Skulls

In my opinion, most skulls are very interesting and nice to look at.

Does that make me weird? I don’t think so. Up on the ranch we have a cow skull sitting on a bank next to one of our roads and it’s been there for a few years. I admire it every time I drive down that road.

Our old camp is an open lean-to with several mountain lion kills hanging on the walls. Three deer skulls and the skull of a boar are prominently displayed. As with the cow skull, I can hardly drive by that camp without checking out those skulls even though I’ve seen them a thousand times.

European-mount skulls with antlers or horns, are proudly displayed in many homes and trophy rooms. It’s not just the protrusions that are attractive, a bleached skull is a thing of beauty and the symmetry has a special feel about it.

This wildebeest is my mini water-buffalo.

wildebeast

A smallish pronghorn I killed with my bow a few years ago is a trophy to me, but not worthy of full shoulder mount treatment, so I had it done European.

pronghorn

Bow-killed boar and warthogs are trophies I also display as European mounts. They are nice to my eye.

One of my favorite trophies is a whitetail skull collected by my guide on a South Dakota hunt that took place about 15 years ago. It died during an outbreak of disease that killed most of the whitetail in the region.

whitetail-buck

I purchased the skull from my 19-year-old guide when he decided he needed $50 more than the skull. It was a good deal for each of us.

This skull also tells a story. The buck died along a river and the winter flood buried the skull beneath the gravel of the riverbed. When the water receded, only the right antler was protruding.

My guide spotted the antler while scouting for deer. He was surprised and elated when he pulled the antler from the ground to find that it was attached to the entire skull. You can see that the right antler is bleached white, while the left antler and skull are brown from being underground for a while.

A more recent addition to my skull collection is the skull  of a bird.

scrub-jay-skull

The size and black tip of its bill give away that it is the skull of a scrub jay. I was very happy when I spotted it on the ground while deer hunting. Bird skulls are very fragile.

Simple Goose Jerky

Goose meat makes very good jerky. The meat is very consistent and easy to chew. Here’s the simplest way to make it.

Shoot some geese.

Pick out the preferred geese and save them for the oven.

Breast out the remaining geese.

img_2539-jerky

Slice the breasts into strips and put them into a marinade of 50% soy sauce and 50%  Worcestershire sauce.

Marinate for 12 to 24 hours depending upon your preference. 24 hours will produce a strong salty flavor.

Dehydrate until dry but still chewy.

After a couple batches you can adjust the marination and drying to make the jerky come out the way you like it best.

Jerky meat is great for carrying with you on future hunts.Be aware of the high salt content. You may not want to eat more than a few pieces in a day.

 

Making the Most of Our Take

Success has expanded in some of my hunting during the past fifteen years. With regard to big game, the process of becoming a rifle hunter has been a big factor. With regard to waterfowl, the expansion of goose species has been a factor. A third factor has been some change in the places I hunt.

Although I still hunt with a bow, for several reasons that are not important to this post, I’m more inclined to wait for rifle season and the rifle is a much more effective method of take. On the other hand, the method of take has not changed related to duck hunting, but other factors have.

Regarding waterfowl, natural changes in California habitat and game populations has been a factor. Another factor is a change in where I hunt, meaning that different species are dominant in my take.

When our primary delta duck was converted to a permanent marsh, I transitioned my primary duck hunting to the Kerry Duck Club in the North Grasslands District. Although the number of ducks I take has risen, the species has shifted from mallard to teal and some sprig.

Age and personal life style are other factors influencing freezer burn. Thowing away game after three years in my freezer is worse than leaving it dead in the marsh.

In an effort to make the most of my take and not waste game, my eating habits are evolving. My goal is to eat healthier and also reduce freezer burn, which is a form of spoilage that I hate, but I must admit that it still happens.

Game meat is very healthy in its natural state. Eating meat is a great way to reduce sugar and fat intake, but while processing, one can add back some of the stuff you’re trying to avoid.

Traditionally, most of my game meat meals have taken place at dinner. When we have guests who enjoy game meat, my stockpile of ducks, geese and venison is appropriately recycled. But my wife doesn’t eat game and our propensity for having large parties has declined during that past few years. This is a factor adding to a need for alternatives in  processing and cooking game.

Smoking game is an alternative that works to an extent, but if I smoke more than I can eat, I may be only succeeded in modifying the nature of the game meat in my freezer from unprocessed and frozen to smoked and frozen. And, high salt food is tougher on our bodies as we age. There is still room for growth in this area, if I increase the amount of times I hot-smoke game with less brine and more smoke,and if the resulting meat is eaten on the spot, the problem is reduced.

Making sausage is an area that I am expanding. To date, most of my best success has been with summer sausage. Once again the amount of salt is a factor. I can only eat so much salty food.

Another idea on my list is to use a small sausage making grinder to make fresh sausage on a small-scale. The idea is to convert a two goose breasts and a hunk of pork shoulder into sausage that can be eaten in a couple of meals and never have to be frozen. The less meat I freeze, the smaller the chance of losing out to my primary enemy..

