Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Lessons of Childhood Boredom

So it’s official…I’m a rock star.  How can I tell?  Because I receive fan mail, that’s how.  Global fan mail.  Apparently my blog has taken off in parts of the world where the hunting tradition is far removed from my own comfortable little pocket of Ontario, and people have written me to tell me about it.  Two emails from Japan, one from Singapore, three from the U.S.A., and one from India.  None from Canada yet, but it is obvious that I’m becoming a global sensation that is unappreciated in his homeland.  And I say it is about time.

Of course, my tongue is planted firmly in cheek and my ego is far from that large.  It is flattering to know that, thanks to the international reach of blogging and the Internet at large, that people around the world are reading my diseased ramblings (over 70% of my readership is still in North America, but you just can’t help but go global in today’s day and age).  It is even more flattering that these globally diverse readers subscribe and follow my writing, let alone that they take a moment to ask me questions or drop a line and say they like what they see.  I’ve also gotten hate mail (more on that in a future post) but I guess that is the risk one runs when you put your thoughts and opinions out in the global blogosphere.  So where am I going with all this?  I’m getting there.

One letter I received from a reader in Japan (written in impeccable English I might add…I have friends and coworkers that I wish could write that well) inquired about why I write, where I got my ideas, and when I became interested in writing about hunting and the outdoors.  I actually have not responded to that email yet (I meant to I swear) but I thought I’d put my answer out there with a post instead and kill two birds with one stone.

I’ve always had an interest in reading and writing (not so much with arithmetic, but that’s another story) and at an early age was found to be an obsessively anal retentive speller of words.  So I guess I come by my wordsmithing naturally.  So that covers off the first question: I’ve been interested in the written word for as long as I can remember.

To the second and third points, I can frame these with a flashback.

When I was a much younger person I spent a lot of time visiting the family farm.  We would go there at Christmas for a few days, some years we would spend March Break there, for three or four years before I was a teenager I’d spend a week or two there in the summer, and in the fall we would go there every year for Thanksgiving weekend in October.  These regular visits were also punctuated with occasional weekend trips throughout the year.

With the exception of the week at March Break, most of these trips involved hunting in some way.  In the Christmas season I could be found following my Dad around while he was hunting varying hares with a beagle and .22 rifle.  Thanksgivings were book-ended with waterfowl hunts on the Saturday and Monday mornings (this was before Sunday gun hunting was legal in this part of Ontario), and in the summer we would travel scanning the fields of local farmers looking for woodchucks (a.k.a. groundhogs).  Helping out with chores was also on the menu, from loading wood to occasionally helping pitch hay bales into the barn, there was always lots to do.  Of course, as kids do we also fooled around and got into mischief; some of which was very unsafe.  While playing tag in the orchard in the fading light of a summer evening or tossing a Frisbee around in the front yard were pretty benign, excavating extensive, ramshackle tunnels in the hay loft or tobogganing down huge hills at break neck speeds with nothing but a page wire fence and some hay bales to stop you at the bottom were slightly more reckless pursuits.  I learned to drive a tractor (slowly, jerkily, and overall terribly) in one of those summer trips and I learned gun safety and how to shoot a rifle.  Mostly I learned to understand and cherish the rural and wilderness places of the worlds, and I gained a deep respect and love for the people and animals that call those places home.

So how do these pastoral remembrances factor into an interest in writing about hunting and outdoor pursuits?  I told you, I’m getting there.

Of course with so much to do, it was amazing that a young boy could find boredom, but I did.  Rainy days, blizzards, or days when the air was so hot, heavy and still that you could almost swim through it did not really lend themselves to robust physical activity.  And this is where writing and reading came into play.

The farmhouse was (and to a degree still is) a veritable library of anything that an interested and open-minded person would want to read.  From classic children’s books such as The Wind in the Willows and the Tale of Peter Rabbit to field guides of birds, to huge collections of hunting and fishing magazines, there was a lot to read on the farm.  It helped that television was basically non-existent, with the TV picking up just three channels up until the late-1990’s.  I read Slaughterhouse Five on the farm one rainy summer weekend when I was ten years old, and Brave New World over a series of three very cold days the following Christmas.  But most of all, and most pertinent to the question of my acquired interest in outdoor writing (finally!) I remember the collections of magazines: piles upon piles of back issues of Outdoor Life, Field & Stream, and North American Whitetail to name but a few.  I read these voraciously; and most, if not all, of the issues were from the golden age of outdoor writing.  Jack O’Connor, Ed Zern, Nash Buckingham, Robert Ruark, and dozens of other seminal names in outdoor writing became my would-be mentors.  These were authors who just wrote hunting stories. 

They told you what happened to them when they were hugging trees in an Arkansas swamp waiting for mallards, they took you on a deer hunt through the swamps, forests, and fields in the Deep South, or they dragged you reluctantly into the taiga on a grizzly bear hunt.  One tale that sticks out particularly in my mind was a story by Jack O’Connor that related his adventures hunting Bighorn Sheep in the Rocky Mountains.  You felt the ache in his hamstrings as he slogged up and down mountains looking for a ram, and you could smell the cowboy coffee percolating in the cookhouse tent in the crisp mountain mornings.  While it was not a book I read at the farm, as a boy I read my father’s copy of Death in the Long Grass by Peter Capstick Hathaway and it profoundly affected my outlook and ultimately writing style with its true adventure tales of the unpredictability and excitement of being a professional hunter and game ranger in the heart of Africa.  I’ve never looked at hippos the same way since I finished that book.

Ready for the rant part?  Good.

These writers just simply told the stories they had lived through.  They were all brilliant; they spun a yarn that combined great descriptive prose with relatable life experiences, and all without so much as a whiff of the pedagogical ego of the self-appointed ‘expert’ that is seemingly so prevalent in almost every magazine article you can read today.  Somewhere along the line it seems as though market research indicated that people bought magazines not for entertaining tales that they could relate to but rather they wanted a ‘professional’ to tell them how to do things, where they ought to go to do it, and what they should buy to do it with.  The exigencies of profit and sales have ambushed and killed the hunting story, and by extension the type of author that wrote them.  Not to sound reactionary or alienate the outdoor writing community (a club that I am not a part of anyways…I doubt they’d want me after this anyhow) but no one out there at the major magazines, and yes I still read them, can hold a candle to the writers of the my father’s generation in terms of their ability to arrange an engaging hunting story.  Jim Shockey was close, but he doesn’t do much writing anymore.  The rest are too busy telling you what guns to shoot, how to shoot them, and what decoys/calls/clothing/boots you absolutely have to own in order to be ‘successful’, items that not coincidentally are marketed by the primary sponsors of whatever publication you happen to be reading.

Whatever happened to figuring it out for one’s self through old-fashioned trial and error?  Furthermore, whatever happened to a story about going out, spending some time in the wilderness, and maybe shooting dinner or catching a fish?  When told by a more skilled craftsman than I’ll ever be this kind of story was once wildly popular…why not now?

