I’m not easily impressed with Thanksgiving turkeys. In fact, I’m fine with skipping traditional turkeys altogether in favor of venison, duck or goose, which are more traditional in terms of Thanksgiving table fare. For round 1 of Thanksgiving (hosting a work related party), we kept things pretty straight forward and offered turkey and ham. (our personal Thanksgiving meal will be centered around a elk roast). After years of experimenting with Thanksgiving birds, I believe we have cracked the code. Dry brine the bird for 2 days then rinse lightly to remove excess salt. No additional salt needs to be added. Roast the bird per standard oven instructions, though, instead of basting, wrap the bird in cheese cloth that has been thoroughly soaked in a mixture of melted butter, maple syrup and bourbon. Serve with giblet gravy, wash down with bourbon, let those that don’t know any better feast on the breast meat while you patiently wait your turn for a whole drumstick, discarded pieces of skin and dark meat from the underbelly.
In a continued effort to exploit Tennessee’s larger tracts of federal land open to hunting access which includes at least two national recreation areas that are exceptions to the national park services’ usual policy on hunting (it is rare that they allow it), I successfully drew a Whitetail tag for one of the two annual quota hunts that take place at Land Between the Lakes. Centered on the TN/KY state line, the historical significance of the area dates back to the Civil War with the Confederate construction of Fort Henry as attempt to blockade the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers. Back then, the area was known as the “Land Between the Rivers”, however, the Corps of Engineers eventually decided to level the two rivers through a series of locks and dams that would form two lakes, thus leaving a narrow strip of peninsula called “Land Between the Lakes.” LBL was managed by the Tennessee Valley Authority for a number of years before being handed over to the NPS.
The TVA did very little in the way of logging or habitat management and, with the exception of some agricultural leases, the land remained unaltered in a state of mature hardwoods for a number of years. As aesthetic as this may seem, mature hardwoods just don’t provide great habitat for Whitetails. Once the NPS took over, they began doing a bit of rotational select logging, developed wildlife habitat programs and they also developed a Elk and Bison range on the KY side. As far as deer hunting, LBL remains open to archery hunting for the duration of the statewide season, but firearm hunting is only permitted on two quota hunts which operate on a priority point system. Most hunters get drawn about every 3 years or so. I was fortunate to draw my first LBL tag with only a single priority point.
With no time to scout the area and with the consideration that hundreds of hunters would suddenly be hitting the woods, my general tactic for hunting LBL was to get into a remote area and stay put over a key terrain funnel for the duration of the hunt. With a general shortage of available cover, so many hunters suddenly entering the woods, and the fact that rutting activity is brewing around the time of this particular hunt, you can generally count on deer to be the move, either rutting or being bumped by hunters throughout the day. On these quota hunts, you are issued one deer tag, good for either sex, however, with a freezer full of elk meat, regular access to good local hunting land and LBL having a general reputation for being the “Land of Giants” (with regards to Whitetails), my plan was to remain highly discriminant if and when the opportunity to pull the trigger presented itself.
One of the problems with hunting such a narrow peninsula, even if it does happen to be the largest inland peninsula in the US at 160,000+ acres, is that there are numerous roads, access points, trailheads, firebreaks and agricultural roads that make it difficult to get more than a half a mile from any single point of access. For this reason, I was very selective with which unit I applied for, selecting a unit where I could reasonably out walk the competition.
I arrived well behind schedule on the day before the hunt with only 3 hours of daylight left. Using a topo map, I had pre-scouted an area with good terrain funnels and headed in with camp on my back. Very few, if any hunters, actually camp in the woods, though I did see several car campers. Most opt for amenity camping or stay at the local hotel which advertises a walk in deer cooler as a selling point. Day 1 went pretty well with some deer sightings, all of them well within shooting range. I saw 4 different does and 2 bucks, all between the hours of 10 am and 2:30 pm. With the exception of one of the bucks who seemed intent on seeking out estrous does, the other deer all appeared to have been bumped by hunters leaving and entering the woods. Since I was hunting a mere few hundred feet from camp and with the short days, I was able to log somewhere in the neighborhood of 10-11 hours of sleep each night, which was great. I did jump online after the first day to check the harvest reports and saw that 99 bucks had been checked in, including several 12 pointers, a couple of 13 pointers and even a 14 pointer. There were also several Whitetails checked in that weighed in the 225-250 pound range, which is about as large as Whitetails get in this part of the country.
