Friday, December 16, 2011

Road Photo Friday: Now THAT'S a Dog Trailer

I snapped this a few weeks ago at a DIY car wash in Del Rio, Texas.  In case you don't have the patience to count, that's a 32-hole rig, folks.

We were going to stop to chat them up, but they were just pulling out as I snapped this.  I don't know if they were hauling bird dogs or hounds (Del Rio isn't known as a quail mecca, especially this year).  The dually that was dragging this monstrosity had Idaho plates.  Judging from the looks of the driver and passenger, they were houndsmen (let the hate mail begin).

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

I Am A Duck Hunter.

This is Adam, my great grandfather.  He emigrated to the United States in the mid 1880s from a small town near Worms, Germany.  He and his burgeoning family moved to Nebraska in 1884, and after a lot of hardscrabble work, he became the first podiatrist in the Cornhusker State.  That's our family's claim to fame.  But everytime I see this photo, I see something different than a foot doctor.  I am reminded that this hunting thing isn't just a passing hobby of mine.  It is literally in my blood.

The photo was taken a century ago, when photos were a time consuming, expensive production.  Take a close look.  What did he wear?  His hunting coat, rubber waders, cap, and a badass moustache.  Hunting -- and family -- obviously defined this man.

This is Lee, Robert, Donald, Richard, Leopold, and Bill.  Robert was my grandfather - Gramps - and these were his brothers, the progeny of Adam (there were 13 in all).  It was taken in Nebraska at the height of World War Two, and this Band of Brothers, not yet called up for duty on the front lines, were busy shooting a meal for their families.  Somehow, I think it might be safer being a nazi facing triple-A than a mallard dodging the fusillade of gunfire from this battery of A5's and Winchester 1897's.

This is my dad, Reg, probably taken around 1947.  In this photo, I see myself (always been a dead-ringer for the 'ol man) and my son (mostly through the enthusiasm in which he's holding the gun and enjoying himself outdoors).

So there's no doubt I come by this avocation naturally.  But while my whole family slogged through the oxbows and sandbars of Nebraska's Platte River, I gravitated to upland pursuits.  Not sure how that happened.

It doesn't really matter.  Next week, my dad -- and my son -- will converge on Waldenburg, Arkansas for a duck hunt.  I am blessed with some awesome hunting opportunities every season, but I can't help but circle this one on the calendar as the most anticipated.

I was never lucky enough to hunt with my own Gramps -- I was in college on his last duck hunt, but was told he showed up in a traditional 1940s necktie and hunting coat.  No matter.  Those men, and other family members, will be close to us this next week, as we tell stories, uphold traditions, and indoctrinate the young ones. As it should be.

I am one fortunate man.  I suspect we all have a similar story.  Here's to the hunting man.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Kansas Upland 2011: Don't Bother

I've hunted the Midwest a lot of years.  I'm a prairie kid, and it's what I do.  Good years, bad years, they've all been more or less productive.  I've had a lot of dogs, and I relish hunting where you never quite know if you're going to jump a big squawking rooster or a covey of panicked quail.  If you've never been to Kansas, you really owe it to yourself to come sometime.

Just not this year.

You, like me, would be sorely disappointed.  I hunted opening weekend, followed by Thursday through Sunday of the following week, and the results were miserable.  Typically, you can find the mixed bag anywhere in the state.  This year though, the KDWP said the best concentration of birds would be in the northwestern quarter of the state.  That's where everyone went, in-state and out-of-state hunters, so there was more of the Orange Army than I'd ever seen.

And fewer birds.  Opening weekend, usually a shoe-in for a limit by noon, brought five hunters  just two -TWO- pheasants over the weekend.  I was undeterred, and had a buddy come up from Mississippi, who normally hunts quail (even more fried than Kansas this year) in Texas.  We had nine dogs who knew the drill, and we had four productive points in four days.  We didn't see a lot of hens, or birds flushing wild, or crafty grizzled birds giving our pointy dogs the slip.  Nope, we didn't see shit.

I have never had a less productive hunt.

KDWP's follow-up report is less rosy, but in a Department of Tourism sort of way (don't get me started).

And here I am, with two youngsters -- an eleven year old son looking to blast whatever flies -- and a young pointer who needs as many birds as possible to refine her.

Cold wet spring, add a hot dry summer, season it with bird-killing hail.  It all adds up to nothing.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

My Life As A Turkey: You Must Watch This.

If you're a hunter, nature lover, or motion photography buff, do yourself a favor and watch the magnificent PBS documentary, "My Life As A Turkey."  It's some of the best TV I've seen in years.

