Pemmican

The elk were a meager 70 yards away. My father, buddy and I had spotted them from over a mile off and had managed to sneak, undetected, to well within shooting distance. It felt like a hunt that was coming together as I slipped out from behind a tree, aimed my scope to just in front of the elk’s ear, exhaled and pulled the trigger. She fell, never having known another thing.

But I knew something, I knew that I had just made meat that would feed five families. I knew that I had a 350 pound animal that needed cut up and it was getting dark. I knew that, in no way was this animal going to be wasted or treated like anything other than pure culinary gold. Visions of steaks, summer BBQ’s and pemmican floated in my head. This meat was wild, I had struggled for it and I would make the most of it. In the distance I heard the crack of another gun, someone else was making meat too. I was participating in a tradition that stretched back to the beginning of humanity. I was making meat.

Brief History of pemmican –img_2089

The history of humanity is a story of calorie acquisition. The foragers acquired the majority of the calories, the hunters acquired the calorie dense meat. In times of surplus food was often preserved and saved for later. Each culture had its own method or style of pre-refrigeration preservation. The ancient Egyptians poached meat in fat then stored it in a barrel in the cellar. The Germanic tribes would burry a ditch full of cabbage until the winter, making sauerkraut. The English would barrel pickle herring, bringing Lent and fish Fridays to the center of the country. The Basque would dry cod that would stack and store for years. In the Americas the native tribes would make pemmican.

Pemmican is basically three things – fat, dried meat and fruit. The native plains tribes developed a high calorie method of food preservation directly linked to the buffalo harvest. The tribes would dry the buffalo meat over a fire or in the sun until brittle. They would then pound the meat until it was nearly a powder, then they would mix the meat with rendered buffalo fat and dried fruit. This pemmican would last for years if stored properly. It would often be a staple part of the diet in the winter – when hunting was hard and foraging even harder.

Pemmican was traded to the fur trappers and explorers that set out across North America. It eventually became a staple part of the diet of many explorers who did not possess the woodsmanship of the natives. Basically, pemmican warded off starvation and provided calories and nutrition for westward expansion.

As the buffalo grew less and less prevalent and food became easier to ship across North America pemmican fell off in consumption. In modern times pemmican has seen a resurgence thanks in part to the paleo diet. Tanka Bars – a variation of pemmican – are a hugely popular high protein food source produced in South Dakota. Other manufactures exist as well, making everything from pemmican bars to pemmican trail mix.

Check out my pemmican recipe below.

How to make pemmican –

The simplest recipe for pemmican is a ratio – 1:1:.5 – one part dried meat, one part fat, .5 parts jam.

For my recipe I use elk jerky, but really any type of wild game jerky would be great. Buffalo meat was historically the most popular but those opportunities are sparse in the hunting world. Deer, elk, caribou and moose all work well for this recipe. The idea is to have a super lean protein that is free of fat that can go rancid. Honestly, I use the jerky that makes it past the winter in my pemmican bars. I have a buddy that loves to make the stuff so I have an extra pound of jerky every year. If you are making jerky for this application make sure to trim it of all fat. Non rendered animal fat will turn bad if left out.

For the fat I will either use rendered bear fat or coconut oil. I have been on a bit of a dry stretch on my bear hunting of late – so I am clean out of bear fat. So my recipe below calls for coconut oil. I could use lard, from the store, for this recipe (and most other recipes do) but I like the idea of using my own gathered animal fat instead of beef fat. The coconut oil I use is the shelf stable stuff that looks like lard and keeps solid until it’s about 80ᵒF. That way, in most of my hunting seasons I know the pemmican bar I made, is still a bar not a goopy mess in my pack.

Another way my pemmican recipe is a little different than most – I use jam or jelly as an ingredient instead of dried fruit. The reason I do this is twofold. First, the jam allows me to flavor the pemmican how I want to. Secondly, the added sugar of the jam is helps my inner sweet tooth cravings. I use my own homemade huckleberry jam for this, but if that is not an option many online retailers have them for sale. Just remember, a recipe is an idea – feel free to substitute huckleberry for blackberry, blueberry, raspberry or even grape jelly. Like with most recipes personal preference comes into play. If you are not a fan of huckleberries substitute some other fruit. Really the goal with making pemmican is to create a high calorie, high energy and easy to carry food you want to eat.