As quota hunts tend to go, day 2 was significantly slower in terms of shots heard and deer sightings. By this point, many deer tend to figure out some safe areas, be it safety zones off limits to hunting, or overlooked pockets of hunting pressure. Despite another all day sit, I did not see a single deer on day 2. I spent a third night in the woods before heading out and back home. Though, LBL was a bust for me, the area and the nature of the quota hunts has the potential to produce big buck sightings for almost any hunter sitting anywhere at any time. As a result, I’ll look to rebuild a priority point or 2 with the intentions of returning in 2017 or 2018.
In 36 hours so, I’ll be heading out for the first Fall hunting trip. I drew a either sex Elk rifle tag for CO, which is good for Oct 10th-14th, but we’re heading in 4 days early to get some scouting in. After last year’s experience with backcountry hunting, I began to rethink my food situation as I felt that I had a real shortage of fat consumption and the resulting high carb intake left much to be desired in terms of “sticking to my ribs”, much less keeping me sufficiently warm. Over the last year, I spent quite a bit of time experimenting with fat intake, fast carbs and slow carbs in relation to training and intense activity. You start looking at off-the-shelf backcountry food labels and, with the general exception of peanut butter, you’ll notice a real shortage of food and calories from fat. The reason for this is simple: Fat tends to be heavy and it does not store well long term.
Addressing this issue head on, Heather’s Choice backcountry meals “crack the code” of including not only calories from fat, but nutrient dense calories. Particularly, the buckwheat breakfast meals might very well be THE perfect backcountry hunter’s breakfast: 530 calories, 240 of which are from fat. 57 grams of carbs, 20 grams of protein, 27 grams of fat, 15 grams of saturated fat. Looking at the ingredient list, it looks like she gets around the lack of fat problem by using beef gelatin, an ingredient you probably won’t find in Mountain House meals. The Buckwheat breakfast meals have enough carbs to get you to where you are going and enough fat to keep you warm and feeling full once you get there.
Other changes I made was to add some Sopressa charcuterie, Bacon+Honey+Peanut butter and bacon grease sandwiches (easy 800+ calories that will keep will for a number of days or weeks) and a mixture of butter and coconut butter that I will add to coffee, tea and hot meals as needed. That’s an easy shot of calories and fat. I also added a second breakfast option of freeze dried eggs for a couple of days near the end when when I start getting strung out. That’s a 2oz meal that contains 340 calories. Overall food weight is up this year, but I have found that I perform considerably better with a minimum of 4,000 daily calories. 4,500 is even better, but I just couldn’t justify that much weight. In addition to upping the fat intake, I also brought more fast carbs in the form of gel shots, honey stingers and energy drink mixes for intense climbs. Essentially, my calories are either focused around fat intake for longterm “slow” energy and warmth while sleeping, glassing or sitting still, and “fast” carbs for immediate bursts of energy to power through intense and demanding climbs. Though my food intake does include some slow carbs in the form of rice etc with dinner, I did try to focus more on the two ends of the spectrum: fat and fast carbs. If you think about backcountry hunting, you require sustained and intense levels of activity, sometimes for hours at a time, which are best powered by carbs, but you also need the ability to stay warm in the intense cold and avoid the sensation of excessive hunger while sitting still for hours at a time. The stock, off the shelf backcountry meals do little to address these two extremes, rather they tend to focus more in the middle with slow carb options, which is not necessarily optimal for hunting purposes.
Sadly, I did not get around to making batch of venison pemmican for this trip, but I’ll be sure to include some for my December Coues deer hunt.
If you hunt in a state (or states) that require you to wear blaze orange on your body and you hunt in a ultralight or backcountry style, or you rely on technical hunting clothing, then you have a blaze orange problem. Thus far, the blaze orange vest solutions offered by the vast majority of hunting focused manufactures have been more of a problem than a solution. As a result, it is rather difficult to find a Blaze Orange vest that is not some dedicated piece of “outerwear” with its own pockets and other “bells and whistles.” The problem with these garments is that they are heavy, retain moisture, do not breathe well and they get in the way of the pockets and features of your technical hunting clothing. It is frustrating to cut every corner imaginable to save ounces only to have to pack a 15 oz polyester vest that will invariably become soaked with sweat and not dry out very well. Sitka gear was even so bold as to enter a $100 blaze orange vest to the market under the guise of being a piece of dedicated technical gear. This 14.4 oz piece of uselessness champions a padded shoulder and zippered pockets.
