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

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

Early Fall Foraging

Fall in Southern Ontario brings many things to those who crave the outdoors.  Hunting season arrives with the fast paced action of waterfowl.  Fall colours explode onto the forestscape with brilliant reds, golds and yellows. But perhaps one of my favourite things to do in the fall is to spend some time in the woods searching for wild edibles.  The most interesting of these, are arguable mushrooms.

Typical fall mushroom fare includes your chanterelles and boletus which, if I may add, are mighty tasty.  Along with morels and puffballs, these are some of the more tasty and desirable fungi to be had.  So with this in mind I headed out to a stretch of woods near Parham, Ontario to test my luck and eyes in search of some chanterelles.

As luck would have it, no Chanterelles were found during the walk.  But all was not lost because the beauty of mushroom hunting is that even if you don’t find edibles, you will likely find some mushrooms, and often a wide variety.  Part of the fun can be learning to identify the wide variety available and enjoying the wide variety of shapes and colours.

Its at this point I would like to remind readers that some mushrooms are toxic and can be fatal.  Mushroom should only be consumed when they have been 100% properly identified.  I recommend taking a course to assist with this (see link below) or consulting an expert.

So with that, here are a few pictures of several mushrooms that were encountered during the walk.  Any look familiar to you?

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(above: bracket fungi – mostly inedible except for certain species like chicken of the woods – not shown here)

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(above: the remnants of a lobster mushroom?)

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(above: coral fungi)

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(above: a young amanita sprouts through the leaf litter.  Amanitas are more often that not poisonous and should be avoided.)

 

For those interested in furthering their mushroom knowledge I recommend checking out the following resources:

http://mushroomobserver.org/

For those local Kingstonians, Queens offers an identification course:

http://www.queensu.ca/qubs/sites/webpublish.queensu.ca.qubswww/files/files/pdf%20files/Fabulous_Fall_Fungi_2014_details_register_twosessions.pdf

Delicious Wild Game

Spring is here in a big way which means the spring foraging season will soon be in our midsts. Soon the forest will begin to green and the early rising leaks with again dot the hill sides.
I for one, am on the edge of my seat awaiting this time of plenty. But, were still a few weeks away from any real foraging prospects. So until then I’ll just have to satisfy my wild cravings with some venison meat pies from last deer season. Tough break eh?
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Remember, ontario is blessed with an abundance of wild edibles.
Don’t miss out on the bounty this year! Get outside!

Cheers from the wild
Albert

Loughborough Lakers – Dinner time

My recent trip  to Loughborough Lake proved fruitfull with a decent average sized laker which I kept for the table.

Now to be clear, I don’t always keep fish to eat.

In fact I probably keep one or two once every ten or so fishing trips.  This is in the interest of conservation and propagation of the sport.  However, after pulling that beautiful laker from that 95 feet of cold clear water my taste buds took control.  For those of you who don’t eat a lot of fish or who don’t know, its hard to beat freshly caught trout.

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Lake trout can be cooked any number of ways including battered and fried, poached, baked etc. but my favourite by far is pan searing.   So after filleting the fish I dredged in a light flour, salt and pepper mixture and seared with a dab of butter until golden brown.

During searing I drizzled a bit of lemon juice on each piece of the fish for a bit more flavour.

I then placed the trout on a bed of rice with hollandaise sauce topped with a few sprigs of asparagus.

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Cant think of many things that come close to the taste of this.  And although this dish already tastes great, the feeling of preparing something I caught myself makes it taste all the better.

I’m reminded of a quote I heard somewhere:  sometimes the best meals aren’t from a restaurant or grocery store…

Cheers from the Dinner Table…

Albert

Forest Chicken Supreme – A Weekend Grouse Hunt North of Algonquin

Nothing gets the heart pumping like a flushing bird breaking the silence of a crisp autumn morning.  From seemingly out of no where they can turn a hunters peaceful walk in the woods into a frenzy of heart pounding action.

Its for this reason that most people who have gone grouse hunting consider the grouse to be one of the most exciting and enjoyable species to hunt ( not to mention tasty!).

So when I was offered the opportunity to travel to a rustic hunting camp north of Algonquin park, I jumped at the chance.  Nestled against the northeastern border of Algonquin Park about 11km from Highway 17, the camp has been run by my friend’s family for the better part of 50 years via a crown land lease .  The camp is situated amongst fairly dense coniferous woods which have been selectively logged in some areas.  The combination of the new growth triggered by the logging and the sheer density of the woods makes this area prime bird hunting habitat.

So in anticipation, my friend Dave and I left Kingston around 5pm on friday and made our way up highway 15.  We met the camp owner, a mutual friend, in Arnprior and made the 1 -2 hour trek across Highway 17 and then down a back road to the camp.  After spending a few minutes getting the camp in order and firing up the wood stoves, we settled in for a rest before the next days much anticipated hunt.

At the time we weren’t sure if it was a dream or not but during the evening, all three of us seemed to hear a grouse beating outside the camp.  Either a weird coincidence, wishful thinking or a very good sign for the hunt to come.

I am glad it turned out to be option 3!

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We awoke early and had a classic bacon and egg breakfast before heading out.  We loaded our two 12 gauges into the car and hit the road shortly after.  Our heading? Towards a few spots the owner was familiar with.  In my experience grouse often stick to specific areas that offer cover, food and water.  So if you have seen birds in a specific area, consider them prime candidates when selecting hunting spots on later hunts.

The action was slow to start and the crisp morning seemed to be keeping the birds in their roosts.  The temperatures were in the negatives over the evening and it was taking the sun quite a while to warm up the area.  Not to mention there was snow on the ground and ice on some of the lakes.

But, once the sun was out in full force, the birds seemed to wake up.

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(a moment of appreciation between the author and his quarry)

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(Dave’s first grouse hunt)

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(the owner holding up a bird after the hunt)

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(possibly one of the most beautiful birds to be found in Ontario)

We shot a total of three birds in low scrub cover over the course of the day and saw another 3 that flushed a bit to far away to shoot.  The birds were taken with #7 1/2, #6 and #2 shot.  Although I have never heard of #2 for grouse, the owner insisted it was needed to penetrate the thick bush encountered in the area.  After seeing the bush first hand, I believe it.  Just make sure you try to it out on a few clays prior to hunting since #2 will pattern much differently than #7 1/2 and will require greater accuracy.  Not a big deal when shooting something that is still but becomes a big issues when trying to hit a flushing grouse.

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(In my opinion, three birds in one day is not too shabby!)

Of course, everyone who has hunted grouse knows the best part comes around dinner time.  We dusted the grouse breasts with seasoned salt, pan seared with bacon and then threw them on the charcoal grill to finish.  To enhance the flavour a bit, we threw a smoldering piece of cedar on the grill. Smoked grouse anyone? Nom nom nom

As an added bonus, I had brought a few of my home made smoked summer venison sausages from this years deer.  What a deliciously wild feast!

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We washed it all down with a couple fingers of single malt scotch and settled in for a comfortable evening beside the camp stove.

Its times like this that make me think of how lucky we Ontarians are to be able to enjoy such amazing experiences, in such a beautiful part of the world.  Not to mention being able to enjoy such an amazing meal with some of highest quality of meat you can get.   Don’t forget the low carbon footprint to boot.

Days like this are out there for the taking, so get outside and enjoy what the wilderness has to offer!

Cheers from the Wild

Albert