Of course, tips and tricks have always been a part of the hunting publication.  In the old Outdoor Life they had field guides galore, and I clipped and memorized most of them.  I still know how to read a compass or build a lean-to tent (skills I learned from those field guides) but my field-dressing of a deer is still something that requires some supervision (not that I’ve had much practice…I am admittedly a generally atrocious deer hunter) and the This Happened to Me! section of the same magazine gave further insight into some things to do in the field via the shared relations of everyday readers.  The department editors had a couple of paragraphs (far less than most of them currently do) and they usually just gave their opinion on something they were familiar with or related a story that may have happened to them themselves.  This has given way to oodles of what I call ‘niche editors’.  Instead of an overarching Hunting Editor that had a little knowledge about everything you now have a Turkey Hunting editor, a Gun Dogs editor, a Deer Hunting editor, a Bow Hunting editor, etc, etc all portioning out their expertise from their fiefdoms.  I’ve historically found this at best repetitious and sometimes even condescending to the point of insult.

Sorry, things got a bit opinionated there…I could go on and on but why bother?

Let’s circle the wagons back to the question from our loyal Japanese reader and try to wrap up this literary diarrhoea.

To recap, in response to your email, I’ve always loved reading and writing, and I have a long-standing family tradition of hunting and time spent in the outdoors so this blog has sprung out of an unholy marriage of those two loves.  In terms of my ideas, I guess I’m just trying to do some justice (albeit in a small, and awkwardly ham-fisted fashion) to an area of writing that has become watered-down and mediocre in the last twenty-odd years.  I write about things that I enjoy, and I try to enjoy writing about them.  Almost nothing is off-limits and I want what I put out there to be interesting to the reader…so all that goes into where my ideas for what I’m writing come from.

Thanks for the letter, and thanks to all the others who tune in here regularly, write me encouraging words, and generally keep me going in this endeavour.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Counting Down to the Opener, 9 Minutes at a Time

In the last few months I’ve noticed that, given the time of year, I now seem to be able to get through most nights without dreaming about turkey hunting.  This is a marked improvement from my first few turkey seasons when my dreams were guaranteed to be some bizarre, nightly hodgepodge of clips I’d seen in turkey hunting videos superimposed upon areas I was familiar with, all the while starring yours truly in various throes of success.

Yes, the lunatic mind of this particular hunter is a complex and frightening thing.  But perhaps I’m mellowing since in the last couple of months most nights drift blissfully past with my subconscious engaged in dreams about other things. 

No I won’t tell you what those things are.  Quit asking.

Still, the more common and possibly even more torturous experience lately takes place during those brief moments of drowsy, semi-lucidity that start when my alarm goes off every morning.  Invariably my mornings for the last month have each gone something like this:

6:55am: Alarm goes off blaring Led Zeppelin’s “The Immigrant Song”.  Drowsily hit snooze button.

6:55am to 7:03am: Think about how I’d rather be turkey hunting.  Consider several locations and set ups for stands in areas of the Bruce Peninsula.

7:04am: Alarm resumes, this time with an ad for some local window repair shop.  Hit snooze button again.

7:04am to 7:12am: Back to thinking about turkey hunting.  Relive horrifying failures from past turkey seasons, resolve not to be a failure in 2011.  Cat jumps on groin.  Convulse instinctively and then kick the cat.

7:13am: Alarm once again goes off.  Mindless announcer banter.  Smash snooze button backhanded this time.  Momentarily fear that I may have broken the alarm clock; will find out in 9 minutes.

7:13am to 7:21am:  Have mini-dream about scenarios that will never happen.  Decide what to do if my cousin and I set up on a double.  Picture topo maps of local county forests and start figuring out where I should be set up.  Think about how you score a triple-bearded turkey.  Do budget quickly in head to see if new decoys are an option this year.  Realize that based on my hasty calculations they aren’t and double check my math.  Still a no go.

7:22am: Alarm re-engages.  Experience momentary relief that I haven’t broken it, which is replaced by rage that the alarm continues to disrespect me by continuing to go off again and again.  Guns & Rose’s “Patience” is playing.  Enjoy the irony briefly before tapping the snooze button in a jaunty fashion.

7:22am to 7:30am:  Realize that one more use of the snooze button will negate time usually required for basic hygiene.  Experience brief mental conflict before doing turkey vest inventory in my mind.  Cat licks my eyebrows.  Make mental note to sharpen knives (not for use on the cat…yet) and to also check the mail to see if turkey license has arrived.  Plan to buy conditioning pad for my slate call and strikers…silently berate self for absent-mindedly losing same item last year.

7:31am:  Alarm goes off with last part of 7:30am news and sports report.  Decide that since I have cologne, I only need to brush my teeth.  Massage snooze button into submission one last time.

7:31am to 7:35am: Have crisis of conscience before ultimately deciding that the cologne route is a poor decision and drag my ass out of bed.  Various joints click, pop, and creak.

7:35am to 7:55am: Have hurried shower while cursing the slow approach of turkey season.  While brushing my teeth, also engage in brief tirade related to the realities of capitalism and their conspiracy to prevent me from hunting everyday as I was obviously meant to.  Wife yells at me for not turning the alarm off…appears that she likes The Band’s cover of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” much less than I do.  Apologize while getting dressed.  Eat quick bowl of cereal, pack lunch and hit the road.  Realize ten minutes later than I only hit the snooze button and in fact forgot to turn off the alarm.  Decide that wife ought to be getting up by now anyways.

I’m trying to find a way to break this cycle, with the ultimate goal being a more efficient morning routine i.e. one that does not take an hour to get me ready and on the way to work.

To date I have made little progress, but then again, I’m not really trying that hard.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

When "Please" Just Isn't Enough

The atrociously cold (but disconcertingly sunny) weather here in Cambridge has kind of laid siege to my scouting and general turkey-hunting related plans so I've been in a bit of a funk.  It has also put the brakes on almost all the burgeoning turkey movement I had recently observed.  And then to top it off, so far in 2011 I have had 100% of all private landowners in this area that I've asked permission of reject my requests to hunt on their properties.  That aligns with last year's 100% in the Tri-City area.

Counting 2010, four have told me they don't approve of hunting (I'm not quoting directly since none of those four were polite about it), three have already granted permission to others or are hunting themselves, two did not respond to my phone call and/or friendly letter, and five just said no and either hung-up or closed the door.  And in all, out of the fourteen different landowners I've asked over the last two years, only two said it would be okay if I asked again at a later date.  Mind you, some didn't even give me the opportunity to get to that question.

Somewhat frustrating, but not overly surprising.  Landowner permission (especially near a suburban area) has always seemed to me to be a 'several lines, few bites' kind of endeavour and I'll just let everyone know right now that rampant telemarketing has basically ruined the phone call angle for everyone (one more thing we can blame telemarketers for...when interrupting dinner or waking your kids up just isn't enough!). 

