Friday, April 27, 2007

a couple of things

First off, a bit of a brag or at least some self-congratulation being shared.

I hit a couple of used bookstores last night after work in hopes of finding a copy of Kim Stanley Robinson's "Escape from Katmandu" for a friend who is contemplating a trip to Nepal this coming fall. A bit of light reading to help her get excited for the trip, not that such is really necessary. Unfortunately, that title was not in stock at either store. I used to see it all the time and I've given my most recent copy away. The paperback is getting old enough that it may not be so easy to find. Off to Amazon, perhaps. My current karma must be somewhat good, though, because in the course of a little beyond-the-purpose browsing I found an apparently unread, or at least very well cared for, copy of Prosek's "Trout of the World" complete with the poster in the back. That is nice enough, but was priced at all of $12! I doubt I'll ever come across a deal on that pre-64 Model 70 in 358 Winchester or hit the Powerball, but these little things do quite nicely, thank you. What a lovely book of interesting fishes. The wide variation in the markings of various races of brown trout illustrated therein are truly wonderful.

On to the meat of the post. Which subject is, meat! Specifically, camp cooking. Sometimes when I talk to people about hunting and such the subject comes around to camping I do and the meals which go along with it. Folks are generally surprised at just what I end up cooking or bringing along on the trip. While not the most gear heavy of hunters, quite a few comforts are frequently involved. These include things like a wall tent with a wood stove, a chainsaw for wood gathering on longer trips, folding chairs and tables, and cots when in the wall tent.

Just as importantly, we eat well. What better time to celebrate with good food than when you are out in beautiful country, doing what you most like to do, on occasions when you are most likely to have worked up an appetite? The best bottle of wine I had last year was uncorked on a grouse hunt (it was a Casa Rodena 1998 Cabernet Franc, if you were wondering). On this last trip, dinner the first night centered around grilled redfish and asparagus. For my money, one of the best eating fish is redfish when prepared "on the half shell". That is, you fillet the fish, leaving the skin on, and then grill it with the skin and scale side down. The heavy scales char and protect the meat, which sort of poaches in its own fat and juices. Prior to grilling, sprinkle the meat side with some salt and fresh ground pepper, along with some herbs that go with fish (I like thyme, a little oregano, and parsley along with a bit of dried chive if I have it) and perhaps a little smoked paprika. Some cooks will brush the flesh with melted butter first, but I don't consider that step necessary. Grill the fish over a fairly hot fire to keep from drying it out too much. Bonny Doon Vineyard's Vin Gris de Cigare went along quite nicely. The second night we had to scratch by with elk cutlets grilled very rare and a green salad, along with another favorite, Sandia Shadows' Cabernet Sauvignon (2000), which is a nice cab for those of us who like them a bit tannic and big, but not jammy.

While nice, these meals aren't even trying very hard. For a few years when we gathered in larger elk-hunting camps we would try to do something a bit more fancy on the night before the season opened. Perhaps the most spectacular example of those meals featured large trout, kept whole and stuffed with a dressing of rice and water chestnuts and then grilled. Bacon wrapped nilgai fillets, black bean and shrimp chili, and grilled prawns in mojo de ajo also deserve recollection. I contend that for every backpack meal of freeze-dried or salami and cheese, a hunter or fisher should fire up his Dutch oven or spend some time grilling up something a bit special. For that matter, some of the best times of the hunt or fishing consist of reviewing the day around the campfire, waiting for coals to develop while enjoying a glass of wine and munching on pate or some good cheese.

Monday, April 23, 2007

post script to the last post

Well, turkey season has opened, in my case to mixed results. The first (of two) days spent in the mountains was lost for hunting due to weather. The wind began gusting well before dawn, which renders calling for turkeys futile. We shortened our walk in the woods once the snow began to fall, retreating to the wall tent and the wood stove to watch the horizontal hail, snow, and sleet fall. The second morning dawned quiet and lovely. Unfortunately, gobblers were not sounding off from multiple ridges as they have in some previous years. We had one bird respond to the call from a good ways out. We worked up a bit, but couldn't get another gobble. The likely reason soon became apparent. Another hunter was working along the side of the ridge. I think he was using a slate call, or perhaps a box call that was insufficiently chalked. In any event, he was very bad and the gobbler was having no part of it. We, too, circled around and headed up the next ridge. Unfortunately, the gobblers were silent.

Some observations from the day: elk seem to be doing quite well in the area. Each year for the past seven or so we've seen progressively more elk sign. Mule deer, however, continue to languish. Speaking of creatures who aren't doing all that well, we happened across a particularly large and handsome horned toad, which is always a nice sighting and a bit of a surprise given the snowy day just before. In addition, the recent Southwestern drought has produced a surge in bark beetles afflicting the stressed trees. In turn, you hear and see many more woodpeckers about. This year, a Red-naped Sapsucker and a male Williamson's Sapsucker (new to me and particularly handsome) held still long enough to be identified. Strangely enough, they wouldn't be looking for the bark beetles, I don't suppose. In any event, the woods were full of hammering.

So, then, no turkeys, but a nice bit of time in the spring woods. It could have been much, much worse.

Thursday, April 12, 2007


Turkey season is nigh upon us. For those not familiar with hunting, one of the few times the sport is conducted in the spring (at least in the lower 48) is during the spring turkey season. Wild turkeys are found in nearly every state and the various Game and Fish Departments set a spring season to coincide with the latter part of the turkeys' spring breeding period. At that point, most of the hens are on nests and the males (gobblers) are, biologically speaking, surplusage since they do not help to raise the young. The spring season is limited to taking gobblers and the primary method of hunting is to entice the bird into range by mimicking the calls of a hen turkey.

