Blood Knots and Swedish Pimples

As many of my blog followers know, I do not like to let grass grow under my feet. My year is divided into a plethora of outdoor activities that run the gamut from ice fishing to antler shed hunting to duck hunting. Every season is full of reasons to be in the woods, stomping around the marsh, or on the water.

Ice fishing is in full swing right now and I have been getting out every weekend since before Christmas to enjoy some quiet time in my portable ice shack and catch fish. My shack is of the old Fish Trap variety with a myriad of holes in it from a combination of much use and critters who have a taste for old canvas. The fact that it probably belongs in a fishing museum does not take away from its usefulness in keeping me cozy, with the aid of a propane heater, even on days when the temps dip well below zero.

So, what is the draw to pulling a 50lb shack out across a stretch of frozen sloughs with the sting of negative degree wind-chills freezing my face worse than a Hollywood Botox clinic? For one, I am a sucker for braving the elements. The feel of icy air in my lungs is invigorating and to be out on a frozen sheet of ice at a time when everyone else would rather be tucked in at home makes me feel like I am truly living. Also, ice fishing holds a certain nostalgia for me in that it was something I did with my dad when I was a child.

As I mentioned before, my dad taught me about life. He was all about showing me how to fend for myself and that included hunting and fishing lessons which I absorbed with great gusto. I was no girly girl. In the summer I would dig worms to fill rusty coffee cans and fish the creeks for chubs that we kept in a dented milk can full of spring water. In the winter we would load up our rickety ice shack with thick summer sausage sandwiches on homemade bread, thermoses of hot chocolate and coffee, a few rods, our bait and we would be on our way. I remember the anticipation I felt riding in that 1970 Chevy pickup. I can still smell the vinyl of the seats and feel the cold of the window nip my fingertips as I drew pictures in the frost.

When one is a child, everything is magical because the imagination has not yet been tamed by the reality of adulthood. Even mundane events have the potential to be an adventure and for me, arriving at the frozen lake we were to fish was akin to landing upon a newly discovered planet. The wind whipped across the barren landscape like a scene straight out of Star Wars and old ice holes became indentations left by ancient meteors in my 7 year old mind. We were on a great quest to find life below the crust of this whole new world and I was ready to begin.

The buildup to the actual event was more dramatic than what gernerally followed but, once we were settled, my dad and I would spend hours chatting about anything and everything in the warm glow of a sunflower heater. I heard every one of his childhood stories, advice on how to tie the perfect blood knot, how to properly thread a wax worm on a freshly sharpened hook, and how the Swedish Pimple was the ONLY lure to use for picky pan fish.

My dad was a gruff man who never showed much emotion except anger but when we were alone in that ice shack he was a different person altogether. If I got bored with fishing he would pull out my ice skates and tell me to go for a spin but to not fall in any spear holes. He wanted me to have fun and to learn. For me, however, the icing on the cake was to have my dad actually want to spend time with me.

I have not been fishing with my dad in years. He is 83 years old now and entering a new stage in his life that involves relocating my mom into a permanent nursing home for her Alzheimer’s care. His lungs can no longer take the cold and he just doesn’t have the energy anymore. So, I go out and in my mind he is right there with me making me laugh with his stories, telling me what I need to do next time to catch more fish, and just being there enjoying each other’s company.

Life goes by very quickly, as we all know, however, things slow down a bit when you go out on the ice or into the woods. I can flip the top closed on my ice shack and shut out the entire world for hours. Basking in old memories, making new ones, continuously learning lessons that will help me when I go out again. Then, when it is time to go home, I open up my shack and blink against the sudden brightness of light on new fallen snow. Everything is the same as it was but somehow it is different. Or perhaps it is me that has changed in those hours on the ice and my eyes are more focused on what is important because I allowed myself a moment to slow down, to stop time and just live.

Antlers for Supper

“You can’t eat antlers!” My dad used to say to me when I was a kid and complained that no big bucks ever came our way. I was not impressed by shooting does, I wanted that big 30 point buck to come my way so I could prove to the world that this 11 year old was a force to be reckoned with!

Looking back on my dad’s simple wisdom, I see how much times have changed. Back in the 1960’s Dad would load up his buddies in a renovated school bus with questionable breaks and head out to Buffalo, Wyoming for their annual mule deer hunts. They didn’t go out there to bring home trophies, they went to enjoy the camaraderie of deer camp and to bring home meat to fill the freezer, and memories to fill the year ahead.

