"It was still hot back in Mississippi and in Texas, where I used to live, but it was already cold up in the mountains, up in the North, in this place where I was going to start a new life. The immediate, pressing problem, I realized, was that winter was perhaps a month away. I knew nothing about winter. I had never seen it before, and I felt dizzy with fear, giddy with wonder, anticipating it.
The dogs, I could tell, were worried too, and missed Mississippi. I could tell they thought I was making a mistake."
Back for a third trip to the Texas Panhandle to chase pheasants. The birds were doing better up around Dumas, so that's where we went this year. Another good time.
First morning, it was a balmy 6 degrees Fahrenheit by nine o'clock, very cold by our standards. It eventually warmed up to the low thirties. The birds were flushing pretty wild but we found enough slow ones to fill our bag.
The next day we started in the teens, much more pleasant, and had some birds hold close right off. We ended the day hunting wastewater pits full of brush and weeds and, on some of them, the birds would boil out all at once, making picking out the roosters and getting a shot quite a challenge, sort of like a really big quail covey rise, only with the birds going in more directions and the limitation of having to pick out roosters over hens.
It's interesting hunting such an unfamiliar landscape. Almost everything in agriculture, mostly flat, enormous amounts of food on the ground right now in the form of waste grain and seemingly very little cover at all. The number of owls and hawks you see in a day is surprising, too.
If you're looking for a good hunt on wild birds in northern Texas, these guys have good land leased and run a nice hunt.
We've had a bit of weather blow through and more on the way. Colder weather lends itself to some very satisfying cooking- stews, soups, braises, long roasting and other slow techniques. In much the same way, some of the tougher cuts of meat are more fun to mess with. A chunk of backstrap is a wonderful thing. Sear it or grill over a hot fire, dressed only with a bit of salt and pepper, and you have a nice meal. Tougher cuts, though, that take some cooking, seasoning, and tenderizing, are both more challenging and, in some ways, more satisfying. Not that I'll be giving up (or giving away) backstrap anytime soon.
In any event, the last elk I put into practice a technique I'd been thinking about for a while. Instead of trimming the shank all the way out and turning it into stew meat or cutting out the big tendons and grinding it for burger, I used a saw cut a couple of the shank portions across the bone and froze them, bone, sinew and all, for braising. I never got around to cooking those during cold weather last spring and now it's the right weather to braise. That and we're about down to the odds and ends of that elk.
Pretty, aren't they?
Steve Bodio wrote about cooking elk shank a while back so, with that in mind and a glance at a couple of osso bucco and daube recipes, off we went.
I browned a half of a pig's foot in some olive oil first:
While it was browning, I tossed the shanks in a bit of seasoned flour:
Once the pork was brown, I removed it and browned the shanks on all sides. In turn, they were taken out and replace with a head's worth of garlic cloves and couple of onions.
A bit of browning for the veggies, then I deglazed the pot with a bottle of (inexpensive, not very good) wine. Once the wine began to boil I added a couple of cups of elk stock and returned the meat along with a bouquet garni of rosemary, sage, and oregano.
Covered, the whole thing was banged in a slow (250 F) oven for the next few hours. Once the meat was fork tender I took the lid off the pot and let things thicken up a bit, adjusted the seasoning, and added a precious half-cup of elk demi glace I'd made a while back. Meanwhile, rolls went into a much hotter oven.
Along with a nice red wine, mashed mixed root vegetables, and a green salad, a very good meal for a cold night.
The first few elk and deer I processed on my own, I didn't have access to a grinder and cut everything into stew meat. Getting enough sinew and silverskin out of the lower shanks took a long, long time and the waste about outweighed the meat recovered. Even once I started grinding my own burger, the shanks were more than a bit of a chore. You can't grind the big sinews in them and all that silverskin hangs up the grinder. This way, that connective tissue was cooked into submission and contributed to a rich, winey stew. I'll cheerfully trade a few hours of running the oven for hours of knife work, especially with such a nice result. Next time, a few mushrooms added wouldn't be amiss.
We've been down on the Rio a few times recently. We still don't have that many ducks down here and the hunting has been a bit slow. Good fun, though.
A and her Ruger Red Label, sunrise:
Long time friend, good cook, and occasional commenter Matt on his inaugural duck hunt:
We had a good hunt, even if not too many birds were around and our shooting wasn't quite up to par. A few birds in the bag and nice weather- nothing to complain about. Unlike the next.
Fortunately, there's no video to go with this one- me, working on my balky autoloader. Can't imagine why it was acting up. Getting set up early doesn't do much good when you have to work on your gun in the dark. Having a single shot makes you really concentrate on the bird for your one try, too.
