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Rattlesnake Round-Up

On the long list of dumb things I have done in my life I often count my adventures rattlesnake hunting.

Most days don’t start off snake hunting, they just develop into it. This past year I only nabbed one snake and it was at the prompting of my sons. When I was younger however my snake hunting escapades were much more involved.

While out whistle pig hunting one day in the 90’s I encountered a rock bluff south of Boise that looked like it would give me ample elevation for shooting. My buddy Ryan and I gathered our 10/.22’s and headed out across the sage and hills. When we arrived took a seat, cracked a beer and began to look around. I then heard the rattle sound off next to me. On my right was a snake, not big but big enough.

I jumped up – not so much scared but not wanting to get bit either. Looking around I found a rock and a stick; both critical in a snake hunters arsenal. Sure I had a gun but I had no intention of firing a .22 bullet square into lava rock. Quickly I smashed the snake with the rock as close to his head as I could manage. This does double duty on snakes when hunting them. First it breaks there back, normally and this limits how far they can strike. Second hitting them with a rock most often causes them to run and not hold their ground. A snake on the run is much less dangerous than a snake on the defensive in a tight coil. I have never had a snake strike at me after I it with a rock – sounds odd but it seems to work for me.

With the snake on the run I used the stick to pin it to the ground right behind the head. With one quick motion I pulled out my pocket knife and severed the snakes head. I hooted a little and my buddy Ryan gave a quick mocking round of applause. I buried the snake head under a large rock to prevent it from causing harm to others in the future, legend says rattlesnake heads can hold there poison for months on end.

I won. BBQ at my house...

I won. BBQ at my house…

Often in the spring when you encounter one snake others are nearby as well. I have run across several dens of snakes in my adventures – and this was a particularly nasty type. (I found a 30 pound ball of garter snakes under a stump one spring, one of my boys still talks about it) Knowing snakes den up I began looking for more snakes, a.k.a trouble.Stratleing a small gully at one point Ryan pointed out that I had two snakes directly below me. Curled on themselves unaware that I was about to be hunting them. One of the snakes began to rattle, I smacked it with a rock. The other snake began to crawl off, I grabbed it by the tail and tossed it out of the rocks and into a sage brush.

With some of the best Wild West shooting I have ever seen Ryan proceeded to head shoot a moving rattler, still in the sagebrush, with one shot. Best part – we were hunting that day in Teva sandals, cut off blue jeans and no shirts. The other snake, now trying to escape, received a stick to his head and a quick cut on the neck. Three snakes down, a good day snake hunting.

Some years I get lucky and my truck tires do most of the work for me on rattler-snakes, I aim for the head. I have cast a bass gig into a crack in the rocks and hooked a rattlesnake before, he was a fine campfire meal. One especially stupid day gathering morel mushrooms in Riggins Idaho I watched a local redneck PULL, I shit you not, the rattle off a snake with one hand while distracting it with his other hand. Unreal. Stupid. Perfect stories for the grand-kids.

Luckily I have managed to get this far in my life without being bitten by a snake, but it is still questionable that I should have passed on my genetics. The jury is out, hopefully my boys take after their mother. To this day when I go out in the desert I wear long pants and boots. I have done burned up my snake killing karma in stupid gear.

How to Cook a Snake

Ok, so now the snake it dead. Just what the hell do you do with it? Start off my skinning a gutting the thing immediately! Why? Snakes piss when they die, that pee will get on everything that you own in a short manner of moments and the smell will never come out. Ok, maybe I am exaggerating but snake pee stinks. Do yourself a favor and get it off the meat promptly.

Next, if you can, cool it down. Like any other meat heat is your enemy. On particularly hot days fishing I will soak the meat in a section of moving river water to cool it down. After the meat is cool store it somewhere out of the sunlight and cool. The shade of a tree or in a water proof bag in a river or stream.

To cook the snake I often employ the sausage rope method. With a few sticks I will roll the snake up into a tight concentric coil, see picture, and then skewer the meat into one big wheel. Why? It find this keeps the meat moister than not. Snakes do not have a huge amount of meat on them in the first place so I want to enjoy what I do get.

I have cut the snakes into one inch sections as well. These I often serve in a Thai style curry soup with sticky rice. Recipes for grilled snake coil and soup are below.

The Idiots Guide to Killing a Snake

No. 1: When I hear the rattling, I back away from the snake and find a big rock and a long, sturdy stick.

No. 2: I use the rock to crush the snake as close to its head as possible. This will break its back and shorten the distance that it will be able to strike at me.

No. 3: I use the stick to pin the snake down and then step on the snake right at the base of its head. I never leave any room behind the head or the snake will try to strike me.