I guess I'll just continue to be exceedingly polite and periodically check in with those two who left me a lifeline.  I've offered to carry out several chores which I have no idea of how to perform in exchange for permission, but the landowners must be savvy...I guess I don't look like the kind of guy who can mend an electric fence or hang drywall in a workshop...damn my white-collar aptitudes!  But I can run a turkey call pretty well and I don't make much noise otherwise so if anyone needs a partner for a hunt, and you live between Burlington in the south, Mount Forest in the North, Strathroy in the west, and Georgetown in the east....I'm your huckleberry.

In the meantime there is a lot of county forest in the area that is now open to hunting (thank you Wellington County and Halton Region Forests!) that I'll start scouting.

As soon as it gets back above freezing.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Gettin’ To Be That Time, or, Reflections on a Super-Moon

I went for a 5km run this morning (still training for April 9th!) and was treated to a turkey hunter’s favourite sight: a strutting tom.

As I jogged up a moderate hill but a kilometre from my house as the crow flies (or more accurately, as the moderately overweight hunter jogs) I looked to my right and a mere hundred yards away I saw a gobbler strutting for four hens near the corner of a pasture field.  He looked like a good bird.

Not wanting to alarm them (and because I have a training pace to maintain) I just kept right on motoring past them.  I wondered as I continued on my way if they would still be there when I passed by again on the return loop.  They were.

They seemed completely nonplussed by my presence; the gobbler spun around and tilted his fan this way and that, never breaking strut.  The hens just fed away along the edge of the field.  Aside from a couple of glances my way, they acted as though I didn’t even exist.  I imagine that if I had stopped or made a sudden movement towards them things may have been different.

I finished the loop, ran inside to grab a drink and then hopped in my car to scoot back to the spot.  Through my binoculars I could see that he was a really good bird.  He was strutting less by then, but when he stooped to peck at the field I could see two beards.  His spurs were a bit less clear, but they are certainly present.  Again the birds ignored me, and after about five minutes I went home…I was becoming well aware that I really needed a shower.

But that’s my first strutter of the season in the books, and to me that signals springtime more than any robin or first crocus possibly could.

Yep, spring is coming, just like I suspected it would.

More signs of impending spring came to me over the past weekend.  Last Friday night I went up to spend a few days doing some work and maintenance on the hunt camp in Spence Township.  A few trees had been marked for cutting and scaling, and some cabin maintenance was on the agenda as well.  So was the promise of some laughs, some good food, and some rollickingly high-spirited conversation.

The road in to the camp was in pretty rough shape, a symptom of the daily thawing and nightly re-freezing of early spring; I blame the road (and not operator error) on my car becoming hopelessly mired and requiring one of my friends to tow me out.

Likewise, despite there being thigh-deep snow in the bush in some places, we were working in bright sunshine and that, coupled with some semi-strenuous labour, resulted in myself and a couple of others doffing our coats while working in the woods that day.  Can’t do that in mid-January, so spring must be coming.  There was even sign that a moose had been poking around and nibbling on some low browse that was likely snow-covered until a week or so ago.  Still, the last sign that spring was on its way was to come that evening in the form of a huge, glowing full moon.

I’m not going to get involved in the wild conspiracies about the super-moon (as it has been dubbed) since like most people that are spouting off their claimed expertise, I know nothing about astronomy.  But I will say this:  the moon was big, it was bright, and it was real pretty.  According to my calendar it was also the last official full moon of winter.

Standing outside on a Saturday night in the late March wilderness, looking out at the silvery light reflected and amplified by the remaining snow I thought about that moon, the final one of this seemingly interminable winter, and I couldn’t help but smile.  Sure the moon is a cold, distant, inanimate celestial body that really couldn’t give a rat’s ass about spring, or turkey hunting, or the fact that we’re all sick of winter, but as it beamed down… the closest and brightest it has been in years…well, it kind of felt to me like the winter moon was saying goodbye for another year.  I had a full belly, friends around me, and a good weekend of work under my belt.  The next day was to be the equinox and the day after that the first official day of spring, bringing with it portents of growth, verdure, and the promise of life reborn for another year.  It all left me feeling pretty good.

Seeing that gobbler today buoyed my already high spirits.  Then I heard on the radio that my area is calling for another 10 centimetres of snow tonight and into tomorrow.


Still that moon sure was something, wasn’t it?

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Quick Word About Advertising Terms and Conditions

Hello friends,

I have received a few emails from readers notifying me today that part of my blog was down.  Specifically, my sidebar GoogleAds.  First off, thanks to you readers that emailed me for your concern.  It shows me that you seem to like the content and care when part of this blog appears to not be working.

So I got in touch with Google and they have (at least for now) disabled my GoogleAds account, ostensibly for what they deem "invalid clicks".  Which brings me to my second point, which is a brief tutorial.

For those of you not savvy on this here Internet thing, when you click on my GoogleAds I get a small amount of money called cost-per-click (CPC).  This money of course is not free, it comes to Google from the companies that are being advertised.  If you are clicking on ads daily for no reason other than curiousity, Google considers this a violation of my GoogleAds account terms and conditions and disables the account (which is why it looks like a portion of my sidebar is not working...because it isn't).

For those of you who are savvy and are clicking these ads knowingly in the effort to make me money or again just out of curiousity, thanks and I appreciate the spirit but again Google's Ad Analytics team consider this evidence of invalid clicks, and they will disable my account, causing me a bit of a headache.  It is not like I was getting rich off this blog (as that was never the intent), but it's pretty likely that the meager amount of revenue I had to date accumulated in this program from all clicks, valid or what Google defines as "invalid" (think in the neighbourhood of $35), will be forfeited back to the advertisers.  Do not pass "GO", do not collect ~$35.00

Confused?  Want to click an ad, but now reluctant to?

I'm a bit confused as well and I'm awaiting Google's response on my appeal to have the account reinstated, but as a proactive measure I'm sending this note out and I'll be adding basically the same verbiage to a Terms & Conditions section.

Google only deems a click "valid" if it stems from, and I'm quoting now, "genuine user interest".  Yes it is a nebulous term, and you guessed it, there is no recourse if Google still feels the clicks are invalid as, again quoting, "Google will use its sole discretion when determining instances of invalid click activity".

So, I am not allowed to encourage you to click an ad (which I am not), but I am in no way able to challenge Google's discretion in determining validity of any earnings I may make.  So what to do?

I'm not going to scrap the whole GoogleAds thing, but likewise I really do not have the wherewithal or resources to battle Google either over $35.  So I will close with this:

Please do not click the GoogleAds on Get Out & Go Hunting unless you are genuinely interested in hearing more about the service being advertised.

