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, 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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Turkey Ham

Often when I make turkey ham the first question I get is…why? Why make a ham out of a turkey breast? Answer, because I want to enjoy a moist turkey breast. Let’s be honest, a traditional bake on a wild turkey is seldom satisfying. With this ham I can slice thin for sandwiches, thicker for breakfasts or even cube for soup. It is far more versatile than a traditional roasted turkey breast.

To be clear “ham” is not a thing but a process, ie to make a “ham” pig is not necessary. Ham either a wet cured or a dry cured meat. For this recipe I am wet curing a wild turkey breast. Technically you could dry cure a wild turkey but I have never done so (time to experiment).

The reason wet curing works is because of the diffusion process we all learned about in 8th grade science. Basically the salty water in the brine mix wants to diffuse (make even) the amount of salt it has with the lack of salt in the meat. The meat absorbs salt water and the salt water becomes less salty. This process has been used as long as man has been around to keep meat from rotting. Salt is an antimicrobial and a wonderful preservative. Salt is the only rock we need to stay alive.

Humans are actually hard wired to like salt. In fact so are most animals. That is why animals will often congregate in areas with high mineral contents and why salt licks are banned in many hunting areas. (Salt is the only rock animals need to stay alive, ironically it also keeps dead things edible longer)

There are also many different types of salt. Some are specifically used for curing meat. I use insta-cure #1 for almost everything. Why? It is a bacterial growth inhibitor. Specifically it stops botulism. Mmmm, botulism. Now this is important because some bugs actually thrive in nasty environments like salt brines, insta-cure kills most of them. It also gives meat that cool pink color. While you can skip the insta-cure #1 in most recipes I do not recommend it, you are putting yourself at risk. Plus the meat looks drab and grey without the cure.

Insta Cure #1 contains salt and sodium nitrite, NOT nitrate. So, I guess don’t freak out that you are going to get cancer when you use it. However, the bad rap for nitrate is akin to the bad rap on MSG. Both have been totally overblown and the tests were run with dose amounts that would be like freebasing with Jerry Garcia. And with a gratuitous Grateful Dead reference we move on to the recipe.

Turkey Ham

2 quarts hot water
½ cup salt
½ cup white sugar
½ cup brown sugar (or honey)
1 tablespoon insta-cure #1
¼ cup “aromatics”

2 ea turkey breasts (breast meat from one whole bird)

Add the hot water to a large container able to hold the turkey breast meat and the liquid. Next stir in the salt, sugar, brown sugar and insta-cure #1. All the solid particles should diffuse into the water. Next add the “aromatics” of your choice. This can be anything really. Orange zest, juniper berries, pickling spices. Really whatever you want to impart additional flavors into the ham with. Careful, but have fun.

Next add the turkey meat. It is best if the water is not scolding hot when the meat goes in. Let the meat soak for a week in the refrigerator. Make sure that all the meat is submerged.

After a week remove the turkey from the brine. Pat the turkey dry and let rest on the counter until room temperature. Then smoke the turkey for 4 hours or until it reaches 155 degrees. If you are not a smoked ham fan simply bake the ham at 375 degrees until 155 degrees at the thickest section. This is very important, the ham will “carry over” to 165 degrees and 165 is necessary for a “kill step” with bacteria.

See this recipe for more information on carryover cooking.

When cooked let the ham rest 30 minutes before cutting into it. This will help retain the moisture.

Eat and enjoy. The ham will last over a week in the fridge and indefinitely in the freezer.

Categories: Birds, Not Waterfowl, Recipes | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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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Turkey Wings

If you are like me a turkey is a big prize. I have shot roughly triple the number of mule deer than turkeys in my life. So I like to make the most of the meat when I get it.

Frequently recipes for wild birds are all about the breast meat. Sure, that’s it the bulk of the score but other bits can inspire interesting dishes – think wings, drumsticks, liver and heart.

Unfortunately, with most wild birds, the wings often get trimmed off at the shoulder and tossed. This is a shame, especially if you can collect a few. They make an impressive party snack, like pterodactyl wings with BBQ sauce. Trukey Drumsticks

Sticky Turkey Wings

Sticky Sauce

½ cup green onions

¼ cup honey

2 Tablespoons soy sauce

2 Tablespoons black bean paste

2 Tablespoons siracha

1 Tablespoon fresh ginger, grated

Combine all of the above ingredients in a small bowl. Reserve.


2 each turkey wings, cut at the elbow joint

Sticky Sauce

2 cups water, or more

Toss the wings in the sauce and add them to a crock pot. Pour on remaining sauce. Add enough water to almost cover the wings. In my crock pot this is about 2 cups, yours might be different. Turn crock onto “low” and cover. Let cook for about 6-8 hours. I did mine overnight getting up to check on them at about 3am.

Depending on your crock pot your water level will need adjusted. Also, the black bean sauce will make the reduced sauce look burned. It is not, usually.

When the wings are fall off the bone tender turn off the heat, let cool for an hour and then refrigerate overnight if you can. This extra time allows the flavors to more fully develop in the wings.

Re-heat tightly covered in the microwave make sure to use the sauce that is left in the pan. Garnish with green onions and enjoy!

Categories: Birds, Not Waterfowl, Recipes | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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 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!)

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 and book early.

Q: Tell me about

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.

Categories: Blog | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

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