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.

 

Gochujang Marinated Flank Steak with Ramen

Wedged into a rock outcropping above an aspen wooded valley Ryan and I glassed a decent sized herd of mule deer. The big buck was defending his territory at the end of October, his neck swollen his harem being pounced upon by an invasive hoard of smaller bucks on the periphery. He would run off one challenger after another in one-sided easily won fights. At about 300 yards this buck would have been a great wall hanger, but that was not the season Ryan and I were hunting. He had the “general season” tag that allowed him to shoot only “forky” bucks.

We had to simply watch the show and hope that a little buck would show himself. Alas, no shooter showed up and eventually the herd wandered down the drainage out of sight. Back to the truck we hiked.

Ryan, the guy with the tag, said “If that is the show for the day, hell the week, this was time well spent.”

“Yeah, not every day you get to watch the rut in action” I said.

We then proceeded to go on a series of “trusty” spots looking for deer. From one vantage point to another, from one block of buckbrush to the next, we hiked and drove. Doe after doe on the hills, not a horn in sight.

We stopped and ate a quick hot lunch of packaged ramen off of the camp stove. It slid down with a Gatorade and peanut butter and honey sandwich. Not exactly gourmet, but surly under $3, and that is the point somedays.

Eventually, about 3pm, we made a wide loop and came to the top of a long draw with a great view below. Then I dun messed up. The giant stick my foot was on cracked, then broke clean in half. The noise floating up the valley like a beacon, it was a cringe worth moment. Seconds later, still with that “oops” look on my face, I caught sight of a doe head at 100 yards. She was starring right back at me. Ryan was not amused either, but little can be done. This hunt just went from a “Spot and Stalk” to a “Spook and Shoot” in a heartbeat.

Soon a heard of deer was filing out the draw below us. One after another I watched them, tail raised, run out of the draw. “Doe” I said, watching the herd pass by. “Doe, Doe, Doe” as they began to file past us in the draw below about fifteen total. Soon the herd cut back to a leafless aspen grove following a well-used game trail. Joining the initial herd was a new group of deer, appearing from a different section of the draw. “Doe, Doe…%$%& sake – a spike, I got horns!” I proclaimed.

“On him” said Ryan.

“Cool” I replied.

“Do I shoot?” said Ryan.

“Your tag” I replied.

“Yardage?”

“I have no idea”

“Wind?”

“A little”

“Dude, you are not helping” said Ryan.

“Well you are not shooting” I responded.

Then he did. One shot from his .285 rang out across the valley. The young buck had been quartering away from us at about 300 yards. Ryan, off a shooting stick, hit the buck just behind his left shoulder, sending the bullet through the beasts’ heart. The buck simply crumpled, never knowing another thing.

Ryan tagged the buck the started back to the truck for the pack boards. I dressed and quartered the deer – getting him into game bags quickly. Then we hauled him back in one fell swoop.

ryan

“Want any of this guy?” Ryan asked.

“Can I have the flank steaks” I said.

“Really? That’s it?” he replied.

“I have an idea…”

Gochujang Marinated Flank Steak with Ramen

Sometimes making classy junk food is just fun, done right it can be delicious. Like many college students I have eaten an inordinate amount of “ramen” in my day. At 25¢ each they are a cheap way to full an empty belly. But with just a few extra items a bowl full or salt and starch can turn into a bowl of decadence. Cue this recipe for Venison Flank Steak.

Located on the outside of the deer’s ribcage the flank steak is an often underutilized cut of meat. Most times it is peeled off of the ribs and tossed into the “grind” pile. That is a shame – marinated, quickly grilled and sliced thin the meat is delectable.

To find the flank simply look under the front quarters and on-top of the ribs. This area holds the “brisket” cut – or the breast meat off a deer. Behind that, on each side, is the flank meat. It will only ever be about 1 inch thick. It should peel off the ribs with little work – but it will be covered in fat and silver skin. Clean the flank as well as you can without losing too much meat. Slide the tip of the knife under the silver skin and slide it along the meat, discarding the silver skin. I typically loose about 30% to trim, but that is way worth it.

