeler was uncooperative in the cold of the morning as it nearly refused to start.  After applying the choke and warming up the engine, I was finally on my way until I ran out of gas five minutes into my journey!  I coasted to a stop and turned the fuel tank on "reserve" allowing the remaining fuel to be used.  I proceeded down the muddy trail and found that the waterway I normally drive through to get to my stand was completely filled with water (it was about 6 feet deep) and was utterly impassable!  I sat there for a moment and looked at the water as it quickly swept by.  "There must be another way" I thought to myself.  Actually there was another route that required me to drive across a neighbors field so I turned around to try the alternate route, but then I remembered my fuel situation.  I might not have enough gas to make the trip there and back with the detour.  I would have to head back for more fuel.  I grumbled all the way imagining herds of deer frolicking around my tree stand while I was making trips back and forth to get gas.

As I returned to the field (after refueling), I saw a deer in the middle of a wheat field looking at me.  I stopped the ATV and grabbed my binoculars.  He was a good 8 point buck, but he was completely unreachable in the middle of the field.  Just then he turned and ran into a pasture nearby.  I quickly assess the situation and drove the ATV to the opposite side of the pasture and parked beneath a pond dam.  I eased over the dam to scan the pasture with my binoculars.  I spotted a doe and a buck about a quarter of a mile away grazing where the pasture ended and the wheat field began.  There was barely enough cover for a stalk, but if I stayed low, it was possible.  I grabbed my homemade shooting sticks and rifle and started to sneak toward the buck.  I would advance about 10 yards and stop to glass the area where the deer were feeding to make sure they hadn't seen me and then proceed to the next mesquite bush or clump of grass.  I repeated this process until I had closed the gap to 300 yards.  It was a wet and miserable process since everything was soaked from the rain the day before, but the wind was in my favor and I was making progress.  Once I was close enough to better assess the deer, I realized that the buck I was looking at was not the same one I had seen in the field.  This one was huge!  He didn't have many points, but his main beams were massive and deep brown in color.  It was obvious this was a mature buck, probably 5 or 6 years old judging by his body size.

I was so excited that I successfully snuck this far, but my joy soon became disappointment as I assessed my next move.  I had crawled up a slight elevation in the field and between me and the deer was a depression that served as a water way.  I should have been able to use that depression to close the distance to 200 yards or less but there was a problem.  The initial buck I had seen in the wheat field was now in that water way between me and the larger buck.  Both bucks put on an entertaining show as they displayed their aggressive behavior of snorting and walking stiff legged while their hair bristled (trying to scare off each other).  It was obvious the smaller buck was way out of his league and he kept a safe distance from the larger buck.  Just then, I heard something that sounded like hooves.  I lowered my binoculars and looked to my right and there stood a spike buck no more than 30 yards away.  I froze, hoping that he wouldn't sound the alarm.  Several minutes passed and finally the immature buck decided I was nothing to be concerned with.  He trotted away from me and more importantly away from the other deer!  I looked back at both bucks only to find that the smaller buck had decided to bed down!  "Dang it" I muttered to myself.  "I will just have to wait them out".

I was determined to wait as long as it took to take this buck.  He was by far one of the biggest deer I had seen in years.  While I waited, pinned down in my location, I began to wonder why the deer were in this pasture in the first place.  There was no real cover in the area and if you had asked me if this was a good place to hunt any other day, I would have said you were crazy.  It appeared that the doe had lured the bucks into this field during the night and had not retreated to cover as they normally would.  Neither buck was willing to leave the doe as she appeared to be ready to breed.  My thoughts flashed back to the situation at hand as I saw a pick-up slowly cruising down a dirt road about a quarter mile away.  They slowed down to look my direction probably because they saw my hunter orange hat.  I also assume that they had binoculars and could see I was deer hunting and began to scan the pasture for my quarry.  After a minute they proceeded slowly down the road, continuing to look for the deer until I think they saw them.  By this time the deer had also seen the pick-up and they were getting nervous.   The pick-up accelerated and left the area without incident, but they had inadvertently changed the direction of the buck I was pursuing.  Just moments ago the large buck and the doe had been grazing toward me at a snails pace, but now they were trotting away from me.  Even the small buck bedded down had gotten up to trot away.

Now was my chance!  As the deer moved away, they were walking into another depression and I would be able to use the waterway in front of me as cover to close the distance.  As soon as the deer were far enough that they couldn't spot my movement, I ran as fast as I could while hunched over.  I reached the ridge and eased over the top with my binoculars to assess the distance of the deer.  To my surprise they were considerably farther than I anticipated and were crossing the wheat field!  "He is getting away"  I said under my breath.   A plan quickly formulated in my head and I set it into action.

I ran back to my ATV, covering the quarter mile in minutes.  The same distance that had taken me nearly an hour to cover by crawling and sneaking through the brush.  I got the ATV on the same road the pick-up had been on and raced to other end of the wheat field a mile away.  I intended to ambush the buck as he exited the field.  I couldn't know for sure where he would choose to cross into the next pasture, but I had a hunch.  Once I got close to my intended ambush point, I left the ATV at the road and ran into the pasture barreling into a row of trees that would conceal my presence.  My lungs were aching and I was really feeling old and out of shape, but there was no time to stop and rest.  If I didn't act fast this deer would be gone.  I hurried through the trees and reached the edge facing the field.  I grabbed my binoculars and began to scan in the distance for the deer, but I didn't see anything.  As I continued to look, I thought I might have chosen the wrong place for my ambush or maybe they beat me here and had already passed.  I lowered my binoculars and was amazed to see the big buck less than 50 yards away staring in my direction.  "It's the big buck" I said breathlessly to myself.  I grabbed my shooting sticks using them like a monopod.  I found the buck in my scope as he continued to stare in my direction without moving.  I knew any second he would bolt, but I was still shaking from sprinting into position and didn't feel steady enough to shoot yet.  I took a deep breath, exhaled and focused on settling the cross hairs on his shoulder.  I became relaxed and squeezed the trigger with a steady pull.  The shot rang out and the buck dropped in his tracks.  I was stunned, relieved, and euphoric all at once.