Fact of the matter is, virtually all of the hunting manufacturers have failed to listen to the demands of contemporary hunters. What do hunters want from blaze orange clothing? They want the lightest piece of fabric possible that does not retain moisture, does not get in the way of their technical clothing nor hinders athletic performance and meets the minimum requirements for blaze orange. One solution has been to use mesh construction vests, however, these are not all manufactured with ultralight ethos in mind and many do not contain the minimum surface area of blaze orange. Also, the spacing of the mesh itself can be legally problematic in certain states. In short, hunters do not need blaze orange clothing so much as they need blaze orange requirements met with as few hindrances as possible.
Orange Aglow, a new company started by a fellow hunter with many of complaints echoed above, offers you a straightforward, no nonsense, ultralight solution to your Blaze Orange problem. A medium vest weighs 2.2 oz, contains 600 square inches of blaze orange and costs $17.99. The fabric is an extremely tight knit mesh with a stretchy quality and will not hold moisture. Sizing is standard. If you wear a medium shirt or jacket, purchase a medium vest. The fabric stretches enough to easily fit over a puffy jacket. Should your state require visibility from all directions (there is a new video on the CO Fish & Game suggesting that you wear a blaze orange vest large enough to fit over you AND your backpack!), this blaze orange panel is a easy solution. It weighs less than 1 oz, has 4 velcro attachments points, contains 115 square inches of blaze orange and costs $5.99. The panel could also sensibly be used to cover a skull or capped head when packing to avoid another hunter misidentifying a set of antlers.
Professional chef and hunting enthusiasts Randy King contributes to the ever growing pool of wild game cooking knowledge with his new book “Chef in the Wild.” The book is equally divided into four sections: Air, Land, Water & Home. “Air” is focused on upland birds and waterfowl. “Land” is focused on big and small game. “Water” is, of course, focused on fish and the “Home” portion of the book covers foraging, side dishes, sauces & seasonings, and forage inspired beverages and desserts.
Sometimes you’ll hear grumblings from hunters regarding chef recipes being over-complex with difficult to find ingredients. King’s book, however, focuses almost exclusively on “down home”, relatively simple recipes that use common ingredients. Even the fancier sounding, Japanese inspired cuisine should find appeal with your most salt-of-the-earth family member:
Smashed Quail with Mountain Dew Ponzu
-8 Quail, plucked and gutted
-1 can of Mountain Dew
-1/2 Cup Soy Sauce
-1 Tsp red chili flakes
-2 green onions, sliced
-1 thumb-sized chunk of ginger, peeled and sliced
The Land segment of the book covers some basic butchering techniques and deals with recipes for Antelope, deer, rabbit, pig and, my personal favorite, bear. There is a real lack of formally published bear recipes out there. King’s bear recipe is a St Louis style rib recipe that looks entirely legit by Memphis standards. As a side note, I did notice that King suggests a very liberal minimum temperature for dealing with trichinosis: “...cook the meat past 137F. This should kill the bug and your chance of contracting it.” Though that temperature will kill trichinosis, it might be important to note that the meat would need to reach and hold this temperature for at least 1 minute. Some food safety experts recommend taking bear meat to 155F and holding the meat at that temp for at least 5 minutes while others even suggest 160F (Steve Rinella can tell you more about that).
You can peruse some of King’s fish recipes here. All and all, a very worthwhile book that should have something to offer most any hunter, fisherman, or game cook.
With the recent news of a declining McDonald’s, one can’t help but speculate that at least part of this decline must be attributed to shifts in tastes and overall competition. With ever increasing options for interesting, unique and boutique burgers, both complex and simple, the delivery model for large scale, “industrial” burgers is increasingly less appealing to an ever growing segment of the population. Combined with the the influence of celebrity chefs, cooking and food shows, there has also been a significant increase of interest in the art of DIY speciality burgers. Enter American Burger Revival: Brazen Recipes to Electrify a Timeless Classic by Samuel Monsour and Richard Curry via Union Park Press.
