Lazy in Advance

Back in the day my family vacation and my fathers’ summer time elk scouting was rolled into the same week. We would pack up the wagon and hit the road. Camp would be located after about three hours on back roads. We would set out our stuff and let dad and my older brother go for a hike in the morning. (I was too little at the time to go scouting) When they would get back my mom, sister and I would have a big breakfast ready. Well, we would try to have a breakfast ready.


What would normally happen is some catastrophe that involved the cooking equipment. Some pipe on the stove would break; we would run out of gas or maybe we just forgot the coffee. It was always some sort of camping travesty; it never worked out as planned.

To try and solve this problem my father started to do a little pre camping in the backyard. He would set up all the equipment and test it out before setting out on the vacation. His buddies would make fun of him and call him overly prepared – he just said he was being lazy in advance. Plus he knew my moms cooking ability or lack there of. Dad would fix what needed it, buy what he had to, and then he knew he would get a hot breakfast when he got back. (Honestly, I think mom just wanted to eat at the café in town.)

The pre camping taught me a great lesson that seems rudimentary – check your equipment before you go camping/hunting. Fast forward to the present and I find myself asking simple questions. Did the hole in the tent from last fall magically fix itself? Nope. Did I buy fuel for my burners? No, then why would I expect to have any now. When was the last time my sleeping bag got used? Christmas when my brother got drunk and slept on the couch. Get the gear out and give it a test, maybe even a wash.

Ryan Cooking Ribs

The little details that make camping and hunting enjoyable need to be thought of before leaving or they will turn into big problems. (Kinda like the time we made it four hours up a logging road to find out we didn’t have any plates for my family of five. Nothing bonds a family like sharing a meal out of one pan…) To be honest, my wife does a better job than me with making sure we are prepared.

When testing the gear nothing gets me more ticked off than cooking equipment that is not working properly. In my case I have had a few of those fancy “grill-burner-griddle” contraptions over the years and none have truly impressed me. The griddles have hot spots and the grill is just a waste of space that gets everything messy. I like the idea of an all in one cook top but I am not sure I have used a functional one yet. Plus, those pictures of the perfectly cooked pancakes just piss me off. I am a chef and I can’t even come close to making those.

For most of my camp cooking I use, and don’t judge me now, is those little burners you see the omelet cooks at convention center using. The single burner propane cook tops. Last time I checked they are like $20 bucks at the Restaurant Supply store and like $35 bucks at the sporting goods store. I have four of them that make it camping with me. They stack into a tote with my utensils and I know as long as I have butane they are ready to cook some food. They are cheep, light, quick to pack and store well. Plus, clean up is a breeze.

Another great idea is to have a cleaning kit for all your cooking supplies. I use a rectangle Tupperware that my wife thinks the dog ate. I keep soap, a few shop towels, a sponge, paper towels and an old butter knife. The old knife is for scraping the sides of the pan in the morning.

Keeping cooking equipment clean and sanitary while camping is hard, but not impossible. Hands get muddy, that black stuff from the four-wheeler grips gets on your hands – it is part of the fun of camping. You don’t need to be clean to be a member of the group.

Don't want your stuff to mess up!That said, look at the guy who is making dinner, and then look at his fingernails. Ask him if he washed his hands before cutting those onions. Then ask if he washed after he peed. You won’t want the answers. Somehow sanitation just seems to fly out the window while camping. Frankly, that is a dangerous proposition.

Food that is not handled right and is contaminated becomes a hazard to eat. If you are making sure to cool the deer meat hanging in camp then make sure you wash your hands after you gut him. Follow the basic rules of sanitation and no one should get the squirts during elk camp or the summer vacation.

I make double sure to do a little backyard camping with my backpacking equipment. When I am seven miles from the nearest road lord knows that I need my equipment to be working right. My boys also love to look at all my cool gear spread out on a tarp in the back yard. Take the time to clean it and store it properly and it will last a lot longer. The family will enjoy the time fidgeting with all the stuff and you can sleep better knowing that your belly will be full.

