Wild Turkey Salad Time

IMG_2411Drew and I plodded on in search of his first turkey, headlamps showed the trail ahead. The land we hiked toward was public, but entirely surrounded by private property. To circumvent any trespassing violations we had to stay below the “high water mark” alongside the river. A boot width wide the trail was our rout. Over scrub, under trees and through soft dirt (that threatened to drop us into the river below) we hiked opening morning of turkey season.

As the skyline started to turn blue we could see shadows in the trees across the river. The black forms of roosted turkeys, not yet stirring, became clear in the early morning. “Watch this” I whispered, taking cover in behind some sage. I got out my trusted box call and gave a few halfhearted clucks. A gobbler sounded off across the river, then another, then another. Through our binoculars we watched four toms get puffed up and sound off, using there thick deciduous tree limbs as de-facto dancing poles.

It is this call-and-respond that hooks so many turkey hunters, me included. One cluck was all I had to let out to get the gobblers talking and strutting at some unknown hen in the distance. But between us was a river, one they have never crossed for me. We watched, hopeful that a gobbler would cross over when they left the roost. To no avail. The trees cleared and the birds were on solidly un-huntable private property.

So on we walked down the river. Eventually landing on the BLM happy hunting ground. The area is low country river bottom – sage in the surrounding hills with a few scattered areas of timber along the edge of the river. The birds roost in the timber patches night after night and feed on the fresh green hills during the day. Keeping hidden in the area was the biggest issue, a lack of thick cover meant stillness and camouflage was an imperative.

In the distance, and most importantly on our side of the river, Drew heard a faint gobble. We advanced a few hundred yards, almost to the first patch of timber. I stuck a hen decoy in the trail and started calling. Soon we heard the sound off of an eager tom. Then another. Two birds if we were lucky – one for each of us. We tucked ourselves next to a cliff, behind a wall of sagebrush and waited.

Unfortunately, it was a blind corner and the birds would not commit. They were more than willing to talk but they pulled the classic turkey “hang up” move. Luckily the terrain was in our favor. Drew and I backed out climbed up the dirt embankment onto a plateau of sage behind us. Using the terrain to our advantage and crawling a lot we circled around the backside of the birds, finding a open area in the sage to place the decoy. Again we tucked in behind some sage and called.

The response was instant. Birds – and not far off. Annoyingly, the gobblers were basically in the position we had just left. I have a hard time waiting on hung up birds, so I tend to move more than I should. My lack of patience in the turkey woods has gotten the best of me several times. Ill often find myself calling to birds that are probably standing on my last hiding place. Or the birds will bust me moving from one location to another. Basically, patience is not my virtue.

From our set up I could see the head of a tom rise over the ridgeline at about 50 yards. Bright red and walking quick he let off a gobble. Then he caught sight of my decoy and almost instantly became a puff ball of feathers. Up went his fan and out went his feathers as he did the cha-cha closer and closer to our decoy. I would calmly purr as he closed in, then he would send off a thunderous gobble.

At thirty yards I whispered to Drew “Shoot him.”

After a long pause Drew whispered back “I can’t see him.”

A quick dart of my eyes (I dare not move my head) and I caught sight of Drew in his cover. It was so thick that it formed a wall around us. I had set myself up to have a view of the decoy. In his haste to get in position Drew was behind way to much cover to get a shot off.

The bird was now closing in fast. 20 yards, stop and strut. “Shoot” I would whisper. Waiting for the bird to turn a circle I raised my gun. 10 yards I could see the bird blink now. “Shoot him!” I would mouth. My heart at this point was making so much noise I was fairly certain it was going to give away our location. Much closer and I was going to shoot. Nine yards, I started to control my breathing. Eight yards, I took the safety off my gun.

Finally the bird walked into a window in Drew’s cover, only to be standing directly behind my decoy. “I don’t want to shoot your decoy…” he said. “I don’t care!” I fired back. I watched the resolve come across Drew’s face. That steely gaze hunters get right before they pull the trigger is unmistakable. At seven yards the bird turned, giving us a rear-end view of his fan, and Drew raised his gun. Then he leaned in toward me and placed the butt of the gun in the crook of his elbow. The bird turned to face us, its feathers fell and it cocked its head looking at the both of us in the cover. Drew fired.

Back at the truck it was cold pizza and warm beer for a celebration. Our feet hurt, the inside of Drew’s elbow was turning purple from a bruise…but the turkey in the back of his truck made it all worthwhile.

turkey salads

Spring Turkey Salad Recipes

Spring is often the start of “salad” season for folks. I know my garden is light and green at that time. I’ll often find myself foraging greens or eating fresh spring flavors at the time. Below is a trio of easy spring salads that you can make with your turkey.

