Alaska Caribou Photos

As the days grow shorter and my memory fades I am posting this photo blog about caribou hunting in Alaska. These photos are the ones that bring me back. Back to the soggy ground, back to the sore back, back to the feeling of invincibility. The hunt was unguided, DIY caribou 2500 miles from my home. I am proud of what we did, it was truly grand. I’d do it again any day, not sure the folks who went with me would.

I type this eating sushi at the San Francisco airport, wanting nothing more than to be home. But travel is necessary for work. It is a short life we all have, I realize that more and more each year. Kids are born and the generation above me ages. Shit happens and cancer sucks.

Next time I’m in Alaska, I hope to have my son with me. It will make one of those unforgettable family moments…much like the one I just had with my father.











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.

Korned Goose!

Goose HunterI was lucky to have even been in this cold, snow covered goose blind, or so I kept telling myself. My right boot had a hole in it and I was freezing my toes off. But I had accepted the late night phone call inviting me. Apparently the “normal” guy was out of town and the three man blind had an opening. I had been on the short list for this blind for several years, but had never managed to get in.
The morning started with setting out the decoys and fixing the blind. Our spread is good, about 100 decoys total. All of them facing into the wind and we even have an empty section of the spread for the “kill zone”. I was instructed not to “look up” at the geese as the captain was calling them in. I had always watched my game before, this was weird, I had to simply trust that that goose could be shot when I was told. The suspense was unbelievable.
But this last flock of geese over my head where smart. They can see something about our decoy set up and don’t like it. Maybe they know that we have the bodies of there dead brethren hidden under the hard plastic decoys. Maybe it is the slight skiff of snow that has formed; snow doesn’t stick to the back of real geese. Maybe it is all the human sized foot prints in the snow. They start to circle around but are not committing to the landing. I am having a hard time not looking right at the geese, revealing my face and blowing the cover. I can hear the wing flaps and the honking but force myself to look at my boots. Oddly, I am not cold anymore.
One goose finally locks up to come in for a landing causing a chain reaction among them all. When the honkers reach about 30 yards out I hear “blast-em” from my left side. I jump up and shoot the goose that is farthest to the right, keeping in my shooting lane in mind.
Two geese fall on that volley and it is time to pack up. Its only 10am. We shot a total of ten geese between the three of us. My father in law has limited out having shot four birds and I am going home with three for myself. It was a good morning. I got back in time to watch SpongeBob with the boys and even cook a little breakfast.
Speaking of breakfast, wild game tends to be overlooked for this meal period. It is a shame since most game meat packs more protein per ounce than the commonly consumed pig. Getting a good dose of protein in the morning is a great way to keep focused and healthy. With that I mind one of my favorite breakfasts is a corned beef hash. Cured beef simmered in spices, salt and sugar and served with roasted potatoes. Two eggs on top and nothin’ is better. Filling and a large amount of protein.
However it was only in the past year that I was given a recipe for corning wild game. Remarkably it was very similar to my beef recipe. Well, duh. Anyway, I started with a venison roast and moved onto smaller cuts. Eventually I landed on goose meat. It was a perfect fit.
But for a lot of hunters goose is a tuff nut to crack. Like duck it often ends up in the smoker as jerky. I know why, it has a very gamey taste. I like the taste but understand how it can a little over the top for some palates. An easy way to cure the gamey-ness from goose is to “corn” it. Basically the brine cures the meat and changes the flavor and texture to that of the brine. Not a bad idea for those who don’t want to waste the birds they shot.
To corn the goose I use the McCormick’s pickling spice mix. While purist might call this cheating I find it a heck of a lot easier to adjust a pre-done mix than keep fresh stocks of all the different seasonings that go into corned meat. To be honest the package has a decent recipe for corned beef on it. However, the flavor does not penetrate the meat as well as it could without a curing time.
To cure the goose meat I remove the breasts and reserve the leg meat. I cure only the breasts because they are easier to slice and I do not have to remove the bones. This recipe will work for whatever type of meat that you want to cure. I never simply trash goose legs, they are tasty and it is against most states wanton waste laws to toss the meat.Korned Goose Hash

Recipe – Corned Goose

2 quarts water
1 cup salt, I use kosher
½ cup sugar
1 ounce Speed Cure (Prague Powder or Insta Cure #1 work the same)
3 tablespoons pickling spices