Hell, come to think of it, if you're NOT a lover of nature, you owe it to yourself even more to watch this, so you can understand why the rest of us are obsessed with the natural world.

Disclosure.  I'm not a TV guy, and I had no idea this was on the tube.  I'm in a motel room in Hays, Kansas by myself, scouting birds for a buddy who's arriving tomorrow.  Sitting on the bed, eating Long John Silver's (don't judge), flipping through the boob tube.  And turkeys - wild turkeys - are on PBS.  Cool, I'll watch that for 30 seconds or so.

And for the next 40 minutes (I caught it late), I was mesmerized.  The storyline isn't new - man bonds with animals, learns much about them, learns more about himself and the human condition.  But holy hell was it well done.

It was interesting, beautiful, funny, and sad, often all at once.  The cinematography was extraordinary - so much so that I'm waiting for the inevitable follow-up "The Making of Turkey Man." 

Whatever.  It's must see TV for the outdoor set, and it'll certainly make me think about that rooster or bob that I'm fixing to draw a bead on tomorrow.  Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving.

p.s. As I grabbed the link for the series, I see that the PBS site has crashed.  I'm guessing it's because of the interest in this program.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What I'm Listening To: Fall 2011

Looking for some new tunes on those road trips to nowhere this fall? Look no further. Here's my latest installment of Scampwalker-approved music.

The Damn Quails - Down The Hatch
I've been muttering this band's name longer than the band itself has existed, and I'll admit that it's their moniker that originally caught my eye. Fronted by the singer/songwriter duo of Gabriel Marshall and Byron White, The Damn Quails prove once again that Oklahoma is an epicenter of more than just earthquakes -- some of the genre's best music emanates from the Red Dirt State. Their debut album combines beautiful harmonies, rootsy melodies, and smart lyrics. In an era where record producers can either make or break a young band, it seems that Quails co-producer Mike McClure can do no wrong in turning out honest americana music, and help from Joe Hardy (ZZ Top, Steve Earle, and the Replacements) can't hurt either. Sadly, I have no idea if these cats are bird hunters.  Nevertheless, here's hoping The Damn Quails' covey rise continues.

Stoney LaRue - Velvet
If you're a longtime Stoney frat boy fan looking for songs that are a natural follow-up to "Oklahoma Breakdown," you're probably going to be disappointed. There aren't a lot of boot-stomping tunes on Velvet, LaRue's first studio album in six years, but that doesn't mean it isn't brilliant in its own right. Velvet is a compilation of warm, mystical, and gentle rhythms blended with what are easily LaRue's deepest, most thoughtful lyrics to date. I find myself queing up this album on a cool fall night with a fire in the hearth and a whiskey glass close by.

Jason Boland & The Stragglers - Rancho Alto
Yet another Oklahoman to make the list, Jason Boland is an unapologetic, hopelessly romantic country music purist. Since his Pearl Snaps debut in 2009, he's put out a string of reliable honky-tonk country, and Rancho Alto is no different. Adorned with wailing pedal steel and fiddle, it's chock full of songs about hard drinking, hard times, and hard luck. There's nothing particularly new or ground-breaking on the album, but maybe that's the point. In a world where "modern country" implies white country boy rappers and poseur cowboys that wear more eyeliner than my wife, a tall shot of Boland is just the ticket. And if you've never seen these boys live, drop everything and report to your nearest honky-tonk.

Reckless Kelly - Good Luck And True Love
Although it's probably coincidence, Good Luck and True Love is an apt name for RK's 9th album. For one, they've pretty much severed all ties with conventional record companies -- Good Luck! -- and they've doubled-down on their committment to producing and promoting their unique sound on their own -- and if that ain't True Love for their craft, then I don't know what is. The album is vintage RK, full of catchy hooks, solid harmonies, and skilled playing. While mostly mid-tempo tunes that are more country than rock, the crunchier RK makes an appearance on "She Likes Money, He Likes Love." And once again, Willy Braun proves that no one can write a road song like him, with "Hit The Ground Runnin'" closing out the album. It's a collection of songs that will easily work its way into your head.

Robert Earl Keen - Ready For Confetti
I want to love this album, I really do. And while it contains some enjoyable tracks, Ready for Confetti is not ready for prime time. The title track is as corny as it sounds, with a calypso-infused beat that comes across as inanely ersatz, as does the Buffett-like aping of "Waves on the Ocean." "The Road Goes On and On," a purported response to Toby Keith's ripping off of a Keen classic, feels petty and juvenile. And in "Top Down," Robert Earl sounds like a woozy, bleating, injured goat. Admittedly, Mr. Keen has never had a soothing voice, but his stories normally more than make up for his sonic deficiencies. Don't get me wrong, there are some great tracks on this album. "I Gotta Go" ranks among one of the finer tunes of his deep catalog, and his cover of Todd Snider's "Play a Train Song" sounds like it was written for him. Even so, I find myself skipping through the majority of tracks on this one. Here's hoping Robert Earl just hit a pothole in the road that hopefully extends long into the future.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Finding Lost Dogs: A Low-Tech Approach

First of all, don't freak out.  I don't have a lost dog.