The deer had 7 points with really heavy mass and a main beam that curved up to form the first tines.   I estimate his field dressed weight to be about 200 pounds and have I retained his jaw to age him later.  Finding him in the most unlikely place had been a complete accident driven by the unusual circumstances of the morning.  I probably had driven right past this buck that morning on the ATV and had my path not been blocked by high water and my ATV not ran out of gas, I would have never seen him.  He is a unique and beautiful buck that I feel privileged to take.  This was a hunt that I will never forget!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Book That Will Expand Your Food Horizons

I recently finished reading Steve Rinella’s first book called “The Scavengers Guide to Haute Cuisine” and thoroughly enjoyed every page.  I am a little late to the party since this book came out in 2005 but this is because I found out about the author through other means.  You may have heard of Steve due to his second book “American Buffalo” or more likely due to his show on the Travel Channel last year called “The Wild Within”.  I first became aware of Steve when I saw the promotional advertising leading up to the first season of the Wild Within and I could immediately tell that this was not your normal hunting show and it really appealed to me.  I even blogged about the show and his second book  last year (LINK) because I wanted to do my part in spreading the word about the refreshing program and interesting book.  

As I learned more about the host and his show, what really appealed to me was Steve’s approach to hunting.  He actually addresses this subject early in this book as well.  In chapter 1 he starts out by explaining that he spends a lot of time thinking about food and how to collect or gather that food.  Although he does spend some time gathering wild asparagus or huckleberries, the majority of his food search takes place through hunting and fishing.  Now he isn’t preaching that everyone should be a hunter gather, but what he does portray in his book and his show is his focus on hunting as a part of larger cycle that culminates with preparation and consumption of the game as great food.  You won’t see on his show or read in the book about trophy antlers or record books being the driver for his hunting.  Instead it is more about the wonderful meals he can provide for his family and friends and the priceless experiences he shares with those that venture out with him.  This really mirrors my own belief about hunting and fishing and although I love to take deer with nice antlers or a really big fish, it isn’t the motivating force behind my pursuit.   It seems to me that the cycle of hunting (or fishing for that matter) is incomplete without the consumption of food rendered from the game.  Simply put, I feel like Steve and I are like minded on this subject.

I initially was disinterested in this book because the title didn’t sound very interesting, but once I had been exposed to “The Wild Within” and Steve’s second book “American Buffalo”, I knew I would enjoy it.  The book chronicles Steve’s quest to prepare a 3 day Thanksgiving feast with 45 courses based on recipes from a 100 year old French cookbook utilizing wild game procured by himself, his brothers, and his friends.  Steve takes you along on his journeys to catch pigeons, sparrows, frogs, ling cod, crawdads, elk, and all manner of other creatures.  Along the way Steve shares his own experiences as a hunter and the challenges we all face as outdoors men and women in interacting with the rest of society that thinks we are nuts. 

This was me being goofy trying to line my face up with the cover while reading.

Steve isn’t another John McPhee or Hemingway, but he writes about things that I like to read about in a manner that I can relate to so I feel like I am hearing stories relayed from one of my hunting buddies instead of trudging through a book.  In this case Steve has sparked a new interest for me in expanding my culinary horizons.  I intend to cook my wild game in new and exciting ways going forward and I hope to try my hand at preparing some wild game animals and fish that I haven't tried in the past.  

I hope this isn’t the last book from Steve, but in the interim, there is a new show beginning in 2012 called “Meat Eater” that Steve will host on the Sportsman channel.  Several other bloggers have also written on this subject so I won’t carry on here, but needless to say, I am excited about seeing a continuation of the work that was done in the “Wild Within”.  Here are the links to those posts written by Sole Adventurer (CLICK HERE) and Socal Bowhunter (CLICK HERE) on the subject.  I hope you give this book a chance to expand your horizons and at the very least, you will never look at a pigeon the same way (those who read the book will know what I mean).   

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Quick Opening Weekend Deer Gun Report: No Deer But Many Pigs

This year's Deer Gun Season opening weekend unfolded for the most part as it had most years.  Ron, my hunting buddy and I were in our favorite spots as the the first light of the day began to creep over the horizon.  This year I was carrying my rifle during gun season.  If you don't know me, you are likely saying to yourself, "duh of course you have your gun during gun season", but most years I continue to bow hunt during gun season.  This year the bigger deer had eluded my bow although I had taken a spike the week before.  This year the gun felt like the right choice and I looked forward to bringing something with a little more range!

As soon as it was light enough to see, I started spotting bucks on the move.  Only problem was that they were all spikes, fork horns, or six pointers.  I did have one nice pig sneak in on me, but I couldn't decide if I wanted to shoot because I was afraid the shot would spook that big buck that I just knew was about to appear.  My hesitation was all that he needed when he winded me and disappeared as quickly as he had arrived.

Around 8:00 AM, I heard the crack of Ron's rifle and I smiled thinking he had his deer down on opening morning, but then there was another BANG!  An then another and another followed by squealing!  Ron had a herd of pigs come buy and he just happened to be carrying his new AR-10 in 308 caliber.  He hit four of them before they could get out of range.  The pig population seems to have expanded a bit in this area and Ron was doing his best to curb it.  The first evening was similar to the morning.  Many small bucks and Ron took down two more pigs.

The next day we awoke to a howling North wind that blew all morning, but eased up by lunch time.  We elected to sit on our stands through the afternoon and both saw and took out a coyote each, but passed on smaller deer.  With rain in the forecast for Monday morning, we broke camp that night and headed back in the morning empty handed.  We will be back the last weekend of the season where we hope our luck will change!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Bow Season 2011: Pigs, Deer, and Earth Quake!

The Explanation
So it has been a month since my last post so please forgive me, but making a living got in the way of my blog.  Although when I wasn't working, I was bowhunting.  I hunted four weekends including the opening weekend (although they were not all in a row) and outings two and three were mostly unexciting except for some cool video of small bucks fighting and a bobcat I called up.