Six goose breasts, or up to one five pound roast

1 large potato per pound of meat, ½ inch cubes
1 medium onion per pound of meat, diced
Fresh sage
Fresh thyme
Salt and pepper
Red chili flakes

Bring the salt, sugar, speed cure and pickling spices to a boil. The boiling of the spices will release the oils and flavors that might not otherwise fully develop.
The next step is to cool the brine to room temperature. If meat is added to the hot liquid it will start to cook and that can mess up the curing process. Not being one who likes to wait I have developed several methods of cooling the brine quickly after bringing it to a boil. An easy way is to simply cut the water amount in half that is brought to a boil and then add the remaining amount required in the form of ice at the end. So in this case I ask for 2qts of water. Bring one quart of water to a boil and then at the end add one quart of ice (32oz of ice, measure by weight not by volume on ice).
The method that I use a lot is the ice wand cooling. I have a frozen gel pack that I have vacuum sealed that I toss into brine. The ice pack drops the temperature very quickly and I don’t have to recalculate recipes. The icepack works well with soups and stocks as well. Make sure to vacuum seal it very well, no need to have any of that funky blue liquid in those packs in the brine! When I am done cooling the brine I simply rinse off the plastic and return it to the freezer, easy.
Next place the meat in the room temperature brine and place brine in the fridge, covered. For a venison roast, 5 pounds or so, it takes 5-7 days to cure. For a goose breast, about 1 pound each, it only takes 2 days. So all things equal cure for a minimum of 2 days and then add one day per pound of meat. This is a rough estimate of time needed. Adjust as your own to your taste.
When the meat is cured I rinse it off and let it air dry on a rack. Then I add it to a vacuum bag with a little butter and seal it closed.

Brined and Ready for Sous Vide

Next I place the vacuum packed meat into a crock-pot on low for about 24 hours. The low temperature cooks the meat gently and the yield is typically higher than if the meat is simply boiled.
When the meat is cooked, it should be nice and tender. Cool it down in the bag. This will allow some of the juices to reabsorb into the meat. When cool dice or slice the meat as you see fit.
Next brown the onions in a cast iron skillet with a little oil. Then add the cubed potatoes. Simmer the mix for 15 minutes until the potatoes are cooked. Then add the corned meat and heat. Toss in the fresh thyme and fresh sage. Season with salt a pepper. Add a little heat with a teaspoon of red chili flakes.
Serve with two eggs. This is a little slice of corned goose heaven.
This recipe also makes great meat for Ruben sandwiches. Also, feel free to simmer the goose with some more pickling spice, potatoes, carrots and cabbage for the Irish classic corned goose and cabbage.

Duck, More Than Just Breasts.

Pheasant Hunt with Steel...I am not sure why the hunters I know will pay big bucks for a duck breast in a fancy restaurant but turn all the fowl they shoot into jerky. It has never made much sense to me. That is until I found out how they cooked duck. While a little “shake and bake” can make things taste good it is certainly not way to handle wild duck.

Additionally, all too often I see other hunters simply rip the top of the duck off and toss the legs into the trash. This, to me, is just plain wasteful. The duck died for food and I figure its whole body should be honored. Plus the best part of the whole animal is now in the trash!

To combat this issue I have made it a personal challenge to make hunters into wild duck fans. I normally give two simple rules for duck meat. One, cook the breast like it is a steak. Past medium and it starts to turn to shoe leather. Two, cook the legs until they are fall off the bone tender.

That said I do understand that most hunters find duck legs hard to eat. If a duck is roasted whole the legs are chewy and full of tendons. If the duck legs are fried up like chicken they are nearly uneatable. The problem with those styles of cooking is that they do not allow for enough time to break down the duck meat. What duck leg cooking requires most of all is time. It takes a while to break down the connective tissue in a ducks legs. I normally count on at least four hours but prefer more.

To cook a duck for that many hours takes a gentile cooking method and low heat. As long as the meat is being held above 140 degrees the connective tissue will degrade. A home crock pot is a great way to keep an eye on the temperature and slowly cook the meat. The “keep warm” setting normally operates in the 160-175 range and does a nice job slowly cooking duck legs.