No. 4: I cut off the snake’s head.

No. 5: I bury the head.

No. 6: I put the snake in a bag, put the bag in my pack and think about how glad I am to be taking something home for dinner.

Idaho does not have a season for snakes. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game lets a person take up to four rattlesnakes per day with no more than five in his or her possession.

Snake Fried Rice

Yeah, that’s right, snakes and rice. This recipe came out of a trip to Taiwan a few years back. I ate snake in a market after a few to many beers with the Consulate. It was served in a ricey-broth that was packed with ginger, mint and cilantro. It was amazing.

I can’t seem to ever get the broth right but I have managed to make a mean fried rice interpretation.

The Rice

½ cup dried white rice

1 cup water

Add rice and water to a small sauce pan. Heat until boiling then turn to a simmer and cover. Let simmer for 10-15 minutes until the rice is cooked. Remove from heat, let stand. DO NOT STIR.

The Flavors

 2 tablespoons cooking oil (I love using bear fat, but canola or sesame oil will work)

1 ea rattle snake cut into 1 inch sections (or 10oz chicken for the weak hearted)

3 tablespoons fine diced ham

1 tablespoon fresh ginger

1 clove garlic

1 egg

½ cup sliced cabbage

¼ cup shredded carrot

1 cup cooked rice

1 tablespoon siracha

1.5 tablespoons soy sauce

 

¼ cup packed cilantro and mint leaves (50/50 of each)

2 tablespoons sliced green onions

A non-stick pan works best for this dish. Heat a medium sized sauté pan or wok if you have it, on medium. Add the oil and brown the snake sections. Remove snake from pan. Add the diced ham and brown. Next add the ginger and garlic, brown lightly. Slide all the goodies in the pan to one side and crack the egg into the pan and pop the yolk. Let the egg cook until almost set then scramble it with the other ingredients. Next add the cabbage, carrots and cooked rice. Toss all the ingredients together. Let the rice start to brown a little while cooking, about 3-5 minutes. Don’t stir very often.

Add the siracha and then gently pour in the soy sauce covering as much rice as possible. Add the snake back to the pan, and then add the cilantro, mint and green onions.

Toss all together and serve hot. (Note: the lack of salt and pepper, while I normally recommend their addition to most meals the soy sauce and siracha more than compensate)

 

Categories: Blog, Recipes, Small Game | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

How Not to Catch Surf Perch

I knew, somewhere in my mind, that I really should not be fishing right now. The wind was blowing the snow into drifts, then the drifts were being covered with sand and then snow, sand, snow. Creating this mesmerizing layer cake pattern as I punched holes into the drifts with my hip-wader boots. The slowly receding tide was freezing as it rolled out, the breaking ice caused crunching noises as I walked. But, I do not make it to the coast often, so I needed to take advantage of this surf perch fishing opportunity.

Why? Because I have never caught one. Like ever. Seriously, never. Embarrassing, right?Bait/Dinner

This boney little fish has become my nemesis in the Pacific Ocean. I wish it was a white whale, or a blue marlin or even a sail fish in Cabo San Lucas. But no, it’s a perch…but it’s not for a lack of trying.

Frankly, I am at a loss at why I cannot seem to land this bluegill of the sea. I watch people catch five gallon buckets full, tossing out little hunks of clam and sand shrimp that look no different from my bait. Fishing is one of my strong points as an outdoorsman; I know when to set the hook.

I have fished for surf perch during low tide, high tide, slack tide, hot weather, snow storms and rain storms. The one saving grace about my perch deficit is that I It seems that I can catch everything but surf perch. To date I have caught off the coast of Central Oregon and Northern California the following species – bream, grouper, mackerel, rockfish (like 10 types), lingcod, Dungeness crab, red crab, greenling and one ugly SOB I could not identify so I tossed it back.

Almost all of these species are great eating. The only one that is questionable is mackerel, this is a fishy-fish. Some say that all mackerel is good for is cat food. I disagree; it also makes wonderful bait and exceptional sushi.

Over the years of not catching surf perch I have come up with a 3 golden rules, if I follow these rules (I nearly compulsively do) I can almost guarantee myself a deficit of surf perch.

Rule #1 – Fish Near the Rocks

Being an inland fisherman I have a habit of looking for structure when I fish. The idea of simply casting off the sand out into the surf is hard for me to swallow. I assume that fish want something to hide behind or near or whatever. Just like my lake fish and river trout.

But, as I have learned, surf perch have no fascination with this structure. They instead live in that little trough that is formed by the waves digging a small hole in the sandy bottom. This trough stirs up all sorts of critters and sends them floating into the deep blue sea. The surf perch eat the little crabs and clams that the ocean stirs up. For a fisherman then the goal, or so I am told, is to cast a hunk of meat into the trough and hope that a perch strikes.