Black and white photos from back then often depicted A-framed structures lined with deer harvested. There were no photos of a guy and his 40 point, non typical, mineral fed, selective bred, food plot deer. Just photos of rangy men standing by decrepit shacks in red wool and tattered hats.

What changed? How did the age old tradition of hunting become so glamorized, so Hollywood? Is it the TV shows featuring people in perfectly clean expensive camo always getting monster deer without breaking a sweat? The female hunter has morphed into women on the screen so perfecty coiffed that they look nothing like the women in my life who grew up hunting. Meanwhile, guy hunters show up to events in bedazzled jeans. It’s all about the big show, who is better, who gets more ratings.

These days, it seem like the whole atmosphere of the sport has changed from fun and camaraderie to a cut throat competition over who can shoot the biggest deer. Social media is littered with images of guys and gals posing strategically behind behemoths of the forest so as to make them look even larger than life. It is all about the size of the rack and even that is not real anymore. Not even deer could escape man’s constant quest to alter nature and now there are whole industries dedicated to producing products to “enhance” antler growth to the point of absurdity. Selective breeding on deer farms is also a norm and people pay thousands of dollars to get the opportunity to bag “trophies” inside fences. Why?

Because it is not good enough anymore to be common, to be that redneck hunter in dirty, blood stained orange who hunts on instinct and the will of God. It is not “glamorous” enough to come home with your tag limit of does and a small (by today’s standards) buck to fill the freezer. The network and code of honor among hunters too has died in the sense that social media is filled with trolls waiting to pounce on anyone, man, woman, or child for shooting anything under 14 points. Hunting has become a competition to see who can bag the biggest and the best.

Is that really what it’s all about? I think not, but that is my opinion. I’m old school and to me hunting is all about the unknown. It is about going out into the woods and waiting for days and not seeing one deer. It is about freezing and sweating and pushing yourself and your patience to the absolute limit then going out and doing it all over again the next day. It is about no guarantees, it’s hard work, intuition and skill not gleaned from watching TV but from years of training, years of disappointments followed by years of victory. Gadgets and equipment can’t make a hunter, they may make things easier but is anything really worth having ever easy?

I have probably hit a nerve with this post and pissed some people off but I’ve never been one to mince words or worry about offending others. All I am saying is that we can learn a lot from those old deer camp photos. Namely that sometimes size doesn’t matter. Isn’t it supposed to be about tradition, bringing home stories, lessons, and if you are lucky, some meat for the table?

Hunter’s Remorse

Too often, those of us who call ourselves hunters, are labeled as heartless beings who go about the forest firing at will, taking lives like robots with no feelings. We are ridiculed for harvesting animals for sustenance, attacked on social media for displaying our kill, and basically called killers. I would like to put all of those stereotypes to rest by simply stating that no true hunter enjoys taking a life. Last night I bagged a nice doe and a heartache. Perhaps my emotional turmoil is due to the fact that I am a woman, that I have many pets and love all animals, that two weeks ago I watched someone very dear to me take his last breath, that I keep picturing the deer in my head traipsing along the field road so sure of herself before veering up the hill towards me. The truth is, I have been hunting all my life and I deal with this every time I make a kill. One clean shot and a life ended instantly. I took a moment to thank my God and the animal for the life given and to ask forgiveness for being the one to end that perfect life. Today I am a mixed bag of emotions and I try to keep telling myself that there was a reason she came right to me but it isn’t helping. Does this emotional turmoil make me a better hunter? I think yes. Every time I go out in the field I am reminded of the seriousness of the task at hand. This is not target practice at the county fair shooting at stuffed clowns, this is a life. What people fail to realize is that some of us spend hours in our stands watching these animals in their homes going about their lives first-hand. We establish a connection to the land we hunt and the animals who live on it. We even go so far as to name deer who are frequently seen in our area. Then, when it comes down to shooting time we make the decision and a life ends. In my case, the hunt is done to obtain meat that will last me the entire year and to control herd populations. No matter how I justify it, however, the fact remains that I snuffed out a precious life. With all this being said, why do I do this year after year? I do it because it was a tradition in my family, because I thrive on pushing myself out in the woods to handle extreme weather and terrain, because deep down I know that those animals were put on this earth for sustenance, and because I feel better about consuming something that was taken without being pained or tortured in a slaughterhouse. Hopefully this will make some of you reevaluate your thoughts on hunters and hunting in general. Yes, there are those out there who do not feel the emotions I do when hunting. So much is their loss to not be able or willing to understand that it is more that just bringing home a trophy to show off, it is about playing a responsible role in the circle of life

5 Hour Wait

5 hours might as well be 5 days or even 5 years when you are waiting to partake of the savory stew that has been permeating every corner of the house with its mouth watering scent.

