Friday, November 21, 2014

A hunt, a Cook and a Book.

It was Thursday, November 13th around 8:30 in the evening when I received a text from a buddy of mine... This buddy of mine happens to shoot in my old blind that's located out there in Willows. He said, "Do want to hunt ducks tomorrow with Ed and I?" To which I replied, "Hell yes I do." This prompted a phone call... to summarize, the conversation went something like this... Specks are gone, ducks are in, Ed's dog is laid up due to surgery, we need a shooter and a good dog... I was their guy.

I quickly remembered why I didn't rejoin, 3:00 am wake up call, long drive... just my dog and me. However, I do enjoy that aspect of waterfowl season. I'm never without a hunting partner.

I arrived at the parking lot with plenty of time before I was scheduled to meet the other guys and we're socked in with fog. Super thick, but there's a ton of birds around... Mallards and widgeon mostly, on our ponds, on the next guys ponds and for as far as I can hear. Sent the guys a text to let them know that I was going to head out and get Penny's blind situated and the lids opened up.

It was evident that when shoot time would arrive, the fog would still be there. Some guys love hunting in the fog, I don't. It's like a vacuum of missed opportunities. You can hear the birds, you know they're right above you, but you can't see them... and when you do, it's almost too late and too quick of a look to get a shot off. This is how the majority of the morning went. Regardless, by 10:00am, I had 5 birds down (1 mallard and 4 widgeon).

The other guys had to take off, but said I was welcome to stay out to try and finish my limit, I gladly accepted. The fog was finally beginning to lift and I felt good about the odds of pulling two more birds in. As the guys were walking out, I took a few photos.

I saw the guys pull away in their vehicles and things started to pick up immediately. Got bombed by a single wigeon, which spun around to the call after I watched him pass by... he cruised the decoys for a sec, and then came right over the top of me at like 100 mph, I missed. I like shots over the top, but the over the top, while flying downward at 100 mph, that tends to humble me from time to time. Oh well, onto the next opportunity. Way off in the distance, I saw a group of four mallards, they were headed south and they were over an adjacent blind that had no hunters in it. I grabbed my Lares A-5 and sent out some prayers. They quickly banked my way... I figured I'd get them in the pond and then have to work them a bit more before sealing the deal, but as soon as they crossed the line onto our property they began to descend, they came right over the blind... 3 hens, 1 drake, 1 shot, 1 dead drake. Easy retrieve for Penny.

This whole day I kept thinking to myself, man, it would be nice to shoot a bull sprig, so when I finally saw a bull sprig. I was stoked, but he was with four other birds and they didn't look like sprig. Got on my pintail whistle, and he worked into it perfectly, but so did the other four... they were all wigeon. Worked him a few times out over the decoys and then it was time, I flipped the lids and came up... the bull was bunched with three out of the four wigeon, with one bird to go, I took the only bird away from the group... a drake wigeon. My hunt was over.

 Back at home, I got to processing the birds. Prior, to the hunt, I was browsing through Hank Shaw's book, "Duck, Duck, Goose". I have to say, it is one of the most well written wild game cooking books to ever hit the market... and what I mean by that, is that it is absolutely complete and extremely informative. One thing I admire about Hank, is his care and his approach to processing wild game. He makes use of just about every edible part of the animal. The recipes in the book are brilliant. Anyway, Hank has inspired me to take on a new mission this season, and that is, to leave nothing edible behind. So as I was cleaning the birds, I took everything I could. The wigeon's had very little fat, so I skinned those and removed the breasts and the thighs. The mallards had some good fat, but after a long debate with myself, I figured I would skin them along with the others. I picked out a recipe for the mallards, and "gifted" the wigeon to a friend who wanted to make some Florida original "Duck Stew". For the mallards, I chose "Duck Bulgogi" from Hank's book. My good friend Sam provided me with some real deal kimchi. The meal was absolutely amazing.

I marinated all the thighs in the same marinade as the breasts and grilled everything together. The thighs, though tougher in texture than the breast meat, were probably my favorite part. I can't believe, and I feel a bit shamed to admit, that I have tossed so many birds without removing the thighs, they're absolutely delectable and well worth the little effort it takes to remove them... now I need to find something to do with the innards. On to the next adventure.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Evolution of Me...