The 21st century has blessed us with many high-tech ways to help reunite us with wayward dogs, from GPS tracking collars to implanted microchips to smartphones that allow us to receive calls from good samaritans who might've found a lost dog and pulled a number from a collar.

Recently, Chad Love over at Field & Stream's Man's Best Friend blog talked about the importance of putting the right information on an ID tag, in which he borrowed some sage advice from Steve Snell, owner of Gun Dog Supply.

It reminded me that I also have a rather 19th-century technique of finding a lost dog: a wanted poster.  After losing a dog two years ago in Montana, it struck me that we had no photos or other ways to quickly inform people that we had a dog missing.

I believe that the large majority of folks will keep an eye out for a missing dog if they know about one.  I also happen to think that the sooner you can get the word out to nearby gas stations, cafes, motels, and post offices, the more likely it is that someone's going to stumble across your missing hunting buddy. 

I've printed out these flyers for all three of my pups and have them (along with a thumbdrive carrying digital versions) stashed in my truck.  There's room to put specific information on the poster, and I've printed them in color, for more accurate identification.  I put my two phone numbers (anonymized in this online version, of course) as a tear-off along the bottom.  I figure a rancher might see my dog while driving along a country road, and they'll be more likely to at least report the sighting to me if they have my number close at hand.

God willing, I'll never have to use them, but I feel better knowing I've got them.

If you want to download the template in Word format for free, I've posted it here.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Guest Post: My First Pheasant

I had been pheasant hunting several times before, all being unsuccessful. But then my dad and I got an offer for a youth pheasant hunt on a game preserve near Lawrence. I had been looking forward to it for quite a while. Finally though, the time came. We drove down there, met the other two kids, and then got ready for a round of warm-up trap. I am proud to say I only missed one. (Several of my shots were from port arms, too.)

After that, we started walking through some milo, and a few birds got up. However, I didn’t have good shots on them. Sometime near the end, on the very last milo strip, a perfect bird got up, moving slowly into the wind. I shouldered my gun and brought that bird to the ground. Later, I cleaned the bird all by myself. In fact, it is on the smoker right now for dinner tonight. I had a super amount of fun and hope to do it again, this time a wild bird over one of my own dogs.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bird Dogs, Coyotes, and Bears... Oh My!

As a longtime bird hunter, I'm used to seeing coyotes from afar -- glimpsing, really, as these prairie predators aren't much for human interaction.  That perception changed this weekend.

Saturday morning, Jack and I decided to chase some prairie chickens in the Flint Hills -- mainly as an excuse to get out and exercise LuLu and Vegas.  We were about a half-mile into our first walk, and the dogs were running a hundred yards or so out in front.  As we crested a hill, I was taking in the peaceful sunrise.

"Dad, what's that?!?" my son Jack exclaimed, with a bit of fright in his voice.  And for good reason.  Up ahead, there was a coyote in full sprint just ten feet behind an oblivious LuLu, and closing fast.  Equally as troubling was the second 'yote closing in on my young pointer 50 yards ahead of her.

Instinctively, I hollered and fired a round into the air.  I called LuLu in, and once she realized what was happening, she obediently started coming in to me.  I was closing the distance as I broke my gun and dropped in another 7 1/2 (only then did I realize this load wasn't ideal coyote medicine).

"Rack a shell, Jack!"

By this time, the devil dogs had stopped their active pursuit, but at 70 yards away, they were obviously not interested in leaving.  I aimed a few inches over the lead coyote and pulled the trigger, peppering his ass with birdshot.  That finally persuaded the duo to move on.

Close call!  What's even more interesting is that I got an email from Dan, my Minnesota grouse hunting buddy, with a similar story on the very same day:

...Got out to the "island" where the birds are and was walking up to that huge lone poplar tree and noticed a bunch of dirt at the base. About that same instant Mocha ran up and with both feet at the top of the mound went from 60 mi hour to a dead stop. I was about 15 feet away when a very large black bear head appeared.

I have to tell you it is a bit unnerving staring a black bear in the eye from 15 feet away when all you have is a double barrel full of 7.5 bird shot. I have seen a fair number of bear in the woods over the years but usually it is a view of their butt going the other way running from the dogs and in those instances it is just a cool sight of nature to see. Seeing one raise its head when it potentially feels cornered in its own den by dogs, was a completely different feeling.