When I was a child, I remember my Mother making this stew on the coldest day of the year when all you wanted to do was wrap frigid hands around sturdy stoneware bowls containing the fragrant concoction.

Mom’s 5 hour stew was a masterpiece of simple ingredients, seasoned ever so slightly so as not to take away from individual flavors but rather make each one stand out even more flavorful.

Joanne’s 5 Hour Stew (Adapted for Crock Pot Preparation)

1 beef or venison roast cubed

1 can of good dark German beer

2 1/2 cups homemade beef stock

1 Tablespoon minced garlic

1 large onion diced

1 14oz can crushed tomatoes

6 carrots scraped and roughly chopped

4 medium potatoes roughly chopped

1/4 cup fresh parsley minced

4 stalks of celery with leaves chopped

1 teaspoon oregano

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

Salt and pepper to taste

3 Tablespoons granular or thickening Tapioca

Brown all sides of the cubed meat in a frying pan. Place meat in crock pot. Pour beer into frying pan stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen all of the meat bits. Allow beer to reduce down by 1/4. Pour into crock pot and add remaining ingredients. Cook on high for 5 hours. Switch to low and cook an additional hour if meat is not as tender as you prefer. Add 1 cup of fresh or frozen peas that have been thawed prior to serving, heat through.Serve immediately or wait until the next day when the flavors really start to come out.

If you choose to make it in your oven the cooking time is 5 hours at 350°

1001 Ways to Make Chili

FB_IMG_1509416495913       A recent conversation, or perhaps a friendly debate would be a more appropriate term, with a friend of mine involved the “correct” way to prepare the popular dish known as Chili, inspired this post. Delving deeper into the topic, I found out some interesting facts about a dish that has made its way to the top of the list of American comfort foods.

Notations dating back to the 1850’s mention bricks made of suet, dried beef, and chili peppers that were boiled in water on the trail as a staple in the southwest.

The 1892 Worlds Fair in Chicago included the San Antonio Chili Stand which served to further popularize the dish and in the 1970s Chili was made the official dish of Texas.

With all that history, the original recipe had to have gone through many many mutations depending upon the cook preparing it. These days Chili cook-offs are widely popular as people from all walks of life compete to prove that they have indeed come up with the perfect combination of ingredients to create an award-winning recipe.

Is there just one flawless way to prepare Chili? I think not, but just in case I am wrong, here is my “Perfect” Chili Recipe.

2lbs ground meat (I use venison)

1 large onion minced

1 Tablespoon minced garlic

2 Tablespoons taco seasoning

1 large jar of salsa

1 can 14 Oz stewed tomatoes

1 large can tomato sauce

2 cans chili beans in sauce

1 Tablespoon smoked pepper sauce (I use Hickey Bottom brand)

Chili powder to taste

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

2 Tablespoons brown sugar

1/4 cup ketchup

Brown ground meat with onions and garlic. Add taco seasoning and 1/4 cup water. Simmer until water evaporates and meat is well coated in seasoning.

Combine all ingredients in a large pot and simmer on med/low for one hour.

Serve topped with Fritos, sliced scallions, sour cream, shredded cheddar, or your choice of toppings. Enjoy!!

Apple,Walnut, Wild Rice Duck Sausage

Walking through an Autumnal forest is an experience akin to walking the sacred aisle of a holy sanctuary. Multicolored leaves litter the ground like the broken panes of a great cathedral. A hush falls over the landscape only to be broken by the rustle of foraging creatures.

So much is to be gathered from field and forest during this season of harvest and the following sausage recipe has been handed down through the generations of my family. Each kitchen in which it has been prepared has added ingredients but the basic idea remains untouched. A soul warming food made from that which the woods and water provide.

Apple, Walnut, Wild Rice, Duck Sausage

3 lbs wild duck meat

2 lbs ground pork or country pork sausage

3 medium onions chopped

2 apples peeled and chopped

3 cups unseasoned bread crumbs

1/2 cup raisins

Run these ingredients through a meat grinder then add:

1 teaspoon ginger

1/4 teaspoon allspice

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1 cup cooked wild rice

1/2 cup morel mushrooms cooked and minced

1/4 cup black walnuts ground into powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Combine well and chill covered overnight to flavor through.

Fry as  patties, bake as a meatloaf topped with rich ketchup, or put into casings as sausage.

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