Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Booksmart Turkey Hunter

It was probably the spring of 1993 when I started my turkey hunting career.  I was fresh out of college, newly-married, and working for Headline News in Atlanta.  I'd been born-and-raised an upland and waterfowl hunter, but turkeys were just starting to grow in numbers (and in popularity) in the Midwest.

In the South though, they were already an industry unto themselves.  I can fondly remember dragging my sweet and tolerant yet befuddled new bride to "Turkeyrama," a hugely redneck sports show for all things longbeard.  It might've been at that show that I picked up The Turkey Hunter's Bible, by John E. Phillips.  It was a tome I read from cover to cover, parsing each sentence for enlightenment.  Booksmart and oblivious to reality, I set out with some ragged camo, a newly-purchased Winchester 1300 NWTF edition, and a few calls.

I had scouted the Redlands WMA a few weeks prior, and I had this sprawling tract of land to myself, since my "weekends" from the news biz were Tuesday and Wednesday.  I stumbled to my appointed pine tree and set up shop in the waning minutes of darkness.

Figuring that louder was better (a trait not uncommon among most men of that age), I reached for the noisiest yelper I could find -- a handmade contraption that consisted of a cut-up 35mm film canister (try finding one of those these days) with a piece of stretched Trojan condom that served as the reed.  I let out about five or six terrible yelps and waited.

But not for long.  Within 15 seconds, a group of 20 birds emerged from the piney woods about 200 yards away on a hill right in front of me, and they were headed my way!  In another 15 seconds (I was too paralyzed to make anymore calls) they were within gun range.  Shaking more than I thought possible, I raised my gun and took my first turkey.  It was a jake with a four-inch beard, but I couldn't be happier.  Every hunter has those kinds of days every once in awhile -- where everything aligns just right and you can do no wrong. Hell, on the way back to my truck, bird slung over my shoulder, I flushed one of Georgia's few covies of public land wild quail.  As a 24-year-old, it made me cocky.  This turkey hunting business was easy.

It took me another three seasons to kill my second bird, so I can thank Mr. Tom for teaching me a thing or two about humility and patience.  That's part of the enjoyment of turkey hunting -- even if the birds aren't cooperating, it's a great way to see the world wake up around you -- something most people never bother to savor.  And those slow times sitting under a tree give you a chance to remember all the good times.  I'm no longer a jake these days, but I've got two young kids eager to sit in the woods with me and hopefully we'll make some more memories.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Meet LuLu

It's spring break week around the Scampwalker household, and we're celebrating it with a new member of the family -- meet LuLu.  We traveled to Abilene, Texas this week and picked her up, and it's been nonstop puppy ever since.

The pooch is adorable, to put it mildly.  And even at eight weeks, I'm seeing flashes of confidence, intellect, and style (that could just be the proud parent in me, too).  She comes from great genes though, and a great kennel.  Phantom Kennels, owned and operated by Dan Hendrickson, continually puts out great trial dogs and gun dogs alike.

So plan on many more gratuitous puppy photos in the future... and hopefully some more thoughtful musings... once I clean up this puddle of pee.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Road Photo Friday, and a Haiku...

Oh sweet mudflap girl

Chrome beauty, trailer idol

Deliver us home.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Scampwalker's Wild Game Throwdown, Redux 1

The food has been consumed, the wine (and beer and scotch and bourbon) have been finished off, and I've finally, fully, recovered from last Saturday night's First Annual Wild Game Throwdown.

I hope my four esteemed guests had as much fun eating the grub as I did preparing it.  Over the next week or so, I'm going to post a few recipes from the shindig.  Please give them a try, and let me know what you think.

The piece de resistance (in my opinion, anyway) was Axis venison au poivre.  As legend has it, Axis was a type of deer that was originally imported to Texas from the Indian subcontinent by cattlebarons, who were sick and tired of ranch hands poaching beef cattle for an impromptu ribeye.  Now, it runs wild (and yes, under high-fence) as an exotic across the Texas plains.  It is essentially a fat free meat --leaner than chicken breast -- yet inexplicably tastes similar to beefsteak.  Like most any venison, it's best served rare or medium rare, and the recipe I used works just as well on whitetail backstrap.

I adapted this recipe from Alton Brown, the quirky yet astute Food Network chef.  He uses beef tenderloin, but I used centimeter-thick backstrap fillets, and it was every bit as good, if not better, than the domestic version.  Here's the adapted recipe:

  • 1-2 lbs venison backstrap
  • coarsely ground pepper
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 tbs unsalted butter
  • 1tsp olive oil
  • 1/3 cup cognac
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
Pull the steaks from the fridge for an hour before you cook them.  Rub the meat with the pepper and salt... I use 2-3 parts pepper for 1 part salt.  Don't overdo it, but amply crust it.

Heat a thick-bottomed skillet to medium, then melt the butter and olive oil.  Once the butter is melted, toss on the steaks.  Flip them after 30 seconds (for rare) to a minute (for medium rare) -- any longer than that and you might as well be frying shoe leather.  Move the steaks to a plate and cover with foil.