I'll flip an update or two to those who emailed me when I have some closure on this whole GoogleAds thing...if they just drop off the site completely then it is a safe assumption that my appeal was denied and I'm not participating in the program anymore.

The blogging will go on though and just ignore my left sidebar for now....after all, I hope everyone pops by for the stories, and not for the ads anyhow.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Tradition of List-Making

For those of you who know me and my family you will be aware that we have a quirky little idiosyncrasy of no determined origin; we are known to make lists.  My Dad does it, my brother does it, I do it, and to a lesser extent, my immediate family of uncles and cousins on my paternal side do it as well.  This post is but one of many examples of list-making that will grace the virtual pages of this blog, as is this earlier post.

If anything, lists serve as a jumping off point for conversation, and many a rollicking deer or duck and goose camp conversation has sprung up around the topic of such lists.  These can be lists of any sort in a hunting camp: favourite foods, favourite types of foods (soups, pies, fruits, vegetables, cuts of meat, etc), favourite hunting seasons, preferred times of year and weather, least favourite rifle calibres, most-respected ancestors, funniest comedians, and so on in perpetuity.  I find nothing more entertaining than seeing the passion with which grown men will work themselves into while extolling the virtues of minestrone soup, or bisque, or why the autumnal equinox is so damn awesome in relation to the vernal equinox.  These are memories to cherish, and for the uninitiated, a bizarre ritual of bonding.

I firmly stand by the belief that this proclivity to catalogue and have debates about the order of things with others is what drove me into historical studies as a younger man.  It also drives my lifelong affinity with learning and trying out new experiences both in hunting, and in my limited life outside of the sport.  This is why I compete in calling contests, read a wide variety of books, the reason that I now own seven harmonicas (and hopefully…soon…a banjo.)

In a semi-corollary vein, something near and dear to my heart and the ultimate goal for me when hunting, is the capture of wild game for consumption.

For those of you who have not tried wild game I can only say that you may be missing out on one of life’s finer pleasures.  For the readers who simply say that you “don’t like” wild game, I may posit that you just have not had it properly prepared for you.  If you think wild game is one-dimensional, strong, without subtlety of flavour, or something otherwise unappealing, I would direct you to read anything by Gene Hill, a wordsmith and hunter who had the ability to simultaneously paint vivid scenes of the wilderness while also describing supra-palatable culinary adventures in wild game.

So in an unholy marriage between my appreciation for the cooking and consumption of wild game and my compulsively twisted and uncontrollable need to organize things into lists, I give you my top five favourite game meat dishes.  One of these is something I’ve had only once, and I long for it again.  Others are treats, while a couple are staples at hunting camps or in my suburban kitchen.  All the preparations are simple and straightforward.

Bon appetit!

1.      Pan Fried Ruffed Grouse

I’ll start with this because it is my absolute favourite wild game treat, and it is exceedingly simple to make.

Take a grouse that has been field-dressed (also an extremely simple process) and cut the breasts into medallions.  Melt as much butter, oil, or other delicious fat as you like in a pan (but not too much, this isn’t deep frying, here…although that would be good too.)

Pat the grouse medallions dry and dust them lightly with flour.  In a small bowl or shallow plate whisk two eggs, and in another bowl have some bread crumbs ready (I actually prefer to use soda-cracker crumbs, but to each their own I say).  Dredge the medallions in the eggs and then in the crumb coating.  Add them to the pan and cook over medium heat until slightly browned and just cooked through.

These can just be eaten straight away as a finger food, but I also find them good in a sandwich with some mayo, ball park mustard, lettuce, and cheddar cheese.

2.      Deer Heart

Not only does someone shooting a deer in November mean that I’ll be getting some venison for the winter, but it sometimes means that we’ll be enjoying deer heart for lunch or dinner that day.  Those who dislike organ meat should probably move on to recipe #3.  Those who do like organ meat, well, it just doesn’t get any fresher (or more ‘organic’ than this).

Soak the heart in cold water for a few minutes to make sure all the nooks and crannies are rinsed out, then (starting at the top of the heart) cut it horizontally into ½ inch thick ‘steaks’.  Dust these in flour and pan fry in the same way as in the grouse recipe above.  I do recommend that heart be cooked to slightly more ‘well-done’ state…no, I don’t have a specific temperature to tell you.  When it is cooked through, give it another minute or two in the pan.

3.      Pit Roasted Bear Shoulder

I’ve only had this once and I don’t have the recipe specifics, so I’ll just try to explain the basic method and what it tasted like.

At the end of winter up on the Bruce, some of my friends and acquaintances have a bit of a party to celebrate the close of their winter coyote hunting.  In 2009, someone at this (aptly named) ‘coyote party’ brought a bear shoulder roast, put it in a roasting pan, dug a hole in the ground, put the roast pan in the hole and then covered the whole thing with hot coals.  And I mean hot coals.  I don’t know what they spiced, rubbed, or marinated this cut of meat with, and I have no real clue how long it was in the ground, but they did keep piling coals onto it for a good while.

When this meat came out of the ground, a large group of men chased the aroma into the cabin, and I can say that this bear roast did not last 15 minutes from carving to total and absolute consumption.

Think moist, tender, flavourful, cooked to just a hair beyond medium, and with a texture that was ‘beefier’ than beef.  I’ve heard some hunters say that bear meat is only good if it is ground up and masked with fillers in the form of sausages or pepperettes.  After this preparation, I would beg to disagree.

If I ever get a chance to have it again, I will ensure that I get the full recipe and share it with my readers.

4.      Dry Roasted Venison aux Poivre

This is a concoction of my own design, and it is based on Steak au Poivre.  It is pretty rich, but I enjoy it as a comfort food and I personally would rather have this than venison tenderloin (sacrilege, I know).  Moose, elk, sheep, or any other big game animal for that matter could be substituted for the venison.

In a heavy, dry skillet toast some ¾ cup of whole peppercorns until they are aromatic.  Remove the peppercorns and set them aside to cool.  Once they are cool, put them in a plastic bag and beat the bejesus out of them with a mallet or rolling pin until they are crumbled (not a fine grind, just rustic looking).  Add a bit of salt to taste and then pour the whole thing onto a sheet pan.

Preheat your oven to 400° F.

Take the venison roast (I prefer shoulder or neck, although some like a shank) and let it thaw to room temperature.  In a heavy skillet bring a mixture of vegetable oil and butter to a high temperature (be careful of grease fires!).  Sear the roast on all sides and then roll it around on the sheet pan of salt and smashed peppercorns until the roast is coated on all sides.  Put it back on the heavy skillet and put the whole thing in the oven until a meat thermometer inserted in the middle of the roast indicates the doneness you desire (I prefer a perfect medium of 145° F; others may like it more or less done).  Wrap the meat in tinfoil and let it rest for 15 minutes.

