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).

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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

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

Deer Season 2016

(Trigger Warning: I hunt, this blog includes posts on hunting, as such this post contains pictures of harvested deer.  Please avoid if this is unsettling to you.) 

Sometimes things just work out.  I mean there are lots of times where life throws you curveballs and nothing works (cough, last years deer season), but then there are the times where things just click and all feels right with the world.

I had a feeling that the 2016 deer season was just such a time.  It was a new  year ripe with possibilities, and despite a poor success rate in 2015, I remained more optimistic than ever.  With a warm winter at our backs, a good recruitment of fawns expected, and an unheard-of three doe tags in our collective pockets, visions of many tagged deer danced in my mind.  This was a pretty great way to feel hiking out to a deer stand at the beginning of the season.

Some hunters talk about conjuring deer from an internal sense of desire, other people talk about positivity bearing fruit.  Heck maybe it all comes down to the great Ju-Ju, and how many times you rub the rack of antlers over the camps fireplace before you start the day.  Call it what you want, but what ever it was I had it on the first day.  About 10 minutes after sitting down, a good sized doe cantered out from the corner of a nearby field right into my field of vision and the sights of my Tikka .270.  I whistled to stop her as she ran, took my shot, and just like that, our group had our first deer down for the year.  Sometimes things just work out!

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Having harvested a deer on the first day, left me with a strange feeling.  All my past experiences with deer season usually involved several days of little to no action right off the bat.  This inactivity equates to build up in anxiety, and anticipation.  One that is gradual and goes unnoticed but usually culminates with a rush of adrenaline once a deer is actually harvested late in the season.  This is not the case for the punctual deer shot right off the bat.  This deer comes with a strange lack of excitement, and a sense of relief.  Knowing that the first deer is down and that the group will have venison for the winter is as relieving as it gets.  Although not as exciting, harvesting the first deer so quickly sure makes it easier to sit in the stand for the rest of the week.  Maybe its not so complicated, maybe its just the ramblings of a successful hunter who has spent too much time in a back up stand.

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But enough rambling, lets talk about the season.  Generally, as deer seasons go, this one sits firmly in my top 5.  Heck, my top 2 for that matter.  Its takes second place for the number of deer I personally harvested, and first place for the level of success we as a group had.  With an average of one deer per day, and six in total, the season was action packed an hard to beat.  Not to mention the quality of the deer just seemed to get better and better as the week carried on.

dsc_0794-iidsc_0789-iiThe first three deer were does, filling our coveted doe tags and forcing us to take amore buck centric mind set.  This was tough to do with the number of does that just kept presenting themselves to us.  Luckily Jordan managed a shot at a tricky buck who was trying to sneak by in a marshy area.  Buck one was down and day three was over.

Day four started off with a low key run on a property that was divided into two sections.  We ran the first area with no sightings of live deer but plenty of deer sign for the seeing.  Following the unsuccessful initial run, we moved to the second adjacent property, thinking that perhaps the buck whose sign we were seeing could be present.  As luck would have it, he was, and as I trucked on into the farthest stand I heard the sound off a rifle from one of our group.  Eric had been laying in wait at a pinch point within the property in anticipation that something may be pushed as we travelled to our stands.  This would be our second buck and the biggest I had yet to see in my relatively short time as a deer hunter.

(Eric hadn’t harvested a buck in a while, so it was nice to see him have success with such a beast of an animal) 

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This deer was healthy, and Eric was beaming.  According to the group, It had been a few years since something this big had come out of the woods.  Big, but not the end of the story.

Day five arrived, and it was my turn to dog the bush.  My previous dogging experience had been limited to a small section of woods as a way to ease me into the game.  Having already harvested a deer, and having fresh young legs made me a prime candidate to run the dogs a couple times.  So the group set me up on a larger stretch of bush, followed by a smaller tighter bush.  At the time, I wasn’t too impressed with the prickly ash present on the first property.  Who would be.  But contemplating the whole experience I’ve realized this is a part of deer hunting and you have to put the work in to reap the rewards.  Apparently I put a whole lot of work in, because the reward on the second run was pretty epic.   I was quick to note that due to my success, I may actually be the best dogger to ever enter those woods.  That claim was short lived as the group started mulling over the concept of having me dog on a full time basis.  Back to being average!