Booker, posing with bad grace next to a banded bird. That bird traveled all of seven miles from the banding site, not many northern birds down yet. Books was busy watching the sky and wanted to go find more, not fool around with cameras and a bird in the hand:
Last, a bittern in a riverside drain (may have to click on the photo to see anything). He had the good grace to act exactly as reputed, putting his beak in the sky and mimicking a reed or stump, rather than flying off.
Not much blogging lately, a trend that's likely to continue. A house on the market, a sale, moving & consolidating and various other things have cut down on time on the 'net. Heck, you can see the dog is neglected, pushing his ball under the fence in a vain effort to coax some fun out of a day of cleaning up the yard. No complaints, though, we've been having some fun as I'll detail in the next few posts. More on the horizon, too.
"Most modern hunters, good and bad, just want to hunt--not explore and debate why they do it and how they do it and what other think of them for it. Yet today, no thoughtful hunter can afford to just hunt. In order to defend what we do--to ourselves, our families, our friends, and, especially, to an increasingly urbanized, denatured, domesticated, and virtualized populace--in order to improve hunting ethices and invite and inspire tomorrow's hunters and assure that hunting has a tomorrow...for all of these reasons and more, hunters must ask themselves: Why?"
A is out of town on business and, my work being closed yesterday, Booker and I went out to chase ducks. We found a few, with a bunch of mallards and a bunch of wigeon each trying to land on us twenty minutes after legal shooting hours and just as the light got good enough for me to be comfortable shooting. We knocked down a bird out of each bunch and then proceeded to wait and watch as nearly everything quit flying. We passed a hen mallard that didn't try to come in and then were passed in turn by another half-dozen wigeon. After a couple of hours a bird came down river flying low and slipped right over the decoys. The bird backlit, I saw green on the head and decided "drake mallard" and shot, knocking it down. Booker began a less than spectacular retrieve.
Here he is barely keeping the bird in hand, as it were:
When he got it to me after a quick re-position I figured I had a hen mallard. On closer look, the bird had the yellow bill with black tip of a drake, a black tail with curly tailfeathers, and a streak of bright green on either side of the head, fading up toward the top. Apart from that, it sported the mottled feathering of a hen mallard along with the dark blue speculum that you'd expect. Perhaps a bird that had remained in eclipse plumage (though that shouldn't be, so far south and this time of year), or a hybrid, or a "manky mallard". The bird is still alive in the last photo and I was a bit uncertain about putting it up. If folks think it's inappropriate, I'll pull it. In any event, by the time Booker had gotten all the way in, the bird had expired. No surprise, given the obvious head wound.
No closeup photos for the 'net, they were all a bit too gory. Interesting bird, anyway. The green on the head was a lot more prominent in hand.
The only other adventure for the day came when a slipped in ankle deep water while moving a couple of decoys and managed to go down, losing the shotgun off my shoulder and dunking it completely underwater and into the mud. Curses ensued. With any decent luck at all, that's an entire season's worth of falling in water right there. Once again erect, I took off my right glove (full of water) and unloaded, pouring water out of the barrel, magazine tube, receiver and (hooray, plastic!) stock. Back on dry land I wiped off the mud, checked the barrel, then blasted it interior of the receiver with "One Shot" cleaner and dry lube. WD-40 would have been a better choice under the circumstances, in terms of hosing out bits of grit and removing water, but the Hornady stuff worked well enough to keep the gun functioning. I've used it before to keep a balky autoloader running more smoothly, but this was a significantly tougher test. Also, dry lube is a good choice in this country of blowing sand.
Once home, I had over an hour of breaking the gun all the way down, cleaning it very thoroughly, then lubing and reassembling. Probably could have used a good cleaning, anyway.
Fishing, duck hunting- is that a Chesapeake? Wait, no, a chocolate lab. Huh, never seen one of those before.... Sorry, Chessie revenge for the approx. 300 times I've heard "is that a chocolate lab?" over the last two years. General wandering around in hills and hardwoods in NE Iowa with Wandering Owl at Wandering Owl Outside.
Today marks the first weekend of duck season in the region we hunt. However, we won't be on the Rio. Our wide retriever is temporarily disabled.
He claims he can get in the game and play a full four quarters, but we're keeping him on the bench for a while in hopes of preserving the rest of the season. Also, dog boots are on order so we can arrange some protection of the wound. Going down to the Rio without the dog to hunt ducks is kind of unthinkable at this point.
This first image is of the sky on the first day of this year's recent Colorado elk hunt and represents the majority of our days, which set a new standard for bluebird weather. It was the warmest hunt I can recall in twenty-some years of September, October, and November elk hunts. Each morning I walked out to hunt in only shirt sleeves.