Much more than a generic coffee table cookbook, American Burger Revival covers cuts of meat, DIY butchering & grinding, philosophy of spice, bread making for creative buns, sauces, pickling, plus a wide range of recipes both moderate in scope and serving as inspiration for the overachiever. In particular, I found the sauce recipes compelling. “Bloody Mary Ketchup”, which includes 1/2 cup of vodka as well as the mere notion of fried ketchup (yes, indeed), Creole Mayo, “Carolina Gold”, and Alabama white sauce all sound appealing to my morning hangover as well as my general interests regarding regional Southern cuisine.
The benchmark burger recipes “Misohorny”, “Ragin Cajun”, “BLT Club”, “The Walker Texas Ranger”, “The Filthy Pilgrim” and the piece de resistance: “The Blacked Out Monte Cristo” (glazed donut, fried ketchup, smoked Tasso ham, corned beef hash, swiss cheese, maple syrup and fried eggs), though serious undertakings relative to the simple art of making hamburgers (and also time consuming), can certainly inspire the DIY chef, be it subbing store bought ingredients or making the entire spread from scratch.
Deer hunters in my home state have spent the last couple of months in a bitter and highly divisional debate over antlered deer limits. Tennessee has had a statewide antlered bag limit (the state does not distinguish between sex of deer, rather antlered and antlerless to account for biological anomalies) of 3 deer since 1999. Antlerless (aka “Does)” bag limits are limited on a Unit by Unit basis with the majority of Middle and West Tennessee being Unit “L” with highly liberal bag limits of 3 “does” per day, every day for the entire ~100 day season. Much of the Unit L counties have deer numbers that range from 30-50+ deer per square mile. Some select counties (Unit “A’) are more limited than that, but as you move into Appalachia, deer numbers decline sharply, often to ~15 or less deer per square mile. This dramatic difference is largely due to difference of habitat. Appalachia consists of more continuous tracts of mature timber with significantly less agriculture than the rest of the state.
Our state game agency has maintained that there is no biological reason to reduce the statewide buck limits. It is worth noting that only about 3% of Tennessee deer hunters kill their bag limit of 3 antlered deer in one season. Heck, only about 50% of Tennessee deer hunters are even successful at killing a deer, any deer, during hunting season. With a deer herd of 800,000 to 1,00,000 and hunters killing between 200,000-260,00 deer annually and only 3% of hunters killing 3 antlered deer in a season, in the opinion of some biologists and many hunters, including myself, there is little to nothing to be gained by reducing the bag limits. However, a very vocal minority raised a successful campaign to reduce the bag limits two 2 antlered deer statewide. Seemingly, this bag limit reduction has little impact on the vast majority of Tennessee deer hunters including myself since I seldom have killed more than 1 antlered deer in a hunting season anyway. Living in a part of the state with an abundance of deer, I have the luxury of being highly selective. However, many hunters living in Appalachia do not have this luxury. The reason that I fought this bag limit reduction was because that I felt like in unfairly impacted the Unit B rifle hunter who may be looking to feed his or her family with a couple of deer in the freezer. Since these hunters are not allowed to kill antlerless deer during rifle season, the casual Appalachian “Blue Collar” hunter may very well have had his or her deer hunting opportunities reduced to two deer total at the influence of the deer hunting enthusiasts for whom hunting is a hobby.
My speculation is that average supporter of antlered bag limit reductions was a suburban based “hobbyist” hunter who maintains a small to medium size hunting lease (50-150 acres) in a rural area with an abundance of deer, but this “hobbyist” wishes to see more “big” deer. His line of thinking follows that his neighbors must be killing all of the small antlered deer, therefore few, if any grow to maturity. When faced with the statistic that only 3% of hunters are killing 3 bucks anyway, the hobbyist hunter is quick to speculate that a reduced bag limit will force other hunters to be more selective with the 2nd antlered deer they kill. This effect has yet to be seen, but, regardless, is hardly a biological speculation. If you wanted to make a case for class warfare here, it would be worth noting that Appalachia/Unit B is home to the largest concentration of rural poverty in Tennessee while the vocal minority championing bag limit reductions were largely middle class and suburban.