Another issue that I typically hear about when dealing with duck is it’s “wild game” flavor profile. Hunters often say that duck breast tastes to “ducky” so they mask the flavors with smoke, sugar and spices in jerky. I agree that wild duck can be very flavorful, but most of that flavor comes out when the duck is overcooked. Much like a liver the bad tasting parts of duck meat become more pronounce the farther it is cooked.

I typically remove the “wildness” out of duck leg meat by preparing it confit style. Basically confit is an old school Egyptian preservation method for duck. It helps out a lot for those lacking refrigeration. To confit something you need to follow three basic steps. Cure the meat in salt, brown the meat then poach it in oil.Salted Duck for Confit

The reason that this cooking and preservation method works is because salt creates a hostile environment for microorganisms. Cooking the meat in the hot oil also kills most microbes. Top that off with a layer of microbe-inhibiting fat covering the meat and you can keep confit for up to six months in your cellar or fridge. Below is the basic method of cooking any type of meat confit style.

When curing the duck meat I clean the duck very well after the harvest. Then I will pat the meat dry with a paper towel while looking for any extra feathers, shot, or undesirable blood clots that need removed.

Then I will mix salt, pepper and garlic powder in a small bowl. I use about 1/8 cup Kosher, 1 tablespoon cracked black pepper and 1 tablespoon garlic powder per pound of duck meat. I then place the meat in a cake pan and cover with a towel in the fridge for 24 hours. I make sure to pour off any juice that accumulates on the tray.

After 24 hours I will rinse the duck off and pat it dry. Then I brown the duck meat in a couple of tablespoons of hot oil.

The next step is the hardest. Not technically hard but emotionally. The smells from the cooking duck will tempt you. Ignore the temptations and let the duck cook. If you snack on it through the whole cooking process it will not be the same!

After the meat is brown it needs to be poached in oil. Below is a list of ingredients for the oil poaching.

1 cup rendered bacon fat

Canola Oil – enough to barley cover the meat

8 cloves of garlic

16 ea black pepper corns

2 ea bay leaf

2 ea sprig of rosemary

4 ea sprigs of thyme

10 ea sage leafs

I pack the browned Duck into the bottom of a home style cake pan. Then I place on top of the duck the garlic, pepper corns, bay leafs, rosemary, thyme and sage leafs. Add the bacon fat and then pour enough canola oil to cover the duck meat. I tightly wrap the whole mess in tin foil and place it on a cookie sheet. I will then put the duck in a 350 oven for one hour then turn it down to the “keep warm” setting. I will let it cook for three more hours. Then I’ll turn off the oven and let the duck cool for one hour.

Then I’ll transfer the meat into mason jars and make sure to cover all the bones with fat. No part of the animal should be exposed. If meat is exposed it can turn faster than it should. I cool the jars in the refrigerator and when totally cooled I cap and store them in the back of the fridge. The confit can keep for up to six months.

I make sure to keep the oil from batch to batch of confit. It gains more and more flavor over time.

Duck Confit TacoWhen I want to eat the confit I will remove the metal lid and microwave the jar for a minute or so. Just enough time to melt the fat but not heat up the meat. I then remove what I am going to eat and make sure to recover the meat in oil.

I use confit meat in a variety of ways. I have made pizzas, pastas, pot stickers, tacos and many other dishes from confit meat. I have even used this method for all sorts of animals, not just duck. I have made rockchuck and venison confit, to name a few. In all confit is a great way to keep your freezer free of odds and ends and it tastes great too. Besides, a duck is more than just a good set of breasts for jerky.

Big Fish in a Little River

Fishing is not a spot and stalk sport for me most times. Generally I fish by tossing a line into the deep and hoping for the best. But steelheading on the Boise River, right in downtown Boise Idaho, has become a different story all together.

I would come, during my lunch break, to an access dock right on the river at Barbar Park with no expectations of actually catching any steelhead. I would make the five minute walk to the dock and watch white headed steelhead was swimming slowly in the shallows next to the dock, she was big and she was ugly. The fish was suffering from what is called Ulcerative Dermal Necrosis, basically ulcers on her head from being beaten up in the shallow river for so long. It is a common occurrence during the spawning season. As soon as I walked close to the edge I would watch her swim into the current and disappear, sometimes other smaller steelheads would swim off as well.