A cost saving favorite of mine is using the large box retailers for backpacking food. I buy the dehydrated chili mix and then take it home and vacuum pack it into smaller and manageable portions. Same with dehydrated hash browns. I do the math on the amount of water each one will take and write it on the side with a permanent marker. You can get a whole meal for a buck instead of six. It is a good deal.Late Night Cooking with Dave

To me backpacking food is for backpacking and that is it. Eating that stuff when I have access to a cooler and a truck seems like sacrilege. I hate it when I show up to deer camp and someone is eating dehydrated “chicken teriyaki”. Don’t get me wrong I have downed a couple hundred of those over the years but they are not what I consider food. They are fuel. Dehydrated food is simply calories that just so happen to have to pass over my tongue to get into my belly.

A few things can make dehy food a little bit more palatable. First I like to add actual protein to the dish. This past bear season I packed in a 12oz pack of country ribs off a wild hog I shot a few years back for dinner. I browned off the ribs very well and then added the dehydrated food (Chicken and Rice) to my pan along with the suggested amount of water. I turned off the heat and let it all sit for a while and then – like magic – we had real food. The meat had a little extra seasoning and gave the whole pot substance. I fed three people with just a little package of meat and a little Mountain House.

Getting the equipment out is also a surefire method for back yard adventure. Take the kids out and listen for frogs in the backyard. While it might not be the wilderness the family will enjoy the time and you will know that your equipment works.

Arm-Chair Quail Hunters

The other boat on the water had been playing hop-scotch with us all day long. My buddy Ryan and I would pull onto a small riparian bar along the Snake River to hunt quail; they would motor past hooting and hollering at us. The boaters seemed to be more intent on the 12oz curl and being our peanut gallery than doing any hunting, thank God. They never fired one shot but the offered our own private heckling section during parts of our quail hunts.

            It never failed that they would motor to within shouting distance when a covey of quail would bust up. The boaters would offer shooting suggestions to us while we fired away at the birds. Comments like “Oh! Just missed!” and “A little behind that one!” came off the water, unwelcome. They thought they were being hysterical, we did not.

            It occurred to me later that this was a classic case of arm-chair quail hunting. Offer advice on how to shoot a quail while not actually shooting at the birds. Most hunters I know, myself included, are fantastic at this. We can tell others, all day long, the proper technique, lead time and choke to use for hunting the little birds. That said, in the field most of arm-chair quailers can’t hit one in five birds.

            Over time I have noticed that arm-chair quail hunters tend to have a rash of equipment issues when actually out hunting. The guns action isn’t working right. The safety is sticking. The wrong choke is in the gun. Creative reasons de jour escape every honest quail hunter’s mouth. As well as some profanities when a shot is missed.   

            It seems that the birds also have a great sense of timing. Hopping the fence? Time to bust up. Taking a pee? Never fails, birds will fly.

            It is this combination of poor shooting; equipment failure and the birds’ knack for timing that make every precious ounce of quail meat all the more valuable. A hunter can spend an entire day out and get four birds with pride, only to not have enough for an appetizer course with his family. Hitting a flying quail is hard plain as simple. They humble me.  

            Over the years I have picked up on a few tricks for getting quail into my vest. The first thing that recommend is learn to whistle like a quail, or just buy a quail call. When a covey busts they will often starting calling out to each other in hopes of reconnecting and relocating. Give a busted covey a few minuets and then hit the call. They will often reply giving you the location of a few more birds in the rough.

            After busting the covey it is also a good idea to stop and mark the location they flew to. Then take a five minute break. If you immediately follow the birds they will tend to run and disappear. If you give them a little time to settle they will be more apt to bust giving hunters a good shot opportunity.

            The single biggest factor for success with quail is a dog. I don’t care if it is a Yorkie with ear plugs just about any dog while hunting quail is better than no dog. That said the dog has to stay close to be effective. While a nice pointer would be invaluable any mutt with its nose to the ground and the drive to have birds fly will prove effective.

            We did not reach our limit on the river that day. But we did show ourselves the limit of our shooting capabilities. It showed me that I need to bust more clay in the off season and that I needed to check what choke I had in my gun.            