Also, this is not an everyday snack item. Pemmican is a high calorie food meant for those burning a high amount of calories. Like marching across the plains in search of buffalo or up the side of a hill looking for an elk. Consider that elk jerky is about 75 calories per ounce, coconut oil is about 244 calories per ounce, and huckleberry jam is about 75 calories per ounce. So a 2.5 ounce bar would have about 370 calories. That is some densely compacted energy right there!

Will some criticize my pemmican recipe as non-purest? Sure, but I am not trying to be a cultural appropriator. The goal is good food – this is good food.

Recipe –

1 cup coconut oil

½ cup huckleberry jam

1 cup wild game jerky, crumbled or powdered in a blender

Line a medium sized cookie sheet with foil, spray lightly with pan release. Reserve.

Heat huckleberry jam in small pan on stove. Bring to a boil and reduce by half. This step will remove most of the moisture from the jam, allowing it to be shelf stable if desired. Reserve.

Heat coconut oil I the microwave for 1 minute, until hot and completely clear.

In a medium sized bowl add the coconut oil and concentrated jam. Mix well to incorporate. Next add the crumbled or powdered meat in small batches, making sure to mix it well. When all the meat is added you should have a purple/brown mixture that is slightly stiff to stir. Taste the mixture. If you want more salt, add a little more salt. If you want it sweeter, add a little honey.

Pour mix onto the foil lined cookie sheet and spread mixture until it is about ½ inch thick. Try to keep it in a rectangular form, it will be easier to cut and portion that way. When the mix is evenly spread place the try into the refrigerator. This will cause the coconut oil to set.

After 2 hours remove the cookie sheet from the fridge, invert the pan and “pop” out the pemmican onto a clean cutting board. Remove the foil and cut the pemmican into desired portion sizes. I think that about 2-3 ounces is plenty. I cut mine into “bar” shapes and wrap them in parchment paper. I then freeze mine, but this is optional. Enjoy.

 

Buck, Buck, Moose – Interview with Hank Shaw

Sometimes it is cool to know people. I happen to know Hank, he is a good dude. That said – the man has launched an ambitious new book, backed by a Kickstarter Campaign, on cooking venison called Buck, Buck, Moose. Take a gander at the interview below – or on the Stands with the new issue of Northwest Sportsman Magazine.

cover  

 

Randy: Book three Hank, what is this one about?

Hank Shaw: Buck, Buck, Moose is something of a follow-up to my last book, Duck, Duck, Goose. Where the duck book covered all things waterfowl, this one, as you might imagine, covers everything you might want to know about prepping and cooking venison — in all its forms. One of the reasons we named the book as we did was to give people a sense that it wasn’t just about whitetail deer — sure, deer bucks, but also antelope bucks, and moose and elk, etc…. Also, well, we did think it was a fun title.

R: There are other Venison cookbooks on the market. What makes Buck, Buck, Moose different?

H: It is far more comprehensive, in all respects. The book covers everything from the moment you have the deer on the ground all the way to the freezer, and beyond. I go over food safety, detail general differences in the various meats by species and region, and I offer a style of butchering that can literally be done with a pen knife and a pocket saw — although I’d suggest a proper boning knife and a Sawzall if you have them.

Buck, Buck, Moose also looks at venison cookery from a nose-to-tail and a global perspective. You will see recipes for venison from all over the world. Why? Because every culture in the world has at least a historic tradition of eating deer, elk, gazelles, moose, antelopes and the like. Similarly, it is important to me to open up to home cooks new ways of cooking the animals we bring home to feed our families. I’ll never ask you to eat innards because I think you ought to out of some moral obligation. But I will ask you to try my recipes for things like hearts, livers, tongues and kidneys because they taste amazing. Give them a go and you’ll see…

R: This books was funded via Kickstarter – full disclosure I am waiting for my copy – why did you choose the self-publish rout vs the traditional publisher rout?