If you want to pretend to be perch fishing than you should fish near rock out cropping’s or off jetties. What I do is cast out into the surf, simply guessing where the trough is, and with every intention that a surf perch will bite. Then I slowly retrieve my line towards the rocks. I feel more comfortable this way, even if it is totally wrong. Fishing this way and will almost certainly land you something other than a perch.

Rule #2 – Don’t Poke Pole

In a fit of boredom during low tide I started dropping my bait into deep looking holes in the Newport Jetty. Craziest part…I caught a bunch of fish. Only later did I find out that this is a honest to goodness technique, a less refined version at least, of “poke-polling”. The basics of this fishing method are simple – shove bait into the face of an otherwise unbothered fish. The real key to success is constant movement and hole selection. Basically if something doesn’t bite in the first few seconds switch locations. Just keep bumping down the jetty or rocks looking for a fish to bite. One morning I caught 7 in under an hour. I tossed all but one back but it was a great way to kill a little time wishing a perch would bite.

For better success only drop the bait into deep holes, specifically ones where the bottom cannot be seen. As far as set up is concerned I use the typical surf perch rig, drop shot with two hooks coming off the main line. I use clam, squid, shrimp or artificial night crawler. At the Newport Jetty the most common species caught poke polling will be greenling. I hear that along the coast of northern California you catch monkey faced eels. Not bad options when the Surf Perch refuse to bite.

Rule #3 – Don’t Judge the Man Fishing a Bobber

Look, bobbers and jigs work. Just not on surf perch. What I do is set up a ½ ounce head on one of those big red bobbers from Kmart, maybe about 4 feet of line between the two. Then I’ll cast along the rocks and slowly retrieve. I have nailed the heck out of some rockfish this way before. I have never heard of a surf perch caught in this fashion.

A bobber and a sabiki rig (one of those multiple hook jig contraptions) cast into the surf is a total and complete loss. Never ever do that – you end up with a ball of string and hooks. I have caught a whole bunch of bream with a sabiki and a bobber along the rocks, however.

How to Cook Bait

Some days you win big fishing, some days you do not. This recipe is for a day when you are forced to eat what most others call bait. It’s not halibut, salmon or lingcod – but this recipe will give you crispy skinned fish with great garlic and mustard flavors.

The Bait

8 ea small “Bream” or other bait fish, cleaned and descaled

¼ cup canola oil

1 cup flour

1 tablespoon mustard seed powder

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon black pepper, ground

1 tablespoon garlic powderGreens and Fish

In a medium sized cast iron skillet (they hold heat better, but are not absolutely critical) add the oil and turn to “medium” heat. The goal is to get to about 350 degrees. Turn on the oven to “warm” or the lowest setting possible.

To check the temperature of the oil on the stove simply drop small clumps of batter into the oil filled pan. When the batter bubbles quickly and then floats the oil is close to the correct temperature. If the small scrap of batter browns or burns quickly than the oil is too hot.

Combine flour and all spices in a bowl. Wet the fish slightly and then dredge in flour. Wet again and re-dredge. This double batter will stick better than a single layer. Double batter all fish and reserve on a slightly flowered cookie sheet.

Fry the fish for 3-4 minutes on each side, or until the fish turns golden brown and delicious (GB&D). Transfer the cooked fish onto paper towel lined cookie sheet in the warmed oven.

The Green Stuff

To compensate for the fried food I always like a little sautéed super-food as accompaniment. Oh, and mustard greens taste great too.

1 tablespoon butter

1# Mustard Greens

4 cloves Garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon Sriracha

Salt and Pepper

In a medium sauté pan add the butter melt on medium heat. Next add the mustard greens and garlic cloves. Cook 2-3 minutes until wilted and tender. Taste – if to bitter add the sugar. If it has no flavor then add the Sriracha. Mustard greens vary from field to field and day to day on the spiciness level. Either way, season with salt and pepper.

Serve the greens over the top of the fried fish.

Categories: Blog, Fish, Recipes, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Foraging

My world has changed. Most of my outdoor life has been with a gun, bow or fishing pole in my hand. I can remember being allowed to go pheasant hunting, alone, before I was 10. Hunting has always been a part of my life.

I always knew there was another side in the Hunter+Gatherer equation, a side I was missing. But I had never taken the time to learn how to properly forage. Sure I would pick blackberries. I definitely scoured burns for some morel mushrooms in the spring. But actually foraging, taking the time to view the plants under my feet, has never been on the top of my list.

