First Turkey

For many, the purpose of hunting has always been to source out local, organic, natural meat that explores unique flavours not found in domesticated animals.  Still a good number more are attracted to the potential cost savings on meat if you source it out yourself. I have always stood with a foot in each of these camps.  Forever looking for a deal that’s big in taste, while tryin to achieve it on the cheap with my discount, mass produced firearms and inexpensive army surplus camo.  You can be sure I calculate the $/lb cost of all animals I harvest.

So when I did the math on wild turkies I was left scratching my head. A $30 tag gets you 9 – 15 lbs of dressed meat.  That’s a far cry from 100-200 lbs for a 50$ deer tag, and a fair bit more than a butterball.   Based on this math, wild turkeys weren’t even on the menu.

Regardless, I am interested in experiencing all that our local outdoors has to offer, which eventually led me complete the specialized turkey course required for Ontario turkey hunters.  For many years my attentions were on bigger game and the license went unused.  But after a unseasonable warm and disappointing ice fishing season, I was getting stir crazy and needed a reason to get out.  So when a member of my deer group started talking turkey, visions of smoked wild gobblers began dancing in my head, and I started listening.

So here we are, a week into my first legit season of turkey hunting and I can honestly say am a changed man.

DSC_9778

Scouting

After much discussion, and an agreement to commit as much time to the hunt as was needed to harvest a bird, we arrived on the Sunday before opener.  Our plan was to scout the woods in areas where turkeys had been seen before to hopefully locate a group of birds.  According to my friend and most articles I’ve read, finding birds before setting up is crucial.  You can set up the nicest decoys and be the best caller in the world, but that doesn’t amount to a hill of beans if there are no birds in your woods.

So the scouting continued.  I’ll admit I was still pretty hapless at this point, with no real clue as to what to even look for on our scouting trip.  Thankfully, my fellow deer hunter Jordan had grown up around turkey hunting his whole life and right away took us to some spots where the birds usually roosted.  Signs of scratched earth abounded and like many other species, water, food and shelter were key components to these areas.

Opener

We started before daybreak and walked towards our chosen blinds. Unfortunately on our way to our blinds, we walked right under a group of birds that were roosted in the trees, not seeing hem until it was too late.  For those non turkey hunters, this is one of the surest ways to get “busted”.  The turkeys spot you, sometimes before you spot them,  and there is no chance in hell you’ll be able to call them in.  Lesson learned:  Use a locator call to find where they are roosting before you go stumbling through the woods.  Jordan reassured me that the first day was often a bust, but there was valuable intel to be gained, as every bust brought you one step closer to dialing in on the birds.

DSC_9783

Day 2: we took a break.

Day 3: We approached the same area in hopes that the birds had roosted in the same place. unfortunately they hadn’t.  Fortunately for us they had roosted about 100 yards in another direction!  We crept through some scrubby apple trees and crawled up to the edge of a ridge.  Immediately we heard a male gobble, so we set up our decoys 20-30 yards away, sat back to back at the base of a cedar tree, and commenced a series of Kee Kee calls on the Quaker boy box call.  Lesson learned, if you spot them in one place, there is a good chance they wont go too far away, even after being bumped.

DSC_9808

I wasn’t really prepared for things to escalate as quickly as they did.  Within minutes of sitting down the birds had descended from the trees and were making their way to us.  We could tell by the volume of the gobbler the turkeys were getting closer, driven mad by the expert calling skills of my buddy Jordan.  We got a visual on the tom with two hens within 15 minutes of calling.  I can honestly say this led to one of the fastest pulse of my life.  If that wasn’t enough, we heard what all turkey hunters dream of, a competing gobble from another tom that was approaching from another direction.  Things were red hot and my eyes kept darting from the birds we had spotted to the hidden gobbler.  I stilled my heart, slowly raised my Remington 870 while the birds were out of sight, and waited for them to reappear.

The first hen popped out from behind a shrub, followed by a second, followed by a respectable adult male bird. I kept waiting waited for the other Tom who was fast approaching to see if he would appear for a possible double header.  The bird strutted to the clearing towards our hen decoys.

Then the first bird saw me. Then I fired. And then, the second tom headed for the hills.

DSC_9755 (ii)

Just like that, we had a text book turkey hunt that took no more than 30 minutes.  I. Was. Ecstatic.