H: Primarily for editorial control. I was able to create exactly the book I wanted to, and include as many photos as I wanted to, with no restrictions. It is liberating. Another huge reason is because many (but not all) mainstream, big-city publishers flat out told me they had no idea how to sell this book to the people they normally market books to; remember, for the most part, people aren’t buying venison, they’re hunting it. It was an eye-opening look at a little sliver of this cultural divide we’re experiencing in this country. I don’t blame the editors for passing on the book, but it may have proved to be a blessing in disguise.

_hah9339 R: You are about to start the book tour – mind telling me what that entails? The life of a traveling author seems so glamorous after all.

H: Oh God. Yeah, it’s basically like a rock and roll tour only with no explosions, groupies, money or drugs. Long hours in planning every detail — a 55-event tour has innumerable moving parts to it — driving endless miles solo, being in and our of airports (who doesn’t love the TSA?), nights in hotels watching ESPN. You lose your voice at least twice every tour, and Nyquil becomes your best friend because you invariably get sick meeting so many people.

But those are the down sides to this sort of tour. The upsides are the events themselves. Book dinners, presentations, parties, cooking demonstrations and classes. They’re all fun in their own way, but what really keeps me going on all those days on the road are the people I meet. Long-time readers, people who’ve never heard of Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, rich people, poor people, rural, urban, left, right, black, white: I see all kinds when I am out there, and seeing each night how so many people of such disparate backgrounds come together over a shared love of wild food cements why I put myself through this. Gratifying is putting it mildly.

R: What is your “date night” recipe in Buck, Buck, Moose?

H: Oh there’s many of them. There are more the 120 recipes in the book, and most could be done for a date. But if I had to choose one, I’d say either venison loin with Cumberland sauce or Steak Diane. They are both classic dishes many modern cooks snub, but they are classics for a reason. Both are fairly easy to make, and taste more fancy than they are. If I were back in my 20s, I’d memorize these two dishes: They’d be an ace in my pocket for a hot date.

R: Give me a “top three” pieces of advice for cooking venison?

H:  1. Never cook the loin, tenderloin or whole-muscle roasts from the hind leg more than             medium, and cook the shoulders, neck and shanks longer than you think you need                 to.

  1. Don’t grind everything. I like burger as much as the next guy, but unless you are shooting lots and lots of deer (some people do), for the love of all that’s holy please don’t grind the luxury cuts.
  2. Don’t forget the bones for stock! Bones and little bits of sinew and gristle make the best stocks and broths. The only caveat to this is if you live in a place where there is widespread Chronic Wasting Disease, where you might not want to keep the bones.

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R: Speaking of – what exactly defines venison? A cow is not venison, but a moose is? What is the line in the sand for determining what is classified as venison? Is a wild goat venison?  

H: Venison to some means deer and only deer. But most people in the English-speaking world use “venison” to mean any deer or deer-like animal: So elk, moose, all the deer and antelope, as well as caribou, would all be venison in this sense. This is the way I use venison in the book. The French use venison to mean all wild game.

While I would not call wild goat or sheep or muskox or bison venison, you could use all of these meats as a stand-in for venison for any recipe in this book.

R: Can you tell me about your two prior books?

H: I’d mentioned my last book, Duck, Duck, Goose, which is a full-color, hardcover, comprehensive waterfowl cookbook. My first book, Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast, is something of a primer on the wild world. Experts in each of the many fishing, foraging and hunting sections of that book may not learn too much from the techniques I describe (although most will pick up at least a few new tricks), but the real value of the book is to open up extra skills to someone who loves self-sufficiency and being outdoors. Anglers might learn more about the wild edible plants they are around when they fish the banks and beaches. Hunters might pick up new tricks on foraging. Foragers might read the hunting section and decide to finally take the plunge and begin what can be a lifelong pursuit.

R: Can you tell me more about honest-food.net?