The first part of all three recipes is the same – cook a turkey breast and shred it. When that is done the variations are endless – Asian to Scandinavian dishes can be created. Like with most wild meats however, wild turkey is incredibly lean. That is why in all the recipes below I am adding a “fat” of some type. It can be mayonnaise or sesame oil, it does not matter, what matters is a moist and delicious salad.

Cooked Turkey Breast

1 wild turkey breast, skinless

Salt and Pepper

2 tablespoon canola oil

Preheat the oven to 350°. Season wild turkey breast with salt and pepper. Heat medium sized skillet on high for four minutes, add oil. Carefully add the turkey breast and sear until golden brown on one side. Flip and place in oven for 15-20 minutes or until cooked completely through. Remove turkey breast from oven. Let turkey cool completely. When turkey is cool, use a knife and fork to “shred” the breast meat. With wild turkey the thinner the slices/ shreds the better.

Asian Style Shredded Wild Turkey Salad

1 Shredded Wild Turkey Breast (See Above)

4ea breakfast radishes, sliced into rounds

1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and sliced into half moons

1 red pepper, sliced into matchsticks

1/2 red onion, sliced into matchsticks

1 stalk green onion, sliced

1 clove garlic, minced

¼ cup soy sauce

1 Tbsp honey

¼ sesame oil

¼ cup peanut butter

2 Tbsp Sriracha

In a large bowl combine the turkey, radishes, cucumber, red pepper, red onion, green onion and garlic. In a medium bowl whisk together the soy sauce, honey, sesame oil, peanut butter and sriracha. Next add the “dressing” to the turkey and vegetables. Toss lightly to combine. This recipe is best if it sits for a few hours.

Turkey Curry Salad

½ cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice and zest

2 tablespoons honey

2 teaspoons curry powder (Even better would be a red curry paste, but not necessary)

Salt and pepper

1 Shredded Wild Turkey Breast (See Above)

1 cup red seedless grapes, halved

2 stalks celery, diced

½ small red onion, diced

¼ cup cashew pieces

In large mixing bowl add the mayonnaise, lime juice, lime zest, curry powder, salt and pepper. Whisk to combine. Next add the turkey breast meat, grapes, celery, red onion and cashew pieces. Stir to combine. Serve with Pitas

Wild Turkey Waldorf Salad (Recipe inspiration from food.com)

1 Shredded Wild Turkey Breast (See Above)

2 stalks celery, sliced

1 green apple cored and chopped

1 cup red seedless grapes, halved

½ cup pecans, toasted, and coarsely chopped

½ cup mayonnaise

½ cup crumbled blue cheese

1 teaspoon honey

Salt and pepper

In a large bowl add the turkey, celery, apple, grapes, and pecans. In a small bowl whisk together the mayonnaise, blue cheese and honey. Pour the mayonnaise mix on top of the turkey and vegetables. Gently mix to incorporate. Taste and then season with salt and pepper as desired.

How to Butterfly a Roundfish 

This is a great skill to have – the Butterfly. If you can learn this technique on a trout it makes steelhead, salmon and bigger fish very easy. Below is a picture guide on how to cut up a round-fish (as opposed to the other common shape – the flat fish – think halibut and flounder for those)

First start with a round-fish – a trout, salmon, steelhead ect. Gut the fish and move it to a clean cutting surface.  At the anal fin slice along the spine toward the tail fin.

  Cut so that you expose the skin on the underside of the back of the fish. See below.   Next slide the tip of the blade under the ribs of the fish. Then slowly push the knife toward the spine, working your way up each section of the fish.   Repeat the knife under the ribs slide until the entire half of the fish is “ribbed”  Next slide the knife along the spine, you will feel resistance from pin bones at this point. You will need to simply slice through them, removing them later on bigger fish.  Repeat the process on the other side of the fish.    When both sides are completly cut the bones should come up off the back skin. Cut free the meat that is still attached, careful not to puncture the skin.   Cut off the tail.    Butterflied Trout with bones pulled up. Cut off the head at this point.   Butterflied trout with roe. Yum. Cook with this recipe.   

Double Standards and Roadkill Deer

10# of Roadkill sitting in a brine...

10# of Roadkill sitting in a brine…

I may have crossed the line with wild game. Nothing illegal, nothing immoral but still a socially questionable action. I cooked, ate and enjoyed road kill. Now this is not the first time I have done this, but is it certainly the first time I have ever eaten deer.