I had a few seconds when I actually considered what the odds were if the bear charged the dog, and the dog runs back to me? Do I shoot my son's dog and hope the bear stops for her or do I risk trying to shoot a bear with bird shot? Thankfully we were able to back out of there quickly and the bear stayed put.

Next time I go across that slough I'm going to let you ponter guys get a little ahead of me before we reach the island!

Anyone else out there have any close calls with dangerous, toothy critters?  Any advice?  I used to carry a couple rounds of buckshot in my vest, but I took them out several seasons ago (accidentally chambering one on a bobwhite quail is not pretty).  I think I'm putting them back in my inventory.

Be careful out there, everyone.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Montana Dog Report: The Kids Are Alright

Our most recent trip to Montana stands out for a lot of reasons, but chief among them is the good dog work we had among our motley crew of 2 pointers, 3 setters, 2 shorthairs and a visla. All did respectably well, and most did remarkably so.

We won't soon forget Sage's nice 250-yard casts and authoritative points -- all from a middle-aged setter that ought to be a lot more hampered by a chronic ankle inflammation than he is. Vegas -- my seven-year-old shorthair that I'd about given up on -- decided to do her best all-age impression and point a covey of Huns at 200 yards, remaining rock-solid when they flushed just out of gun range.

But as far as I'm concerned, the trip belonged to the youngsters. Our first day in Montana, I picked up LuLu, my 18-month old Phantom Kennels pointer. You may remember that I dropped her off with trainer Nolan Huffman back in early June. Since that time, she was under Nolan's expert tutelage all summer and early fall at his Lewistown kennel.

For her first hunt, we ran her on some native prairie bordered by wheat stubble that had produced for us in previous years. While she didn't make game, she handled beautifully and ran with style and aggressiveness.

Apparently too aggressively. That evening, as we were putting dogs on the chain gang, LuLu came out of the trailer unable to put any weight on her rear left leg. Shit. We brought her into the cabin and discovered a 3/4 inch-long (and nearly as deep) gash in the fleshy part of her leg near her achilles tendon, most likely from a barbed wire fence. It was a scant quarter inch from possibly severing the tendon -- easily ending her hunting season and perhaps her career. As it was, she was done for at least a day or so of recuperation.

The other youngster on our journey was Finn, Wes' nine-month-old Berg Brothers setter. I raved about this rascal months ago, and after hunting with him in Montana, I have no reason to change my opinion. He runs confidently, points with a high tail, and seems to enjoy every aspect of the game. There were a couple bird bumps and a heavy-jawed chomp or two, but that's not meant as a criticism. I had to continually remind myself that this dog was seeing his first birds and indeed the first autumn of his life. He's going to be a winner.

When it finally came time to put LuLu on the ground again, she was ready, and so was I. We had decided to hunt abandoned homestead (or "hunstead" as Ben O. Williams and fanboy Jon calls them) surrounded by grass and wheat. Tasty stuff.

With little wind and nearly 65 degrees, conditions weren't ideal. LuLu charged onward anyhow, happy to be on the ground again. I admired her muscular frame and cracking tail gliding effortlessly through the golden grass ahead of me.

Then all hell broke loose. Before she could wheel to a stop, a partridge took flight a few feet from her. And another. And then a dozen. All told, some 75 Hungarian partridge, sounding like a massive creaking, squeaking jet engine erupted from the farmstead. I simply stood there, in stunned disbelief.

Thankfully, I had enough wits about me to track their flight, and five separate coveys put down within a few hundred yards of where we were standing.

We spent the rest of the afternoon chasing those birds, getting points on all five coveys -- many from LuLu -- as well as a nice retrieve or two from her. I think she's going to be a special dog.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Montana Recap

Greetings loyal readers... and my apologies for not being so loyal to the blog. It's not that I haven't wanted to write or that I don't have anything to write, I just haven't found the time to write it.

Thankfully, much of that busyness is hunting induced. Barely the middle of October, and I've managed to witness my dogs point prairie chickens, pheasants, bobwhites, woodcock, ruffed grouse (as much as any dog can get a point on those bastards), Hungarian partridge, sharptail grouse, and an errant sage grouse in three states. Combine my hunting pursuits with being a (more-or-less) productive father, husband, and societal contributor -- well, something had had to give.

Apologies aside, I'm back from our annual Montana trek, and it was one for the ages. Advance bird reports were tepid at best, so we really didn't know what to expect. Boy, were we pleasantly surprised. The weather, the dogs, and the birds all conspired to give us ten full days of exceptional hunting. In fact, I can't think of a single field we walked that we didn't move gamebirds.