While the meat is resting add a cup of red wine (of your choice) to the skillet and reduce it vigorously over high heat while scraping all the brown bits off the bottom of the pan.  Once the wine reduces by half, cut the temperature to low and add 1/3 of a cup of heavy cream while continuing to occasionally stir.  Also, optionally, you can add a handful of whole peppercorns and salt to taste.  Once this sauce reaches your desired thickness you can just keep it warm on the back burner.

Carve the roast and dress with a spoonful or two of sauce.  This is great with grilled asparagus, garlic mashed potatoes, and heavier red wine (Shiraz, Dornfelder, or red Zinfandel)

5.      Rory’s Goose Camp Rolls

Although this is last on my list, it would not be a complete “Top 5” without this little dish.  This is ideal for early season geese that may not have a good layer of fat on them.

Remove the skin from the breasts, and then remove the breasts from the goose (don’t forget the tenders!).

Take a goose breast and cut it into thin, flat strips.  Marinate these for a couple of hours in a bottle of your favourite vinegar based salad dressing.   I am partial to Balsamic vinaigrette, but sun-dried tomato, Greek, or plain old Italian style vinaigrette works in a pinch too.

While the goose is marinating, soak a bunch of heavy wooden skewers in water for about an hour.

Once the marinating is done (after say a couple of hours), lay some bacon out in flat strips and then lay the goose strips on the bacon.  Roll them up like a cigar and hold them together with the skewer.  Fire them on the grill until the bacon is crisp and the goose strips are cooked until they just barely pink in the middle (I would not recommend eating this dish any less done than medium…I’ve had rare goose…the outcome was unpleasant).

This dish is great because unlike something that is bacon-wrapped, these bacon-rolled pieces have crispy bits of bacon throughout.  The vinegar in the salad dressing helps to tenderize the goose meat, and it also adds flavour.  One side note for this dish.  Historically these get eaten quickly, but they are also pretty heavy and very easy to over-indulge in.  Consider yourself warned.

So that’s my top five.  There are countless honourable mentions including braised goose legs, deep-fried wild turkey, a variety of chilli permutations, and plain old roast mallard.  I’m sure that this will not be the last post on the subject of food and recipes I post though, so stay tuned.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Bruce Peninsula

I can’t wait for the next six weeks to crawl by so that I can ‘go north’.  And in my somewhat narrow perception of the term, I’m referring to a sojourn that will take me north up Highway #6 for a little over three hours to the village of Lion’s Head.  Lion’s Head is, to be brief, a pretty little hamlet found on the Georgian Bay (read, eastern) side of the Bruce Peninsula.  If you use Owen Sound as your southernmost reference point and Tobermory as your northernmost point, Lion’s Head is about halfway up...and not four feet from the lion’s tail for you jokesters out there.

As an aside, I know that those of you who are reading this in Subdury, Cochrane, South Porcupine, or Thunder Bay will snort and tell me that I have no clue about what north ‘really’ is, and you’re right.  In fact, I spend the second week of the November deer rifle hunt at slightly higher latitude, relative to Lion’s Head, just north of Seguin Falls.  Neither are the high Arctic, but certainly both have a different environment and yes, even climate, than the mix of pastoral plains and generally urban/suburban areas that I see down here in Southwestern Ontario.  In a tongue in cheek fashion I’d retort that residents of Thunder Bay, ON do not understand the hardships to be found further north in say Churchill, Manitoba (polar bears anyone?), but I digress as this is not a post about geographical perceptions of climate or hardship.

The village of Lion’s Head serves as the launching point for my “adventures in hunting” (which, by the way, was the alternate working title for this blog…I made my choice though and I’m happy with it).  The farm where my father and uncles grew up is the home base from which I can head to any number of sites to chase after, and usually find myself defeated by, wild game.  Someday I’ll evolve into a competent photographer and have some photos that illustrate the unique beauty of this area, but for now let me take you on a virtual tour through some hunting stories alone.

As a pre-emptive defense, a lot of the places I’m about to mention don’t have much value in the way of ‘tourist’ spots.  If you’re looking for me to gush about The Grotto or something like that, I’m sorry to disappoint you.  I’ve been there (The Grotto) and it is beautiful, but I can’t even swim so it holds no real allure to me.  Same goes for Tobermory; been there (both in the high tourist season of July when it is as crowded as a Hollywood nightclub, and in the off-season when a lot of the stores aren’t even open for business during the week) and done that.  It is another great Bruce Peninsula destination but not a place where I can go hunting, so I’ll leave the point at that.  Restaurant reviews and shopping destinations will be fairly thin on this post (although I will say that the Farmer’s Breakfast at Mom’s Restaurant in Ferndale is an absolute must).

My first exposure to hunting came in a village north of Lion’s Head known as Cape Chin South, so that’s where I’ll start.

On a cool Thanksgiving weekend when I was eight years old, I awoke in the darkness early on Saturday morning and went goose hunting with my Dad.  I remember being bundled up like Ralphie’s brother Randy from A Christmas Story as I was wearing, to mention just a few of the items, long underwear, sweatpants, lined work pants that were a couple of sizes too big, and a wool sweater.  I had my Wellington boots on and my feet were wrapped in toasty wool socks.  Wool mitts and a grey toque completed the ensemble.  There was no way that I was going to get cold and want to come home early.

But most of all I remember the much-too-large olive drab hunting coat that my Dad put on me.  I imagine that to an invisible observer there was one of those tender, paternal, very Rockwellian scenes as my Dad helped me into the coat and zipped it up to my chin.  While I lacked mobility and dexterity (and frankly, I still kind of do now over 20 years later), I recall the key benefit of this particular coat being that it was big enough for me bury my whole face into it if I got cold.

And despite all the preparations, I still got cold.  Did I mention that this hunt pre-dated the common use of padded foam seats, and ‘Heat-a-Seats”?  It did.  Dad jammed a black garbage bag into my pocket that would serve to keep my derriere dry, but it was lacklustre in keeping my little tush warm.

We got out of the car and walked into the field in the grey, beetling morning before I was sat down in the nooks and crannies of a rock pile that had a bunch of old cedar rails piled up around, and upon, it.  They did a very good job of breaking up the human outline, and with the addition of a half-dozen shell body decoys we were ready for the goose hunting to commence.  I can’t recall how many geese flew around that day, but it was by no means a huge flight.  In fact I can only recall one small bunch of three of four.  Dad pulled an old Olt goose call out of his pocket and began to cluck away on it a bit and the birds circled before coming in to land with our fakes.

