Friday, December 24, 2010

Numb Toes 2: Fall Comes In Winter

John got permission to hunt on another piece of land in his wife's family, which he tried out a time or two on his own.  I went up to it Wednesday afternoon and set up a ground blind so I could go out with him this morning.  It's definitely a cheap set-up, just three metal fence posts and some camo burlap with view-slits cut in it covering two of three sides (the open side is towards where John moved his tree stand).  Not much but better than nothing.  The forecast was originally for the mid 40's but somewhere along the way the Weather Channel erred egregiously and it ended up in the mid- to low-20's.  That is dang cold for this part of the world.  After a brief consultation yesterday we both agreed we wanted to go anyhow, so we did.

Fall as a condition of the forest doesn't come to this part of the world until after other regions are in deep winter.  Right now the live oaks and laurel oaks are shedding and the turkey oaks are a brilliant crimson-gold-orange mix.  It is also very dry right now, so all those leaves are like popcorn underfoot.  The moon is waning, but not that much, so the forest was aglow when we started walking in at about 6:40.  I'm carrying the .30-30 right now, since Aunt Mary's .270 is up in SC with Cousin George.  Its such a tiny gun in comparison, noisy to cycle too.

Probably about 7:10 I heard what I thought was a deer coming in from a little behind my left.  The worst direction, a house lies within rifle range over there and there is no way I'd try it.  I heard them get closer and closer until one of them either saw me as I craned my neck to spot them or else just plain smelled me.  A couple of snorts later and I barely caught a glimpse of some white flags bounding off, three I think.  I don't know if there was a buck in there or not.

After that excitement the cold sank in, and my woolen socks were no match.  Don't laugh if you live in the Frozen Northlands, we don't come equipped to deal with it, and I already had on most of the layers I own.  The last half hour was a test of my will, since I didn't want to disturb the woods any more than possible if John wanted to stay.  I finally texted him I'd had enough, and since he couldn't feel his toes either he got back to the truck right after me.  He did spot something I missed on the way out, a fresh deer print in one of his footprints from earlier. 

Sunday morning is supposed to be warmer, we might try again then.   

View from the half-assed hide.

In other news, my overnight backpack trip had to be put off due to a cold, but I'm over it so its back on for the 2nd.  I took a short day hike last weekend in spite of the illness and stumbled on the complete skeleton of a spike buck.  No hunting is allowed where I was but there is a lot of WMA and private tracts nearby, it might have been an unrecovered from one of those.  I collected the skull, so at least I have one antlered trophy this year.

Lil' Spikey

Some pics from around the area:

Dry cypress dome (domes are actually depressions, go figure)

Sandhill/Flatwoods habitat

Old turpentine woods, pines long gone though.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Middle Ranch Fried Steak. And Beer. And Post-Catalina Update

So Wednesday night we needed to whip some meat up to feed a group that included us and Charlie's dad.  Vyki was already preparing some great vegetable dishes to go along.  Charlie had pulled a top round roast out of the freezer, but it wasn't totally thawed and besides the oven was taken.  When in doubt, and in a hurry, slice thin and fry, right?  Charlie was at first reluctant, since this is so stereotypically how many a wild game meal has been turned to leather, but I forged bravely ahead (yeah right, I was terrified).

And not a dog for the scraps...
The breading:  simple corn meal with salt, black pepper, red pepper, and parsley.  The oil:  half-and-half bacon fat and olive oil.  The pan:  cast iron.  The heat: high.  The result:  straight out of 1882.

Could be anything.  But was tasty!
The beer:  strong and abundant.

The leftovers:  Lunch!  That's the steak under the excellent guacamole on the right.  We had a tortilla casserole, red cabbage slaw, and rice as well.  Great meal! 

Friday I returned to Sunny FLA in an uneventful fashion.  Except it's not exactly warm here right now, a night in the lower 20's threatened the citrus Monday night.  I prepared the liver from the Queen Mother exactly as I prepared it for Miss Catalina, except it was a lot bigger so we had leftovers with even more bacon for breakfast.  I invited my friend over who will be repairing my kitchen (he's a professional) along with his wife, and I made a crock pot of top round cooked in dry white wine, onions, diced tomatoes, and a few spices including some caraway seeds.  We proceeded to all drink beer during the afternoon.  When the sun set we sat to eat, our guests loved the meat.  They had had bad experiences with venison before but I explained why this should be different and they raved about the flavor.  Made me feel like I almost knew what I was doing.  Sorry I don't have pics of any of it, but I might take one of the leftovers tonight.