So why'd we fare so well? A few thoughts.
  • The weather was perfect. Most of the state was suffering under dry, 80-degree weather and as soon as we crossed the Montana border, it rained more than an inch in 24 hours. The rain left after that and we were treated to lows in the 30s and highs in the low 60s for the rest of the trip. Scenting conditions soared and we could afford to run our dogs the full day.

  • Our timing was perfect. Guides, trainers, and biologists we talked to reported seeing fewer than normal birds in September. That's partially because of the heat and lack of rain, but it's also because the area we hunted had a late hatch (thanks to a very wet and cool spring). Conventional wisdom holds that young birds don't give off much scent. By the second week in October, the birds had a chance to grow -- even though we took a lot of young birds with immature plumage.

  • We know the area. It's the fourth year now that we've spent at least part of our trip in this part of the state. And not unlike home, the more you hunt it, the better you know it. We've got a nice list of honey holes, and we're more adept at quickly identifying what sort of terrain attracts those prairie birds, which means it's easier for us to find new hotspots. And there's so damned much public land that you don't want to get into the habit of doing more driving than hunting. Montana is a BIG state.

Of course, the birds were only a small part of the fun. The scenery was simply stunning -- God used the whole color palette when he made Montana.  We marveled at the precociousness of some new pups and the determination of our senior dogs. We met some new friends and caught up with old friends. And like any hunting trip, we ate well, drank well, and slept well.

I'll have a more thorough report in the coming days... just as soon as I catch up at home and at work!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Hi From the Backseat.

I'm two hours into a 20 hour trip to Montana. I'm not a night person, so Jon and Wes are manning things til 4am or so, and then I'm pilot.

So much to look forward to... Friends, scenery, and old haunts. But I'm most jazzed about seeing LuLu in action. Nolan says she's ready to go, and I believe him 100 percent. But I'm still nervous. Sort of like seeing your kid for the first Christmas after a semester at college, I suppose.

Here goes. G'nite.

Oh, and I'm writing this on an iPad. Thanks, Mr. Jobs. 'Cept I can't figure out how to add a photo.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Indoctrination Is Complete.

Man, do I love the first week in September. 

The Dove Opener -- as has been well documented by my blogging peers -- is upon us.  I've been too busy to write about it -- and it hasn't been the ridulous dove orgy that our whitewing trip in Texas that is was last fall.  But this one was as good, if not better.  Dad and son, the coaching, the cameraderie, the time together.  Lots of gunpowder spent (funpowder, as Jack aptly named it), and plenty of birds to show for it.

It's also football season, though, and Jack experienced his first Big Red game last Saturday.  And while There Is No Place Like Nebraska, this was an early, nonconference tune up -- like dove hunting.  The big birds, and the B1G teams still lie ahead.

But all is right in Scampwalkerville.  He's asking me about hunting and Huskers, and how I reconcile the two on a September, October, or November Saturday afternoon.  And after 30 years of chasing the same sirens, I have no answer. 

But if that's all my son is worried about, I think things are going to be just fine.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Hunchback of Dice Lane

Creepy! But I shouldn't be afraid, right?

I'm really not. But Dottie's lime-sized post-injection lump is a tad gross. It's the first time I've had a dog with an allergic reaction from a normal battery of shots. It's actually gone down since I snapped this photo last night, and a call to the vet confirmed my armchair research that it's generally harmless, if not ugly. For what it's worth, Dot doesn't seem to notice.

Anyone else have a dog that's experienced this kind of reaction?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Hunting Buddies

As the season slowly, yet inexorably draws near, I find myself looking forward to so many things. Endless roads leading to spots both favorite and unexplored, and the small towns that punctuate the countryside. Shouldering a gun and making an impossible shot - or not. And witnessing fine dog work and the incomparable feeling that I get when my focus and predatorial instinct become one with the animal locked on point at my feet.

But without hunting buddies, the experience just wouldn't be as fulfilling. Part of what has always drawn me to upland hunting is the social experience -- it's not a solitary sport, unlike most other outdoor pursuits that require stillness (not my forte) while freezing one's ass off (also not my forte). 

Whether it's the Patton-like strategy sessions before assaulting a field, or the debates over dog breeds or shotgun shell payloads, or the tendencies of the fairer sex, or the inside jokes, or the merciless teasing, or the slap-happy humor in a small-town bar or around a campfire -- they are are all a part of the experience for me.  I suspect most uplanders are drawn to the sport for similar reasons. 