Dos Pigs!
My fourth hunt was the first weekend in November.  It was good and cold at night and mild during the days although it was really windy at times.  The first evening I arrived late to my stand so I only grabbed my bow and headed to the stand.  I was left my video camera assuming that I was getting out so late that my chance of success were limited (and I didn't have time to pull together all the gear and set it up).   After sitting in my stand for only 15 minutes, I saw two small bucks about a hundred yards away milling around in the trees.  They appeared to be headed my way although it would take them a long while to reach me at their current pace.  About 10 minutes later I hear the bucks snorting and wheezing alarms as if they had smelled or seen me, but that was impossible since I was down wind of them.  Soon I saw what the deer had been alarmed by.... It was a large black boar trotting through the trees, headed straight for me.  He followed the deer path perfectly right by my tree.  I drew back my bow and as my 20 yard pin settled on his lungs, I gave a squeak with my mouth to get him to stop.  On that que, he froze and gave me the opportunity I needed to release my arrow.  The arrow center punched him in the lungs and hit resounded with the most solid "THUD" I have ever heard.  The arrow had penetrated to the opposite side of the pig's rib cage, but but didn't exit the other side as the boar sprinted into the woods.  While I waited, another group of pigs came out of the trees and began to mill around in front of me.  I grabbed another arrow and targeted a medium size pig closest to me.  As he turned broad side I drew back my bow and released a second arrow.  This time the it penetrated to the far side, but still didn't pass completely through (dang these pigs are tough).  He sprinted into the woods squealing all the way.  The other pigs huffed and snorted as they retreated.  I snuck down out of my tree and went back to my pick-up to get my lantern and pistol for the blood trail.  After an hour I began to search through the dense brush with my coleman lantern and amazingly I was able to find both pigs.  They hadn't gone far once they reached cover although my arrows were no where to be seen.  The boar looked huge, likely 250 pounds and the smaller one was likely 120 to 150 pounds.  I was delighted to have taken two in one evening!  A first for me!

From 10 Point Buck to "If it's Brown, It's Down"
The next morning I sat in my South wind stand.  My only contact was a buck about 100 yards away.  I was beginning to wonder if I was going to get a deer with my bow this season.  If you count each morning or evening as one hunt, I had been out about 8 or 10 times and, so far, I only had a few does within bow range.  My "threshold" or "expectations" for what was an acceptable deer was quickly dropping from an 8 or 10 point buck to the motto "If it's brown, it's down!"  Rifle season was fast approaching and the prime time of bow season was slipping away.  I decided that day, that I would take any legal buck that walked within range.

That evening I was startled to see a fork horn that just "appeared" out of nowhere.  I have always been amazed at the stealthiness of these animals.  He walked toward me straight on without presenting a shot and then at 20 yards, turned left, trotting along in front of me.  I attempted to pull the same trick that I had with the boar by squeaking as he came by to make him stop so I could take my shot, but as soon as I squeaked, the deer jumped into the brush!  Apparently he equated that sound with danger!

As I quietly cussed my bad luck, another buck, a spike, came out of the trees and into my shooting lane following the same path as the fork horn.  He stopped at 20 yards, but turned right to look at something to the North and then began to graze around him on that spot.  The wind was blowing that day and gave me the cover I needed.  As  gust blew the tree I was sitting in, I pulled my bow back and settled my 20 yard pin on his chest.  I focused on the point of impact I wanted to hit on the deer.  I squeezed my release slowly and the bow went off, almost surprising me.  The arrow flew true and passed completely through the buck and stuck in the ground on the opposite side.  The buck sprang into action and sprinted North West for over 100 yards.  At first it didn't appear he was mortally wounded, but then his pace slowed and his legs began to get wobbly.  He turned and I could see that his side was crimson red from the exit wound, he stumbled and was down.  In all I estimate he expired within 10 seconds!  I got down from my tree and hurried over to him before the sun set.  Although he was small, I am always pleased with a quality animal from a food perspective and this young spike will provide some excellent table fare.  I got video of the shot and it looks great, but I wish I had the presence of mind at the time to grab the video camera to film the deer running into the field and collapsing after the shot.  It really demonstrates the effectiveness of archery equipment and the hunters that choose to limit themselves in this manner.

The Quake
That night I hung the deer up, began to skin him, and cut out the muscle groups I use for steaks and ground deer meat. I was making quick work of the buck and at about 10:30 PM, I was sitting on an ice chest as I worked to remove the lower leg from one of the hind quarters.  Just then the earth moved in one big wave.  I almost fell off of the ice chest!  I sat there stunned wondering what had just happened.  My pick-up was still rocking back and forth and a near-by water tank was sloshing back and forth.  Wow, I had never been in an earth quake and this was freaky.  Turns out there had been a 5.6 earth quake in central Oklahoma and it had been felt in many of the surround states including my location.  It only lasted a second or two, but gave me new respect for those that have endured really destructive earthquakes.

It was a great hunt and the fun isn't over.  I will still be gun hunting and maybe return for some additional bow hunting as well.  Here is a brief video of my adventure.  Again, my apologies for the long delay between posts.  I intend to get back to the 2-3 posts per month again.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Opening Weekend Bowhunt for Deer 2011

Well, I wish I could tell you that I bagged a deer my opening weekend, but it just wasn't meant to be.  This was really more like a scouting trip where I also hunted a little since I have been unable to spend any time in the bush leading up to this season.  It was a beautiful weekend with lows reaching 50 degrees and the highs only in the upper 70's.

I arrived at my camping spot at about midnight so I quickly set up camp and went to bed.  As a result of my late arrival to camp, I overslept the next morning and didn't get into my stand until the sun was almost coming up.  I was disgusted with myself, but the deer showed up late also.  The first sightings were two does about 100 yards to my West.  Soon after that I saw a group of small bucks North of me about 250 yards.  They were fun to watch because they were playing around and sparring with each other.  After they departed, I headed to camp (at around 10:30 AM) and had breakfast.

I broke my SPORK!  Good thing I have duct tape!

The evening was relatively quiet until a pair of armadillos came crashing through my area.  I thought to myself, "dang, I wish I had something to shoot them with".  Just then I remembered that I had my 44 Mag pistol with me, just in case I saw any hogs.  I drew my revolver and blasted the first armadillo with a lucky shot.  It was only then that I remembered I didn't have any ear protection!  My ears rang the rest of the night.