Looking to the future, deer hunting is about over for me this year, freezer is full and opportunities are waning.  I may get to go up to John's a time or two still, but he's busy with a short hunting trip up to Georgia then that first son is going to pop out in a couple of weeks :)   Cousin George suggested I should hunt turkeys on his farm in SC the spring, I'm reading information about it already.  I've never even tried to hunt turkeys, but I'd love to give it a shot.  I'm also looking into hog hunting in the spring, but my only plan right now is essentially hiking with a shotgun full of 00 buckshot or slugs through the state forests.

Speaking of John, he's gone up to Georgia to deer hunt with some friends of his family, wish him luck.  He's had to forsake his bow for a rifle on this one.  His rifle is a WWII Japanese Arisaka that fires 7.7 X 58mm rounds, which are supposed to be equivalent to a .308 or so.  Little unusual but surely as effective as any in that class.

Sunday and Monday I'll be doing a non-hunting solo overnight backpacking trip down south, I'll post some pics when I get back.  Lets see if I can spot a Skunk Ape and become one of those weirdos.

P.S. Found out a couple of nights ago that preparing meat this way is basically a schnitzel.  Hmm, jaeger schnitzel may be in my future.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Dead Doe Redemption, Part 4: Afterward.

We got Queen Mother back to Middle Ranch.  We weighed her, 100 lbs field dressed, so maybe 145 or so lbs on the hoof?  Charlie got her skinned out pretty quickly.  I won't go into gory detail of how we found the shoulders, but don't let anyone tell you a copper bullet doesn't have plenty of knock-down power.  Afterward we went up to the bunkhouse, and laid out for naps.  I crawled into the tent for a nice, warm hour.

When I came in, Charlie and George were talking.  They both had what seemed like a slightly embarrassed look, like I'd be annoyed about something.  George had decided that he did not care to kill a deer.  I was a little confused for a second since this trip was his idea, but I definitely had no qualms about his decision.  We three talked and confided and realized relief, to be honest, since it made our next day and a half a lot easier. 

Charlie decided to take us scouting (scope, not rifles) down a ridge later that afternoon where he originally would have taken us hunting.  The result caused some mixed emotions for me.  Since I had an either sex tag, and had I not killed that big old doe that morning, I may well have had a shot this guy:

Eh, I'm sure he was tough.  And sour.
I know, the meat may not have been as good, and I would have had to deal with transporting that rack, but still, you know?  Oh well.  I found another quite cool and much smaller trophy earlier that day, an old .45-70 casing from who knows how long ago.  I've decided it was shot from an old trapdoor Springfield, and nobody is going to ruin that delusion with proof.

Farther up the ridge, past the big-ass buck.  Crossing fingers for a green flash at the sunset.

Some cooking tomorrow, special Bunkhouse edition!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Dead Doe Redemption, Part 3: Jägers Afield.

The day was here.  Up at the butt-crack of dawn (actually well before, but I love that phrase).  Hunting drag on, blaze orange a-blazin'. We took off for a spot on the north side of the island, where a burn occurred earlier because of a deadly small plane crash.

Honestly, I'm going to let the photos speak for themselves.  I've already said this to several people, but if they put stuff like this up on the Conservancy website, they'd book out for the year in a heartbeat.

The morning was a beautiful struggle.  The sun was blinding when it cleared the marine layer.  Up hill and down, out on several ridges, we stalked and glassed and waited.  George was to have the first shot.  Nothing was near, nothing was easy.  Although he is slightly younger than I am, George has very shaky hands, and said he was uncomfortable with taking any shot over 150 yards because of it.  Without dragging the story out too much, Charlie tried his damnedest to get something for him.

Finally, like many things do, the chance came right up.  We had just parked the truck, and were easing out to walk on a ridge.  Charlie and George were scanning different sides as I was getting my rifle out.  George let out a low whistle that caught Charlies attention.  I was hanging back, trying to quietly observe and waiting on direction.

I'd be lying if I said I remembered everything that happened in the next minute exactly, but basically I saw Charlie direct George to get set up.  I remember a lot of agonizing (probably lasted 10 seconds) and then George shaking his head no.  Charlie motioned me to come up low along the ridge.  He told me to get set up.  I put down the bipod and it was too high.  I tried to work with it but Charlie adjust the legs for me.  Charlie kept whispering I was looking for the biggest deer that was going to come out from behind a certain oak.  I saw a little dip in the rock that would make the height of the bipod work, and I crawled over to it.  The deer came out. A yearling was behind the big doe I was supposed to aim at, I couldn't shoot because I knew that copper bullets almost always come out the other side.  Just like that, she was clear and perfect.  I eased the trigger.