Let me back up a little…

I went for a run a few days back, a simple little 3 mile thing. I ran up through the Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge parking lot and when I made it to the main road entrance the road starts down a hill. The run was proceeding well, and then my dog bolted ahead of me to sniff something in the burrow pit. It was two dead deer.

Normally a single dead deer along the road is road kill, open and closed. But two deer, lying next to each other, made me suspicious. I stopped my run, called Idaho Fish and Game poaching hotline and reported the dead deer.

Shortly after the IDFG officer called me and we spoke over the phone. He said it was a case of the “double tap” with a fawn following mom and both getting hit. He said since it was not a case of poaching that if I wanted either of the deer I was welcome to them. The larger doe was clearly distended – her belly was a great deal larger than it should be. The fawn looked fine.

It had been cold, 1° outside, so I figured the meat would be just edible. With a little trepidation and a printed “road kill” form from IDFG I went back and grabbed the fawn. It was about the size of my Labrador/ Ridgeback dog. Roughly 100lbs.

I tossed it up on the gambrel in the garage and skinned the hind legs. Then I when I got the stomach section funky things started to happen. The smell of gut-shot game became very prevalent. That bitter stomach acid smell, then the stomach lining under the skin started to turn green. I stopped skinning the animal. I lurched a few times – and feared I would lose my breakfast.

I reexamined the deer. Now totally thawed the front legs felt like mush. Both shoulders clearly broken and the poor things head was caved in. Classic broadside road kill. Wanting to finish what I started quickly I pulled off the backstraps and then cut the hind quarters off the carcass.

The rest of the fawn went into a large trash sack – the smell of the stomach acid turned me off the whole project. I brought the meat into the house and deboned it. I honestly could not shake the gut shot smell from my nose. Each time I smelt the meat it would seem sour to me. My nose said it was turned, my brain knew otherwise.

It was flat impossible for the meat to have gone bad by the time I had gotten to it. The doe and fawn were hit the night of Dec 31st, I found them at 9am the next day. No way had the meat gone bad. But the smell still stuck in my nose.

The only thing I could think to do was corn it. I can make leprous yak meat taste just fine with some pickling spice and salt. So I tossed the meat in brine for a solid week, basically a version of this recipe. The Insta Cure #1 turning the meat a nice pink color. (Both hide quarters and the backstraps weighed in at 10lbs!)

A week later I boiled the leg meat for a solid 3 hours. When it was done cooking it was moist, tender and full of that nice corned meat flavor. I rubbed the backstraps in black pepper and smoked them. They came out way to salty, but fixable. The boys and I enjoyed a dinner of corned venison and cabbage soup.

Now I have several pounds of meat that was free to me, at the cost of a deer’s life. I feel good about having done an honorable thing; turning sadly taken life into food for my family. But I am not free of social norms, like only some redneck from Idaho would pick up and eat roadkill. I guess if the shoe fits…

Gear Giveaway and Review

Full disclosure – I was given a FoodSaver® GameSaver® Titanium Vacuum Sealer for review, free stuff affects opinions.

I process and vacuum pack all my game meat and fish – and it saves me time and money. Vital to saving money and not losing game is good quality vacuum pack machine. For those not familiar a vacuum pack machine – they remove air and seal sections of meat (or whatever really) in a plastic bag. This hermitization of the meat from the elements ensures quality and prevents loss from “Freezer Burn.”

When air cannot touch the meat, like when its vacuum packed, freezer burn is basically impossible. I have held meat (accidentally) for about 3 years and it was like I had shot it the month before.

For non-meat related applications vacuum machines work great as well. I have vacuum packed hunting and fishing gear for long pack trips. The stuff that I am not sure I will need but would love to have got sealed up. It took up much less space in the backpack and allowed more room for game to be carried out. A quality vacuum pack machines saves you money, hands down.

For the past 5 years I have been using an off the shelf at Target FoodSaver® V2244. This little guy has put up some serious meat. At least one caribou, six+ deer, an elk, three bears, multitudes of steelhead, countless ducks, upland game birds and rabbits. My machine has never let me down, and that quality of the V2244 is the ONLY reason I agreed to test out the FoodSaver® GameSaver® Titanium Vacuum Sealer.

At first blush I looked at the FoodSaver® GameSaver® Titanium Vacuum Sealer and noted that it was kind of huge. Compared to my other vacuum machine it is about triple the size. Now size does not always buy quality but like my father used to say “If its heavy put it down, it is probably expensive.”  It is heavy.