I headed back to camp and enjoyed a nice dinner and good book under the stars.  The conditions were perfect for camping.  Cool nights with absolutely zero wind.  You could hear a pin drop and the local wildlife was very vocal.  I heard coyotes and owls calling what seemed like all night.

The next morning I was in my stand well before shooting light, but it proved to be an uneventful morning.  I only spotted a couple of does and by 11:00 AM I was breaking camp.  As I was leaving though, I wandered into an area that I hadn't had time to scout and stumbled upon a couple bucks.  They were concealed in the brush and were unaware I saw them.  I could make out a small buck in the lead, but a better buck was behind him.  They got nervous and evaporated back into the wilderness like a mist...then they were gone.  Now I know they are hanging out and I can begin to look for an opportunity to intercept them, but it will have to be next time.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Bow Practice At The Gun Range

I don't like living in the suburbs.   I would rather live in a rural area that allows me to have plenty room to shoot my bow, but that isn't the reality that I currently live in.  I have to drive to an archery range to shoot longer distances than I can find in my backyard.  Besides, my neighbors think I am crazy and a menace for shooting a weapon behind my own house.

I could have gone to my local archery shop and shot a 20 yard range, but it was a beautiful day and it is was the weekend before deer archery season, so I elected to go my local gun range that also has a very primitive archery range.  The range was over run with enthusiastic pistol and rifle shooters, but I was the only archer on the premisses.  I was elated because I can choose my own distances and pull arrows from the targets whenever the heck I want to.  I shot broadheads at the foam targets, field tips at the field targets and even used an elevated platform to practice tree stand shots.  I shot distances from 15 to 50 yards and had a blast.  Here is a short video of my shooting session.  You will notice the noise from the pistol and rifle ranges that were directly behind me (they were shooting in the opposite direction).  I shot until my arm felt like it was about to fall off and then I shot a little more.  I can't wait for October and deer season to get here!  My next post should be covering my first deer hunt of the year!  Good luck to everyone for your upcoming hunting seasons, be safe!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

How About Crock Pot BBQ Venison

October 1 is fast approaching and with it is the 2011 Deer Season!!!! I get goose bumps just thinking about it!  My thoughts turn to preparation for the season and an unlikely preparation many may forget is to  ensure you have room in the freezer.  I have been diligently working through my inventory of wild game from 2010 over the past year and only have a few of my less desirable cuts left.  As I took an inventory of the game freezer, I found four packages of hindquarter steaks.  Now, don't get me wrong, hindquarter is an okay cut, but it isn't back-strap or tenderloin.  I looked at theses numerous packages of meat and tried to envision what tasty concoction I could come up with.  Then it struck me!  "I'll make a crock-pot barbecue shredded venison!"  I didn't even know if I could find a recipe for this, but I was determined to see if it could be done.

I found a few recipes via the internet that weren't exactly what I wanted, so I took a little from one and added it to another.  The result was so tasty that even my wife and older daughter were impressed with it!

1 large onion
1 venison roast or 6 venison steaks
3 strips of bacon
1 bottle of your favorite barbecue sauce

1.  Cut the venison into 1 inch cubes and throw it in the crock pot.

2,  Cut up the onion distribute it over the venison.

3.  Cut up the bacon and distribute it over the onions.

4.  Add water or beef broth or apple juice deep enough to cover the meat.

5.  Turn the crock pot on high, cover, and allow it to cook for six hours.

6.  Remove the meat and onions from the water and shred the meat with a fork.

7.  Pour the water out of the crock pot and place the meat back in the pot.

8.  Add the barbecue sauce to the meat, turn the crock pot on warm and serve on a bun.

I fixed more than we could eat in one sitting, so I have divided up the left-overs and froze them for a quick and easy meal in the near future.  This really turned out well and will be one of my stand-by recipes for the future.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The 2011 Dove Season Has Finally Arrived!

Dove Season has the most enviable placement among all the hunting seasons in Texas and Oklahoma as it is the first hunting season of the Fall.  Hunters across the area wait in anticipation of being able to once again go afield and have an outdoor adventure.  This year it seemed as though dove season would never arrive with the merciless +100 degree days and no rain in sight, but after much preparation and patience September 1 did arrive.

My first morning of dove season found me on my lease in a wheat field that was across the road from, what looked to be, the best dove field in the county (also part of my lease).  Why didn't I hunt across the road you ask?  Well, last year I did hunt what appeared to be the best field, but the crowds were terrible and there was a near altercation that I would rather not go into.  This year I wanted more space so I planned to intercept the doves coming and going into the primary field from my secondary location and it turned out nicely.  I had more than enough room and could enjoy myself with plenty of birds to go around.

It is always a humbling experience the first morning of dove season.  You discover just how "out of practice" you really are.  Your gun can only hold three shells per the federal regulations governing migratory bird harvest, so when a dove flies over and you empty your gun "BAM, BAM, BAM" and then the dove continues to fly by unscathed you realize "seriously, I need to practice more!"  Although as the morning went on I began to find my rhythm.  I made some really great shots bringing down 7 birds.  I had only taken a half day vacation from work, so I had to call it quits by 9:30 AM.

Thursday night was also great.  I returned to the same location by 6:30 PM and the birds were already moving.  I shot two while I was placing my decoys!  Everything was coming together as the birds were flying by in range and my shooting had vastly improved from the morning.  I was able to get the second half of my limit (8 more birds) bringing my total for the day to the 15 bird limit.

Friday evening I returned to my new "favorite spot" as soon as I could arrive after work.  There were two other hunters North of me along a tree row and I noticed that the one of the hunters nearest me wasn't doing so well.  He had a mojo decoy, but it was set up really close to his position and he was focusing his gaze to the East, but the doves were coming from the North West.  Multiple times, groups of birds flew over him and directly to me.  He didn't see them until I was unloading my 870 Remington pump into the sky and doves were raining down.  I thought about approaching him and giving him a few friendly suggestions, but he looked grumpy and I don't like giving advice to armed grumpy fellas.  The final straw was when he decided to pick up his spent shotgun shells and at that precise moment the biggest group of dove that evening flew directly over his position.  I had time to watch them approach me so I picked out the lead bird as it drew close.  After bringing down the first bird I and was able to pick up a second before the group passed.  I walked out to get my birds and I could see him throwing his gear into his pickup to leave looking even more aggravated. He didn't even wave when he drove out!