Again, the world blew up.  I'm more used to it now, and quicker that I knew I could I was focused on the deer again.  It was falling down the slope.  A painful moment, not deadly painful as for the deer but painful none the less.  Grandma doe, the Queen Mother of this little valley, broken, falling, dying, down into the draw, out of our sight.  The others of the group milling, regrouping, looking down, running, looking. 

But then the guilty elation of the kill, of hoping (but still doubting) it worked, that its done, that the animal, the meat, its down there and hopefully dead as stone, but still, that it worked (probably)!

Hope I'm not being too flighty with this description, but its close to what I remember thinking at the time.  Charlie made a plan and after a short time we walked down into the cool, lushness of the wash.  Charlie spotted her first, she was down and still, right where she landed.  The old .270, bought with the money from my Great Aunt Mary's estate, had done its job flawlessly. 

The Queen Mother lies in state.  How we found her.
Charlie carrying a large percentage of his body weight.
OK, so tomorrow is the conclusion.  Should have warned you I was splitting it up into this many parts, but there is still some coolness left for Part 4.

Modesty screen.  Ladies need their privacy for undressing.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Dead Doe Redemption, Part 2: Isla Verde

The first couple of days Charlie was busy with clients.  And rain.  And clients in the rain.  Retrieving client's deer in the rain.  In the dark, and rain.

Vyki's hospitality was awesome as she kept us fed and supplied during this time.  We entertained ourselves by tagging along with our friend Shaun, who took us on a nice walk overland up and over the 1000 ft. summit of Eagle's Nest.  I thought my heart was going to explode, as we covered more topography than exists in all FLA in about 10 minutes.  But we made it with a great overcast view.  The above-mentioned rains had given a lush, green feel to the island that I had not seen before on my summer visits.  We even spotted a rare shrike, according to our guide.

Fall color on a desert island.
Later that afternoon, Shaun took us down to Little Harbor to collect fresh seawater for the aquarium at the bunkhouse.  It was an extreme low tide, and the sights were amazing.

I finally understand Sigmund and the Sea Monsters.
From the overlook south of Shark Harbor/Little Harbor.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Dead Doe Redemption, Part 1: Cross-Continental

My fourth trip to Catalina has come and gone.  It remains an island of incredible beauty, annoying frustration, and serene peace.  But, let me start at the beginning.

My third trip was during this past summer, the first time I'd taken my husband over with me.  It was the impetus for starting this blog, although other reasons have helped continue it.  On returning, my distant cousin George expressed a huge desire to accompany me back, with the express purpose of hunting.  He and I made plans for months, probably talking to each other more on a weekly basis since we have since we were kids.  He procured a very nice rifle case, and I dropped Aunt Mary's .270 off with him over T-day so he could bring it along with his dad's old Ruger rifle.

Now, George and I have known each other since we were in our early teens.  My mother and his father also knew each other in their early teens, not sure what happened then but whatever it was she irately forbid him from talking to me when he came home and said he'd met Jr. (we are not related through her side).  Somehow I quickly won her over in person though, and their family has definitely been good friends to my brother and I since. 

Cousin George and I flew out from our respective local airports on the 4th of December, making a rendezvous in ATL.  Our flight took us right over Guadalupe Mountains National Park, where I hiked and camped back in late April (I'll post some flashback pics one day).  Like Miley, we hopped off the plane at LAX, with a dream (but sans cardigan).  Blessedly soon, I was sipping a Bloody Mary (or two) and watching the 26 miles slip away.  No blue whales this time, but plenty of porpoises and a few sea lions.

We were met by a kind friend we made the last trip out, and after tooling about for a while waiting around to collect another Middle Ranch tenant we were off, climbing those crazy roads at night.  Reunions were made, arrangements were made.  The next two nights were great tent weather, and I was set up in luxury accommodations in the back yard.   Later in the week the weather got chilly and they let me inside, but let me tell you, friendly reader, camping is fine there.  In FLA we have possums, coons, armadillos, coyotes, owls, and rats, and that's if you are lucky and its not hot enough for the frogs and hordes of inverts to take off.  A cacophonous mess.  In Middle Ranch in December, there is silence.  Unless there is a bison, but they were holding up elsewhere that night.

Unlike later in the week when they were in the front yard eating the oxalis

Wednesday, December 1, 2010 the kitchen?!?!