The next step is to marinate the flank steak – it can be for as little as 4 hours or up to 24. Really the flavor is great so do this step however you would like. Then grill the flank steak, this adds a great smokiness to the dish. I then add a poached egg, fresh vegetables and a dash of Shichimi Togarashi – giving the whole dish a kick up of flavor. For a cheap meal that is quick and easy to prepare, this one fills the stomach and tastes great too.

Marinade

1 each Deer Flank Steak (about 1# of venison total, really any cut could work with this)

1 tablespoon Gochujang

1 tablespoon Honey

1 tablespoon Sesame Oil

2 tablespoons Water

1 teaspoon Shichimi Togarashi

1 each Deer Flank Steak (about 1# of venison total, really any cut could work with this)

Add everything but the flank steak to a medium sized mixing bowl. Combine with a fork until mix is smooth and all ingredients are incorporated. Add the flank steak and coat evenly with the marinade. Cover bowl with clear film and leave in the fridge anywhere from 4-24 hours.

Heat grill to medium-high. Take the venison directly from the refrigerator to the grill, do not pre-warm the meat at all. Cook flank steak no more than 3 minutes on each side. Remove to clean plate and let rest before slicing. Slice thin and serve on top of the Ramen bowl.

The “Ramen”

6 cups water

1 tablespoon vinegar, white

2 packages “Oriental” Ramen

1 cup broccoli florets

1 cup matchstick carrots

1 cup chopped kale

4 eggs

1 mango, cored and sliced thin

In one medium sized sauce pan add 4 cups water, bring to a boil. In a separate sauté pan add two cups of water and add the vinegar – bring to a simmer. Add to the ramen (including the flavor pouches, opened), broccoli, carrots and kale to the four cups of water. Bring back to a boil and remove from heat.

Crack, gently, the four eggs into the vinegar-water and let simmer until the egg whites completely set but the yolk is still runny, about 2 minutes.

Portion into four bowls the ramen, broth and vegetable mix. Top each bowl with a poached egg, sliced mangos and sliced flank steak. Enjoy!

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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.

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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.

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.

Bear Ham

bearhamThe berry patch I was walking in had more bear scat in ten square feet than I had seen in the prior several years combined. It was unreal in both quantity and structure – “berries in and berries out” give an apt description of the type and consistency. The scrub brush I was in, aptly named “bear berries”, was flush with fruit. I began to feel nervous – my single shot .410 I had for the grouse opener was not going to be enough for whatever was leaving behind this much scat.

Seeking a better vantage I crawled to the top of a granite boulder. As I glassed the berry patch, looking for trouble and hoping not to find any, I caught a black blob in the distance. “Bear!” I called to my buddy Matt.

“Bear, bear, bear!” I exclaimed, repeating myself like an idiot and like he hadn’t heard me the first time.

Like most of my encounters with bear my vision was that of an ass in the distance running directly away from me. But as the bear ran I noticed two things. First was the speed – I expected that. I have heard for years that bears are fast. But, second, it was the lack of grace that surprised me; the bear reminded me of a fat pug running a 100 meter dash. Give that a moment for the mind’s eye. The fat rolled up and down his sides in a fluid motion – almost seeming to propel him forward in one instance then stretch his skin in another. It was the epitome of a fat fall bear.

Thrilled to have even seen a bear I was soon thinking about all that meat “on the paw” and that I had a bear tag in my pocket. (Left over from a spring bear hunt that amounted to nothing more than a camping trip in the rain) A plan was hatched – back out slow and quite, then come back in a few days and kill this bear. He would be here, the food, the cover and the lack of access nearly guaranteed it.

Two days later a foursome of folks – Matt, my son Noah, Matts daughter Brooklyn and I – made our way up to the berry patch. Matt and Brooklyn would approach from the east. Noah and I would come from the west. The plan was to glass the patch find the bear and see if we could shoot it.

Out hunting for bear I could tell my son was a little nervous. He would not admit it but I think he was a little scared of the idea of bear, not a real bear. I related to him a story about the first time I encountered a bear. I was fifteen years old walking a canyon floor with a buddy during deer season. We rounded a corner and heard the “woof” sound threatened bears make. On our left was a bear standing on her hind legs looking at us. To our right was a trio of cubs. My heart raced and I nearly needed a change of undershorts. We were, essentially, a meat sandwich at that point. We slowly knocked arrows and even more slowly backed out.