I spent the rest of the weekend with my family, but did sneak in one brief Labor Day morning hunt.  Things had gone downhill with the cold front blowing in.  I only saw a handful of dove and my outings since have also not been productive either.  Still, I have three nice freezer bags of dove awaiting their date with a grill in the future.  Hopefully the hunting will pick-up again in a few weeks.  If not, there is always Deer season come October 1!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Searching For The Perfect Salmon Recipe

The older I get, the more I have realized that hunting and fishing is not only about the actual taking of the fish & game animals with rods, guns and bows.  In fact, that is only half of the process.  It is also about the cooking and consumption of the fish & game animals that completes this cycle.  Without the latter, the former loses its meaning in my opinion.  So with this in mind, I have been searching for a recipe that is worthy of the wonderful Sockeye Salmon I recently caught in Alaska.

I scoured the internet and my own cookbooks to come up with the perfect method of preparation that balances simplicity with elegance.  After testing out a few fillets, I think I have found my favorite and I wanted to share.  This recipe only requires a few ingredients, but delivers a phenomenal result.  Bon Appetite!

Grilled Cedar Plank Salmon with Spice Rub

Salmon fillet (best fresh caught from Alaska if possible) 
Cedar Plank

Spice Rub
- 1 TBS brown sugar
- 1 TSP coarse salt
- 2 TSP ancho chili powder
- 1 TSP ground cumin
-1/2 TSP black pepper

1.  Soak the cedar plank in water for about an hour and preheat grill to 350 degrees prior to cooking.  

2.  In a small bowl, mix the spice rub ingredients together thoroughly.

3.  Apply the spice rub to the salmon.

4.  Place cedar plank on grill to preheat for 3-5 minutes.  Turn plank over and place salmon fillet on plank (skin side down).  Cook for 12-15 minutes (no turning necessary).  Remove from grill and enjoy!

This recipe is simple and delivers a spicy crust for your delicious salmon!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Realizing A Dream (Elk Hunting Turned Salmon Fishing)

Note:  This blog entry is my submission for the Red Tuna Shirt Club and Outdoor Blogger Network Writing Contest. The writing contest requests a blog entry discussing your dream fishing destination, who you would fish with, and what species you would fish for.  Since I recently returned from my dream trip, I just had to enter the contest.  Thanks in advance to Red Tuna and the OBN.  If you have never visited the OBN (Outdoor Blogger Network), I would highly encourage you to do so as it is a treasure trove of interesting blogs that span the outdoor spectrum.  

My dream fishing trip started in the most unlikely manner.  It actually began as an Elk hunt.  At the beginning of this year, I declared 2011 to be the year of the Elk.  I was determined to plan and execute an archery Elk hunt no matter what.  Several months into my planning phase, I suffered a knee injury that would eliminate any possibility of me hiking miles and miles up and down the Rocky Mountains.  I was devastated, but not deterred.  I began to research alternatives and continued to dream big.  I asked myself, "If I could go anywhere, where would I want to go."  The answer was easy, Alaska!  After a little research, the trip morphed into a Sockeye Salmon trip at the world famous confluence of the Russian and the Kenai rivers.  This would be a solo trip partly because my fishing buddy had a conflict, but also because I was seeking solitude as a refuge from several months of grueling work at my job.   After much planning and preparation, the day to depart for the trip during the first week of August arrived and I was traveling North!

I awoke from a deep sleep not knowing where I was.  I looked around and realized that I was sleeping in a van down by the river.  No this wasn't a Saturday Night Live skit with the late Chris Farley, I had rented a camper van and was camping at the Russian River campground in Alaska!  Not wanting to waste a single second of precious Alaska time, I quickly grabbed my gear and headed to the river.  As I descended the long trail from the camping area to the river confluence, another group of fisherman coming up the hill yelled "Hey, watch out for that bear!"  I thought, man how do they know I am a new guy?  They are already pulling my leg.  At that instant I looked to my right and realized I was no more than 10 feet from a bear!  I froze in my tracks and then slowly backed up.  The fisherman that had yelled the warning were closer now and we all yelled at the bear to discourage him from approaching.  Luckily for everyone involved, the bear turned and left the scene.

I arrived at the confluence of the two rivers and although I had high expectations of my dream destination, this place far exceeded them.  The waters were crystal clear except for the deepest sections of the river and those areas were a stunning turquoise color that I can only guess comes from the glacier melt feeding these beautiful waters.  Fisherman lined the banks as slugs of Sockeye swam upstream to their spawning grounds.  I jockeyed for my position among them and began to fish.  

As this was my first time Sockeye Salmon fishing, I knew very little.  I had read everything I could find on the subject, but nothing beats experience.  After watching and talking to those that were successful, I began to catch on.  The next few days were filled with the sheer exhilaration of sight casting to Sockeyes as they swam by.  Although the water was filled with salmon, not all the fish are created equal.  Those that have already turned deep red with green heads are already in their spawn phase and are no longer fit to be eaten, but he chrome silver fish and even the purple blushed salmon are among the finest eating fish you will ever take a bite of.  There color phase is determined by the amount of time they have spent in fresh water as they migrate from the ocean up river.  The red salmon are called "Fire Trucks or Tomatoes" and the silver salmon are called "Chromers".  I did catch more "Fire Trucks" than "Chromers", but all of them put up a tremendous fight and were a blast to catch!