Venison cooking (as well as just about any kind of cooking) is at a standstill right now as a leaky pipe in my kitchen wall has forced the demolition of a sizable portion of my cabinetry.  Goodbye Christmas bonus!  But this has made me decide to get new counter-tops sometime next month, I guess that's a good thing.  Luckily I know people in the business, hope that helps.
Where once was a lazy Susan is now a gaping void...that smells.
 I wish I could fast-forward my life to 2:00 pm Saturday when I'll be aboard the Catalina Express, ordering a Bloody Mary and hoping for a blue whale sighting.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Update, With Disappointment, Anticipation, and a Tragic Photo.

Florida Hunting Zone C Doe Week:  A bust, as in not busting a cap, as in nothing.  Full moon, warm weather, prodigy doe with a 3G connection checking the FWC website, donno, the does were not present at John's hunting world the week of Thanksgiving.  I went up three times, John went every day (sometimes twice).  Hey, if it was easing, they'd call it finding and not hunting.  I still enjoyed every minute of it, with no complaints. 

I'm currently gearing up for my 5 days on Catalina.  Hiking and hunting.  My cousin George is going also, and Charlie is guiding the hunt (the FC pseudonym of earlier posts, which stands for fencing coach, of course).  Its the first time I've seen the island in winter, I'm looking forward to the day of rain that is forecast.  I doubt there will be any cooking or other updates until I get back, but afterward there should be pics and hopefully stories.


We spotted an interesting oddity on the way back from spending the holiday with my family in SC, a piebald deer.  My understanding is that this is the result of recessive genes.  Unfortunately, this one was already dead.  It may have been shot and abandoned, but it might have been roadkill.  I've never been more than average squeamish about dead critters so I apologize if anyone viewing this is, but I figure somebody might want to check it out.  I don't have the knowledge but I wish someone like Charlie had been there to skin it out and tan the hide.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Sans Cervid.

I had high hopes for this morning.  John invited me back up for the opening day (yes, another one) of the short non-antlered season, or Doe Week as everyone called it.  On my other two visits I'd seen nice does, a couple of which would have almost been impossible to miss.  Alas, as the stockbrokers reluctantly inform us, past performance is no indication of future performance.

We heard a few deer talking to each other as we walked in just before 6 am.  When I turned on my amplifying headset after I slipped into the stand there was still a doe bleating somewhere behind me.  Its amazing how much they can occasionally sound like a soft little elk bugle when amped up.  

But that was it for deer activity.  The sun rose, the squirrels starting doing all their squirrel stuff, the cardinals were bouncing around, but nothing bigger appeared.  There is a full moon right now, I suspect they ate and socialized all night then bedded down for the day.  Not all though, we heard a few shots over the course of the morning.

Unconcerned with our failure.
 We called it quits about 9:30.  There were more pumpkin pancakes back at John's house and a PBR in my fridge at home.  Not a bad morning at all, but we won't be having fresh liver, onions, and bacon for dinner tonight.
Right before I left the stand, view unobstructed by deer.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Use-it-up Curry

I've got a history of making somewhat Indian-style-like curry using pretty much whatever I feel like throwing in.  The only thing these have in common is the use of some style of Patak's curry paste and some kind of milk product.  Almost any kind of meat or vegetable has been used over the years.  But not deer, until today.

Today's cooking adventure was an exercise in using up stuff in the fridge, the most important of which was the venison bits not used to make steak last night.  Basically, I sauteed a thin-sliced sweet onion in olive oil, tossed in the cubed venison, and added a large dollop of curry paste.

A few minutes later I stirred in some sour cream and whole mile (usually I use yogurt but I had the milk and sour cream), and some leftover frozen cubed hashbrowns I had in the freezer.

I let this simmer for a bit until the meat looked done, then put in a can of spinach and some broccoli left over from last night.  Oh yeah, and a couple glugs of Worcestershire sauce.
Should have called this Creamed Spinach Broccoli Curry.
Very hearty dish.  It could have used a bit more more curry paste but I was out.  Plenty left over for lunch though. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


OK, so far I only have a sample size of one deer (a muley doe), for which biological bilateral symmetry allows two tries at each major muscle cut.  Based on this introductory foray into venison I've got to say that here at Rancho Highlife we have a new favorite non-organ portion:  The Sirloin Tip (i.e. petite ham sens FC).  At least on this girl, that piece of hindquarter musculature was definitely  superior to the backstrap halves I have cooked so far.  I was clued into this when I used one of these cuts for a take on a classic recipe and had the portions fairly melt in our mouths.