But I like to learn, to stretch myself, and gain more skills as the years pass on. I find ways to learn things either form books, the internet or (preferably) from people. My new skill, my focus for years to come, is foraging.

Luckily I have found a trifecta mentor in Hank Shaw. His first book Hunter, Gather, Cook is a primer for all things wild. From his book I learned about sea peas, and those ornamental plums that are in my suburban neighborhood. Hank has his James Beard Award winning website as well www.honest-food.net, frequently I gather information on various “how to” gathering and cooking projects. But I have also had the pleasure of getting to forage with Hank.

Recently Hank and I stopped on a seemingly inconspicuous beach in Northern California. Immediately Hank was pointing out wild edibles. The curly dock, the sorrel, cow parsnip, the California bay, the New Zeeland Spinach were all new plants to me. Sure, I had seen many of them before but I did not know their names and would have never eaten them.

As Hank showed me each plant I would pick a section and taste it. Some tasted good; others made me want to gag. This prompted Hank to tell me “Foraging with chefs is like foraging with babies, all you chefs want to do is stick things in your mouth.” Valuable lesson, just because things are edible, they do not always taste good unprocessed.

We left the beach and proceeded into the hills of Northern California. We scoured the duff for mushrooms before hitting the mother lode, about 10 pounds of March “fall” porcinis. Unreal sized mushrooms with unforgettable flavor. Hank was flushing with glee. I struggled to share the same level of enthusiasm about mushrooms. It was only later that I realized just how special what we had just found was. It was like catching a steelhead on the first cast, it just never happens and when it does you count your blessings and go.

Upon returning to Idaho I began to see the newly sprouting greens around me differently. No longer was I just admiring the green coming back, I was admiring the variety of food all around me. I spotted wild mint growing on the hill next to my work. I gathered curly dock and dandelions from a park along the Boise River. I picked a patch of nettles by the canal near my house. I found salsify on the ignored side of my backyard fence. Lambs quarter in the rose beds, beggar’s purse in the garden.

Later that spring I furthered my skills with Darcy Williamson, from Mavens Haven in McCall Idaho. We teamed up for a foraging and cooking weekend. The deal was I would cook for the group, providing wild game meat from my larder, and we would all gather dinner together.

With Darcy I learned a TON about foraged food in my native Idaho. Plants that I have ignored for years – the flowers with edible bulbs, the wild garlic, the miners lettuce, the fiddlehead ferns and many others – became part of the menu. A menu we cooked on a ridgeline overlooking the Salmon and Snake Rivers.

With Darcy I hiked the elk woods near Riggins with my head looking down for morels, not up for game. It was an odd feeling, my focus so shifted. I was no longer looking out for the “big” score like an elk or a deer, but I was looking for multiple little scores. Each mushroom gave me a temporary moment of happiness, not as large as an elk or a deer but still a very real bump. I felt revitalized with each mushroom I found, every bulb I dug was a present from Mother Earth.

As amazing as foraging was I still found myself looking for game. Turkey season was still open when I went foraging with Darcy, but I purposefully left my gun at home. I had a sinking feeling just bringing access to the ability to hunt would distract me from my true mission – learning edible plants. But anytime I leave my gun behind game presents itself. So, of course, we saw a gobbler not 30 feet off the road while foraging. I smiled, knowing that if I would have brought my gun we could have had turkey for dinner. Instead, I found dinner growing out of the side of a spring, under a fallen pine and buried deep below a flowering bulb. I know what I foraged tasted just as good as any wild turkey.

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Milestone of a Young Hunter

A little Jake came into view about 100 yards away. He briskly walked the barbed wire fence line towards our set up, but he was way out of range. I nudged the young man asleep on the ground next to me. Noah is nearly 12, he stands 5’9” tall and weighs in at about 135 pounds. He is my man sized child, but he really is just a kid, and I have to remind myself of that. My kid and I am one proud papa.

He awoke with a startled look on his face, like he was shocked to be asleep at all. I told him I saw a turkey and pointed. With a somber and determined face he slowly sat up, putting his back to a tree and grabbed his gun. With a nod I started calling, my box call resonating down the valley.

The Jake kept moving, like something had disturbed him, then another turkey, a large Tom, appeared from the tree line. This bird was nearly running after the little Jake. I gave him a few clucks from the old box call. His head snapped up and I watched as his attention turned to the decoy I had set 10 yards in front of us.

The bird ran up the hill, stopping with a good view of the hen at about 45 yards and began his gobbler dance. He strutted and gobbled, then strutted some more. He slowly snaked his way toward the decoy.