A Chromer, Just Right For the Grill

A Fire Truck, Very Pretty But Not Edible

One specific afternoon stands out on this trip and it is something that I will remember forever.  I had returned to the river the afternoon ready to catch my limit of fish for the day.  I noticed that all the fisherman appeared to be doing well as they called out "Fish On!" as this was customary so that others close by would know to give them room to play their fish.  I stepped into the cool clear waters and  I knew I would have my limit within an hour.   I was wrong.  My fishing mojo had left me and it appeared that even small boys were able to out fish me.  As the evening drew near, most everyone left with their limits and  the crowds thinned out.  I had only managed to snag the rocks on the stream bed as I drifted my coho flies down stream.  Also, I was running dangerously low on tackle, but coincidentally I had snagged another fishing line in the stream bed that was attached to several flies that other fisherman had lost.  I checked the sharpness of the hooks and they were still in great shape so I tossed them in with my gear.   The sun began to sink toward the tree tops  of the valley and the air was getting noticeably  cooler.  It is now or never I said to myself as I resumed my fishing.  Just like that, my fishing mojo returned.  The bite turned on for me and I managed to land two long chrome hens one after another.  I then lost my last good coho fly on a rock in the deepest part of the stream.  Things looked bad, but I remembered the old flies I had retrieved from the stream bed earlier.  I pulled out an odd purple looking fly that was a little beat up as it was missing much of the deer hair that had originally been tied onto it, but the hook was sharp and I didn't have anything better to fish with.  I tossed the fly out into the stream where the shadows of the trees hung over the water.  The fly hadn't drifted more than a few feet when the water erupted and my fly rod gave a violent jerk forward.  I had hooked into a really big buck Sockeye and he was a feisty one!  The fish turned on his afterburners and surged upstream taking me with him.  Without notice he turned sideways in the strong current of the Kenai and then headed back downstream.  Again, I was following the fish downstream.  Over the last several days of fishing, although all the Sockeye had been strong, I never had to walk the bank as I attempted to retrieve a fish, but this was no ordinary Sockeye.  Each time I thought I had him close to the shallower waters near the bank, he would get his second wind and surge into deep water.  I had now traveled about 30 yards downstream and the other fisherman near me stopped casting and were watching the battle, waiting to see if they should cheer or groan.  I began to worry about the strength of my line.  "Did I tie a strong enough knot?"  "Were there any abrasions in the line from the rocks that would allow it to break?"  These questions and others flashed through my mind in an instant.  I needed to end this fight and land this fish before my line snapped.  I had learned one trick watching other fisherman and the behavior of the fish.   When a salmon decided he was going to surge forward, there was no stopping him, but if you could get him turned as he started that surge, he would thrust himself right up on to the shore.  I saw my opportunity as the fish gave just enough that I could point him toward land and, as if on command, he gave a  tremendous sprint forward onto the bank.  I pounced on the fish with both hands since I didn't have a net.  I quickly dispatched the fish (as is customary in Alaska salmon fishing) with a quick blow to the head from a river rock and placed him up on my stringer.  
My Most Memorable Catch

With immense satisfaction, I hoisted the heavy stringer over my shoulder and began my journey upstream to the cleaning tables.  As I reached the confluence of the river I sat back and looked at these magnificent fish and the gorgeous sunset that was materializing before me and I just gave thanks for all of my blessings.  I had traveled to the top of the world on a solo trip with no more than a few books and some internet research to guide me.  I met wonderful  people and had tremendous experiences that I will cherish the rest of my days.  This was truly a dream fishing tip, but this is one dream that I intend to revisit!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Anticipation and Adjusting Expectations

It may not feel like it.  No, it doesn't even feel like it is remotely close, but Fall is coming.  Crisp cool mornings, chilly nights, and the Fall hunting seasons are drawing closer despite the fact that the dog days of Summer continue to beat down on us all.  As August passes, I am filled with anticipation and engage in preparations for the upcoming dove season.  When I was a boy, I wouldn't do much prep for the season except buy shells and put a plug in my shotgun (as required for migratory birds), but now I seem to do a little more.  This isn't because I need to prepare more.  I do it to feel like I am moving myself closer to the long anticipated beginning of the multiple hunting seasons where I will pursue dove, deer, quail, turkeys, and maybe even some predators.

This August is much like last year, except it is hotter and dryer.  Consistent with last year, I again signed up for a dove lease with DFW Hunt so that I can hunt near my home after work and on the weekends.  There are many dove lease outfitters in the area, but these guys work hard to have detailed aerial maps available for all the fields, provide advice based on their scouting, and are a pleasure to deal with.  Also, I received a discount for buying my lease earlier in the year and by providing them a video I created for their web site.

Last weekend was the "Dove Tour" of the fields available North of DFW and I attended as part of my pre-season scouting.  It was obvious from the tour, that this year will be really tough.  The birds appear to be concentrated in a few areas and it will mean that there will also be a concentration of dove hunters in those same few areas.

This weekend I returned to the dove fields to do some early morning scouting.  I started with my favorite field from last year.  I parked in the center of the pasture, got out my 10X50 Leopold binos, and started glassing.  I saw a sly coyote in the distance trotting through a cut Milo field, slipping in-between cows as he works his way across the field looking for rodents and rabbits.  I saw giant clouds of starlings and purple martins pass over head, but the skies were devoid of dove.  I did catch a glimpse of two mourning doves speeding across a field low to the ground, but they were about a quarter mile away.

No Doves Here

I drove to the next field a few miles down the road.  Last year this field was planted with Milo and had been cut prior to dove season.  The scattered grain left by the harvesters was a feast for the doves and it was obvious as large groups of birds poured into and out of this field.  This year the field had been planted to wheat and the crop was very poor, yielding little grain.  There was little to no activity in this field except for doves moving from a wooded area across the field and traveling to the next dove field South across the road.  This field will be the epicenter of activity come opening morning.  It was planted with Milo, but had been cut for hay due to the poor crop.  Despite the fact that it didn't make enough grain for harvest, the hay bailing process had scattered what little Milo seed there was all over the field.  Massive flocks of white wing doves circle this field and roost along the high lines and in the surrounding trees.

Glassing another field without many sightings

White Wing Doves resting after feasting on Milo

As the sun rose so did the temperatures.  I headed back home to grab a quick lunch and to head down to Irving to get some practice at the gun club.  I grew up shooting skeet and trap, but I have taken up shooting a new game called five stand.  This is much like sporting clays, but you shoot 25 shots from five locations with different combinations from six different clay pigeon throwers.  I like it because it provides multiple shot situations and is good preparation for bird hunting.

a Five Stand shooting field

Eye and Ear Protection, Check!