Contributors to my success? a damn good caller as a partner, and not moving a bloody muscle.

DSC_9762 (ii)

My first bird turned out to be a young adult male weighing in at 19lbs fresh and 12lbs fully cleaned. He had a 3″ beard (which isn’t very big) and smaller spurs. Regardless, the bird was my first and my family will feast.

DSC_9772 (ii)

Day 4, We set up in another location to give the hot spot a rest and almost immediately had a gobbler and a hen answer our calls.  Unfortunately the gobbler didn’t seem to be able to make it to us and we never laid eyes on him.  Lesson learned: locate your birds and choose a setup location that doesn’t have too many obstructions that can’t be navigated by a riled up tom (like a big swamp or well built fences.

Day 5, we decided to try the hot spot again and set up in the same place.  Once again, we immediately had a gobble from the same spot where the first tom had come from.  The call backs went on for a good 1.5 hours.  At times it seemed the Tom was headed in our direction, and then he would head away, and back, and away… repeat for 1.5 hours.  We managed to call in a hen and what looked like a small Jake but no shots were taken.  Still that’s a lot of action for one morning.

So here we are in the second week the night before the first hunt of the week and Im mulling over why ive changed my mind on turkey hunting.  Here’s what I have come up with:

  • For starters, turkey hunting can be some of the most intense action packed and engaging hunting possible In Ontario.
  • Next, the birds are fabulous table fare
  • Each hunt takes a lot less time than sitting in a blind for deer.  Heck my hunts were completed each morning before work and I wasn’t even late!
  • They are sharp birds with a keen sense of hearing and excellent eyesight making them difficult prey.  I do love a challenge.
  • They are a part of our provinces history having been extirpated by unregulated market hunting and habitat loss, and reintroduced to very successful levels.
  • They offer an opportunity to take part in one of the most sustainable hunts in our province and to contribute financially to preserving the provinces natural heritage.  Every dollar you spend on a tag goes to support the MNR and their management of while turkeys and other conservation initiatives.

The whole experience has taught me that life isn’t always about dollars and cents, and pounds per dollar.  Sometimes spending a bit more for something you enjoy is worth it.  Especially wen those extra dollars get you a month long season full of adrenaline packed days, delicious meat, and most importantly, a contribution to preserving the natural beauty and health of our province’s flora and fauna.

The real question here should be why the heck aren’t you hunting turkey?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Almost Ate a Tag Sandwich

After a long regular deer season and several days spent during the controlled hunt It was looking like id be eating a tag sandwich this year.  Things were so dire that my boss had to step in a set me up with this nice 10 pointer.

There might not be a lot of meat on it but I’m sure it will go well with any meal.

IMG_0244

Wild Duck au Poivre

Wild ducks are versatile things when it comes to the culinary world.  They make great stews, are great cured, can be pan seared on their own, and go great with a number of taste profiles and sauces.  In my opinion, there are very few individuals who understand this more than one of my favourite chefs, Hank Shaw. So whenever I am looking to try a new recipe, his website (http://honest-food.net/) is one of the very first places I look.  With inspirations from a number of international cuisines and cultures, you are guaranteed to find something interesting on his website. And if my endorsement isn’t enough to get you to try it out, consider this: The guy wrote a friggen book on cooking waterfowl titled “Duck, Duck, Goose”.  If that doesn’t give him a serious amount of street cred, I don’t know what will (Duck Duck Goose).

And so I found myself with a couple plump and delicious looking mallard breasts the other day after a hunt (Mid-Season Waterfowl) and a desire to try something interesting with them. After a brief consultation with you guessed it, the duke of duck cooking, Hank Shaw, and his handy dandy website I settled on a classic French dish, Steak au Poivre.  Or what I’ve come to call Wild Duck au Poivre. Recipe

I wont take away from Hank’s great, comprehensive instructions, so go check out his website if you want to know how to make this tasty number.

DSC_0401r

I did make a few adjustments, mostly to accommodate the ingredients I had on hand.  Instead of porcini and bitter greens I substituted in some nice German Feldsalat which my inlaws grew late into fall.  I added a bit of a dill vinaigrette just to spice it up a bit.

DSC_0402r

Next I decided to roast some potatoes I had grown this year in m y backyard garden.