I decided to thaw the other sirloin tip, cut nice steaks from the thickest part, and make bacon-wrapped medallions from them (the rest I've saved for tomorrow night's dish)
Bacon-wrapped, salted and peppered.
Here they are after a grillin':
Tender and delectable with sides of potato and broccoli.

Stay tuned for a more non-trad dish tomorrow.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Another Interlude

As I mentioned a few posts ago, I'm up for learning more about being an archer.  Other than reading about it, I haven't made much headway on that quest.  My woodworking friend who I discussed making a bow with is basically too busy with school and his upcoming second child, so I'm not banking on our grand bow making project, but it might still happen one day.  Just for a pastime thing to do, I'm trying to follow online instructions for making a simple board bow out of red oak I found at Home Depot.  I'm probably making a right cock-up of it since I don't really have the patience for woodwork, but its just something to play with. 
Poorly-shaped bow form.
Fortunately, I checked Ebay today and it seems older recurve bows aren't that difficult or expensive to come by.  I might get one after the holidays.  I probably need to start with something with a lower draw weight since those muscles on my person aren't exactly well exercised. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

An Evening With Deer.

John invited me to come up and sit in "the bunker" (as we call the stand carved into the side of the dirtpile) this evening, provided he was done with work early enough to go.  Of course, this morning one of his crew members didn't show up so that complicated matters, but it turns out he had an easy assignment so he still got back in time. 

Its amazing sometimes how busy a place the rural countryside actually is.  The stands are not more than 300 yards from a county road, and there is a sort of rush hour that goes on.  Random noises intrude from the distance in all directions.  Cows, dogs, roosters, saws, what have you.  The wind was blowing our way from the river, so the voices of some kind of crazy party was actually carrying all the way to us (its about a mile away, very unusual).  About when everything settled down John's wife's young cousin started target shooting with some kind of .22 on the property next door.  An annoyed text message took care of that.  Its amazing the deer can edit it all out.

Shortly after sunset I could hear a deer approaching from behind me (I can't see that direction because of the way the blind is made).  She must have detected me in some way, because she paused and barked (or whatever the proper term is) at me.  I've read that's basically a way to try to bluff something into moving, which I did not.  A few minutes later the doe and one of her girlfriends walked right in front of me.  They were close enough that I caught a few whiffs of their musty odor and could hear their teeth crunching.  Its still antlered deer season, so they were in no danger from me, but I have to admit that after a while I began using them for aiming practice with the safety on.

I probably shouldn't say this so I'm not jinxed into not seeing another deer all year, but they lingered to the point of being annoying.  I didn't want to climb out the stand while they could see me, and they were in no hurry to leave.  Finally at very last light they took off across the field and I was able to sneak back over to the shop where John was waiting.  He had seen nothing from his stand.

Two Saturdays from now is anterless season, if this luck holds up we'll have some meat to split up that day.

On another note, I've got an inspiration for two venison meals that I want to try really soon, I'm about to take the cut of Ms. Catalina that I have in mind out of the freezer to thaw. 

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Standing with numb toes.

Today I had the honor of joining the brother-and-sisterhood of those who get up way too early in the dark and the cold (it frosted today in North FLA!) , drive with half-open eyes to the countryside, and sit in a stand (or in my case a blind dug into the side of a dirt pile) to await the glorious coming of the dawn.  I also joined the sub-set of the above mentioned group who walk out of said stand hours later with numb toes and hope for the future, because no legal cervid presented itself for selection.  Not that I would ever complain, I loved every minute of it.  Watching the day form itself before my eyes is always a treat, especially so when no ticks, chiggers, mosquitoes, or other members of the phylum Arthropoda lining up to partake of my precious bodily fluids. 

My friend John, who's inlaw's land he and I were hunting, is still a dedicated bowhunter.  He was on a tree stand nearby.  I was out with Aunt Mary's .270.  I had on a pair of the headphones that cancel loud noises but amplify soft ones, so listing to the woods come alive was even more incredible.  I made good friends with a yearling squirrel who foraged around "the bunker".  About 8:30, well after sunrise, a good-sized doe nibbled around in plain view almost exactly 200 yards from me.  A .270 could do that, but its antlered deer season right now in FWC Hunting Zone C. 