The story did not alleviate his fears. Eventually we found a vantage point for glassing the berry patch.

After a few moments of glassing I could see movement in the berry patch not being caused by wind. I focused in on it – waiting for a sign of life. Eventually, I caught a glimpse of black moving in the underbrush. Then I saw a black paw grab a branch full of berries and bring it down – then an ear, a paw, came into view. But never a shot. We had found the bear – now what?

Desperation often causes inspiration. I told my son to whistle. He looked at me with his head cocked to the side “whistle what” he said.

“I am not sure that it matters” I said.

Next thing I knew the creepy four note tune from the Hunger Games was being belted out from next to me. I put my scope on the last patch of black I had seen. Sure enough the bears head appeared then his neck. He was only 70 yards out. I took the shot and the bear disappeared back into the scrub.

I waited a solid five minutes before going into the scrub brush after the bear. As I trudged forward Noah kept falling behind. Before I knew it I was separated from him by a solid 30 yards. “You need to get out of this brush bud” I told him.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because if this bear ain’t dead and it so much as scratched your leg on the way by – I will NEVER live it down with your mother. Just do me a favor and wait until I find him?”

“Kay” he said, suddenly even more nervous.

Eventually I found the bear. Berries falling out of its mouth – it had died gorging itself. That’s how I want to go. He was roughly a six foot bear – a nice size for Idaho. The main issue was just how much he weighed. I eviscerated the bear – making sure to take a look at his liver (spots can be a sign of infection) and hoping to shed a few pounds of the carcass. It was all Matt and I could do to drag the bear out to a road. Eventually we loaded him up in the quad and made our way back to Matt’s cabin.

When I broke the bear down and started skinning it for a run I noticed just how much fat this bear had on him. On his back rump the fat was over three inches thick. He was building a layer for the winter. Fat in wild game is uncommon – I was going to make the best of it.

I rendered the bear fat, like the old timers uses to do. I made bear bacon, I made roasts, I slow cooked the shoulders in BBQ sauce for sandwiches. The highlight, the reason I go back into the woods each fall and spring with a bear tag and my longbow, is bear ham. I use the big muscle groups out of the hind quarters – I brine them for a week, smoke them over apple and then eat grilled cheese and bear ham sandwiches all winter long. They are flat out delicious.

Bear Meat –

The elephant in the room with bear meat is that they almost certainly carry trichinosis. Bear meat causes 90% of the trichinosis cases in the country, simply because it is not cooked enough. Cook your bear past 145 and you are good. Any lower than that and you run the risk of a food borne illness. Not a fun one either.

Popular outdoor writer and TV host Steven Rinella even contracted it off an Alaskan black bear last year. Trichinosis does not fool around, neither should you or I.

Bear Ham

4 quarts hot water – divided

1.5 cups salt

1 cup white sugar

1 cup brown sugar (or honey)

1.5 oz. insta-cure #1

1/2 cup pickling spice

20 crushed garlic cloves

10-15 pounds of bear hind quarter meat, 3-4 pound muscles each

 

Note: trim the hind loins of as much fat and connective tissue as possible before attempting the recipe. The cleaner the meat going in the better it will be coming out. Also, the recipe can be used on other game animals as well – I do a variation on this recipe for wild turkey breasts and for venison.

Bring 2 quarts water to a boil in a 4 quart sauce pot. Next stir in the salt, sugar, brown sugar and insta-cure #1. All the solid particles should diffuse into the water. Next add the pickling spice and the garlic cloves.

Add the remaining 2 quarts water, cold, to the hot water. This will drop the temperature of the brine. Transfer the mix, now called a brine, to a large plastic container or non-reactive pot. Add the meat to the brine. Let the meat soak for a week in the refrigerator. Make sure that all the meat is submerged. (I often use a plate and a few cans of beans)

Next remove the bear meat from the brine. Pat it dry and let rest on the counter until it comes to room temperature. Then smoke the bear for about 4 hours or until it reaches 145 degrees. If you are not a smoked ham fan simply bake the ham at 375 degrees until 145 degrees.

Reaching this temp is critical with bear meat since it will kill trichinosis.

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

It will last in fridge up to a week thawed. It will last for over a year in the freezer. Slice it thin like deli ham, roast whole for a special occasion…basically just eat and enjoy.