The recipe for the potatoes is as follows:

peel and cut potatoes into coarse cubes.  Lay in a pan and cover with water, a dash of salt and a dash of chicken stock.  Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit until the water boils.  At which point let them simmer for around 5 minutes.  Once the potatoes start to soften, remove and Drain.  Rough up the potatoes in a strainer, coat with flour and seasonings (chives, salt and pepper), and fry in hot oil until the edges brown.  throw back in the oven at bake until crisp.

DSC_0404r

Everything tastes better when cooked in butter.

DSC_0409r DSC_0411r DSC_0420r

Voila, Wild Duck au Poivre!

 

Cheers from the kitchen,

Albert

 

Mid Season Waterfowl

The recent unseasonable warm temperatures presented me with another chance to get out waterfowling.  Having the opportunity to get out due to the weather was a small kindness considering the effect the temperatures has had on the recent deer season.  But, it pays to be positive and that is how I was seeing this warm weather this week.  Another chance to get out and take a crack at some waterfowl.

Typically, I focus my attention on four-legged creatures of the Cervid variety this time of year but after my buddy Dave had noticed a pile of birds near a spot we had been wanting to try, I was easily convinced to give up an early morning before work.  As an added bonus, temperatures had begun to dip slightly below zero in the evenings and early mornings which seems to have a positive effect on waterfowling.  So as we have done many time before, we made the short drive and 2 km paddle to the spot in question and began setting up our spread of decoys.  We had hoped to hunt this spot earlier in the year but had to change our plans due to another group of hunters who had got up just a bit earlier than us.  That’s just the nature of hunting on public land I guess.  Luckily this time around the place was deserted and we had our pick of the spots.

DSC_0304

We chose a great spot on the eastern shore of the bay to take advantage of the east wind, anticipating the ducks would land into the wind and giving them the bulk of the bay for their approach.   For the first while though it seemed the only thing we could see were buffleheads or other divers.

DSC_0333(ii) DSC_0312DSC_0337(ii)

The action in our bay heated up a bit as numerous ducks started dropping in and around the far shore of the bay.  Among them was a pretty sizeable drake mallard who at first, didn’t seem interested in our setup despite our best efforts.  Eventually its curiosity got the better of him and he decided to do the zig-zag swim over to check us out.  I expect this was due to Dave’s persistent duck calling which manly consisted of dabbles with the odd call back sequence.  He made it to within the outer reach of the decoys and seemed to stall there warily inspecting our decoys.  I wasn’t going to give him an opportunity to figure out our ruse and after a couple shots and a few minutes later Dave had retrieved my very first bird of the day. How did it cook it? click to find out (Wild duck au poivre).

DSC_0355

As is often the case when you get outdoors in southern Ontario we saw a plethora of wildlife that wasn’t on the menu.  Everything from Pileated Woodpeckers, a flock of tundra swans, snow geese, flocks of Canadian geese (one which landed just near our spread but a bit out of range) and of course a good variety of diving ducks which seem to make their way to our area later in the season.  All great to see and experience.

DSC_0366DSC_0373

Unfortunately we missed an opportunity at another group of mallards and some redheads but with a few tweaks I’m confident we could increase our effectiveness drastically.  Even with the missed shots and small number of birds taken, I like to think success is not only measured in the game you bring home but the lessons you take with you as well.

DSC_0378

And in this case, the lessons were many.

Like paying attention to these seasonal changes and to what other hunters are encountering can be very beneficial to the perceptive hunter. In this case the hunting pressure on water fowl in my local decreases sharply in mid November and coupled with a later migration due to temperatures ended up offering a great hunting opportunity.

Or how about learning to place your goose decoys a bit further from the main mallard spread (but still within range) in order to increase your chances of bringing geese into an effective range.  It seems geese don’t like to drop into a spread of mallards and will offset themselves.

Or don’t drop your guard just because you have bagged a bird.  Those tricky buggers can come out of nowhere and they don’t always see you despite how obvious you think you may be.