There's a strange dynamic at play, too -- almost socialistic -- among upland hunting companions. Dogs, trucks, guns, ammo, trailers, training, food, whiskey -- even fleabag motel rooms are shared for the common good. And unlike the current experiment that's taking place in Washington, this model of "shared sacrifice" seems to work pretty well in the fields and forests. I guess that's probably because you and you alone can choose your hunting buddies.

These fraternal bonds are borne of shared passion, hard work, and a common experience. And given time, the friendships go far beyond the field. The photo of Jon and Wes posing proudly behind a limit of roosters was one of the first times we had hunted together, five years ago. Since then, I've stood with Jon at his wedding and Wes has literally given me the shirt off his back when I split my chin open (long story).

Dan and Terry were with me the day I had to put down my first-ever pointer, and they helped me through it like no one else ever could. Through open-heart surgeries, job changes, and only God knows what else, we've been there for one another.

I've been blessed with a great group of friends I've met in countless ways, but none are as close as the ones that I call my hunting buddies.

And when all is said and done, that's why I cannot wait for September to get here.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Closing Out Kill It, Catch It, Cultivate It Week

Lest you think I'm a quitter, the Kill It, Catch It, Cultivate It Week went swimmingly... I just got worn out from documenting things (any blogger gets this).

Anyhow, from one Saturday through the next Sunday, we succeeded.  I ate a ton of venison salami sandwiches for lunch, some homegrown canteloupe for breakfast, and a ton of tasty stuff for dinner.  I failed a couple times -- a work lunch necessitated some Chinese food, and a visit to see the Kansas City T-Bones meant hot dogs from God knows where.

Here are a few of the dishes we had... the photographer (me) got lazy as we moved on.

First was homemade pasta (above) with melted brie, 'maters, basil, and garlic.  A staple of summer, I pine for this.  And like me, my bro, and my dad, I made this with my kids.  It's a tradition... one I hope they pass on to their kiddoes.  We have a pasta machine, but I tend to like it cut wide and rustica with a simple pizza cutter.

We also had corned venison, thanks to Hank Shaw's absolutely terrific corned venison recipe.  If y'all have a tough old roast of a forgotten critter, this is the recipe you need to do.  With homegrown fried okra.  The corn is local, but not not mine.  We grew some, but it tasted like paste on a stalk.

There was Mexican night of course, with jalapeno cheddar grilled sausage in homemade tortillas.  We made some frijoles, which were not from 'round these parts, but damn tasty nonetheless.  And they WERE from Lubbock, Mrs. Scampwalker's hometown, so it still seemed appropriate.  Avacado?  Yeah, ya busted me.

The piece de resistance was Hungarian partridge, Andalusian style.  My love of Spanish food is well documented, and this mixture of roasted onions, sweet raisins, and tart vinegar was spot-on.  Paired with saffron rice and a tomato and olive salad, I almost felt like I was back in Iberia.

So I'm calling it a success.  Was it tough?  Not really.  That's the way the Scampwalkers roll -- we don't typically eat shit from a box, bag, or can.  Was it pure?  Not entirely.  Until Kansas is hospitable to olives, avacadoes, and (decent) red wine, then I'm still going to seek foodstuffs elsewhere.  Was I completely satisfied?  Yes and no.  Loved the bounty and satisfaction of what I worked to eat.  But I'll never get over a craving for a good marbled feedlot-raised beefsteak, and I don't intend to build a gristmill for my own flour.  And Mrs. S. says a whiskey still ain't happening.

But it beats hamburger helper and Bud Light anyday, Clark.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Proof In Concept: GoPro HD Camera on Dog

I've seen others do this, and now that the weather's cooled down a bit, I was able to do some of my own field testing recently.  Here's a movie of a GoPro HD Hero in a waterproof housing mounted on Vegas.  I used the neoprene harness from an old Garmin DC 20 dog tracker -- works pretty slick. 

As you'll see, it's a little Blair Witch Project-ish, but I'm really excited about the possibilities as a dog picks up scent, slows down, and goes on point.  I think the viewing angle is wide enough that I'm going to get some pretty sweet covey rises, and maybe some retrieves, too.  Combined with myself wearing one, we could have some pretty fun videos this fall.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

KCCE Week, Day 3: Trout a la Papa

Day Three of Kill It, Catch It, Cultivate It, Eat It Week featured the fruits of our most recent trip.  Last week, we met Mrs. Scampwalker's dad and his wife in South Fork, Colorado, along with the cousins.  It was a great time, and part of the fun included some trout fishing in mountain lakes.  The action wasn't furious -- it was pretty warm and we surmised the trout were deep -- but it was still productive.

