Wild Mushrooms – 2018

The fall season in Southern Ontario offers opportunities to get out into the wild and enjoy a number of activities, often many at the same time.  My buddy Dave and I headed out recently to take part of this seasonal overlap.  With a canoe on the roof of the car, rods and a shot-gun in the back, and a mushroom field guide-book in hand we headed out on some crown land north of Kingston.  Our aim was to target walleye early, stop periodically to see if we could take advantage of the early goose season, and walk some public land to see if we could find some edible mushrooms.

Unfortunately, the goose hunt didn’t really pan out and our fishing success was limited to one walleye and a few bass.  Thankfully the mushroom hunting salvaged the trip as we found a large number of lobster mushrooms and a few chanterelles among many other curious fungal species. Pictures have been included below for your viewing pleasure.

Cheers from the wild,

Albert

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Hank Shaw Book Tour Dinner at Antler

Hank Shaw. The man, the Chef, the culinary genius.  For those who don’t know, Hank Shaw is a chef hailing out of California, who in my opinion, has revolutionized wild game cooking.  He maintains a website that documents his numerous wild game recipes and has crystallized his extensive knowledge into several books.   Were not just talking a pot of ground venison chili either (although he has a great recipe for this in Buck Buck Moose), but elegant meals such as Duck aux poivre, venison in morel sauce and barbacoa.

Hank’s recipes exude a rare combination of worldliness and technical detail all supported by solid wild game theory.  He seems to be constantly exploring foreign cuisines and creatively merging them with wild game.  His efforts and dedication to perfection are obvious in each new recipe I attempt.  My current status of “no failed recipes” is likely due to Hank’s expertly crafted recipes more than my skills to implement them.

While cruising around on his website I noticed that his recent tour for his new book, Pheasant, Quail, Cottontail had some Canadian dates.  More importantly he was planning a book dinner in Toronto on a date I actually had a chance of making.  Even more importantly, the dinner was to be held at famous Antler Restaurant; a place I’ve always wanted to visit.  Everyone seems to know this place by its chef’s recent clashes with vegan protesters.  I imagine though that anyone who stops in soon learns that there is more behind this place than just the one dimensional media coverage it has received.  The chef, Michael Hunter, has some serious cooking chops and knows his way around Canada’s wild game species.   A simple call to Antler, and moments later I had a reservation for this event.  Now I just had to wait a few months.

The day arrived.  It was a Monday, and I had a just started a week of vacation. I left Kingston in my rear view mirror around 2 pm and arrived in Toronto an hour or so early.  I decided to kill a bit of time in the nearby bar “the Loveless Cafe”.  It was a good choice as the beverages were delicious and the decor was really getting me in the mood for the game dinner that awaited me at Antler.

The exterior of the restaurant is simple and humble.  The meal, although comprised of simple ingredients, was much more extravagant with an obvious flair that showcased species covered by Hank’s new book (Pheasant, Quail, Cottontail) and local igredients.  The menu was a combination of Hank’s and Michael’s creations and I could spend pages raving about it.  Instead I’ll let you browse the menu and give your saliva glands a workout while perusing some pictures.

(Both the terrine and duck liver mousse were light, flavorful, and worthy of praise)

(I eaten lots of rabbit before but nothing seemed to compare to the delicious Rabbit Ragu Hank and Michael pulled out of their hats for this meal)

(Much of my upland game culinary experiences have centered around grouse and woodcock.  I can honestly say that the main dish of Pheasant Cacciatore was every bit as good as the finest forest chicken I have enjoyed)

As the meal progressed, my interest in taking pictures waned and was replaced by a desire to enjoy as much of these delicious meals as possible.  You can’t eat pictures right.  Not to mention I became preoccupied with sharing hunting stories with fellow wild game enthusiasts that sat on either side of me.  In my experience, most hunters jump at the chance to tell the tale of their last seasons hunt, even if they have a full mouth and especially if they are somewhat new to the game (myself included).

To cap the experience, Hank actually made the rounds to chat with those who attended the dinner and was more than willing to share his experience and answer questions about specific meals or species.  I can honestly say I was impressed with the depth of his knowledge.  Really though, after reading so many of his articles and trying out his recipes, it didn’t really surprise me.

Thanks again to the staff at Antler and to Hank for putting on such a great event and for all the efforts put into exploring wild game and bringing it into the mainstream.

Cheers from the table,

Albert

2018 Turkeys

I have been turkey hunting for close to 5 years now, but haven’t really had any success until the last few years. Of course this has nothing to do with my hunting ability (or lack thereof)…right?  Instead, I choose to attribute my new found success to the property I now hunt and three years of turkey hunting with some skilled fellow hunters.  These gents grew up hunting the fields, hardwoods and shield ridges of the area and they seem to know the local wildlife like the back of their hands.    They taught me the sounds to listen for, animal habits and patterns, how to call and basically all the tid-bits of information required to understand how to Turkeys.   Exposure to seasoned individuals like these was exactly the thing I needed in order to cut my turkey teeth.  I’m certain it is this experience by osmosis that eventually led to my first successful solo turkey hunt and the harvesting of my second bird of the year (my first Tom).

Turkey #1

We started out around 5 am, and headed into the woods on one of our favorite properties to hunt. The property was a mix of active agricultural lands, small pasture and hay fields,  and a large maple bush located next to a small lake.  This is a dream mix for turkey hunters and we often encounter many birds here during deer season.

Despite the perfect habitat and some promising gobbles, we struck out that morning.  Deflated yet still optimistic we returned to our vehicles.  I wasn’t quite done though and decided to head to another area at about 10 am where we had harvested turkeys in the past.  I settled in to a rhythm of short nap, wake up, call, repeat… After about the third cycle I woke up to see three birds staring at my hen and strutter decoys from about 30 yards away.  my gun lay on the grass beside me and my decoys were between me and the birds.  This was going to be tricky.

Thankfully the birds milled about behind some tree cover as they continued to size up the strutter, reluctant to make a move on the hen.  This gave me a few periodic moments where I could inch the gun up to my shoulder and take a shot.  Moments later, a Jake was down and my yearly tradition of wild turkey for mothers day dinner was saved.

The following Friday, my co-worker came into my office around 11 and casually joked about leaving early.  I looked up from my work and paused.  There was an awkward moment of silence where our minds started to process the possibility of actually following through with this.  Were my projects caught up? Did I have any meetings later that day?  Our mutual realization that we actually could take the afternoon off started to become obvious and our conversation changed into more of a “how to” than a “should we”.

Fast forward, we returned to the clearing where I shot my first Jake hoping the other two would still be there.  Again, we settled into the short nap, wake up, call regime… Things were quiet with the exception of a group of flickers that seemed to be playing in the clearing.  Then a barred owl chimed in and the game changed dramatically.

An immediate gobble sounded from further in the woods.  The owl sounded off. The gobbler returned in kind.  I struck up the box call and let out a series of 4-5 yelp kee-kees, which at first, didn’t seem to be phasing the gobbler at first.  The owl went quiet and suddenly the gobbler started to take an interest and began returning my calls.  After about 3 round of this I let off the call and waited.  The gobbler seemed to be getting closer and continued to gobbler in efforts of attracting our non existent hen.  Moments later I made visual contact and excitedly reported to Dave that there were two birds and both were sizable.  I continued with some light putting and purring and the birds continued to advance, albeit at a snails pace.  Finally they were both in view, the smaller bird taking my left shooting lane and the bigger sticking to the right.  We began a count down to shooting and were about to pull the trigger when the birds decided to cross paths.  The larger decided to trade places with the smaller and the shot clock was back on. 3, 2, 1….My big bird was down and the smaller bird was off into the wind.

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Despite missing out on the double, the experience was good fun and full of lessons to be learned.  I’ve done my best to summarize these below in order to help out other beginners out there.

My Tips

1) Turkey hunting is an all day affair.  Mornings, as exciting as they are with all the calling and hootenanny, don’t hold a monopoly on bird harvests.  My solo bird was harvested around 10:55 am.

2) Remember the location of every bird you locate.  You may not connect with it on your first encounter, but knowing its general vicinity can go along way to help you harvest it at a later time or day.

3) Be quiet.  Be still.  Be Patient. A gobbler may stop calling back, but that doesn’t mean he has stopped looking for you.  Patience kills turkeys.

4) Turkeys don’t always come in loud and aggressive.  Be ready for the subtle silent approach.  My bird came in with a group of jakes and didn’t make a peep.

Good Luck!

Cheers form the Wild,

Al

Deer Season 2017 – The Year of the Bear

I honestly marvel at the endless variety hunting provides.  I hunt with the same group of folks every year.  We run the same pieces of property, and often sit in the very same stands.  That’s alot of the same. Even still, will things being so similar, things rarely ever play out the same way.

This year was no different.  Similar to previous years, our efforts in 2017 began by running what is arguable the crowning jewel of the cadre of properties available to us.  Natural pinch points connecting large tracts of undisturbed woods make this a magnet for deer.  Not to mention there is a small lake present and plenty of close by fields for forage.  When considered in context with the quality of habitat, it is no wonder that we have taken many a deer of this property.  After a brief hike in, I sat up smack dab in the middle of one of the pinch points; the same stand where I harvested  my very first deer.

I settled in for the 3-4 hour run, when almost immediately, the dogs began to bawl out their sounds of excitement indicating they found a scent.  Gun at the ready I closed my eyes and opened my ears.  As most seasoned deer hunters will tell you, stillness is a hunters best friend, and I find nothing makes you still like closing your eyes and opening your ears.  I was shaken awake by a rumbling in the bush directly ahead of me which consistently grew louder.  The noise peaked as three large black shapes appeared through the brush dead ahead.  Recognition kicked in as I realized those shapes were a mother black bear and her two cubs.

I grew up with stories about how defensive mother bears could be.  Lots of stories included hunters who got between a mother and cubs and ended up having to deal with a charging mama bear.  My gun was raised and my mind nervously recounted these stories.  I stayed patient and watched the mother through the sights of my rifle.  Thankfully, her only interest was evading the barking hounds behind me and she casually passed to my right about 15 yards away.

We ended up taking a deer on that run, as we have many times before.  Even though I didn’t shoot the deer, I was strangely satisfied with my close encounter and my forced re-evaluation of common bear behavior.

The experience definitely made for a memorable hunt.  Pics below.

Cheers from the wild,

Albert

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The kids even decided to come up to check out the last day of the hunt.

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Another successful year.

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Even the kids were interested in the deer.

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And of course, the four wheeler!

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Wood Duck Exploits

Our recent trek into the woods occurred on a parcel of crown land about 45 minutes north of Kingston.  We planned to spend the weekend hunting for grouse on the trails and the opening morning of waterfowl in a duck blind a few minutes paddle from our campsite.

On the hike in we ran across loads of deer, bear and moose sign.  This area seemed to be pretty vibrant with wildlife.  We even got a shot at a fleeing grouse.

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This was the furthest north I had ever duck hunted and was immediately surprised when a flock of wood ducks flew in hard and fast to our spread.  Being a mallard hunter from the lake Ontario corridor, I was conditioned to think that there were no other species of puddle duck in Ontario.

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The woodies provided a good challenge for our group.  They are somewhat smaller than a mallard and fly a bit faster making them tougher to hit.  still, we managed a few birds.  Enough for a taste and more than enough to keep us coming back.

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Cheers from the Wild

Al

Big Lake (O) Bachelor Party

Bachelor Parties.  A time in a persons life where they celebrate the single lifestyle one last time before they take the plunge into marriage.  For many this means bars, strip clubs, drinking, maybe even gambling.  However recennt trends seem to be leaning towards trips that are somewhat more memorable.  Canoe trips into the wild, summiting a mountain, renting heavy equipment and going to town in a field for a weekend.  It seems sharing a mutually enjoyable and memorable experience is the new thing.

I recently found myself taking part in the planning of a bachelor party for a good friend, and felt the need to come up with an experience that was memorable, surprising and exciting all rolled into one.  The groom (Jamie) had recently discovered his love for fishing which naturally led me towards the idea of a fishing charter.  With the salmon and trout season still in full swing on Lake O, my choice was almost predetermined.  After convincing the other BP attendees that getting up at 3:00 am was a good idea, we booked the charter with Joe from Salmon Tracker Charters and set about thinking of a way to get the groom to the boat.

The day of party arrived, and the goom and I made our way towards Ajax under some pretty solid false pretenses and directed him towards Frenchman Bay Marina where he conveniently bumped into his father, brother, and two close friends.  All waiting in the parking lot with a tied look in their eyes and a cooler full of snacks.

We met on C Dock and boarded a beautiful boat that comfortably seated six plus the captain.  Joe as courteous and knowledgeable and quickly familiarized us with the boat and the days itinerary.  Joe came highly recommended by my Uncle, who guided on Lake O for salmon and trout for many years.  In my opinion, if my uncle recommends you, that means you have some serious street cred in the fishing community.

Joe’s boat was perfect for 6 blokes looking to score some big fish, and Joes prowess as a captain would live up to the luxury of his boat. Joe had two games plans, stick close for staging king salmon, or go deep for cohos and Rainbows.  After consulting with some other captains and learning that fishing was lean near shore, Joe chose option B and took us several kms out into the blue waters of Lake Ontario.

The first fish hit quick and was ceremoniously reeled in by the groom.  Not a big fish, but the little shaker made up for it by its sheer presence and determination on the line. Catching anything right off the bat, no matter the size will put a smile on your face.

We decided to take turns and chose a batting ordered that favoured those who had not fished in several years.  That said, Jamie’s Dad, Dennis, was next up to bat,  and what a swing he took!  The battle was on and it became clear early on that what ever was on the other end of Dennis’s line wasn’t tiny.  In fact, it ended up being a beautiful 18lb rainbow trout.  Quite the trophy for someone who hadn’t fished in over 10 years.

Next up was Jamie’s brother Mike who landed another respectable rainbow which led to another happy fisherman.

As much as we were bucking the normal customs of typical Bachelor Parties, we felt obligated to include a few traditions, such as the customary Cuban Cigar

The battle continued and action remained steady.  Time for old Davey T to step up and take a turn.

Next up was Justin.  At first, the fish didn’t want to play ball for Justin as several were lost at or close to the boat.  Finally however, a small King decided to commit and made Justin’s Day.  Unfortunately the little guy took some battle damage which made him a prime candidate for the cooler.  Perfect size for a meal.

The author even got to take a turn.  After loosing what we think was a monster to a broken line (no seriously, I promise it was huge!!!), I managed to boat a respectable rainbow trout.  Surprisingly enough, this guy was my biggest rainbow so far. Actually come to think of it, it was my only wild rainbow I have ever caught!

Overall we boated about 7 fish and lost another 10 or so.  Enough to keep us busy and quite the days work for a group of gents who got up at 3:30 to drive from Kingston.  The experience was memorable for everyone, Most of all for the groom.  He obviously had no idea what was in store for him which made the day that much more memorable.

The bachelor party continued with food and drink in downtown Toronto where great times were had by all.

Congratulations on your upcoming marriage Jamie.  All the best to you and your bride for the future.

Cheers from the boat,

Albert

Bay of Quinte 2017

I always try to get out to the Bay of Quinte for walleyes at least once a year.  It doesn’t always work, and this year was looking like a trip may not be possible.

That is, until I received a call from a buddy inquiring as to my availability on the Saturday of that week.  It turned out he was at a cottage on the BoQ with his in-laws and fiancée and was looking to possibly chase some walleyes.  A telephone call is really all the motivation I need to get out fishing so I geared up the green machine, woke early the next day, and made a run up tp Hay Bay.

Fishing was moderate to slow, but we still managed to boat 3 nice Walleyes which we kept for the fry pan.  Twas a grand old time even if it was last minute.

 

Cheers from the Wild