We are a little too modern in some ways, as we were texting each other about the mornings developments.  Just when I asked if John was ready to call it a morning (it was damn cold for us acclimatized to FLA) he said a doe was headed to me.  And so she was, a little small but vectoring slightly to my right.  She ended up passing about 15-20 yards away, going into the overgrown hardwoods behind me.  The wind was blowing straight to me from her, and I could smell her musty odor for a few moments.  That will be a happy memory for a while.

Back at John's house, his wife Erin had made pumpkin pancakes and they hit the spot.  John gave me some fish they speared recently in the gulf (suppose that's where the arrow thing came from, huh?). 

On another note, today is what we consider to be our anniversary, 11 years now since the hubby and I met in real life (as opposed to online chat).  We are planning to take it easy today and celebrate it with a day trip to Cedar Key tomorrow, probably with a few stops along the way. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Killer Hike

Backpacker Magazine put an article from their October 2010 issue up on their website.  I mentioned it in an earlier post, entitled "Killer Hike" its about a guy who has more than passing similarities with me and my recent reintroduction to hunting.  Very good article.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Opening Day, And We Really Mean It This Time!

Like most places in the country, the term Opening Day isn't quite the big deal I imagine it must once have been.  Between public and private land, there have already been Opening Days for bow, crossbow, and muzzleloading season.  For many areas here, those methods of termination are now stacked, so with this new Opening Day for General Gun basically every legal means to kill a property-antlered native cervid is in play.

With almost accidental timing, a friend of mine has invited me to sit on a stand Saturday morning, the last Opening Day of the season (unless of course, you count the opening day of anterless deer season, but that's another story).  I feel no pressing urgency in this hunt, since we are only about half done with the Catalina doe and I'm likely coming back with another cooler of muley in December, but its kind of cool to think that for the first time in decades I'll be out in the field on Opening Day, waiting to see what wander up.  With some luck, maybe I will get to do that muley-whitetail culinary comparison I've wanted to try.

On other notes, I haven't really voiced it here but I've had a bit of prejudice about bow hunting.  Part of it was gut feeling, part due to the greater chance of wounding instead of killing the deer (I still idealistically aim to cause less suffering in my meat) and partly because aesthetically I think modern compound bows are about the ugliest things made by man (sorry, I just do).  I have been reconsidering this opinion though, as I know practice and preparation make all the difference and being skilled with a bow would open up a couple hunting opportunities in places I have access to but can't use a firearm in.

Fortunately, I have a good friend who is a very accomplished woodworker for his age who has a well-equipped workshop and connections to get about any kind of wood he wants.  After looking at some beautiful recurved bows online, I sent out some feelers about his desire to become a bowyer.  He replied that he'd often thought about it and felt sure he could make one, he has all the basic skills down.  So, with plenty of time to work on it before next season, in a couple of weeks are going to set to bowmaking and see what can be done, you'll be seeing pics.

I do a lot more in the woods than hunt (Contrary to the subject of this blog, I actually do just about everything more often in the woods than hunt) and I think that may be reflecting a lot more in my posts here.   I've been doing a lot of hiking lately for the Florida State Forest Trailwalker Program (I've almost achieved their rank of "Trailmaster" now).  Here are a few pics I took recently on a 13 mile day hike in the Green Swamp area:

Richloam Tract, Withlacoochee State Forest.  Prime Skunk Ape habitat!

Withlacoocheee River

Limestone outcrops in the Withlacoochee river.  Believe it or not, this would be a cool little rapid at higher water.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Aunt Mary's Rifle

Mary Estelle Murray was my mother's mother's sister, my great aunt, but I just knew her as Aunt Mary. She was an enormously influential force of my childhood. She was a retired school teacher, never married, who even into her late '70's grew an incredible vegetable garden while finding time for us two kids and still giving a lot of hours to her church and community.  She taught me to garden, and that really stuck.  We had to literally steal her ladder to prevent her, at 78, from going up onto her steep roof and raking leaves off.  With the hindsight of near middle age I recognize her as one of the best people I've ever known, and as a child her status with me was somewhere between Jesus and Buddha. I'm no longer religious, but if more of the self-righteous zealots that clog the airwaves and tubes were like her, I'd consider relapsing.

Now, if you are expecting a story of how she used the above-mentioned rifle ardently and provided us with game galore, you will be disappointed. She did provide, in spades, but the most violent thing I've ever seen her do was disjoint a chicken from the Piggly Wiggly or maybe dispatch a snake with her hoe.  Not saying she wasn't capable, as a child of a depression-era farm I'm sure she did everything there was to do on it. 