Noah and I had set ourselves up on a fence line tree grove. We had seen the birds congregate in this area many times and knew there patterns from the year prior. The bird closed the distance quickly, not playing out the call and dance routine. As the Tom closed the distance he stayed right on the fence line, downhill from us.

The birds head disappeared behind a small tree and I whispered for Noah to raise his gun. Then the bird stopped, I am certain that he heard us. The old Tom deflated his body, feathers falling and head now looking at the trees, not at the decoy. He took a few more cautious steps in our direction.

Unfortunately, I had chosen a poor set up tactic. I was on the downhill side of Noah. For him to shoot he would have to do a half cross over my body. That is just a bad idea.

We both froze, the toms red head bobbing up and down trying to figure out just what these odd looking trees were. His head went behind another tree, Noah swung his gun at the bird.

The first bird.

The first bird.

I whispered for him to shoot. He said “No, you are to close.”

As low as I could mutter – my lips barley moving and my heart pounding more than if I held the gun – I told Noah to shoot as soon as I moved. I slowly placed my hands on the dirt beside me. The Tom noticed and started back down the hill. With as much mojo as I could muster I pushed myself backwards and prone. Out of the way of the muzzle blast…and out of the shot picture for Noah.

BANG! I moved and he shot. Perfect.

The bird fell, did the dead turkey flop and settled at the bottom of the hill. We grabbed our gear and make quick work of the evisceration. We high fived, we hugged…I nearly cried. He asked when deer season started. My heart filled.

Noah had done everything right on his first turkey. He didn’t shoot when it wasn’t as safe. He waited until the bird was within range. He gutted the animal quickly, thanking it for its life and accepting the meat that it would provide. He hauled the bird out on his own. He even decided what we should make out of its breast meat, cured turkey “ham”. (Recipe will be posted soon)

Maybe I am waxing philosophically about this milestone in this young outdoorsman’s life, but I truly hope it was formative. Those two minutes of turkey hunting will be burned into his mind forever. I know my first bird is still – 22 years later – very vivid.

He is a good kid and if he keeps it up he will be a great man. I love you Noah.

 

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Jesse Morris – A Killer Chef

Every now and then you meet a kindred spirit in the world. Jesse Morris is a hunter, chef, duck hunting guide and owner of Killerchefs.com. I was fortunate enough to meet Jesse a few months back in Texas at Smoke, an incredible BBQ restaurant. We talked guns, hogs, ducks, dogs, children and food – the good stuff in life. I recently caught up with Jesse for an interview – check out my conversation with this Killer Chef below. (Come back soon for a guest recipe from Jesse!)

KIllerchefs.com

KIllerchefs.com

Q: Season is over – how’d it go?

A: We had a great season! I started off in northern Alberta hunting Canada geese and ducks in early September and ended our season in Texas jumped on the highway and headed north to Oklahoma to finish my waterfowl season chasing geese with the rest of the duks-r-us crew.

Q: So, what is your favorite duck to hunt? What’s your favorite duck to eat?

A: I’m not a picky guy. I love getting mallards in the spread but I think different species all have their challenges and I enjoy trying to figure out what’s going to make them commit.

A good speck belly is hard to beat when you’re going to eat them (not your question but I have some waiting for me to clean and I’m excited about that)

Q: What is your favorite section of the duck – innards, the quack, breast meat?

A: It is good to use as much of the animal as you can but the breast meat is you prime cut but  I am working more and more with leg and thigh meat. That’s good for me cause that’s about all I can get when clients just want the breast.

Q: Tell me about the hound…

A: Cash is my four year old lab he is tall, lean and muscular. He has better eyes than me, and has a heart full of fire.

Q: So you guide? Where and how to we get set up on a hunt?

A: Get on www.Duks-r-us.com and book early.

Q: Tell me about Killerchefs.com?

A: I grew up on a old dirt road in Oklahoma I had as much space to run, hunt and fish as I wanted. I learned the value of an animal’s life for food and my mother was always a good cook. Killerchefs came about when I had children and decided that nights and weekends weren’t conducive to a great home life. So I took the hit and changed professions but still wanted to continue cooking. What better way to do that but to mix the outdoors and my love for food, travel and photography.

Q: I remember you saying that you have a heck of a good time in Canada on the snow geese, something about cheese wiz and Quakers…what was that story again?

A: The folks in Canada love some cheese wiz. They had pallets of it at the stores. The guides would eat it for every meal. Guess there wasn’t much of a story there.

Q: Quick cooking tip for the hunter?

A: Take care of the game when you shoot it. Make sure and get the core temperature down as quick as possible. To ensure you have the best game flavor you can get put the work in the beginning so it’s easy by the time you get to the iron.

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