Despite the lessons learned from this outing and the bird harvested, the best part of the whole trip didn’t occur in the blind.  Instead it was getting to see the excitement of my 2.5 year old daughter when I brought home the mallard.  I didn’t even have a chance to get one word out and she came running over to see what I had brought home.  She immediately insisted on touching it all the while voicing her observations and making hilarious statements like “I don’t want to touch the beak.  Its weird” or “I want to go hunt ducks”.   You could see the interest and fascination in her eyes, vibrant and intense.  Start them young I always hear, and they will be interested for life.

Maybe that’s the real lesson here..

Cheers from the blind,

Albert

DSC_0380 (ii)

 

 

 

 

Deer Season 2015

Well Deer season has arrived and with it, plenty of opportunity for me to get out shooting.  Unfortunately the only shooting I was able to do was with my trusty Nikon.  Cue the dry, pitiful laughter.

This is a far cry from the banner year I had last year but a hunter can’t get lucky all the time.  Well, Unless your my friend (lets call him Big J) that is.  J seems to somehow put himself in the right place at the right time so he can harvest a deer almost every year.  Just like clock work, he managed to harvest a nice 6 point buck, the only deer our group was able harvest.

Im sure lots of factors played a part in our groups lack of success.  Maybe it was the 18 degree Celscius weather or maybe it was due to the lack of drawn doe tags in our group.  Either way, a week without a shot at a legal deer gives you lots of time to think.

Thankfully there was lots of other critters and some great scenery around to observe.  There is nothing like experience nature from the stillness of a deer watch.  If your good at it, the animals wont even know your there.

DSC_0006 DSC_0008 DSC_0011(ii) DSC_0019

DSC_0021 (ii)

All was not lost though.  Despite not shooting any deer I was still able to find a nice shed antler which served as a pretty sweet consolation prize.

DSC_0040(ii)DSC_0046(ii) 

The only buck of the week.  A nice 6 pointer with its brow tines broken off.  Good Job Big J!

DSC_0067(ii) DSC_0073(ii) DSC_0077(ii)DSC_0033(ii)

Cheers from the field,

Albert

Pre Deer Season Contemplations

Its October 26 on a Monday, a week before the opening day of deer season in south eastern Ontario and here I sit, anxiously awaiting for the week to pass.  Sitting at my laptop, I can’t think of a single thing to do aside from scour the internet in search of pictures of big bucks or to Oogle the aerial imagery for the property I will be hunting in a week.  As if either task could provide any more insight to me than the 100 hours or so I’ve already spent or could somehow make the week disappear quicker.

Restless would be a good descriptor of my current condition, anxious too, but definitely restless.   Restlessness that will only be worsened by the score of photos making the internet rounds from all those lucky SOBs who archery hunt and by the numerous trail cam pictures that seem to be attracted to my Facebook feed like a hunter to an outdoors store.  Its a steady build up all weeklong, finally reaching its peak the night before opener making the prospect of sleep a cruel joke.  I tell you, the whole thing is enough to drive any sane person crazy.  But I guess that’s a good thing in a way.  After all you have to be crazy to don the customary camo and blaze orange at an hour that is ridiculously earlier than necessary just to sit in your car at a parking lot that serves as a meeting point only to wait for the normal deer hunters to arrive at a more civilized hour, all the while trying to sip a hot drink with shaky hands and sleep deprived nerves.

Funny though, I’m usually not alone in that parking lot spilling my coffee and hovering over my gear like a mother over her new born.  I’m not just talking about my buddy whom I usually pick up either.  In fact, if someone had the inclination to get up that early and walk by the decidedly rural location where we hunt, they would likely see a cluster of red taillights breaking the early morning darkness.  They would likely see the occasional blaze orange vest and ghostly outline of a hunter illuminated by the taillights as he checked his gear.  They would see the miniscule dot of light from two to or three of my fellow hunters cigarettes as they rhythmically jumped from waist height to mouth height in a desperate attempt to pass the time.  Intrigued, they might even move closer to hear the chit chat between us about our regular lives, or maybe the anxious rattle of the dogs in their cages where they sit mounted on the back of an old pickup. They would hear the jokes and hear us exchange stories like they we were long lost brothers all the while watching the last few “normal” folks arrive….late.