Anyhow, not long after I killed my deer on Catalina my daddy told me I could have the loan (on a more or less permanent basis) of a .270 rifle.  I was happy to hear this, since I planned to buy one anyhow and they ain't super cheap.  It was a little bit roundabout getting it (nothing serious, just typical family relations) but when I retrieved it from my brother's safe and took it back to show it to daddy, he told me a simple story.

When Aunt Mary was dying in 1992, daddy did a lot to help take care of her, essentially voluntarily taking over the duties power-of-attorney and other such legal issues while he made sure she got the best care possible.  She did, unfortunately, have to stay in a nursing home for a couple of months (she was incapacitated by a series of strokes) but thankfully that situation didn't last very long.  I couldn't bring myself to be in the room when she died, but Daddy was, and one of the few times I saw him cry was when it was over.

According to Daddy, by SC law the executor of an estate can charge a fee to that estate for the services.  Since we didn't have a deer rifle (we hunted with shotguns and dogs) daddy decided us kids might want one and that it was fair to charge the exact purchase price of a Savage 110 .270 with scope at the local Ace hardware (a modest purchase, actually).  I remember him bringing home the gun, and shooting at targets in the field behind the house.  To my teenage self it kicked like a mule and was loud as all Hell. 

Unfortunately, I guess the timing was bad, since I was losing interest in hunting and my brother was following in my dad's interest in dog hunting.  My dad also admitted that it just didn't fit him right so he never used it himself.  It had sat in a closet or a safe all these years, with probably less than a box of rounds going through it.  It has not yet killed a deer.

So now that rifle is effectively mine.  And I'm taking it to Catalina.  Hopefully, with Aunt Mary's blessing, to make its first kill.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Venisonoeuf Bourguignon

So, classic recipe, different ruminant.  As we say in our business this recipe "was performed in general accordance with" the version Julia Child put forth in my dog-chewed (Pasco was a puppy, he couldn't help it) edition of Mastering the Art of French Cooking (yes, I saw the movie, yes I loved it, but yes I was drunk at the time).  Like a scrotum here it is in a nutshell:

I used the petite ham, silverskin separated out (there wasn't that much) and roughly cubed into inch-ish square portions.  This was truly beautiful meat in texture, color, smell, I wanted to have some deer sashimi.
Half done

I tossed the cubes in a black peppered flour then browned them on each side in olive oil.  I took those out the pan and slightly browned some carrots and sliced onions.

When that was done I reintroduced the meat, then put in a can of beef consomme, a lot of red wine, a small can of tomato paste, sliced mushrooms, garlic, and thyme.

On a whim, I added some peas (they just seemed to belong) then we at it on a bed of mashed 'taters (gold variety). 
Old beagle approves, jealously.
This was the most tender and tasty cut so far, even better than the backstrap to us (haven't had the tenderloin yet though).  I'm thinking that I'm going to maybe make steaks out of the other one and grill them, see how that goes.

So, tickets are officially purchased for my next trip to Catalina in Dec., quite looking forward to it.  Also, two of my good friends from there are coming back to Gville soon, very looking forward to that.  Hope its good weather all around.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Venison Stroganoff (heh heh heh, you said stroganoff)

Sorry for the long hiatus, we got a little venisoned out and took a detour with other meatstuffs for a couple weeks.  I actually had a beef steak the other night, the first one that I've cooked since I shot this doe back in August.

The dish for the day is Venison Stroganoff (The pervy 14 yr old in me really wants to slip a masturbation joke in somewhere but the 39 yr old adult is threatening to pop him one if he does.  Oops, too late, look at the title!).  Since don't think I've ever had Stroganoff except for out of a box with an anthropomorphized cooking mitt on it, I was looking forward to it.  I chose the two eye of round sections that FC had deftly slipped from the doe's haunches weeks ago.  The recipe is very easy.  I sliced the eyes of round into about half-inch thick sections and sprinkled them with salt and black pepper.  I sauteed them in olive oil until golden.

About half done
I removed the meat to a bowl while I sauteed some mushrooms and onions in the remaining oil and some butter.  I also put the egg noodles on to cook as well.

Dirty stove is dirty.
After the mushrooms and onions had gotten to a nice point I stirred in a small can of beef consume, about 5-6 ounces of sour cream, and a good squirt of spicy mustard.  I let that all come to a simmer while I took the egg noodles off and drained them.  Mix everything all together in the pan, and call 'em to dinner.  As Paula would say "Yummy, Y'all!"