We wound up with a decent sized school of rainbow, cutthroat, and brown trout, and the recipe we used came straight from my father in law, known as Papa by the kids.  Here's Trout a la Papa:

Splay out cleaned trout onto an oiled rack of the Big Chief smoker, and let it smoke (I use apple wood chips) for one pan (about 45 minutes or so).  While they're smoking, melt 3-4 tablespoons of butter in a large, ovenproof pan.  Saute a clove or two of garlic until soft, add enough white wine to cover the bottom of the pan, and juice from half a lemon.  When the trout are done smoking, remove the skin and discard.  Gently place the trout in the pan and roast in a 325 degree oven for 15 or 20 minutes.  Serve whole and spoon wine and butter sauce over the top.

The trout were accompanied by the Homesick Texan's phenomenal Tex-Mex squash casserole -- Jack loathes squash, and even he likes this.  A couple of homegrown tomatoes with feta cheese and balsamic vinegar rounded out the meal.

For breakfast, it was canteloupe from the garden, and leftover grilled pizza, and a Missouri peach for a mid-afternoon snack.

So far, so good!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Kill It, Catch It, Cultivate It, Eat It Week: Day 2

Tuesday featured that American culinary classic, the BLT.  Ours was made with home-cured, applewood-smoked bacon (the pork provided by the local Bichelmeyer Meats), homegrown 'maters, and freshly-baked bread.

Breakfast was a bowl of homegrown canteloupe and lunch brought a venison salami sandwich and a homemade dill pickle.

**note: no bird dogs were harmed during the making of this sandwich.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

It's Kill It, Catch It, Cultivate It, Eat It Week... Day 1

We're going to try something different here at Casa Scampwalker this week.  We love to hunt, fish, garden, and eat the bounty.  This week, we're going to try to do it exclusively.  Here are the three simple rules:
  1. Eat food that we've shot, caught, or grown -- three meals a day for a week.
  2. If using food/ingredients that do not fall under rule #1, eat foods produced locally/regionally.
  3. If using food/ingredients that do not fall under rules #1 or #2, they should be as close to their raw, unprocessed state as possible.
Why do such a thing?  We're not on some health kick -- we've always tried to stay away from unprocessed, pre-produced foods.  That's not only because we think it's a healthier way to live, but also because we really enjoy cooking.  We're certainly not making some statement against Big Farm agriculture or anything -- we realize that's a necessary part of the American food chain (not to mention the economy here in the Midwest).  We're just sort of curious if it can be done.  And plus, I've got to make some room in the deep freeze for some new critters!

Tonight's menu (decidedly and uncharacteristically vegetarian):

  • Grilled pizzas with fresh mozzarella and homegrown garden vegetables (sauteed eggplant, carmelized onion, cherry tomatoes, and fresh basil.
  • Garden fresh gazpacho, using Jose Andres' spectacular recipe.
  • For dessert, the beautiful Mrs. S. baked a bing cherry pie.  Not local, but from fresh cherries and a homemade crust. 

Pretty terriffic, if I do say so myself.

Folks, until you get to read about what I shoot, you get to learn about what I cook.  Such is life in August in the Midwest. 

That is all.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Road Photo Friday: Video Edition

What happens after a week of chasing Montana huns and you find yourself back at the motel, tired and slap happy? 

You try to chug a 24-ounce Budweiser, of course.

Friday, July 29, 2011

James Beard's Scorpion Jalapeno Relish

It's summer, it's beastly hot, and finally - finally - the tomato plants have started bearing fruit.  Like lots.  Earlier this morning, my countertop was literally covered with them -- celebrities, early girls, lemon boys, cherokee purples, and jet stars.  They're all wonderful fresh, but we knew there was no way we'd be able to eat them all before they went bad.

What to do?  Go to the Scampwalker family archives and can some scorpion jalapeno relish, created by the legendary James Beard.  And this cooked relish/salsa befits the great chef, back before chefs were celebrities.

Some 30 years ago, I remember my own dad toiling away in the kitchen, chopping tomatoes, peppers, and onions by the potful.  I was only passively interested in its creation (much like my own kids this very day).  But when it was done?  No finer concoction has ever adorned a tortilla chip. 

Back when I was a kid, I can remember popping a jar open during a Cornhusker football game on a snowy Saturday afternoon, and nothing brought back memories of a distant summer more vividly.  I recall eating it on the back of a tailgate for lunch on a pheasant hunting trip.  And I fondly remember fishing trips on Nebraska's Merritt Reservoir where my dad, my brother, and I -- along with our guide turned close friend -- ate scorpion and tortilla chips and drank gin and tonics (the aptly-dubbed "champagne cruise") while routinely reeling in six-pound walleye.  This salsa is memories.