So long as I’m able to remember, I’ll never forget those geese hanging in the air, as big as jetliners, with their feet down ready to land.  Dad took a double with his Remington 1100, although he missed a third with his last shot, and laid the geese in the rocks by my feet.  A short, gooseless while later Dad decided that two birds were enough and we headed back to the car.  Dad carried a goose, an old feedbag with the decoys in it, and his shotgun.  I got the honour of carrying out the other goose.  I bumped and dragged that poor goose’s head through the grass for some ways before Dad turned around and told me to pick the goose’s head off the ground and treat the game a little better.  My eight-year-old biceps got quite the work out; I think I held that bird’s head almost above my knees the rest of the way to the car.  Since then I’ve hunted waterfowl all around Lion’s Head; in the Ferndale Flats, at Spry, and in Dyer’s Bay to name a few spots in weather that ran from balmy early September hunts in t-shirts to chilly mid-November pursuits in driving snow.  Still, that young boy’s first hunt on a Thanksgiving Saturday in Cape Chin hooked me in.

In the same area as Cape Chin South are Otter Lake and Cape Chin North, and this area is where the family deer hunting takes place during early November.  My Dad wrote a fine piece about Otter Lake for the Chatham-Kent Times, so I won’t pretend to best that.  Instead, I’ll just talk about deer hunting.

In 1995 at a rangy, awkward fifteen years old I found myself sitting on a blown down birch log at 6:30 in the morning with a Remington Model 14 pump action rifle across my lap.  I was in the wooded uplands just west of Otter Lake waiting for deer.  I didn’t have any calls or experience, but as a first-time deer hunter the camp elders had seen fit to place me in a reasonably good spot near some known deer runs.  At around 8am my great uncle Bower came around and checked on me; he said he’d return in about an hour.  At ten minutes to nine I heard some crunching in the leaves behind me and turned to see Bower.  Instead I saw that a doe and a fawn were loping down the ridge and towards me!  As a party we had two or three antlerless tags, including one that I had been fortunate to draw in my first year of deer hunting and I slid the safety off, raised the rifle and fired at the doe as she bounded quartering away from my right.  She never broke stride but the fawn crossed me broadside at fifteen yards.  The rifle barked again and the fawn went down after some stumbled leaps.  Then everything was silent.  I hadn’t had time to be nervous before, but I was in the moments immediately after the drama I was shaking, elated, sad, proud, and a little nauseous.  Yes, the first-time deer hunter speeds rapidly through a broad range of emotions after their first successful hunt.

I now hunt deer a bit in the Parry Sound district, and I have had offers for some hunts in the Elmira area not too far from home, but I always make sure that I get time in every November at the Otter Lake camp.  I’ve shot a couple other deer in those hardwood uplands since, including one in 2009 that I shot at nearly the same time of day while sitting in basically the spot.  That fallen birch has long since rotted away though.

I’ve turkey hunted all over the North Bruce in Dyers Bay, Lion’s Head, Barrow Bay, Ferndale, and Cape Chin (North and South) but I have not yet managed to connect on a Bruce Peninsula gobbler, despite some close calls.  That terrible record notwithstanding, these treks have taken me through some of the prettiest country I have ever walked in.  The verdure of the spring as it comes to life around you is something special to behold everywhere, but the ridges, fields, and hardwood bottoms of the Bruce seem to do it better than anywhere else I’ve been to date.  For me when I think of turkey hunting I picture sitting in the sun-dappled hardwoods of Cape Chin or watching the dew form on the balsams south of the farm in Lion’s Head with a soft Georgian Bay breeze blowing in around me.

Winter on the Bruce, in my experience, is like winter anywhere else and by that I mean that it is variable to a fault.

Some years it is bitterly cold, other years it is buried in deep snow, and one notable year it was so mild that we hunted rabbits in January with no snow on the ground at all.  The rabbits showed up neon white against the browns and grays of the woods, their fur coats having already changed colour with the photoperiod.  Despite this advantage for us we still had a tough time shooting these little escape artists and only managed to take a couple of them home to the larder.  By contrast, during a coyote hunt almost exactly a year later, it was so cold that the thermometer outside the farm bottomed out, while the outside temperature for the morning hunt (at least according to my cousin’s truck console) was -27 degree Celsius.  I’ve been out on snowy days on the Bruce where visibility was basically nil, while on other January days, although snow was on the ground, it was so warm that one could hunt without wearing a jacket, especially if you were exerting yourself.

Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your perspective I guess, I haven’t hunted any public land in the Bruce Peninsula.  This is primarily because I am the beneficiary of a family tradition of hunting in the area (which I am trying to honour and maintain as the older generation might one day step aside), family held land in some locations, and a network of friends on the Bruce who put up with my nonsensical metaphors, interminable stories, and sometimes hilarious ineptitude.

Despite the occasionally misguided attempts of some to bring what they feel is urbanization and their skewed views of ‘civilization’ to the area, I have found that the hunting ethic, as part of the rural outdoors ethic at large, is still strong on the Bruce Peninsula where it is a tradition built on personal relationships, respect for the resource and the landowners, and a history where hunting played a vital role in survival for the ancestors of the longer-term residents of the area.  I think that those are the keys to any place where you love to hunt, or fish, or camp, or hike, or whatever it is that you do to get out and enjoy nature and the wilderness.

For this particular observer historical tradition, camaraderie and shared enjoyment in the outdoors all make up the fundamental appeal of hunting as a pastime.  In my mind, the Bruce has all of the above and more.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Reminder-NWTF Hunting Heritage Banquets

The Halton Hills Longspurs Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation will be hosting their 1st Annual Hunting Heritage Banquet on Saturday, May 7, 2011 at Granite Ridge Golf Club in Milton, Ontario.  Doors open at 5:00pm & the dinner starts at 6:30pm

If you live in the Halton Region and would like details on getting your tickets, please see the attached image for contact and ordering information.

Likewise, the Barrie Boss Gobblers Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation will be hosting their 5th Annual Hunting Heritage Banquet on Saturday, April 2, 2011 at the Army, Navy, Air Force Club in Barrie, Ontario.  Doors open at 5:00pm & the dinner starts at 6:30pm

If you are in the Barrie and are interested in attending, details on pricing and how to get your tickets can be obtained by contacting Jim Terry via email.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Pines Gobbler Revisited

After laying probably the worst beat on me ever in 2009, I was really hoping that the Pines Gobbler had made it through the winter and survived into 2010.

With almost no time to scout the location in 2010, and having already endured the most miserable ‘May 1st weekend” weather I had ever seen, I made my way hopefully north to the familiar hunting grounds of the Bruce Peninsula for the weekend of May 8th, 2010.  I had asked around and no one had seen the Pines Gobbler or another big tom matching his description, and a friend of mine had permission to hunt the property ahead of me anyways so with a tinge of melancholy I gave up the big tom for dead, or at least that he had found other, less obvious places to hang out.  Besides, at the time I worked with a woman who had a family cottage in the same area I was hunting in and she had said something to me which made me tingle with anticipation.

“You know the property along the main highway there, the one with the green steel roof on the homestead?”  I said that I did know that property, and that I knew the man who owned it as well.  “Well I was driving up to open the cottage last weekend, and I saw about a dozen turkeys in that front field, right at the back against the trees.”