It used to be about the kill or rather, I wanted the kill, I wanted to feel as if I had accomplished something. I told myself it was about the meat, but that just wasn't so, I wanted to say that I had killed. Wasn't raised that way, and I am not sure when the momentum shifted that way, but that's what I had become, a killer. 

I'm a constant critic, of myself and my own nature. I analyze myself almost daily and while sometimes it takes me longer to finally see or realize that I have done or become someone I am not proud of, in due time, I am able to make shifts and adjustments accordingly.

I had an awakening last year. Perhaps it was a reaction to something else, but it was positive, it was positive and true to who I am. I'm a hunter and I have a code of ethics that I follow and I have a passion for the outdoors unlike any other.  Realizing this, which was, this awakening of self discovery, it set my sails on a new course. When I say course, I mean direction, and by direction, I mean my approach to hunting. 

I want to tell you a story,  but my reasons for sharing this is not a means to pat myself on the back, it's simply honesty and in some ways it begs a question. I won't judge another's ethics, however, I will question them, as I do my own.

It was my first hunt of the general rifle season of 2014. I was hunting with the man whom I call, my younger brother. We arrived to our spot just before shoot time and we took a stand as the sun peaked over the Sierra Nevada's. We were hopeful, we waited and waited. Being that it was my first hunt in California, I figured that after we sat for awhile, we'd get mobile and take a look around to see if there were any new trails. We "still" hunted together, slowly walking through the area, carefully keeping a watch out for any movement or sign of life. I think we made it about 400 yards or so, when I caught the glimpse of antlers quickly shifting from underneath a small bush, just 20 yards to the east. There was no question about it, this was one of the biggest bucks that I have ever seen in this area with my own eyes, I could tell he was 4 on one side, but never got a solid look at the other set. By far, the biggest animal that I have ever seen in the area. The buck didn't jump out of his bed in the way that you would think a deer of this caliber would, he simply stood up and trotted off directly away from us, all in one motion. Not hurried, or running, just a relaxed trot. I drew my gun, and what I saw, was the backside of a massive deer. This whole experience played out in seconds, but it was long enough to take a shot, I had the buck in my cross hairs, I am sure my bullet would have pierced it's body... but I drew down. For myself, this is somewhat of a defining moment between a hunter and a killer. A deer that is trotting directly away, provides zero opportunity for a quick clean kill, and I'd say 9 out of 10 times would require either a follow up shot or a long track, and there's also a big possibility that you lose the deer altogether. The only shot placement that could ensure a clean quick kill, would be the neck, but this is such a small target that is constantly moving, the odds would be in the category titled, pure luck. So say I pull trigger while aiming at the biggest part of the deer (it's backside) and I hit it, there's a good chance I lose a hind quarter, there's a good chance I destroy the tenderloin and back straps and there's a good chance my bullet ends up in the guts, and that story typically does not have a good ending, so why do guys take this shot? I couldn't find a justification, for myself, and I left that day with zero regrets. There was no questioning of myself, "Should I have shot?" "Why didn't I shoot?"... none of that. I knew I did the right thing.

What I don't understand about those who take high risk shots, is the justification for doing so,  and I hear this a lot, "I hunt for meat, not horns or antlers." So meat hunters take whatever shot they can, even if it is a shot that wounds or destroys a substantial amount of meat? Sorry, I can't grasp that train of thought. 

It would seem to me, that the person who shoots an animal in a way just to knock it down, with no regard... is not the meat hunter, he's the trophy hunter. If meat were the primary goal, you wouldn't take that shot. 

As a hunter, I feel a responsibility to myself and the animals I pursue. Hunting has to be more than about bragging rights in a photo, at least to me it does. It has to have meaning, the act of killing is not a thoughtless action. It should involve skill, patience and we should do whatever we can within our means to ensure a clean and quick kill. My motives for hunting can't be based on killing, for that is such a small detail in a rather big picture of who I am, and why I am... a hunter.