I also expanded my fleet of dove decoys by 100 percent!  I bought an additional Mojo Dove decoy bringing my total decoys to two (impressive, I know)!  I became a firm believer in this decoy last year and since Cabela's was having a sale and was selling them for $30 instead of $40, I had to purchase one!   That's funny, I now sound like my wife.

The final item on my check list to prepare for dove season is that I must adjust my expectations for this year's season.  In the past I have measured the success of a dove hunting outings based on the number of birds in my bag.  A limit of birds would be success and anything less, well it isn't.  This year looks tough, so I am redefining my terms to harvesting enough birds for a few dinners and enjoying the great outdoors with fellow sportsman.  If I get a limit it will be a bonus.  Good luck everyone.  Shoot strait and most of all, be safe!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

End Of The Adventure (Part 4 of my Alaska Trip)

This is the final installment of my Alaska Fishing trip.

Link to Part 1

Link to Part 2

Link to Part 3

Day 4 (A Missed Opportunity, Expensive Lesson, and Tomatoes)
It was cloudy, gray with low hanging clouds covering the mountain tops on Day 4.  I made my way down to the river along the walking path and I saw a guy that looks very anxious but happy to see me.  He recognized that I was carrying a can of bear spray and my 44 Mag on my hip.  He asked "can I walk with you?".  I tell him sure, but ask why and he says that he was just standing on the pathway when a black bear walked right by him.  He was noticeably shaken although it appears the bear was more interested in fish than him.  He walked with me to the confluence of the river without another sighting.

Once I made it to my favorite stretch of water in the Kenai, I waded into the stream and began to cast in hopes of intercepting another sockeye.  Before long I had a big, beautiful hen on.  She looked like she was just beginning to turn red and was more of a blush or purple color.  After a great fight, she was on the bank and I thought I had her.  I was wrong.  I went to whack the fish when it all went horribly wrong.  She thrashed, the fly dislodged from her mouth, my hands surged forward to grab her, but she could sense that freedom was only inches away.  A few flops, splashes and then silence.  She was gone!  I just stood there, disgusted with my mistake and missed opportunity.   I had caught and landed the fish, but didn't seal the deal.  That really stunk!  Disappointed, I re-rigged my fly rod and stepped back into my spot.  I flipped my fly out into the current and resumed my process.  Often my fly got stuck on the stream floor and I would either be able to dislodge it or I would break my line and re-rig my fly and weights.  Again, I was snagged this morning, but I was determined not to waste any time tying my flies.  I yanked my rod, but the snag wouldn't give up my hook.  I walked out to the deep water and gave my rod more of a jerk and then I made a mistake.  I grabbed my rod mid way up with my other hand as I tried to yank the hook loose and then "SNAP"!  "Oh no, that can't be good"  I said.  I looked at my formerly beautiful four piece fly rod that was now a five piece rod.  I had snapped one of the sections in two.  At this point, I kinda giggled at myself.  Oh, well.  That was an expensive lesson, but I am having the time of my life and I am not going to let this ruin my day.  Lesson learned.

I had a back-up rod, but it was back at the van.  I took the walk of shame back to camp grumbling all the way.  "I should know better than that" I said to myself.  Well, I always have said that mistakes are valuable as long as we learn from them, so I was determined to not repeat this mistake.  Once I got back to camp, I decided to vacuum seal my fish from the day before and take them to be frozen.  I began my process and noticed that the vacuum sealer wouldn't turn on.  "Houston we have a problem!"  I wiggled every wire I could find and still could not get the vacuum sealer to come to life.  I decided I would just have to drop off my fillets and ask the fish processor to vacuum seal them for me.

As I drove to the store I wondered if it was the vacuum sealer that broke, or was it the 12 volt plug-in.  As I pulled up to the Kenai Cache sporting goods store, I grabbed my vacuum sealer and carried it up to a 110 volt outlet on the porch.  I plugged it in and it turned on!  "It's ALIVE" I proclaimed!  Great, that my vacuum sealer will work, but can I vacuum seal my fish on the front porch of this store?   I have seen the owner of the Kenai Cache before and he is a grumpy retired military guy that chews up and spits out nice people, so I was not going to ask him.  I found one of his employees that looked more friendly and explained my dilemma.  Once he figured out I was only vacuum sealing a few fish, he said "sure, go ahead".  So there I was, on the front porch of a sporting goods store, as people are walking by, vacuum sealing my salmon fillets like this is just normal. After a few strange, looks from passers by, I was done.  I also decided to replace my fly rod even though I had a spinning rod back in the van.  It just is more fun to fish with a fly rod and they made me a great deal on a beautiful 4 piece St. Croix rod!

I made it back to camp, had a great lunch and hustled back to the river.  I only had one more afternoon and one more morning to fish and I wasn't about to waste it.  When I got back to the river bank, it wasn't encouraging.  I didn't see many fish on the stringers and they didn't seem to be moving much.  As I began to fish, I could tell why I wasn't seeing many fish on the stringers.  It appeared that almost all the fish moving through the area were all tomatoes.  That is Alaskan slang for red spawned-out salmon that have been in the fresh water for to long and are near the end of their life.  They are pretty to look at, but are not good to eat.  I must have hooked into five or six that afternoon and although they were great fighters, I had to turn them loose.  I decided I wanted to get a picture of one to show everyone at home so I began my quest.  The first one I caught, I had him on the bank and was calling out to the guy next to me to help with a picture.  By the time he agreed and I reached for my camera (in my back-pack) the fish had escaped.  The next one also got away.  Then the third time was the charm!  I pinned this one down and convinced a young fella next to me to quickly snap the pic so I could return the fish to the water unharmed.  Some people say these tomatoes are ugly, but I think they are kinds cool to look at.

Pretty, but not good to eat!

Rain began to come down and got heavier as the evening drew on.  I decided to go back to camp and cook my dinner.  I had to eat in my van due to the rain, but it didn't take long for me to get comfortable and fall asleep.