When I asked her if she saw any big ones strutting, she said that they all looked pretty big from the width of a pasture field away, at which point I realized that to a non-hunter pretty much any turkey looks ‘big’.  I was heartened and worried simultaneously (any avid turkey hunter knows this feeling) because if she had seen them, certainly others, and most definitely someone with a mind to hunt the birds, had seen them as well.

I called the landowner that night.  He said no one had approached him for permission and that I was free to go in and hunt turkeys in that property if I wanted to.  Things were coming together and with no proof that the Pines Gobbler was even alive, I focused my energies on the next challenge.

There is a finger of field that runs just behind the place where my co-worker had seen the birds, and it seemed to me a place that just had to have turkeys nearby; it was isolated and hidden from the road, but close enough to the last reported sighting to be well within earshot.  I drove in on a very dark morning, just behind a passing thunderstorm and found a large turkey track in the dirt road while walking in.  Buoyed, I sat in the “V” of a very damp, very mossy, very old cedar rail fence overlooking a wedge of field not more than 70 yards across.  My Flambeau hens, one feeder, one upright, stood 20 steps away, looking first like gloomy blobs in the dark, then morphing into grey shadows, and then coming into focus under the break of a steely gray morning.

The thunderstorm rumbled in protest as the wind moved it southeast, but the low, hazy dawn persisted behind it and I was to have no sunshine that morning.  The weather was strange.  It was not quite fog, and it was not quite drizzle, it was just that kind of cold clammy dampness that gets into everything and makes your pot calls run funny.  My box call was waterproof though, and I gave some light yelps just at fly down, with no answer.  At around 7am I cranked up the volume a bit and just before 8am a gobble cut off a series of aggressive cuts from my mouth call.  The bird was in front of me, but I could not precisely tell where the tom was.  He never showed himself and never spoke again.  After two hours I left wet, bedraggled, and frustrated.  On my way out I was fortunate enough to sneak within 100 yards of some Sandhill Cranes performing their courtship dance, which is truly one of nature’s most elegant forms of entertainment, a bit like a wildlife ballet, but that single distant gobble haunted my thoughts on the drive back to the farm.

No one else in our little group of hunters had connected that morning (most had heard the thunder and did not even bother going out) so as is our habit, we had breakfast and planned an afternoon of running and gunning.  The plan was simple: drive to places where we had permission to hunt, get quietly out of the truck, make a whole bunch of turkey racket, and hopefully get a hot tom to come for a visit.  Our batting average over the years is right around .500 with that tactic so we must be doing something right.  A wicked wind picked up while we were eating and threatened to spoil our plan.  Our solution was to do it anyways, just with louder and longer calling.

The first three stops netted no answer, so we went into a spot close to where I had my 2009 run in with the Pines Gobbler, but as I said, I had put that mean old bird out of my mind.  Allegedly a gaggle of jakes had taken up residence there, and I was hungry for some turkey tenders so I was not fussy on punching my tag with a short-bearded bird.

My cousin, my brother, my good friend, and I all stepped out of the truck and let slide with a chorus of yelps and cuts that sounded like some sort of enticingly violent turkey orgy.  It worked.  Not one, not two, but three lusty turkeys answered our pleas.  With the wind blowing high it was tough to say how far they were, but when they gobbled again seconds later with no provocation it was obvious that they were running to meet us. 

Jakes.  It had to be those jakes.

We softly closed truck doors, slid some shells into shotguns, and my brother and I hastily sat down next to each other at a junction where one trail became two.  My cousin and friend, unarmed and not at all interested in shooting jakes, sat ten yards in back of us behind a knoll.  They kept pouring on the hen music.  The birds were gobbling to my right and coming hard, so I turned slightly that way and bore down on the stock of my 870.  My brother was to my left with his gun barrel pointed directly at the fork in the trail.  I had about twenty yards of space between me and an impenetrable blow down so the hope was that the birds would come between the blow down and myself and then perhaps offer my brother a shot in the subsequent turkey panic.

Now, before I go further, here’s a point that every turkey hunter (if they don’t know it already) needs to understand.  Whatever you think a turkey might do, he will invariably do the opposite.  If you try to get clever and purposely do the opposite of what you think a turkey might do so as to double-bluff the gobbler, he’ll do what you initially thought he would but didn’t account for.  Either way, you’ll almost always need to adapt or fail.

In this case I failed.  The birds found the open trail and hightailed it down to the fork…a path that took them right down my brother’s barrel.  To make matters worse, before I could see the birds I heard the unmistakeable Pffft….voooooom of a turkey spitting and drumming.  These were not jakes.

I could just see glimpses of the birds, but all three were strutting up the road on my left to my brother.  They gobbled so loudly that I thought their heads were fixing to fall off; one of the gobbles put me in mind of a bad beat I had suffered at the hands of a wily tom in the same area last year.

I was right, and I heard him before I saw him, but there was no question of who it was.  When I did finally see him, mere seconds before my brother dispatched one of the other satellite toms, there was no doubt in my mind that the Pines Gobbler lived.  He was the last of the three strutters and though I could not swing around to shoot him without spooking the lot of them, with my eyes cut left I could see clearly that thick beard and one big spur on his leading foot.  And that voice, God that voice.  I said I'd never forget it, and I hadn't.

When my brother’s 870 barked the lead gobbler began flopping and digging his head into the trail while the Pines Gobbler and his consigliere fled straight away back from where they had come.  I leapt up but was only privy to two black blurs speeding away and even though I knew my pattern was good out to fifty yards, a running poke at such a bird was never on my mind.

It was a hunt that none of the four of us will ever forget, and while I was very happy for my brother, I was also insatiably hungry to match wits with the Pines Gobbler again.  We left to weigh and dress out my brother’s two-year old bird, but also to let the spot cool down; when I came back for the evening sit I heard not a whisper of a turkey there.  The same was true of the next morning stand.  Family commitments saw me unable to hunt the afternoon shift that Sunday (gun-hunting is permitted in that Wildlife Management Unit on Sundays) but while reliving that run and gun hunt on the drive home I resolved to get back and have one more crack at the Pines Gobbler for 2010.

The next weekend I was indisposed and could not muster a hunt, and the next Saturday on the Victoria Day holiday weekend I hunted around the Barrie area, but the birds seemed to have had lockjaw in that part of the province.

Closing weekend came slowly and my work-week (and five restless nights) teemed with nothing other than visions of getting a chance to close the deal on that bad boss gobbler.  I took the Friday afternoon off so that I could do a quick evening’s scouting before the morning hunt, but the bird was not in any of his old haunts, nor did he answer my crow and hawk calls in the vicinity of where I had last seen him.  No one had reported sighting him, but no one had likewise reported shooting a bird of his stature, so I was pretty sure he was still out there, in hiding, and just being ornery with me.  To top it off it was drizzling, with no sign of it improving until mid-day on Sunday…a Sunday, that by the way, was the final day of the season.