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A few minutes into the run I dogged a small section of swampy woods located next to the roadway.  Apparently the deer had been using this as a throughway to get across the street to the adjacent cornfields.  I must have some innate knack for dogging as I inadvertently managed to send a bruiser of a buck back towards the other hunters in their stands.  This big boy was the last and biggest of the week.  Bigger than Eric’s the day before, and bigger than anything I had ever seen in person.  A true southern Ontario giant.

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(There was no way we were carrying this guy out of the bush.  As is, it took a few of the lads to lift this beast onto the four wheeler.)

 

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The veterans in the group immediately started into a conversation about whether or not this was the biggest ever deer taken on the property.   The veterans measured the buck with there aged discerning eyes and mentally compared this trophy against the bucks of old.  To my surprise and amazement, this buck didn’t even break the top 5.  As unbelievable as it sounds, bigger bucks had been taken on the properties we hunted.  And in the groups opinion, bigger bucks would be had in the future.  Regardless of this, the one thing the whole group agreed upon was that the past years had been very tough and this year had been a return to past glories.  I was left confounded, feeling like as much as I had seen in my past 5-6 years of deer hunting, I had yet to even scratch the surface…

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(The reality of the situation became very apparent when the three bucks were stacked up side by side.)

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(the author with the larger than life buck harvested by the youngest of our group)

We did a last run Saturday morning, albeit half heartedly.  With the success we had it was unlikely that the group would actually shoot another deer.  I think deep down we all know when its time to call it a day.  Besides, with six deer hanging, we had a long day of work ahead of us.

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This was a year for the history books, and a year to fill freezers with prized venison.  I’m left with a sense of satisfaction that comes with having a full freezer.  This can often be accompanied by a sense of loss, or depletion, a feeling that we had ransacked the woods and left things in shambles.  This was not the case this year.  My view remained positive as the number of predators seen was way down, the number of deer seen was way up, and better still, the number of deer seen that we didn’t harvest far outweighed the number we shot.  It seems we are in an upswing of the deer cycle in this part of 67.  The sentimental part of me feels like I’m living the soon to be good old days.  And when I’m old and grey, sitting on my porch telling stories of my life gone by to semi interested relatives, this week will likely be one of those stories.

 

 

Public Land Hunting and Fishing

Public lands are tough.  Fishing and hunting opportunities and often limited due to over use and too much competition.  Or are they?

We decided to figure this out for our selves last weekend.  Dave and I loaded up the car with the canoe, our shotguns and fishing rods and headed north of Kington to the north Frontenac parklands.  Snow had fallen in the Kingston area the day before however it had melted in the city proper.  This was not the case as we approached Parham on highway 38.  Snow had began to accumulate and it as obvious the plow had made its rounds on the roads to the north.

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The snow was a surprise although not altogether unwelcome.  Prints would be fresh and our quarry (grouse) would be more visible.  We continued on in anticipation, admiring the fresh blanket of white and the quaint architecture of small town Ontario.

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We arrived to our destination, parked the car at the trail head and began our hike.  We intended to camp that evening but decided it would be better to get on the trail early and worry about our camp later in the day.  With our hopes high we began our trek with guns loaded and eyes peeled into the mysterious Frontenac Parklands.

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The parklands have long been on our list of properties to visit.  These parklands constitute a large area north of highway 7 from Lanark county west to highway 41.  These lands are a prime example of the Canadian shield where rock outcrops and plutons are common.  Topography is highly variable and the forests contain a rich variety of conifers and deciduous trees.