H: Hunter Angler Gardener Cook is the core of what I do. Honest-food.net is the URL to get there, and I gave it that name initially back in 2007 because I wanted to deal with what I call honest food: Nothing industrial. Nothing overly processed, and certainly nothing that came from a lab. Honest food does not have to be wild, but that is my area of expertise. So the site, over the years, has become the largest source of wild food recipes on the internet. There are almost 1000 recipes, tips, and technique posts covering everything from wild game to fishing, clamming, foraging, mushrooms, you name it. I post every week, and often twice a week, and this is the home of most of my more thoughtful essays on this wild, edible world we live in.

R: And just what is a James Beard Award?

H: Quite simply, it is the Oscars of the food world. There are few higher honors for a chef or a food writer. I was honored to be nominated, which means top three, in 2009 and 2010, and was overjoyed to have won the award in 2013.

R: I know you and Steve Rinella are friends but in Steve’s new book he proclaims that most red meat is interchangeable with other red meat in recipes – especially in big game. How do you feel about that? Do you think a person can substitute antelope for mule deer in a recipe?

H: Sort of. There are differences, especially if you begin to stray into more esoteric red meats like beaver or jackrabbit or mountain goat. These are all red, yes, but some can be strongly flavored. Sticking to venison, there are subtle differences in texture, color and flavor, but most of the flavor differences have to do with diet, age of the animal and proper field care, not species. One important and true difference is size. You cannot sub a moose shoulder for a whitetail doe shoulder in the same recipe without major adjustments. Sure, in the end they might taste similar, but things like cooking time and the amount of additional ingredients will be vastly different.

But at its core, Steve’s right: You won’t see too many recipes in Buck, Buck, Moose that demand you use, say, antelope loin as opposed to whitetail or muley loin. You might see things like, “use a young animal,” or this one’s for a big animal like a moose, elk or big muley buck, but no species-specific recipes.

R: I hear you did one hellava dinner at the Back Country Hunters and Anglers convention last year. Care to tell us what was on the menu?

H: Ha! Yeah, I busted out a technique from the 1600s called a la ficelle, which means “on a string.” I had a bunch of antelope hind legs to cook, and I seasoned them simply with olive oil, herbs, salt and lemon, jammed a bunch of garlic cloves in the meat, and then hung them over hot coals. I twisted the twine holding them up to the point where they’d spin on their own, basting themselves and making sure they cooked evenly. They came out great.

R: Speaking of Podcasts – care to elaborate?

H: Sure. I started a podcast called Hunt Gather Talk. It is a great way to have fun and talk to interesting people about all kinds of topics that touch the wild world. I’ve done solo episodes which are something of an audible essay, a few where I answer listeners’ questions, but mostly they are conversations. It’s been a lot of work, but I am learning new skills, like audio editing, and I’ve had a great response.

R: I ran out of gas one time with you in my truck yet you still came back to Idaho to hunt with me. You either really like to hunt Idaho or are crazy?

H: Both, probably. And my ability to give you a hard time about it until we’re both old and senile was more than worth it. Hunting Idaho is still new to me, though. I’ve hunted deer there, quail, rabbits, grouse. I am hoping to get a sage hen this season, and someday draw an elk tag, or maybe even a moose. You can be sure I’ll be back to bother you every year…

R: Can you tell me some of your favorite activities in the Pacific Northwest? 

H: Geez, that’s a hard one. The PNW is a wonderland for a guy like me. Mushroom hunting, wild berries up the ying-yang, salmon, albacore, trout, sturgeon. Blue grouse hunting in the mountains, quail in the lowlands, some of the best clamming on planet Earth. You name it.

R: What is your go-to hunt at home?

H: Ducks. Northern California is one of the best places to hunt waterfowl in North America. I probably spend more time hunting ducks and geese than anything else. It is the one kind of hunting where I feel very comfortable in the role of a guide.

R: If you weren’t on the book tour what would you spend September doing in the woods? Foraging, fishing, hunting?

H: Yes. All of the above. Albacore offshore, mushrooms in the woods, grouse in the mountains, doves on Labor Day, blacktail deer hunting on the Sonoma Coast. There is always something going on…

R: What book can we look forward to next?

H: To complete the hunting trilogy, my next book will be all about small game, from upland birds to small mammals. As this was what first got me into hunting, I am really looking forward to it.