One day I will be able to limit out on quail. The perfect shooter somewhere inside me will show itself and I will manage to whack ten in one day. Take that limit home and actually be able to make a whole meal for my family.  But like my buddy and fellow quail hunter Matt Lindley says – “You need to walk a lot and shoot a lot just to get a little stew.”

Recipe – Smashed Quail with Mountain Dew and Soy Glaze

The Birds 

8ea Quail, plucked and gutted

To “smash” the quail all that you need to do is lay them on their backs, breast up, and press firmly down with your hand. This will crush the ribs and flatten out the bird. This will allow it to be cooked more evenly.

Another option for a “smashed quail” it to cut the back and ribs out of the bird with a pair of kitchen scissors. Place the bird breast side down on the cutting board. With the scissors cut between the legs and then remove the rib cage with two additional cuts. The cutting will look like a “Y” shape. With out the backbone the bird will cook quicker and more evenly.

Marinate the quail over night in the Mountain Dew Ponzu.

Mountain Dew Ponzu

Like many people of my generationMountain Dew was a food group growing up. That said I have, over the years, tried to turn the beverage into various things. I have made desserts, corn cakes and in this case a sauce for quail.

The drink has two major flavors in it – citrus and sugar. A classic Asian Style Ponzu sauce has three flavors – citrus, sugar and soy. Use the Mountain Dew as a base and you are 2/3 the way to a ponzu sauce.

Mountain Dew Ponzu Recipe

1 can Mountain Dew

½ cup soy sauce

1 tsp red chili flakes

2 green onions, sliced

1 thumb sized chunk of ginger, peeled and sliced thick

Add all ingredients to a small sauce pan. Bring to a simmer and let cook for 10 minutes. Chill. Use as marinade for game birds.

To use as a glaze. Pour small amounts of the sauce over the top of a grilling quail. It has a high sugar content so be careful not to burn the bird. Repeat until a firm crust of sauce is formed on the bird. Enjoy!

Soba Noodle Salad

With this recipe any type of round noodle will work. I have used angel hair and spaghetti in the past. Soba noodles are just a Japanese take on the thin round noodle. You can find them dry or fresh in most grocery stores. Look in the ethnic section for the dry noodles and in produce for the fresh.

12 oz cooked and chilled soba noodles

1 ea lime, juice and zest

1 red pepper, sliced thin

½ red onion, sliced thin

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

2 each green onions

Toss all ingredients in a bowl. Mix zest and juice evenly. Season with salt and pepper.

Bringing it all together

Place a 3 oz of noodle mix in the center of a plate. Pour a small amount of mountain dew ponzu around the noodles. Top with hot “smashed” quail. Serve.

Venison Meatloaf

It is that time of year when the freezer is empty of steaks and all that is left is the ground venison. Well, good folks, I have a great recipe for that. My Momma didn’t make much meatloaf growing up but when she did it tasted like this. Enjoy and happy hunting!

 Venison Meatloaf


 3# Ground Venison

1/4 cup ketchup
2 ea eggs
1 cup bread crumbs

1/4 cup Worcestershire
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 Tablespoon fresh thyme leafs (1 teaspoon if dried)
2 Tablespoons garlic powder
1 Tablespoon onion powder
1/2 red onion, diced into ¼ inch squares
1 carrot, diced into ¼ inch squares
1 cup caned tomatoes, diced and seeded
a few dashes of Tabasco

Salt and Pepper to taste

1# of North West bacon, Falls Brand in Twin Falls, ID and Hill Meats in Pendleton, OR both make quality products.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix all the ingredients together, except the bacon, in a large mixing bowl. Set aside.  Using a bread loaf pan line the inside with bacon with two slices barley overlapping on the bottom. The bacon should be draping over the edge of the bread pan. Repeat until the whole bottom of the pan in layered in bacon. Then place the meatloaf mix in the center and press it into the corners of the pan. With the draping bacon make a crosshatch pattern over the top of the ground meat. Bake in the oven at 350 until the internal temperature reaches 135 degrees. Pull from oven and let rest for five minutes to rest.

 Serve with Idaho roasted potatoes.