Day 5 (Hunting For Gifts and Supper By The Lake At Sundown)
The next morning the fishing was nearly the same as the evening before.  Very slow with lots of tomatoes swimming by.  I wasn't able to "weed" through them to find any chrome salmon, but it was a beautiful morning of fishing.  I had to head back to the camp by 11:00 AM and pack up all my gear and be out of the campground by Noon at check-out time.  As I turned out of the Russian River campground, I was sad.  My salmon fishing had come to an end, but now I needed to head down the road and find a few gifts for my daughters and nephew.  I drove toward Soldotna, but ended up stopping in Sterling at a gift shop that was inside a huge log cabin.  The banner outside said "Going Out Of Business, Everything 50% Off".  Now I wasn't trying to be cheap, but this looked interesting.  I was amazed at what I saw.  Although it was obvious much of their inventory was gone, what they had was cool.  The store was entirely native made art.  There were carvings, knives (mostly ulus), pelts and all manner of things.  I found a moose antler that had an awesome carving weaved into the center of the palm.  I looked at the price and it was $2,000!  Wow, I may have wandered into the wrong store.  I continued to look and found just was I was searching for.  My goal was to bring back something that was truly Alaskan and not something manufactured in China that had Alaska slapped on it.  I spotted some small walrus tusk carvings that looked interesting.  I found an owl and a bear head and these just happened to be my daughters favorite animals!  Now for my nephew, there wasn't anything that a little boy would find exciting in this store, so I went down the road to the next gift shop and hit pay dirt.  This gift shop was also a taxidermy shop and they had skulls, claws, and teeth of all manner of fierce Alaskan animals!  I settled on a wolf claw necklace.  If I had gotten that when I was my nephew's age, I likely would have never taken it off.  I hope he likes it.

Now that my shopping was done, I headed back toward Anchorage.  I stopped off at the Kenai Cache and picked up my frozen fish.  They were a sight to behold!  Beautiful reddish orange fillets, laying in my cooler.  I took the clothes I didn't need for the remainder of the trip and lined the bottom of the cooler with them.  I then placed my fillets in the middle and then covered them with more clothes.  Then I duct taped the cooler shut so it would stay cold.  I drove back to Anchorage and dropped my cooler off at the Ted Stevens Airport Freezer Storage and then headed for Wasilla.  Along the way I had stopped for a few pictures but I really wanted to do something my last evening in Alaska.  I decided for a road trip North!

Not a road sign I see in Texas

I knew that I didn't have enough daylight to drive all the way to Denali, but I thought maybe I can drive North of Wasilla and see the mountains in the distance and fish some of the streams along the way.  My first stop was Willow State Park.  The park seemed very empty and there was no one in the guard shack to collect the day use or camping fee, so I continued on.  If I stayed, I would just deposit my fee in an envelope and place it in a collection box, but I wasn't convinced that I was staying here.  I walked to the river and found a couple ladies fishing the river and I struck up a conversation.  I said, "you catching anything"? They replied, "yes!"  "Yesterday, my fiend caught a chum salmon".  I said, "and nothing else?"  They replied "No, not today".   Well it was clear that this wouldn't be a productive spot, but I marveled at the determination of these ladies.  I was also surprised at the cloudy and almost muddy water.  It looked nothing like the clear streams of the Kenai.  I asked about the water clarity and they said that the water was higher due to recent rains, but this river wasn't very clear most of the time.  Wow, glad I didn't decide to fish here all week.

Willow River

I continued down the road and discovered that, despite the fact that the sky was clearing, Denali mountain and all the other mountains up North were completely shrouded in clouds.  I continued North and stopped at Sheep creek to check out the fishing there.  There isn't an official campground there, but there were a lot of people camping.  There was a bon fire going with loud music playing and a bunch of guys talking loudly to each other.  This doesn't look like a picture of serenity to me.  I walked down to the river and saw the same cloudy water conditions and saw many people fishing, but nobody had any fish.  Well this wasn't looking good. It was getting late, so I got back in the Van and headed South.

I hadn't had dinner yet and I needed to organize all my gear and pack for my trip home the next morning.  I was planning on pulling into the yard of the people who had rented me the van and sleeping there for the night, but I wanted to be out in the bush for a little while longer.  I was driving along and said out loud"That's it"!  There was a beautiful lake by the road and there was a nice pull-out area that appeared to be there for access to this small lake.  I decided I would drag all my gear out here, get organized and packed and then cook dinner.  It was a perfect evening.  Almost no one came down that road, there was no wind, and the temperature was perfect.  I had a blast cleaning out the van, packing up, and cooking dinner.  As I ate my freeze dried chicken and rice, I watched the sun go down over the Alaska horizon (at about 10:30 PM).  It was a perfect ending to my first Alaskan adventure.

Dining like a king in Alaska

A perfect ending to my trip

Day 6 (The Journey Home)
I said good bye to this wonderful spot and headed back to Wasilla.  I rolled into the backyard of the people renting me the Van at midnight and went straight to bed.  I awoke the next morning at 7:00 AM to have some breakfast and get ready.  I went up to the house to return the Van and my hosts (Sabine and Joe) were excited to hear about my trip.  They were even gracious enough to allow me to take a much needed shower (that was wonderful)!  Sabine took me to the airport and I began my journey home.  I flew into Seattle and then on to the DFW airport where my family was waiting for me.  Along the way, I was even able to snap a few more great photos.  Some of the coast of Alaska and also some really close pics of Mount Rainier.

Mount Rainer Up Close

It was midnight when I arrived back in Texas, but my wife and two daughters were kind enough to meet me at the airport to pick me up.  My girls were so excited to see me that it almost made me cry.  I had missed my wife and daughters so much and I was so excited to tell them about all that I had seen and done.   They loved their gifts and proudly displayed them in their rooms that night.  The fish fillets were transferred to the freezer, still rock hard I might add, and we all went to bed since I had to go back to work the next morning.

As I reflect upon this trip, I marvel at the raw wilderness that is Alaska and count myself lucky to have seen a glimpse of it, even if I never ventured far from the road system.  I am so glad that I decided to take this trip and I hope this is the first of many visits to the last frontier.  Hmm, I wonder if there are any books on caribou or moose hunting in Alaska on a budget.  I should research that!