The state game agency recommended to the game commission that we maintain a bag limit of 3 antlered deer. The commission, who makes the final decisions, came back asking for a proposal of 2 antlered deer. The amount of hunter comments received during the comment period was cited as a reason. In the end, I speculate that a very hasty, unbiological, and politically motivated decision was made about game management. Similar situations have unfolded across the country. For example, the California ban on hunting Mountain Lions was based upon public vote rather than biological function and game management. Unrealistic expectations, hunting shows, the hunting industry at large, disregarded facts, selfishness, political motivations, and armchair biology are all forces at play here.
It is my assertion that there are an abundance private hunting clubs that cater to the trophy hunting hobbyists by maintaining their own unique deer management practices including bag limits that are less than the statewide limits, antler restrictions, age restrictions and other management practices. In other words, the hobbyist deer hunter has ample opportunity (and the luxury) to hunt highly managed lands if he or she desires. The type of hunter that this reduction negatively affects, very well may not have such luxuries. The forces at work here unfairly impacted the casual deer hunter, further propelling the pursuit of big game hunting as a leisure activity of the wealthy and semi wealthy and further undermining the the principles of the North American wildlife model. I did what I could do to fight it and I am disappointed in the outcome.
Mainstream hunting & Fishing culture is a weird thing. Depsite being a passion for many, the culture is a sea of commercialization, gimmicks and exploits. In my city of residence sits “The Memphis Pyramid”, initially known as the “Great American Pyramid”, formerly referred to as the “Pyramid Arena” and locally referred to as “The Pyramid.” The Pyramid was originally built as a 20,142-seat arena located in downtown Memphis on the banks of the Mississippi River. The facility was built in 1991 and was originally owned and operated jointly by the city of Memphis and Shelby County; Shelby County sold its share to Memphis in April 2009. Its structure plays on the city’s namesake in Egypt, known for its ancient pyramids. It is 321 feet (98m, about 32 stories) tall and has base sides of 591 ft; it is by some measures the sixth largest pyramid in the world behind the Great Pyramid of Giza (456 ft), Khafre’s Pyramid (448 ft), Luxor Hotel (348 ft), the Red Pyramid (341 ft), and the Bent Pyramid (332 ft). It is also slightly (about 16 feet) taller than the Statue of Liberty.
The Memphis Pyramid has not been regularly used as a sports or entertainment venue since 2004. Over the years, the pyramid has been the source of local controversy relating to its many shortcomings, lack of use and cost. In 2015, the Pyramid re-opened as a Bass Pro Shops “megastore”, which includes shopping, a hotel, spa, restaurants, a bowling alley, and a gun and archery range with an outdoor observation deck at its apex.
Despite my severe misgivings about about the taxpayers flipping a good chunk of the deal, reportedly to the tune of 35 million dollars, I often found myself defending this development to other locals simply because people outside of the realm of hunting & fishing culture fail to grasp how large of an industry exists around this culture. Some complained of the aesthetics of a “Redneck Riviera” amidst a large city, others lacked the financial confidence is such a retail development. For better or for worse, this behemoth of a store is now open and fully operational.
I had the opportunity to tour the facility and thoroughly examined it from top to bottom. I saw the (NYC priced) hotel rooms, the spa, the abundant taxidermy, the Ducks Unlimited museum, the restaurant, the bowling alley, the aquarium and, after riding the tallest free standing elevator in the world, I was even able to spot my personal duck hunting hole from the observation lounge.
I suppose that I have complex and mixed feelings about the pyramid. There are certainly aspects to it that are very impressive. It sort of has a “World Fair” vibe to it and much to my relief, there is a general lack of over branding once you’re inside. The guts of the store are setup to sell trinkets, fudge, and novelty household items to tourists while the peripheral offers a selection of hunting and fishing related goods typical of a BPS store. I did note that the optics selection was woefully understocked compared to the original BPS store in East Memphis, though, really, who is going to a place like this to purchase high end optics?
In the end, I think this place is generally worth experiencing. I suspect that it will be a reasonably successful tourist attraction. During waterfowl season, I expect that the place will see a fair amount of traffic since I-40 serves a corridor for destination hunting in Arkansas. As a retail store, I think that it will attract families who will spend the weekend there shopping, eating, bowling, and possibly financing a boat after having enough drinks at the bar. As far as being a store that a local or regional hunter would make a quick stop at to pick up some extra ammo or a headlamp before heading out for the weekend, it is far from ideal, nor set up for that.
Formatting issues on the blog are a little screwed right now. -hope to have this resolved in the next few days.