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.