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).