I would then cast and cast at the riffle and the pool above it, hoping to get a strike from a silver slime rocket. Most days I was disappointed and simply cast for practice, but not on Friday November 30th.  I snuck out with my ultra-light trout rod with 6 pound test and a copper “Big Deal” lure. I crept out on the dock and could see my ugly headed foe. She saw me and bolted, but only to the edge of the current. I could see her ulcered head in the current and cast about six feet in front of it. I slowly reeled in, right to her face, with her one good eye she struck my lure. I felt a bump but no run; but I could see my lure in her mouth. I did the only logical thing and set the hook as hard as I possibly could. Oh, how I wished I had brought a bigger fishing pole.

With my rod bent in half and no net I realized the problem that I would have. I was about four feet above the water and could not possibly land the fish I never thought I would catch anyway. I had to jump off the landing and into the rocks beside it, never mind that I was in slacks and chefs clogs.

The hum of my drag was nearly constant as I fought the big gal. I would reel her close to the bank and as soon as she spotted me she would bolt (she really did only have one good eye). I just let the fight play out for close to twenty minutes. She would run and I would retrieve her. When I decided to make my move I got her as close to the bank as I could and thrust my hand into the water, grabbing her tail and pulling her out of the water. With a primal grunt I tossed her to the bank.

I hooted and hollered and danced a little bit on the bank looking at my 30 inch nine pound slime rocket. My endorphin rush lasted long enough for me to ignore the other feeling I was having, Hunger.


While it might seem like blind luck that caught me my fish I was actually approaching the river with a little bit of expertise behind me.

Us litter river fishermen all want to be on the big rivers, the Columbia, the Snake, the Clearwater catching some lunkers. But, alas, we are not. Stuck in the Boise valley we hope and pray to land a big fish. Fortunately, Idaho Fish and Game stocks the Boise River each year with hatchery born steelhead from the Oxbow Dam. The steelhead run up to the hatchery and are loaded onto a truck and hauled to Boise. Fishermen can actually catch steelhead while ESPN broadcasts from the Smurf Turf at the Boise State Stadium (Go Broncos!).

Each year this fish dump creates a little micro climate for fishermen. Hundreds of people culminate across the four drop locations trying to land a steelhead while not driving four hours and spending hundreds of dollars.

With the small water of the Boise River tactics change a little. In stead of jigging for fish at 6 feet you jig for them at about 2 feet. Diver style plugs are out of the question. The best bet for landing an “in town” steelhead is what local fishermen Kelly Chatterton calls a BSA standing for “Big, Silver and Annoying”.

Spinners and spoons tend to dominate the fishing action in the Boise River. Specifically the Blue Fox Super Vibrax in the silver color. “Basically, it is the job of the fisherman to knock the big boys on the head with a lure and make them strike it…the strike is out of anger, not hunger” added Chatterton. Others use bait right after the fish are dumped, to limited success.

With the low levels of the water sight fishing is not uncommon. Most time the fish can be seen at the edges of holes during mid day. Not spooking the fish is the vital aspect of sight fishing on the Boise. Cast above the fish and try and get the lure as close as possible to the head of the fish hopefully inducing a strike.

In general fishing is best right after the fish are deposited. They tend to be confused and have not settled into the river, that and there are a lot more fish per mile of water. Fortunately IDF&G publish, on their website, the fish drop locations and dates. The 2012 season was cut short due to a lower than expected return to the Oxbow Dam. Roughly 1000 fish were released for us City Fishers.

How to get more meat off a Steelhead

Protein recovery becomes an issue when a person gets a big fish to shore. We all want to be as respectful as possible of the life that we have taken but many of us lack the skills to harvest all the meat in the proper way. No worries, I have a little trick that will make you feel good about your fillets event if they are not perfect.

When the fish is done being filleted most people will simple toss the bodies and be done. But many times a large amount of meat, often as much as a pound, is left on the skeleton. A simple tablespoon removes all the excess meat. Simply scrape down the side of the fishes exposed sections removing the flesh. Scrape the backbone clean of most of the meat. It is all perfectly edible but often overlooked. Pile this meat up and reserve for fish taco night, for sandwiches or pasta. No need to crumble up the perfect fillets when you have crumbled meat already.