Pull the skillet off heat, and pour in the cognac, and light with one of those long fireplace lighters (you can use a match at your own peril).  Once the flames die (yes, alcohol burns, kids!), swirl in the cream, and slowly heat it until it thickens (usually just 2-3 minutes).  Pour the sauce over the meat and prepare for unmitigated awesomeness.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Road Photo Friday: Do Not Move

This photo was taken last fall in Stanford, Montana... and there quite possibly is only one other person in the world who will find it as funny as I do.  I snapped the shot after a long day of hunting huns with Jon, my buddy from Four Seasons of Bird Hunting.  It had been a long day -- and a long week, in all honesty -- and that strange box with the foreboding DO NOT MOVE label struck us as hilarious.  Why was it there?  What was in it?  And why was its owner so dead-set against its transport?

As any hunter will attest, it's these stupid little things that tend to spawn stupid big conversations when you've spent lengths of time on the road. We'd toss back some beers that evening, sneak to the house under the cover of darkness, and move the box six inches... across the yard... on the roof?  Or we'd stuff it full of raccoons.  Of course, none of that ever happened.  But it sure was funny at the time.

Looking at it now still cracks me up... to say nothing of the two satellite dishes bolted on a purple single-wide with a "Seasons Greetings" sign proudly hanging up in early October.  Something tells me they weren't trying to get a jump on Christmas 2009.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Jon Dee Graham: Beautifully Broken -- But Not A Muppet

I've finally come to the realization that Jon Dee Graham, one of the patron saints of the Austin, Texas music scene, is NOT a creation of Jim Henson.

Before just a few days ago, I must confess that while I wanted to like him, I never gave him much of a listen.  Jon Dee Graham's voice can best be compared to Tom Waits, an admittedly unoriginal and trite comparison.  But to me, I could never entirely banish the thought of Cookie Monster, clutching a macaroon, crooning his tunes.

That was my loss.  His January 2010 effort -- which I foolishly overlooked -- is filled with songs that make me say, "damn, I've been there."  And you have too.  The opening track -- the deceptively titled "Beautifully Broken," lays it on the line in a hurry:

struggle is just struggle
it's only struggle, nothing more
no pride no shame no dignity
in being sad and poor...
at least thats how I recall
not beautifully broken,
we're just broken that's all

From there, the album caroms through pretty much every thought that I have on any given day... even capturing some spot-on spirituality in two of the finest sorta-alt-country gospel songs I've heard in a long time ("Best" and "God's Gonna Give You What You Need").

It's no wonder that JDG was voted Musician of the Year at the annual SXSW back in '06 (which is happening now).  Goog the dude if you want to know his pedigree -- all I'm saying is it'd do your body and soul some good if you picked up a copy of his new effort.

As for his voice?  You'll get used to it. Trust me.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Scampwalker's Wild Game Throwdown

For weeks now, I've wanted to write an end-of-season retrospective to my 2009-2010 hunting exploits, but for one reason or another, I haven't had the inspiration. Maybe it's the time of year -- cold, dark weather and a barren landscape, with the hunting season and football season behind us and college basketball still waiting to really heat up.

So instead of writing a coda to the hunting season, I'm going to cook one. This Saturday night, I've invited over a few hunting buddies to share in the bounty of the season that was. It'll be sans womenfolk and children (our subject matter can get somewhat coarse after a beverage or two) and we'll talk about what hunters universally talk about: memories from the season passed, trip planning for next fall, dogs, arguing over college sports teams, and various and nefarious other topics du jour.

I've decided to do the dinner tapas-style... Spanish for "little plates." After having spent a week on the Iberian peninsula, I can very much attest to the fact that this is a great way to sample a ton of different food without committing to one dish. With all the critters I intend to cook, that'll come in handy. The menu is below, and all the items were either taken by me or my hunting buddies, and other ingredients I'm striving to make as local as possible:

Caesar Salad with Farm-Fresh Eggs

Smoked Wild Turkey and Woodcock Gumbo

Apple Smoked Bacon-Wrapped Hungarian Partridge with Jalapeno Slivers
Twelve-Herbs-and-Spices Southern Fried Pheasant Breast
Prairie Grouse Bratwurst Simmered in Boulevard Stout with Sautéed Onions

Homemade Pasta Rustica with Whitetail Bolognese Sauce
Axis Backstrap Medallions au Poivre

Bacon-Bundled Grilled Asparagus and Green Beans
Chipotle Sweet Potatoes

Guinness Beer Floats

After dinner, there's talk of traveling to Lawrence (designated driver, of course) to see the Randy Rogers Band. All in all, a pretty damn fine end to the hunting season, wouldn't you say?

For those hunting buddies of ours who live elsewhere (or for those we haven't yet met), we'll hoist a glass or two in your honor. Photos and a post-mortem to come.