One of the fascinating things about wild turkeys is their amazingly acute eyesight and the wariness with which they approach a caller. Consequently, when hunting turkeys you do best to wear full camouflage and are wise to accompany that with a face net as well. Here in the west, the birds move around quite a bit, adjusting their elevation to the unsettled weather and the progress of the spring vegetation. On top of that, they seem to have fairly large territories and you have to spend some time just hiking around looking for them. The gobblers typically begin to call at first light, so turkey hunting consist of getting up in the dark and then hiking out to an area with birds, then listening for a gobble. Once you hear a bird, you try to sneak fairly close without spooking him, then settle against some bit of cover and begin to call. Once you get a dialogue going, you try to entice the bird within the thirty yards or so which constitute the limit of shotgun range. Frequently, the gobbler will hold up a hundred yards out, trying to get the hen he's hearing to meet him halfway. I'm convinced that birds who have survived a season or two hold up until a hen comes out to meet them as a survival tactic.

I sometimes think that the most intriguing aspect of hunting is the interaction with wildlife. When you hunt, you are not a mere observer but a predator and participant in the lives of both prey and non-prey. Hunts which involve calling the game heighten that participation considerably, whether it is gabbling at a bunch of mallards circling your decoys, chirping at a bull elk that just cut loose with a bugle, or softly yelping at a gobbler who has just shouted that he owns this ridge. When the game responds to your call it is a unique bit of connection with the bird or animal. Not only that, but adrenaline hits your system and your palms sweat a bit. Suddenly, there are a myriad of ways to screw this up- the wrong call, the wrong note, too sudden a move. Meanwhile, the game is moving closer, checking everything out, calling at you and expecting the right response. Every time that happens, whether you find your prey within range or blow the whole thing, you've had a good day.

I have limited hope for this season. We've been in a long drought and turkey numbers in my area have been way down. Last year, I walked all morning to hear a single gobble. I did see some birds, though. The year before I heard no birds and saw only a few. Two years before that, those same ridges echoed with the gobbles of half a dozen birds or more. However, last year featured a wet spring and summer and this winter had a decent snow pack. With any luck, there was a good hatch last spring and a good number of birds made it through the winter to this one. Like many birds, turkey numbers can rebound pretty quickly.

Even with fair numbers of birds, wind is the scourge of the southwestern turkey hunter. The birds don't seem to call or respond to calling when the wind blows any more than a breeze. Unfortunately, the mountains tend to be windy at all times and especially so in the spring. As a weekend hunter who lives a distance from his hunting area I've had whole seasons blown out. Few things are more discouraging than waking at 4 a.m. to the sound of the ponderosa crowns being tossed about by the cursed wind. Pack up and go home or hang out and hope it lays tomorrow morning? An essential piece of gear for a turkey hunt is a good book!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


I beg the reader's indulgence. This last post has been kicking around in draft for way too long and won't come together. I'm sticking it up anyway, otherwise nothing will get posted for even longer, turning this from a blog to a bleg. Read at your own peril.

The first taste is free.
Now and for a long while probably half of my recreational reading is science fiction or fantasy.
I started reading science fiction because of Boy's Life magazine and Robert A. Heinlein. Back in the 50's Heinlein wrote a series of novels on contract to be serialized in the Boy Scouts' magazine. Much later, when I was a subscriber, a couple of those novels were reprinted in the magazine in comic form. Much like "classic comics", a lot of the meat of the book ("Between Planets") didn't make it into print. Nonetheless, it was a revelation to me. At that point, I had read mostly history and biography as well as juvenile fiction. The latter tended toward boy classics like "Robin Hood" and "The Swiss Family Robinson", "White Fang", "Little Men", Big Red and similar things. A story which began on a passenger liner between Mars and Venus and featuring Venusian lizards was something completely different. Consequently, once the serial ended I hove myself to the library and read what little of Heinlein it possessed. Later, we moved to a larger town with a bigger library and more Heinlein. In the interim, gifts and purchases constituted more Heinlein and I cautiously branched out into reading other authors, most from the Golden Age.

As a long time reader of speculative fiction, I am continually surprised by the disdain many people hold for science fiction/fantasy. The bug eyed monsters on the covers must have scared them away, as I cannot comprehend any fiction reader not being drawn in by the endless worlds, pasts, and futures which sustain the genres. It can't just be a problem with suspension of disbelief, any person who can follow the ridiculous exploits of Jack Ryan and his many compatriots with a straight face should be able to deal with the occasional extraterrestrial intelligence or faster than light travel. Their loss. For that matter, anyone who has not read Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels has done himself a grave disservice, as no better collection of humorous novels is currently being written. He's prolific, too, so you have a new book to look forward to nearly every year.

I recently reread Heinlein's "Starship Troopers" after a twenty-year hiatus, having recommended it to someone looking for military science fiction and wanting to check my memory of the book. I am surprised by how timely the novel remains. Further, as a bildungsroman it is top-notch. The awakening (yet always self-deprecating) social conscience of the protagonist remains as appealing as the first day I read the novel.

Heinlein's early work (pre-1970), epitomizes most of the virtues of the genre of science fiction. For myself, two novels remain seminal political novels: "Starship Troopers" and "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress". Several juveniles retain their charm despite discoveries which have rendered any science speculated upon unlikely or impossible. If you want to hook a kid on science fiction, I don't think you can make a better try than by providing a copy of "Have Spacesuit, Will Travel", "Citizen of the Galaxy", or even "Between Planets" and standing out of the way.