Driving slowly down a muddy road, feeling sorry for myself and resigned to just going back to the same spot where I had last seen him last, I slammed on the brakes.  There was a turkey track on the soft shoulder of the road.  It looked big, but it was also a little washed out.  I got out of the car and looked closer at it.  The track crossed the road into a cedar stand near a hydro cut that I had hunted rabbits in more times than I could remember.  I knew just where I would set up in there: a small clearing about 30 yards wide and 50 yards long flanked by thick cedars and the hydro cut on the south side and open hardwoods out to the north and east.  I crow called hopefully, wishing for that heavy, gravel-shaken-in-a-tin-can gobble to ring out, but still I received no response.

Yet this track was the only turkey sign I’d seen that whole afternoon while scouting, so I really only had one option.  Hunt the bird that I hoped had made that punch in the mud.

I got up at an ungodly hour that Saturday morning and in the wet, dripping darkness walked for fifteen minutes to the clearing.  I was soaked by the time I put out both my hen decoys, and for the hell of it (and because I was desperate) I put out a Flambeau "Intruder Jake” decoy as well.  I pruned myself a bower under a sopping wet hummock of balsams, sat down, and waited for fly down time.  I almost chewed my mouth call to pieces with anticipation.  I checked my watch and at the appropriate time I tried to slide my Federal Mag-Shok #6s into the action of my 870 as smoothly and as quietly as possible.  Later, but probably still a little too early, I purred and tree-yelped softly.  Instantly, and from behind me, a tom turkey roared back.  I should have been happy but I wasn’t.

I was set up close, way too close.  Think “twenty yards away from his roost” too close.  Now maybe I should have owl-called before I got that close to my stand, or maybe I should have slunk further away when he gobbled, but I was in a predicament just then and paralyzed with indecision.  Mostly I just sat there praying that the wet ground had muffled my approach and that the metallic’ snick-snick’ of me loading my gun had not sounded like a gong to this bird.  I hoped because from that one gobble there was no question that it was the bird I wanted.

He gobbled again and again on the roost, but I was determined not to yelp back.  He was already way too close and most certainly knew I was there.  Every gobble tied me in knots:  this was the bird that beat me so badly twelve months before, just across the road from where he was roosted.  I didn’t want revenge from my 2009 debacle because, as Moby Dick has shown us, wildlife has no concept of spite, pride, or vengeance.  I just wanted a chance to best this wise old tom at his own game because that’s part of the challenge and allure of turkey hunting.  I heard him fly down and gobble on the ground, but he was going away from me.  He got quieter and quieter as he marched further and further away.  I begged him to come back over and over, and once in a while he did return a few steps back to me, but never all the way.  I was going to have to move.

I pulled up my decoys and set them under the balsams.  I threw some of the boughs that I had pruned to make my stand on top of them and decided to make a wide circle around the gobbler.  I unloaded my gun to head up the road in an effort to get in front of this bird, and I’ll tell you I’ve never had that “Murphy’s Law” feeling more acutely than I did right then.  With my shotgun in one hand and three shotgun shells in the other I was almost certain that this cagey old turkey would suddenly materialize on the road in front of me while I had an empty gun, or that he’d gobble behind me and I’d turn to see him looking at me from backtrail.

The paranoia of a turkey hunter chasing a hidden, silent gobbler is nearly unmatched.  My neck was sore from all the turning around to look over my shoulder.

Finally I got to where I thought I would be in front of the bird.  I reloaded and cut hard on my box call.  He answered, and he started coming my way, gobbling constantly.  Then I saw him.  He was winnowing his way through some low gads and saplings; he was hot and in half-strut.  I thought about my decoys under the cedars and half-wished I’d brought a confidence hen.  There was no where that I could get a clear shot until he was within 20 steps or so, and he never even came that close.  He had to have seen something he didn't like (because I was a living statue…for once) and he folded up and started half-trotting away to my right.

When he went behind a tree, I tried to twist my body to the right for a shot.  If you are a right-handed shooter like I am, you know how difficult and uncomfortable this can be, and frankly, I’m not what you would call ‘limber’.  He didn’t putt so I don’t think he saw me, but shortly he disappeared.  Again I sang on the box call; no answer.  I went into a fighting purr routine with my mouth diaphragm fifteen minutes later.  Nothing.  He had been gone for half-an-hour and I was sitting there quietly with my gun half-raised on my knee when he gobbled so near to me that I thought he was going to peck my ear off; to say he startled me is an understatement.

He was behind me again, but the next gobble told me he was coming around to my left.  I slowly raised the gun and cut my eyes to the side; there he was.  This time he was doing that ultra-slow turkey stalk.  He was spooked and frankly so was I.  Sliding the safety off, I needed him to take five steps into an opening and miraculously it looked like he was finally going to oblige me.  My mind was racing; the moment was finally at hand.  And then I did it.

I screwed it up.

Preparing to shoot, I lowered my cheek way down and pulled the butt of the gun even more tightly into my shoulder.  Milliseconds later I would have pulled the trigger, but he saw that movement and in a flurry of putting and shock gobbling the big tom half-sprinted, half-flew out sight.

It was the closest I’ve come to crying while turkey hunting.  I swore.  I said horrible things about myself out loud to any tree that would care to listen.  I cursed the Pines Gobbler, wild turkeys everywhere, and turkey hunting in general.  Then I moped back to where this had all started, stuffed my decoys in their bag and trudged back to the farm.  Halfway back across the big front field, I heard the bird again.  He was a way across the road, back in his safe pines.  He was gobbling.  It sounded to me, at that moment, like triumphant laughter.

After a very quiet, very pensive lunch I put in a half-hearted attempt to hunt the gobbler that afternoon.  After all, I knew where to find him, but I was also beaten down.  Although he gave me a momentary thrill when he marched half-way across a field towards me, my hopes were ultimately dashed when he skirted me by 100 yards and crossed the road.  I roosted him and the next morning I set up on him again in the very early hours.  I even owl-called to avoid setting up too close to him, but he never made a peep and all I saw that morning was a small red fox that was stalking my decoy setup.  I mouse-squeaked the charcoal-footed little fox to within eight steps but he caught my scent when the wind changed and he bolted like his tail was on fire.  This cheered me up a bit because I like the antics of red foxes and see no real reason to shoot one that isn’t causing any trouble in the henhouse.

So that’s how a two year odyssey with the Pines Gobbler stands to date.  Again, so far as I know, no one shot him and he just has the weather, the coyotes, and the traffic on the county roads to survive this winter.  I swore to my wife that if I run into this bird again I am just going to live and let live and not even bother hunting him; he’s obviously far superior to me in every way, and to be honest my self-esteem simply cannot take another spring flogging.

I just hope that if I do happen hear that gobbler doing his raspy, angry shouting, and see his puffed up tilt-a-whirl strutting routine that I can help myself.

Odds are I won’t be able to.