And despite it's menacing name, it's not particularly hot.  It's sweet, with a nice acidic tang, and a mild kick.  The recipe, below, was given to me by my dad.  I can't seem to find any history on it, nor the cookbook it came from anywhere on the internet (a rarity these days).  My adaptation is below.

5 pounds ripe tomatoes
2 medium onions
1 cup sliced jalapenos, most seeds and veins removed
2 bell peppers
2-3 coarsely chopped garlic cloves
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon chile powder
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Coarsely chop the tomatoes and onions, and cook in a large pot over medium heat for about 10 minutes.  Then add the rest of the ingredients, and cook until the peppers and onions are softened a bit, but not mush.  Don't cover the pot -- you want some of the liquid to cook off.

You can eat it fresh at this point, or if you want to can it, use standard waterbath canning techniques, using pint jars with about a quarter inch headspace, and simmer for 15 minutes.

It was my first attempt at waterbath canning, and so far, so good -- the seals are all tight and I can look forward to the taste of summer all year long.  Thanks, Pop.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Un-Chained Chain Gang

Like the rest of upland nation, I'm biding my time in the sweltering heat, counting down the days before the bird season starts. Please don't get me wrong -- I love the summer, and I'm now old enough to realize that wishing time away isn't in my long-term best interests.

So I've occupied myself with the summer garden and various chores around the house that have been delayed. But a guy like me needs a project that'll add to my enjoyment in the field. Last year, I built a custom dog box (which continues to be a very successful project, I might add).

This summer, I think I've built a better chain gang. For those of you unaware, the chain gang is a useful tool if you've got a bunch of bird dogs in your care. Trainers use it so an entire pack of dogs can observe others being trained. For me, they make a lot of sense when you're airing, watering, and feeding a string of dogs.

Last year in Montana, we had six dogs, and every night at feeding time, we hammered six stakes into the often-hard ground. After two weeks on the road, it got a bit old. This year, we'll have eight dogs.

The chain gang lets you hammer just two stakes -- one at each end -- and you hook up a dog every six feet on 18-inch drop chains. It gives the dogs plenty of room to stretch out, drink and eat, do their business, all while not tangling (literally or figuratively) with one another.

After a lot of internet reading, discussions with buddies, and scores of visits to various hardware stores, I came up with a pretty handy system that I think will suit my needs well.

Instead of using chain, Jack and I chose a vinyl-coated 3/16 inch stainless steel cable. Mine was rated at 3,700 pounds minimum breaking strength, so I don't think that'll be an issue. Having it coated keeps it cleaner and less likely to corrode or unravel.

There are some distinct advantages in using cable. First of all, it's significantly cheaper. I got mine for 49 cents a foot at a big-box store, and comparable chain came in at two to four times that much. Cable is also much lighter, and in my opinion, easier to manage and less likely to tangle. Finally, most chain links are just about the perfect size for a dog nail to get caught in... not fun.

Back to the chain (er, cable) gang. I made two four-dog sections that can be combined, something (but hardly the only thing) I learned from my buddy Steve Snell, who knows a thing or two about bird dogs. I made a loop at one end using a quarter-inch aluminum ferrule. I agonized over the best way to attach the ferrules and stops -- a good swaging tool will run you over a hundred dollars, and I couldn't justify that.

So as a lark, I just pounded the ferrule semi-flat on a concrete slab. It seems to work just fine... I looped it through a hook on my backyard deck, and I can support my 180-pound frame from it. I also dropped 50 pounds worth of cinderblock from a height of two feet, and neither ferrule nor stop budged.

Three feet from the terminating loop I hammered in two stops, about an inch apart. I connect my drop leads in between these stops. I added three more sets of stops six feet apart, and then added another terminating loop three feet from the last stop. You can make as many of these main lines as you have dogs, and only use what you need.

A word about cutting cable. It's not easy to make a clean cut. I tried a bolt cutter (just kinda smashed everything) and a hacksaw (did the job, but took a long time and was an uneven cut). This was my perfect excuse to buy a Dremel, a power tool I've always wanted. Outfitted with a cutting wheel, it made quick work of things.

Each drop line -- the line that connects the dog to the main line -- consists of roughly an 18-inch long piece of cable terminated in loops, and I looped a brass snap swivel into each loop. That way, it pivots and swivels on the main line, meaning no tangles.

Best of all, the whole 8-dog rig easily winds onto a standard extension cord spool. Jack and I can deploy or stow the whole setup in just a couple of minutes. The whole shebang cost me around $80, hardware included (minus the dremel).

The dogs -- Dottie, Vegas, and Ariel the visiting Boston Terrier seemed happy with the setup.  I'm looking forward to using it this fall.