Summer in Photos

So summer is a tough time to run a blog. With daylight in Idaho extending out until past 10pm I find myself doing so many other things than writing. That said- I have had a ton of blessed adventures this year. Below is what a lazy writer would like to call a photo essay. :-) 

Before the Storm

Looking for bear in all the wrong places

Two bulls on a bear hunt

Me

Archer in the making

kissing bass

Trout and Grits

range time

Dad and Ishi being “brave”

Pants!

Blond ans Bow 🙂

Bow shoot

Hemmingway Hole

two goofballs, one birthday

how i want to age

my catfish from the lake

Pizza and Mountians

Two of the boys

froggin with the bow

more range time

pop in law with a kitty fish

Boom at the farm

The Cannibal ride

Summer time is nap time


Check back soon for the trout and grits recipe! 

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.

Middleman’s Buck

It was still dark when Cameron and I parked at the gate and got off “Pepe” my little mule ATV. We closed the gate behind us and walked slowly up a high desert road to a drainage I had hunted heavily in archery season. The draw held a ton of legal, ie forked horn or smaller, deer. Fortunately, it was Cameron’s birthday, he was just turning ten, and at sunrise was a legal hunter in the state of Idaho. He carried his grandmothers .243 over his shoulder, bright orange cap on his head and an ear to ear smile.

We whisper talked about Pokémon, about sagehens, about school and about hunting ethics. This was far from the first time Cameron had gone hunting with me, he has gone since before he could walk. But this was the first time he could shoot a deer – he was looking to make meat for his house and to be the first of King Boy to shoot a deer. (His older brother drew a doe tag for later in the year, and missed a buck the prior year.)

As we dropped into a small meadow I caught sight of mule deer heads on the horizon. It was one of those awkward moments of being busted by deer and literally having nothing to do but stare right back at them. Then hope they grow horns. One by one the small herd of deer came to the crest of the ridge, caught sight of Cameron and I, and then took a hard left downhill. Thankfully, each deer gave us a clear look at the top of its head. The second to last deer was a small buck, a 3 by 1. It was one of those funky ones that clearly damaged one of its horns while in velvet. But in this management unit, he was a legal buck only because of the damage.

The buck stopped for us, blue sky and nothing else behind him, at about 70 yards. Cameron looked at me for guidance, for permission to shoot. “Why can’t you shoot?” I asked, channeling my inner Socrates. “I can’t see what is behind him” he said with a sigh. “No backstop, no shot” I explained.

The deer herd moved downhill from us, trying to get into a patch of timber. We kept paralleling the herd down the ridge blocking them to one side. Several times the herd would stop at about 150 yards giving a short window for a shot to Cameron. But he could never quite put it together. As soon as he would get set up the herd would move over a ridge, or behind tall sage. The time they allowed us was simply not enough for a ten year old to get an ethical shot.

Eventually, tired of being harassed, the herd made a break for the timber patch. They cut back our direction, dropped down into the valley and started up the other side. Then they made the typical mule deer mistake, they stopped and looked back at us. I looked to Cameron, the deer were now at about 200 yards. About 100 further than I thought he should shoot. “Can you make that shot?” I asked. “No, you shoot him” was his reply.

I chambered a round, shot and the buck fell. I was thankful for the meat and the solid education for the new hunter in the family.

Six day later Cameron and I found ourselves glassing a lone buck, again on a skyline. He walked a ridgeline and showcased his horns a perfect forked horn. But no backstop for the shot. We let him walk down off the ridge but promptly lost sight of him in the dull morning light. Again we paralleled a herd of deer with several small bucks in it. But this time we were on the top of the ridge and they were about midway down the side. Each time we would get set up for a shot the herd would move further than Cameron reliably could shoot. Eventually the herd had enough of us following them and set off down the valley. We lost them in the aspens.

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Blue Sky and Sweat on the Camera – He was a trooper

It was a several mile hike back to the truck at this point and the legs on Cameron were a little worn out. But back at the truck we unloaded the four-wheeler and went for a quick ride. Glassing from a ridgeline about a half mile away I caught sight of a lone white butt feeding uphill. It was near the top of the mountain and was going to be a grueling stalk. But the little I know about mule deer biology had me convinced that this solo deer was a buck. I just figured no doe is ever alone – ergo it must be a buck.