We had a bit of frost the first day, but even that went away.
My father and I got to the mountain in the afternoon and got busy turning the full pickup into the camp set up.
Cabela's tents, like this one, have really started appearing in the woods- rivaling military surplus and traditional canvas wall tents in popularity.
The next day, Chris and Chris arrived from points farther east and got arranged, easy camping marred only by a balky, annoying, and soon useless chainsaw. At least we got most of the wood needed (not much in such pleasant temps) cut to length before it gave up on me. A sale "bargain" Ryobi, it started having troubles in its first ten hours of operation. Next saw will not be the same.
The recession affected this hunt in the form of fewer hunters. About half as many camps as usual appeared to be up there and I didn't see as many other hunters or track in the woods. Not a bad thing for us, but you have to feel sorry for all the folks who've had to give up their hunt.
It's a great pinyon year in this part of western Colorado, the ground under the trees littered with fat nuts and more still clinging to the cones. Lots of birds were taking advantage of the easy food and nice weather a birder would have had a field day. Unable to identify any but the most common species, I just enjoyed hearing and seeing them all. I saw dark eyed juncos, western tanagers, crows, ravens, Clark's nutcrackers, red shafted northern flickers scrub jays, stellar jays, pinyon jays, and nuthatches and a bunch more that would have required a field guide and spending time looking more at birds than for elk.
Here's a ponderosa pine marked with a Forest Service plaque, noting the tree's historical significance. I had to do a little research on "Ute Scarred Trees" to figure out what they meant.
I've seen ponderosas with similar scars before, but never realized what I was looking at.
A couple of us hunt grouse while we're up there, not while waiting for an elk or stalking in the early morning, but making our way back to camp in the afternoon or the like. There weren't a lot of birds to be found, but we got on the right side of a few. The pistol is a High Standard "Field King" made between 1950 and 1953. Unlike the more commonly seen (at least in my case) "Sport King", the Field King features an adjustable rear sight and a medium-taper barrel. I found this one with a 6 3/4" barrel and then got a 4 1/2" barrel (not in the correct configuration for this particular model, but that fits) for carry. Heavier than my little Smith and Wesson, it has better sights and is easier to hit with. First game with this gun.
The grouse were taking advantage of pinyon nuts as well, along with rose hips, grouse whortleberry, and the usual spruce needles.
The above sequence shows that some of the grouse made it into the Dutch oven, to be joined with biscuits. My father put the grouse dish together, I made the biscuits and managed to burn the bottoms. Oak coals are harder to regulate than charcoal and seem to burn a bit hotter. The top two-thirds were pretty good, though. Clearly, more practice (on site) is called for.
One of the Chris's got his cow the first evening of the hunt, a nice big specimen that wasn't too awful far down the canyon. We got to her about seven pm and had three quarters back in camp by ten. Chris retrieved the remaining quarter the next morning. With meat on the pole and demands of work and home, we were ready to knock down camp just a couple of days later as the weather blew in.
Not any too soon, in terms of getting out before the storm. By the time Dad and I had made it to the good road, the rain was snow and sticking well. Fresh tracking for the guys staying until the end of the season.
Another good trip to the mountains. It's pretty hard to spend any time up there at all without learning at least a little something. Even if it were, time with friends and family tramping about the country would be more than worthwhile.
"As we crowd more and more on to public hunting lands, that nebulous something one of my friends calls The Quality Outdoor Experience grows more rare. As more people use less, more laws are passed, some to preserve that quality and some to preserve anything at all, stifling the freedom that is an intrinsic part of The Quality Outdoor. This crowding and regulation doesn't only apply to hunting. These days we have to apply a year ahead for reservations to camp in Yosemite National Park, and something very similar is going to happen to Yellowstone very soon. AS public forests in the East grow not just crowded but actually dangerous to hunt in, more and more hunters come West, to hunt forests already crowded by folks who moved to Wyoming and Idaho and Montana to get away from a crowded California.
And so it goes. Those of us who were lucky enough to be raised somewhere close to the land, with a sense of self-sufficiency and (dare I say it?) The Quality Outdoor Experience, just go deeper. That can mean hiking farther into the Wind River Range, moving to Alaska, or just hunting something not so damn popular, like sage grouse."
The gardens got nipped a bit a couple of days ago. We did end up picking basil and making a couple of batches of pesto, which have been stashed to brighten up some winter meals. The bit of freeze is a little early. A's beans soldier on, while the squash and peppers got bit pretty good:
Meanwhile, Booker continues to beg raw green beans, the Chessie-approved vegetable, as they're snapped and prepared for the deep freeze: