Leek Season 2015 has begun in Southern Ont.

Normally Leek season is well underway by the end of April here in Southern Ontario.  This year though, we have had unseasonably cold temperatures and lots of late snows.  This can put the start of leak season in question.  In an effort to try and determine at what stage the leeks were at, I decided to take a trip to a friends farm in search of these pungent edibles.  Ever curious, my young daughter decided she wanted to come along with Da Da to see what all the fuss was about.  Armed with her favourite hat and a garden trowel we took the drive out to the farm and set out to explore.

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Our first foray into the woods found a large patch of trout lilies.  Although not what we were looking for, trout lilies are considered edible by some, albeit slightly emetic if consumed in large quantities.

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We picked a few bunches for a small salad.

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Our trip continued to a different section of woods.  One that contained hardwood trees and southern exposure.  Sure enough, these characteristics, coupled with soft, dark, and rich loamy soil makes for an almost sure bet for finding Leeks.

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Of course Lorelei had to take a turn at digging.

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Then she got tired and decided to take a break on a nearby rock to watch Dada pick a few more.

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As a reminder, foragers should only harvest a few stalks from each cluster to preserve the colony for  future harvests.  These plants take a while to replenish so they are very susceptible to overharvesting.  Be conservative now to ensure a life time of picking in the future.

Lots of other interesting spring plant life to see including spring beauties and mushroom life.

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So for all those wondering what is up with the Leeks this year, they are out but its still early. Some have yet to reach their full size.  Give it another week or two and things will really be underway.

Cheers from the Wild,

Albert

Venison Steak – Back to Basics

I am approaching the last of the venison from my first deer, taken last season.  With just a few packages of chops, a couple packages of burger, and two steaks left, I am trying to make the most of it.  With all the of possible recipes floating around in my head, I found it hard to decide what to do next.  Thankfully the time constraints of a busy life have forced me to make the practical decision and I settled on something that can easily  prepared on a weeknight.   Which recipe won out in the end?  The answer is a classic pan seared steak, paired with home fries and braised spinach.  Maybe just a few wild blackberries added for a garnish and give the dish an extra  wild element to the dish. Venison steak embodies the flavour of the venison at its most basic level.  No frills, no gimics.  Just pure, honest to goodness venny taste.   You will need: Venison steaks (back strap, hind or front quarter steaks, or even tenderloin if you so choose)

  • Montreal Steak Spice
  • Potatoes
  • Salt
  • Pepper,
  • Spinach
  • Garlic cloves
  • Oil or Butter

The recipe begins with trimming off the excess fat from the steaks and by coating them in the Montreal steak spice. The steak spice is optional, and can be substituted for salt and pepper. I like to dry my venison with a paper towel and let it rest in the spices for a few minutes prior to cooking.  Drying is key to an even cooking throughout and a good brown on the exterior while maintaining a medium to medium rare coking.

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While the venison is drying I cubed the potatoes (the skin can be left on if desired).  Just like venison, you will get a better cooking and a crispier exterior if you dry the potatoes in a towel or paper towel.  Coat the potatoes in salt pepper or any other favourite homefry spice.  As an alternative, I like to use a dry rub meant for ribs to give them an extra kick http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/rib-dry-rub-recipe.html . Another favourite is a simple Olive oil, rosemary and kosher salt coating.  Both add an extra pezazz to the potatoe. Once seasoned, the potatoes go in to an oiled pan which has been brought to medium heat.  They are fried until golden brown and to the point where the potatoes can be easily penetrated with a fork. When the potatoes are nearly done, I heat up a separate pan to medium heat and add oil or butter.  Following that I add the steaks and cook to the appropriate cooking.  A couple tips:

1) venison retains a much better consistency at a medium or medium rare cooking.  Any more and it can become tough. Try this tip for gauging cooking http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/the_finger_test_to_check_the_doneness_of_meat/

2) try to minimize the number of times you flip the steaks.  The steaks always seem to retain their moisture better when you limit it to one or two flips.

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The last component of the meal was braised spinach.  I melted a bit of butter in a pan and added some minced garlic. Once soft, I add the spinach and a splash of lemon juice to the pan.  Cover and cook until soft.  Remember, the spinach will cook a bit even after removed from the heat so avoid the initial over cooking. DSC_0259DSC_0262 Extravagant meals may be great when time allows, but if your like me, your busy lifestyle demands a more practical approach throughout the week.  But that doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice quality or taste, or the use of venison for that matter.  A quick pan seared venison steak fits the bill on all accounts and still allows for fancier interpretations if desired.

Cheers from my Kitchen

Albert

Venison Longaniza

With the bustle of Christmas behind us, I found myself with a little bit of free time this past weekend.  Confronted with an empty stomach and the infinite possibilities of what to do on a blustery January day, I did what any hungry outdoorsman would do.  I busted out the ground venison and the old stainless steel manual grinder.  Yes, it was sausage time once again at my house and I was excited to try out a new recipe as well revisiting some old reliables.

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After an intense internal debate on what to make I decided on two recipes; the first was a Mexican Chorizo (recipe courtesy of Micheal Rhulman and his book Charcuterie); and the second was a Spanish Longaniza posted by Hank Shaw on his website .

The Mexican chorizo was delicious and has been a favourite of mine for a while.  Orginally this recipes was designed for pork, however I found it will also accommodate a 50/50 pork venison split.  Suitable for adding to a soup, gumbo or even on its own, this sausage packs a flavourful punch with a bit of spicy kick.

Next was the Longaniza.  I was unfamiliar with this sausage and wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into with it.  And by unfamiliar, I mean I hadn’t even heard of it before, little own taste it.  Still, I was determined break some of my culinary boundaries and take my taste buds for a walk.  Besides, If I had to put blind trust in anyone’s culinary sense as it relates to wild game, Hank Shaw would be the guy.

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(Nothing beats that rich red colour that stays with the meat from an Ontario whitetail deer)

Longaniza is a traditional Spanish sausage similar to a chorizo, however it has become prevalent in many countries cuisines such as Chile, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Phillipines.  The exact recipe varies greatly between regions but I found the version posted by Hank Shaw to be delightfully flavourful with a delicious combination of Allspice, fresh rosemary and fresh green onions (The recipe can be found at: http://honest-food.net/wild-game/venison-recipes/burger-meatball-recipes/antelope-or-goat-longaniza-sausage/ )

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For my version, I used 50% pork shoulder and 50% ground venison which turned out great, however I am confident this recipe could easily handle a 30% pork fat to 70% venison ration. I made a few minor tweaks to the seasoning that included substituting the sweet paprika for regular paprika with a tea spoon of sugar, using a home made merlot for the wine, and using crushed dried rosemary which I harvested from my garden this year.  I reduced the rosemary to 1.5 Tablespoons of dried versus the 25 grams of fresh that is called for in the recipe.

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The final product surprised me in its strength of flavour and complexity with the major tastes of the rosemary and allspice being supported by the rest of the ingredients.

I had decided to make this sausage on a whim with no real expectations but ended up striking gold in the flavour department.

I was impressed.  I was so impressed by the taste, I decided to save a bit of the mixture to form into patties for some sandwiches served at diner that day.  A little bit of Jalapeño Havarti on a ciabatta bun and dinner was served.

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Accompanied by a spicy vegetable and venison chorizo soup, the meal was extremely satisfying.

I had this idea in my head that trying new venison recipes was a gamble.  These pre-conceived notions are likely directly related to some poorly butchered meat I had in the past.  All it takes is one bad experience to riddle you with inhibitions, especially when it comes to food.

I am happy to say I no longer buy into this view, ever since I started working with my first deer which I harvested last year.  What made the difference? My deer was taken quickly with one shot, the meat was cared for and butcher appropriately, and the resulting product was far superior to any I had worked with in the past.  The key here is to start with quality if you expect quality.  Its seems after a few resounding successes with my goulashSalisbury steak and now the Longaniza, the restrictors are off and it seems Im ready to put venison in just about anything.

Cheers from my Kitchen

Albert

Salisbury Steak – Venison Styles

As winter arrives here in southern Ontario, It seems my appetite shifts towards the hearty side of the food spectrum.  And lets face it, nothing says hearty like Salisbury steak.  Since I have an abundance of venison this year, and I am on a tear cooking venison, I decided to take a proverbially kick at the venison Salisbury steak can.  This was to be a big change from the meat pies and sausages I typically make with ground venison.

Salisbury steak is a moniker most people recognize but may not really know what it is.  So what is it?  Salisbury Steak is a traditional meal heralding from the united states, and created by Dr. J. H. Salisbury.  This meal gained in popularity throughout the USA as it was seen as a more affordable alternative to expensive traditional steak cuts.  This meal, or meals like it are popular around the world, having equivalents in countries like Japan (ハンバーグ – hanbāgu), Russia(котлета рубленая – kotleta rublenaya), South Korea(햄버그 스테이크 – hambeogeu seuteikeu) and the UK (grill steaks) as well as many others.

Salisubury steak recipes are plentiful and can vary widely.  This dish can be made with beef, pork, venison or any combination of the three.  Accompanying sauces can also vary widely from beef broth based, to cream to tomato based  (all of which taste delicious).

My recipe includes the following:
3 strips of bacon
1lb of venison (or equivalent)
2 table spoons of breadcrumbs or ground butter crackers
2 teaspoons of thyme
a pinch of savoury
1 egg
a dash of salt and pepper
one small yellow onion
mushrooms (button works or chanterelles for the foragers out there)
1 cup of beef base and water
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
extra water if to desired consistency
water and cornstarch solution to desired consistency.

I start by frying the bacon strips to a crisp redish brown.  Removed the bacon, chop, and set aside.  Save some of the bacon fat in the pan for future use.  This will add another layer of taste complexity to your dish while not over powering it with bacon deliciousness.

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Mix together the 1lb of ground venison, 2 table spoons of breadcrumbs, 2 teaspoons of thyme, pinch of savoury, salt, pepper and the egg.  If the mixture is too moist, feel free to add a bit more breadcrumbs.

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Shape into small patties or “steaks” for a more traditional feel. Heck, you could turn them into miniature deer shapes if you really felt like it.

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At this point I reheat my bacon drippings and place the steaks into the hot pan for a few minutes on each side.  The goal is to obtain a golden brown sear.  Once browned, removed from the pan and set aside.

Next, sharpen up your knife and chop up the mushrooms and onion.  Some people slice the onion into rings for aesthetic value, me, I’m all about the taste, so I chop or mince.  Why? more surface area = more flavour.

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Add the onion and mushroom to the pan and sauté until lightly cooked.  Add the cup of beef broth, 1 tsp of W sauce and simmer on medium heat.  freely add salt and pepper to taste here and once your ready add the steaks and cover.  Cook for about 10 mins.

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Once cooked through, I remove the steaks and add to a plate (with whatever side you desire) and I finish the sauce with the cornstarch and water mixture.  If you haven’t thickened a sauce this way before, remember to constantly stir and add little bits at a time to prevent clumping or over thickening.

Finally, assemble, top with bacon bits, and viola your done.

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It may not be the most pretty dish in the world but it certainly it packs a punch in the taste department.  Not to mention it is as comfortable as comfort food gets.  Besides who said comfort food needed to look good?

Cheers from my Kitchen

Albert

Please feel free to comment and suggest any venison dishes you would like to see me take for a test drive here.  I am open to cooking anything!

Venison Pepperettes – AKA Deer Snack Sticks

Firstly, my apologies for posting so many cooking write ups.  I know a good portion of you are here to see some sweet outdoor pics or to hear about a cool trip.  Realistically though, if you are out fishing, hunting or foraging as much as I am, your bound to end up with something to cook.  As luck would have it, I find myself in this exact situation with a freezer full of freshly harvested Ontario grown Whitetail deer.  Plus, if you know me at all, you know that I am not one to hoarde wild game until its claimed by the ice grip of freezer burn.  No sir! I see it, I harvest it, I wait a moment out of respect for the animal, and then I eat it!  Plus all these recipes makes for great posts and photo ops.

Coming from a German family has given me a healthy appreciation for sausage making.  I can recall as a kid, making pounds and pounds of the stuff.  A little Bratwurst here, a bit of Kielbasa there.  If you lived in my dad’s house, it was pretty likely you would be helping with sausage making at least once or twice a year.  Although I may not have appreciated all the work back then, I am thankfull now I had the chance to learn this skill.

What does this have to do with my post?  Well venison makes some of the most exquisite sausage one could ever hope to taste.  So it was with this goal in mind  fired up the old hand grinder and set to work making some Venny sausage.   Cliché or not, get ready for some serious Wurstherstellungs!

First up: Venison Pepperettes.  

Possibly one of the most popular recipes among hunters for ground venison would have to be the delicious pepperette. I chose to follow the recipe provided in Rytek Kutas’s book, Great Sausage Making Recipes with a few minor adjustments.  Ive said it once, I’ll say it a thousand times, this is the absolute bible on sausage making (BUY THIS BOOK!).

The ingredients included paprika, ground mustard, ground black peper, white pepper, ground celery, mace, granulated garlic, salt and Curing salt #1.  To avoid copyright infringement I’ve conveniently forgot what quantities were used.  If you want the recipe, spend a few bucks and give Rytek’s book a shot. Its solid gold.

Rytek’s recipe includes fermento and dextrose which are used in semi dry cured sausages to give that tang that pepperettes are notorious for.  I decided to drop out the fermento and rely on the smoke flavour to carry this sausage.

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The sausage was made with 80% venison and 20% pork shoulder.  This makes for a good consistency, a great bind and awesome mouthfeel.  The meat was ground through a coarse die and again through a fine die once the seasonings were added.  Once completely mixed and ground to the desired consistency, I stuffed them into 22mm collagen casings sourced from http://www.sausagemaker.com/ .  A worthwhile link indeed!

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After stuffing, these little beauties went into the smoker for 4 to 5 hours.  The sausages took on a deep red hue and have a pungent smokey odour.

The result was some of the best, most badass pepperettes snacks I  have ever tasted.  Quite the appetizing little wieners if I do say so myself.

Cheers from the my kitchen,

Al

Deer Goulasch

There are lots of reasons to take up hunting, fishing and foraging, but for me, the ultimate goal is culinary.  Nothing is more organic, wholesome, local, and arguably more healthy than a foraged meal.  Its certainly hard to appreciate a meal more than the one you have created with ingredients you have personally harvested.

For those of you who have read my recent posts you know I recently harvested my very First Deer.  This was an exciting experience and I was eager to conduct my culinary experiments with the results.  Last Sunday offered some free time, so I was able to putter around in the kitchen to create my very first self harvested venison dish.

I chose to prepare the venison in a traditional Goulasch using a recipe that was passed down in my wife’s family from her Oma to her mother, and from her mother to her.  Goulasch was a traditional way to prepare game meats for many eastern European countries and for good reason;  Since this recipe is so flavourfull it makes it the perfect way to support the complex taste of wild game.

As many of you who have family recipes know, quantities are sometimes subject to interpretation and written directions are more of a frame work than a recipe.

Ingredients

  • 1 – 2 lbs of venison (a flank steak was used here)
  • 1 x onions (white or red)
  • garlic
  • 3 to 4 tbl spoons sweet paprika
  • 1 teaspoon hot Hungarian paprika
  • half a small can of tomato paste
  •  pinch cayenne pepper
  • 3 to 4 bay leaves
  • 2 cups of beef or venison stock and water
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons of caraway
  • salt and pepper to taste

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The recipe begins with lightly frying the onions and garlic in oil or butter and then adding and browning the venison.  Following that add half a can of tomato paste, 2 to 3 table spoons of sweet paprika, 1 teaspoon of hot Hungarian paprika (optional) 3 to 4 bay leaves, 1 to 2 teaspoons of caraway, a pinch of cayenne pepper and a pinch each of salt and pepper.

Add 1 to 2 cups of beef stock and water.  I usually use 1 table spoon of concentrated beef stock mixed into 2 cups of water.  Stir the ingredients and let simmer.  Don’t worry too much about not having the exact amount of spice.  Goulasch is forgiving and you can always add more later as it cooks.

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Let the mixture simmer for at least and hour, always keeping an eye on the liquid levels.  Add more water if necessary and stock if you find the taste isn’t where it needs to be.  After about a half an hour I take a taste test and play with the spicing and stock levels if required.  ***Be careful here, trying to bolster the seasoning immediately following the additional of more water can lead to over seasoning.  Remember, the goulasch will cook down and loose a lot of its volume which in turn can lead to overwhelminglyy concentrated flavours.***

Once the spicing is right, Its just a matter of cooking until the meat is tender.  Sometimes this takes 45 minutes, sometimes over an hour. Really it all depends on your cut of meat.

But what do you eat it with you ask? Well goulasch can be served with anything from rice to egg noodles.  However, in my family, tradition requires that European Goulasch be served with some form of potato accompaniment.  And if you ask my father,  the only side dish you should serve Is german potato dumplings (called Knödel).

These beauties are simple creatures consisting of 2/3rds cooked and mashed potatoes, 1 3rd part flour, 1 egg and salt to taste.  Basically you take all of these ingredients, mix them together and knead until you create a doughy mass.  You can add more flour while you knead to get a stiffer consistency but I prefer them a littler looser.  the looser they are the less “heavy” the meal will be.

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Once mixed, create a log of dough about 1″ thick (shown above) slice into bars or shape into balls and drop into boiling water.  I usually wait about 5 minutes after these have floated to the top of the boiling water before removing.

Afterwards, remove from the water, smother in Goulasch goodness, and enjoy the contrast of the simply flavoured dumpling with the spicy complexity of the Goulasch.

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Seeing as how this was my first deer, I couldn’t resist the urge to quickly season and pan fry up a small chunk while preparing the main dish.  Venison flavour can vary quite a bit depending on how it was harvested, the gender, its age, and what it ate throughout its life.  Since its so variable I feel tasting the meat cooked in its simplest form is a vital step to assessing the inherent taste of your meat and properly selecting recipes for it accordingly.  Tasting can prevent you from serving gamey atrocities to you family or guests, and from  possibly turning people away from venison for good.

Many people already have misconceptions that deer tastes bad or gamey. Likely caused by eating poorly prepared meat or even meat that wasn’t properly harvested.  I feel its our job as hunters and cooks to make sure the meat is harvested and prepared appropriately; Hopefully converting others into venison lovers along the way.

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So what up with pan searing?  Pan searing venison is very simple.  Start with a better cut of meat like a backstrap or tenderloin (other steak cuts are fine as well as long as they are on the tender side). Clean the fat from the cut of meat, season the meat with salt, pepper ( I add a touch of Montreal steak spice), and place in a oiled pan that has been heated to medium high heat.  Pan searing should take no longer than a minute or two to complete to a nice medium rare cooking.  I cook until the meat takes on a bit of firmness while still having an over all soft feel.  The softer the feel, the more rare the meat.  Check out this nifty trick to estimate meat cookings:     http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/the_finger_test_to_check_the_doneness_of_meat/

Above all else, avoid well done venison as it will become tough when overcooked, not to mention loose its true taste.  Besides, the goal is to cook it so you can actually taste the meat, not char it into oblivion.

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The result? A tender, delicious and succulent morsel of wild goodness.  I can honestly say, this tasted better than 95% of beef cuts I have tasted.  Over all, the experience was a success.  and I mean a success right from the hunting, to the cooking, all the way to the eating.  This was the kind of successful experience I hope everyone gets to experience at least once in their lives.

Cheers from my kitchen,

Al

Ontario Grouse 2.0

Last year I had the pleasure of joining two friends (Oliver and Dave) at Oliver’s camp located North of Algonquin Park.  One week after Deer season, we travelled to the camp in search of one of Ontario’s most notorious game bird, the ruffed grouse.  (https://wildsofontario.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php).  This trip was, an astounding success and I was overjoyed when rumours of a second trip in 2014 started to swirl.

This year, the trip was planned for late October to take advantage of the fall colours and to fit the trip into our busy schedules.  Oliver had reported that they had seen an over abundance of birds just a couple weeks earlier on a separate trip.  Including a single, rare for the area, spruce grouse.  The intent of the trip was to install some much needed insulation at the camp , but mostly we were just hoping to get into some heavy bird action.

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Dave and I loaded our mountain bikes, hunting gear and some renovation supplies into a trailer and made our way up to our meet point in Arnprior.  Once there we piled into Oliver’s larger vehicle, switched the trailer over and barrelled down Highway 17 with visions of grouse in our heads.  It was good to reunite, share some laughs and reminisce on past trips on the way to the camp.

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Once arrived, we settled in, unpacked the shotguns, and immediately headed out into the bush.  Our arrival at the camp was greeted by a warm sunny fall day with not a cloud in site.  This was perfect grouse hunting weather.

Since the camp was strategically located near several old ATV trails, we decided to start out hunt there.  These trails were surrounded by thick mixed bush with lots of undergrowth and some slash from former logging operations.  Grouse often congregate on trails where they can pick up small stones to aid their digestion process.  These places can also act as centres for social gathering or mating.  Coupled with the protection the nearby thick brush provides, and proximity to running water, these areas are absolutely ideal for ruffed grouse and many other “Tetraonine” species.

Not long into our outing the grouse started to appear and we managed to harvest several birds.  The trip was off to a great start!

(below: Dave with his first grouse with a new shotgun)

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Last year I hunted with my Remington 870 and was pleasantly surprised by its range and power.  The only downside was it is a fairly cumbersome shotgun and is a bit to heavy for prolonged treks.  Enter my solution to this problem, the 20ga SxS Stoeger Coach gun. This trip would be the inaugural grouse hunting trip for the new gun and I was excited to make the transition from pump to SxS.  No outdoor blog woudl be complete without at least one or two gear reviews so here is a it of one for the Stoeger:

As you can see in the photo below, the gun was very efficient at taking down grouse and was capable of making consistent shots up to 40 yards.  With the short barrel and bead sight this little gun was faster than any other grouse gun I have ever used.  Being a 20ga with a short barrel makes this gun very light on the arm.  In turn making it easy to carry in hand for long periods of time.  Most people immediately have an issue with the short barrel, but don’t let that dissuade you from considering this little beauty.  Instead focus on its good points: low cost for a break action ($549), fast barrel, sturdy build, sleek demeanor, light weight, the short barrel makes it fast in the bush, and it comes with interchangeable chokes (which is rare for double barrels).  Not to mention there is something elegant about a SxS compared to the brash functionality of a pump.  I’ll have to remember my blaze orange top hat and monocle for the next hunt!

(below: The author with a double taken with the Stoeger SxS)

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Back to the report, when the dust and gunpowder settled, each of us had multiple shooting chances, and in total we harvested 8.  We spotted at least 6 more birds and a woodcock but unfortunately we were not given great shots and the birds were able to disappear in the underbrush.  Regardless, for two days of only sporadic hunting between renovations, we walked away with a great group of birds that more than doubled our success last year.  Unfortunately a local martin (or similar critter) decided we had one too many birds and helped itself to one leaving us with 7.

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(below: A sunset on one of the local lakes)

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Harvesting these birds is a lot of fun.  Not to mention, many claim they are the best tasting and most prized game bird of all the north American species (myself included) .  But it is not just the end result that drives me to trek the dirt paths for these birds year over year.  Grouse hunting offers the hunter a chance to see nature at its best.  Beautiful sunrises, pristine lakes, the majesty of the creatures you encounter while you walk and the over all sense of being part of something larger than yourself.  Its a great past time to share with friends and family alike and guaranteed to provide you with memories for the future. 

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Once back I decided to pull out all the stops and create a nice dinner for the Mrs.  Mmmmm nothing beats grouse!

(below: grouse breast soaked in olive oil, garlic, rosemary and parmesan, pan seared in bacon fat and roasted over onions, rosemary and juniper berries. Finished with pan seared porobello mushrooms and buttered beans and served with a wild mushroom gravy.) 

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Cheers from the Wild

Albert