In our specific case, some of these members of our crew are brothers.  In fact, most of the members are related making me the interloper who had only met them for the first time last year on opening day.  As intimidating as that sounds, not knowing them didn’t seem to matter all that much.  It didn’t matter when, the stranger to the group (me), broke our cold streak and took down the first deer of the season, and my first deer ever.  They were more than happy to lend several sets of very experienced hands to extract the animal from the bush and to assist with the hard work that followed.   They seemed delighted to share the hard earned knowledge they accumulated over a lifetime of hunting.  Happier still, were they to provide a squelchy chorus of congratulations over the two way radio for the hunter who had broke the cold streak that season and who had claimed a nice 8 point for his first.  No matter where each had come from, these folks were brothers in arms and it showed.  Fellow hunters in search of the same 14 point dream that draws each of us to wake up each year at ungodly hours in pursuit.  Fellow hunters who would be just as happy for a brother to bag a buck as they would be if they were the ones to pull the trigger. Well maybe not just as happy, but damn close.

But why do we do it? Simple.  Its eloquent and honourable (at least in our group), yet visceral and primal.  Its a truly real experience in an increasingly more digital world.  Its totally analog and soaked in history and tradition.  An experience worthy of kings and accessible by the lowliest poor schmuck.  And above all else, the outcome tastes fantastic in just about any dish imaginable.

In case you weren’t counting down for some strange reason, it’s only 6 days, 23 hours, 9 minutes away….

http://www.timeanddate.com/countdown/to?iso=20151102T0613&p0=1183&msg=Deer+Season&font=sanserif

Cheers from my desk,

Albert

Duck Opener 2015 – Kingston

Duck season has arrived in Southern Ontario.  So just like many other crazed, sleep deprived hunters, Dave and I got up well before dawn to head out on the water to take part in the tradition.  This time around we had decided to try a new spot on the banks of the Rideau System.  Granted, Heading to a new spot on opening day is gamble, but we felt it was less so seeing as how we had done a fairly extensive online scouting and Dave had made a quick trip days before.  The spot look good.  Really, good.  There seemed to be shallow water around with a good section of weedlines and cattails for blinds.  Lots of open water nearby and good views for spotting incoming ducks.  Overall we liked our chances.

We arrived just as dawn was beginning to chase the night away only to be immediately dismayed with a number of other trucks and trailers parked at our access point.  Gamble made and lost…Apparently we weren’t the only ones who had noticed how good the spot looked.

DSC_0048

But we aren’t ones to give up easy so we loaded the canoe with our decoys and gear and headed out to find a useable spot.  We noticed lots of activity in the areas we planned to hunt so we were forced to settle on a secondary location located in a small shallow bay facing south.   Duck hunting always seems to be filed with such a promise of action and today was no different, so regardless of the large number of hunters out there, our hopes remained high as we set up our decoys   Taking a page out of some recent articles I read, we also threw in a goose decoy just for confidence.  You never know when a lone honker will stop to see what’s going on with your spread.

Then we waited. And waited. And waited some more.  Bangs were going off all around us like the fourth of July but there just didn’t seem to be any birds near us that were in range.  I started to wonder if the folks around us were getting  little too liberal with judging weather or not a shot was makeable.  I can’t really blame them though, I seem to think I can shoot farther on opening day too…..

DSC_0075 DSC_0072

After tiring of the lack of useable action and hearing about 300$ worth of shells being shot around us we decided to take a walk around the property and do some scouting for future trips. We knew lots of birds were flying around and with the amount of shooting going on there had to be birds at lower elevations in and around more alluring locations.  As fate would have it, our luck changed and we stumbled upon a weedier section and even got a shot off at a fleeing duck we had stirred up.

We definitely took some lessons away from the hunt with regards to location and have a better idea how to position next time.

As a consolation prize, we came across a wide variety of animals that kept us amused during the lulls.  At one point I was seriously considering taking up squirrel hunting!

DSC_0079

DSC_0091

Possibly the best part of the trip was the forgeables we had stumbled upon.  Our blind was practically over grown with wild grapes and chokecherry bushes.  Not only are these fruits useful, they make great cover against wary waterfowl eyes.

The biggest surprise was the apples though.  There seemed to be trees upon trees covered in the delicious treat.  We picked and ate several while we hiked around the property and took a bunch back for apple sauce and jelly.

Apple tree DSC_0085 apples 1

 

Overall the day was enjoyable even if we weren’t bringing birds back with us. Often its just getting out that the most enjoyable part of it all.

Cheers from the blind

Albert