I was about a third through with my plate when the hubby reminded me I needed a pic of the blog.  So here is my less-than-artfully rearranged plate in front of part of my trophy wall of refrigerator magnets.  I've gotten one from every significant place I've gone for the last few years now.

Catalina is along the top row, second from right.
In other news, plans are finalizing for a second hunting trip to Catalina this year, my cousin George is very keen on going, and I have one more deer tag to fill (I saved it on purpose, because I was fairly sure George and I would return).  I'm bringing my own rifle out this time, which is a story for a near-future update.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Just Some Ramblings...

(Note from the end of 2013:  I'm pretty sure I wrote this after several beers, back when I was trying to get my thoughts all in a row about hunting.  It's a little bit cringe-worthy to re-read, but I'm leaving it up here because it really is a trail marker in my evolution on the subject.   And besides, I still basically agree with most of it)

I've been reading a lot of writings about deer hunting lately.  Things that have surfaced:

1.  I could give a shit less about bagging a giant buck in rut and/or the antler obsession that seems to permeate the subject.  It is like that saying about beauty magazines, don't read those articles cause it will just make you feel ugly.

2.  I'm ashamed that I've never paid more attention to deer behavior.  For all the times I've walked in on them, I should have noticed more.  I'm a lot more informed now, and hope to actually take the time to carefully walk in on them and observe more behaviors through the year.

3.  I am incredibly aware that it is a thinking animal that I'm aiming for, but I also want to have some fun hunting, mostly seeing great places.

4.  There is a lot of stuff I'm not sure about hunting public land yet, including the etiquette of scouting a stand, but I'd like to learn. 

On the other hand, I have much less charitable feelings about pigs.  I'm looking forward to the "small game season" when you can walk though several of the state forests with a shotgun full of 00 shot looking for hogs.  I hope to go down to Goethe or Myakka and kill one of the damn things.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Its A Crock..

..Pot.  Yesterday morn I put a grand ham (which I believe is the glute of the cervid) into my trusty crock pot and surrounded it in a nest of carrots, onions, mushrooms, and garlic, few glugs of red wine, and water enough for cooking.  I put it on "low" at about 8 am.

Pre-party in the crock.
 As crock pots do, it bubbled away all day and when I arrived back at the crib around 5:30 chemistry had done its job the house was filled with the loving aroma of meat.  I prepared some steamed rice and roasted parsnips to go along with the crock contents.  Right before our neighbors arrived for dinner I took the meat out of the pot and shredded it with a fork, not a difficult task at all.  I left most of the liquid with the vegetables but removed some of it to a pan where I reduced it somewhat and added some butter, cream, and flour to make a sauce for the shredded venison.

I have to apologize to you, faithful readers (whoever you might be), for I have failed you.  I intended to have the very finest of grainy, poorly-lit iPhone photos to show off the spread spread, but alas in the heat of laying it out and serving it to our neighbors I totally forgot to capture any.  Here's a pic of the immediate aftermath, as you can see from the absence of the majority of the foodstuffs it was well received:

I'm looking forward to the upcoming muzzleloading season at the end of October, my friend and coworker is going to let me hunt on a small piece of land his in-laws own.  I might try some public land as well, since I have the permits for it.  I have to sight the rifle in first, that should also be fun. 

Between then and now, I'll be up in South Carolina for a few days visiting family and friends.  It will be middle of general gun season there, but I don't plan to be hunting (out of state license and all).  My brother is hugely into dog hunting of the kind where they drive deer out to standers with shotguns, the kind of hunting I grew up with.  His dogs all have radio tracking collars, and for all I know GPS by now (he was talking about it last I saw him). 

My dog Pasco, even though he's been raised as a house dog, is genetically the epitome of the type of hound they often use in that kind of hunting, long-legged and fast, with his nose held high to catch the sent rubbed off the deer's metatarsal glands onto vegetation, not the the hoof print itself.  I've seen blue-ribbon winning hounds in glossy magazine that don't look as good as he did in his heyday.  Blue-ribbon hounds from a kennel right down the road from where I adopted him, that look like they could be his litter mates.  I have an unsubstantiated theory as to how he ended up in that fairly high-end dog shelter where I found him as a three month old puppy, it has to do with a sort of birth defect that gave him a tongue that has a weird fold in it.  Its as though it had been cut and never healed until you inspect it and realized that's not the case, but such a defect would have been a flaw for a judge. 

Alas, he missed his genetic calling, but he's grown used to his life of luxury as an insanely spoiled couch potato interspersed with occasional bouts of frantic dog park activity.

Does he dream of deer?