These lands are also home to some pretty exquisite looking lakes containing all manner of finned creatures.  One of the more prominent of these being the brook trout.  With this knowledge in our heads, we were sure to pack our spinning rigs and so after several kilometers of hiking we stopped at one such lake rumoured to contain these desirable creatures.  To be clear, many of these lakes are put and take, as in they are stocked by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.  We tied on a couple of small silver spinner baits (panther martins and mepps to be exact) and took a cast into the pristine waters.

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After a few casts Dave sounded off that he had a hit, and a follow and another hit.  Seconds later he had a fish squirming on the bank and our impressions of the area grew.  Minutes later I felt a familiar tug and set the hook on a chunky little brooky.

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These creatures are impressive, for their fight, but also for their colour.  Nothing looks quite like a brook trout sporting some colour on its belly.

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After a couple fish from the first lake, we moved on in search of another quarry: grouse.  We walked for some time taking in the scenery and covering alot of ground however no grouse were seen.  The curse of public land seemed to be on us.  Although I’m not one to put much stock in the metaphysical, the curse seemed as real as the ATV tire tracks we followed along the path.

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We continued to hike along the path for several kilometers, and remained grouseless.    Discouraged we decided to change our tactic by taking a smaller path into the bush.  The path began to petered out into nothing until we ended up hiking in old logging cuts.  With all the small bushes and conifers around we were sure we would scare up a grouse.  Approximately 16 kilometres later, many of which were off the beaten path in the woods, we sluggishly stumbled upon one bird.  One bird which, we were not even close to being ready for.  It seemed we had our answer to the public land question.  We did however manage to get a couple more brook trout for the pan from another little lake, which rounded out are dinner nicely.

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We visited several different lakes in the area and drank in as much of the scenery as we could in one and a half days.  Regardless of how much this place gets hit by other hunters and trail riders, it hasn’t detracted from it’s beauty.

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It also hasn’t detracted from the deer population which seems to be thriving despite the numerous tree stands we encountered.

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North Frontenac is gem.  Its an amazing amount of land generally close to Kingston.   Although it receives a lot of pressure, it remains a great destination for many other activities.  The area boasts several campsites and lots of room to roam free on or off trail.  Bring a topo map, compass and enjoy!

Cheers from the wild

Albert

 

One Eyed Bandit

Got out to a new property for a turkey hunt this morning.  We recently gained access from the owners for turkey hunting on the property, although we previously had access for deer.  With the amount of turkeys seen during deer season, we knew there had to be birds and are glad to have access.  Gotta say the property owners we deal with are generous folks allowing us to access such a paradise for hunting.  We greatly appreciate their generosity.

We began once again at 5 am, and sat along the edge of a corn field which we knew to be a throughway.  After the first few calls we had a couple gobblers respond but nothing seemed to be moving towards us.  We repositioned within a row of pines next to another field to the north near a gobbler we heard.  Unfortunately the only takers we had were a hen and a curious one eyed racoon.  Pretty neat to see the racoon get right up close to our decoys to inspect them.

Its amazing the things you see in the blind.

Cheers from the wild,

Albert

 

 

Another Bird!

After little to no hunting last week, Jordan, Dave and I snuck out this morning at 4:30 am for a little pre-work turkey action.  This would be the first hunt with all three of us since opener, and we had high hopes for an elusive Tom we had been calling all of last week.

We entered into the woods through an area that was opposite where we had been hunting.  Dave and Jordan set up next to a swamp and a field, while I took to the edge of a young soybean field around the corner and next to the same swamp.  Both spots looked great.

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The morning kicked off to a great start as three different birds in three separate locations started to gobble.  The gobbling continued for some time until two of the gobbles slowly died and was replaced by three distinct birds right behind me.  To make matters even more exciting, the gobbles seemed to be getting closer.  Nothing makes a heart pump like a group of approaching turkeys mid season!

Suddenly, the roar of shotgun blast erupted from behind me and the calling promptly ceased.  After shaking off what I’m sure was a mild heart attack,  I frantically checked my phone and learned that Jordan had bagged a nice Jake. His very first Gobbler.

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Way to go buddy!  Sad to have missed being in the stand next to you for the experience but I’m sure there will be many more!

Your up Dave!