To test the GameSaver®, I decided to just vacuum pack some store bought pork chops. With vacuum machines I always look for air retention. Basically, if all the air does not come out than the machine lacks the proper amount of sucking power. (In this case sucking power is a good thing) It did not lack for power. The chops all had clean edges and not an air bubble in sight.

Next I looked to the seal on the machine –an improper seal will let air inside the bag. Not good. The model has two sealing methods. Basically one line or two of sealing. This feature intrigued me. I could not figure out the reasoning for two seals.

Did FoodSaver® not trust just one seal? It seemed strange, but the single seal seemed powerful enough. The only reason I could think they would add the additional layer is for moist foods. I know vacuuming fish, with my V2244, often needs an additional seal due to the excess water. The water inhibits the sealing bar from making a line across the entire bag, letting air in and damaging quality. Whatever the reasoning double sealing seems like a strange, albeit sometimes useful, function.

fish-GSBlogAnother feature that I was a tad skeptical of was the roll cutting attachment. Inside the FoodSaver® GameSaver® Titanium Vacuum Sealer is a slot that holds a roll of vacuum bag and across the top is little slicer that you drag across to cut each bag. All you need to do is seal one end and then cut the bag to the desired length. Typically the pre-cut bags are substantially more expensive than the roll cut bags. It is a tradeoff – spend a little time and save a lot of money.

With the quick roll and the cutting blade on the game saver, I might actually become a roll bag convert.

While testing out the vacuum machine I noted the quick marinate attachment. It is basically a hunk of Tupperware functioning as a vacuum tube. You place meat inside the tub and put the lid on. Then with a little hose attachment you place in the top of the tub you turn on the vacuum and poof, meat under vacuum. They look like this. The meat accepts more marinate under vacuum, you can get a days’ worth of marination in just a few short hours.

I decided to test the Quick Marinador attachment on a rabbit that I cut up like this.

The chosen marinade was Coors Light. Judge me if you want, but Boise State University was playing BYU on ESPN, I needed a stress reliever. Go Broncos! (Marinade Recipe – ½ Cup Cheap ‘Merica Made Beer, 1 Tablespoon Garlic Powder, Black Pepper).

Next I sealed up the marinating tub and tossed it in the fridge. In the morning I breaded and fried the rabbit with this recipe.Freid Rabbit - GSblog

Results? The most tender and moist cottontail I have ever eaten. No really, it was. I could visibly see the absorption of moisture in the rabbit. The legs were larger and so to the loins. Basically, the pours of the meat had filled with beer and garlic – and it was divine. I took off the lid the next morning and measured only ¼ cup of beer left in the container. A solid ¼ cup of moisture was absorbed by a dinky little cottontail. The additional moisture directly results in moister food. I was impressed.

With large animals the bottleneck point in butchering and freezing is the vacuum machine. The meat is ground, the steaks are cut and the roasts are tied. Everything is waiting to go into a bag and be sealed for the freezer. I do not think that this will be changed with the unit. While it has the power, the roll cutting and the double sealing – it does not have the speed I wish for.

In all the GameSaver is a step up in quality, usability and power from the V2244 that I have grown accustomed to. I can’t wait to see how the new unit holds up over the years, if its lower priced brother is any example than it will have no trouble at all. I will use the FoodSaver® GameSaver® Titanium Vacuum Sealer often, I can tell you that much.

Like this Gear Review? Post a comment AND link to this page on Twitter or Facebook and be entered into a drawing on November 15th for a FREE GameSaver® with Bonus Offer.

What is Wild?

Driving back to work with a friend in the car I made an impulsive stop. It was one of those fancy neighborhood parks in Boise with a sign saying “for subdivision residents only”. But this spot had a grip-shit of blackberries that needed picked. A nice side hill location with irrigation water to keep the berries juicy in arid Idaho. I could easily reach berries without messing up my pants, the sure-fire sign that no one picks this patch.

We picked a pint in about 10 minutes and then left back to work. Back in the car my friend exclaimed “Man, that was wild!”

I smiled wide at the statement, on the inside I cringed a little. When did picking berries become a “wild” experience? Make me ponder just how far our food system has taken us.

It is my job to teach others that what is now wild was not always wild. Berry patches used to be guarded secrets among friends and family. Now they sit, unpicked, surrounded by well-to-dos and their children. Until some crazy Chef in the Suburb comes rolling in…

I will do my best to change this, one co-worker, one child, one subdivision at a time.

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