Up the hill we went bushwhacking through buckbrush, sage and aspen. We went from 6500 feet to nearly 7100 feet, and Cameron hardly complained. We whisper talked about Pokémon, his recent birthday party and the student council elections that he had organized.

We placed sporadic pines between us and the lone deer, using them as cover for our approach. The higher we climbed the less often we saw the deer, until it was completely out of sight. It had dropped into a small bowl in the side of the hill. Luckily we could see every possible escape route, we would know if it had left the area. We took our time, knowing the deer was still around and not wanting to be winded when it was time to shoot.

On the approach I spotted a small outcropping of rocks jutting out of the buckbrush. I told Cameron that was our shooting location and that we would approach carefully. We slowed our pace to a crawl, watching ridges around us for an escaping deer. Slowly I climbed the rocks, finding the deer and then, thankfully, seeing he was a perfect forked horn. Seventy yards out and not spooked. It might actually happen this time!

Somedays, in the course of a hunter’s life, things are just meant to be. This was one of those days. The little buck held while Cameron scooted around on the rocks for a solid thirty seconds trying to located the buck and get positioned for a shot. He held while I helped to calm the shaking hands of my child, buck fever taking hold in a hilarious but nasty way. Eventually the buck slowly walked to 100 yards, broadside between two junipers and simply held. It was a true blessing when Cameron shot and the buck ran down the hill 70 yards and died. Not 30 yards from where we stood. Cameron had worked for this animal. He had the patience, the judgment and the shooting skill to make meat. Cameron is now a deer hunter.

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Cameron’s Buck

Italian Sausage Mac n’ Cheese

In honor of the young hunters and meat makers I offer up a super simple and tasty venison mac and cheese recipe. Cheers to those taking out the next generation and double cheers for the little ones that make it out into the woods!

Italian Sausage

This recipe is a riff on Alton Browns Italian sausage recipe, with the notable exception that it includes venison. This recipe yields five pounds and I will often double it for a big batch – it is great for all sorts of quick and easy Italian sausage needs. Oh, this will work on just about all red meat animals too.

4 lbs Ground Venison

1 lb Ground Pork Fat

1 Tbsp. and 1 tsp. Fennel Seeds

1 Tbsp. and 1 tsp. Kosher Salt

1 Tbsp. Course Ground Black Pepper, fresh

¼ cup Chopped Parsley

 

In a small heavy bottomed sauté pan toast the fennel seeds on medium heat until they are fragrant. About five minutes. When cool add the fennel to a spice grinder or a mortar and pedestal. (If you don’t have these, a pre ground fennel will work, just add a teaspoon more and don’t toast it) Next mix the remaining ingredients in a large bowl, incorporate them well. Chill the mix in the refrigerator for at least one hour, then divide it into 1 lb balls. Freeze the portioned sausage for use at a later time.

 

Italian Sausage Mac n’ Cheese

 

1 lb Italian Sausage, thawed (see above)

2 Tbsp. Flour

1 cup Milk

½ lb Velveeta Cheese, diced

3 cups Whole Wheat Elbow Macaroni, cooked (1.5 cups uncooked)

¼ cup Parmesan

¼ cup Italian Bread Crumbs

1 Tbsp. Chopped Parsley

 

Pre heat oven to 350°.  Heat a medium sized sauce pan on medium for 3 minutes then add the Italian sausage. Brown and crumble the sausage until fully cooked but retaining some moisture in the pan. Next add the flour and incorporate fully. Next add the milk, reduce heat to low. Bring to a boil and let thicken. When thick add the cheese a small amount at a time, making sure to stir to incorporate the dices fully. Add the noodles to the sauce, fold them gently to incorporate. Transfer noodle and sauce mix to a 3 qt casserole dish. Spread the mix evenly in the pan. Top with Parmesan, bread crumbs and parsley. Bake for 25 minutes. Serve hot.

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Mule Deer Mac and Cheese