Making chili is another way to convert meat into an edible product. I enjoy chili, but I must also learn to make it in proportions that result in consumption, not just convert meat into another form of freezer waste. Right now I have several bags of frozen chili in my freezer that I need to eat. The good thing about chili is that I have no trouble when I want to give it away, which limits waste.

Eating meat for breakfast is another solution that is working well. Here are some photos of a breakfast I prepared this week. It was easy and tasty. I call it the Two-teal breakfast.

First comes procurement.

IMG_0022 Lola teal by Joe

Lola and a drake green-wing teal. Photo by Joe DiDonato

Second comes preparation. Here is a series of photos from this week.

My preferred seasoning, sea salt, Lowery seasoning salt and ground peppercorn.

An entire sliced yellow onion. Water and oil. A little flour to sprinkle on the teal when browning.

Cover the bottom of the pan in oil and about a quarter-inch of water. Heat and cover for ten minutes. After ten minutes remove the cover and cook off the water. Once the water is gone cook until brown. The entire process takes about 20-25 minutes.

The yellow onion definitely complements the teal. Mushrooms and toast would be good additions.

Make the most of your take and you’ll enjoy hunting to its fullest.

Teal Return to the Grasslands

Where did they go? That was a common question until the last ten days or so.

But now they’re back and the Kerry Duck Club proved it yesterday. Most of the hunters had limits and mostly they consisted of teal.

My hunting partner, Tom Billingsley, and I had a late draw yesterday and I had a late night the day before, so we agreed to sleep in a bit and arrive at the club about 8 AM.

It was a good decision as some of the guys started rolling back in with limits of teal shortly after our arrival. For the hell of it we decided to try a remote blind without much history of success for our start, but after a half hour it was clear that it was not going to work.

The birds stayed just out of range, and when they came close at all a guy on the club next door not only shot three shots at eveything near him, he must have been shooting a 3 1/2 in twelve gauge. It was definitely impacting our hunting experience.

Despite the long walk, we headed back to headquarters and picked out a more likely blind. By the time we got to our second blind of the day, most of the hunters had headed in with limits.

Teal were abundant and we were in a good flyway. The first bird of the day sailed about 300 yards and Lola and I made the long retrieve. The bird was dead and she wanted nothing to do with it so I carried it back to the blind.

From that point on the hunting continued to pick up and Lola caught fire. We took turns for a while and then finished it off by knocking down three out of a four bird group. The hunting was what we have been waiting for. Finally teal for breakfast in the morning.

lola-and-teal-by-joe-didonato

Photo taken by Joe DiDonato on a December 2016 hunt at the Kerry Club.

Holiday Hunting

It’s often difficult to make time for hunting during the holidays. And the weather doesn’t always cooperate, but here are a few photos from the last three weeks.

Although the weather was too warm and sunny for geese, our first Webb Tract overnight this year did produce this rooster as Lola made a perfect flush and retrieve.

img_2444-lola-and-pheasant

This pheasant was good for a tray of thinly sliced and delicate meat dipped in cornmeal, salt and pepper, then fried hot and fast. The tray was presented on Christmas eve and it didn’t last long.

Geese eventually packed the island and here are a few photos from the next couple trips to Webb.

Just because the geese were there didn’t make it a slam dunk to bring them home, but last week I finally got a bunch of action and so did Lola. An overnight produced three the first afternoon and five more the next morning in a low fog.

img_2489-lola-and-geese

The three speckled bellies are now fully plucked and are sitting in my fridge, ready for roasting.The Aleutians and snow are breasted out. I’m contemplating how to cook them, but the first was pounded thin and fried for breakfast. Pretty good, but the specs will be better yet. After they are properly anointed with salt, seasoning salt and pepper, I’ll roast them at 400 degrees for about thirty minutes until they are medium rare and nicely browned on the outside.

Hunting geese can produce a real problem. Not the specs, which are easy to prepare and are also so delicious that they easily disappear, but the Aleutians and snows which are inferior.

The catch is that the population of snows and Aleutians is so large that they appear to need thinning. That’s probably why the goose limit is 30 per day, 10 dark and 20 white. Bag limits are three times the daily limit. If you shoot a limit of 30 (or a bag limit of 90), be prepared to make a bunch of jerky, sausage, stew and chili.

Only the Hunter

This is the tale of two ducks.

As a well-worn hunter of waterfowl, I now appreciate quite a few things that I used to take for granted. Tonight, I was reminded of one.

I’ve had several discussions about waterfowl table fare this season. I think it’s somewhat related to the fact that the season has been a bit slim. The number of waterfowl eaten has been limited by take and I’ve dug a little deeper into the freezer of the past.

Ducks that have been in the freezer for two, three or four years are substandard. But I have to admit that I’ve eaten a few of those over the past few months – sometimes in an effort to clear the way for a new season.

However, events have slowed down the progression and I’ve not eaten as many fresh ducks as usual. Today was different.

Yesterday I hung around the Kerry Club long enough to knock down two pintails. Seeing as I can only eat one on any given night, I had the privilege of surveying the two birds carefully.

The first bird was taken at about 9:00 AM. He came directly over the blind at maximum shootable range. I pulled up and increased the lead to about six feet. When I pulled the trigger he died instantly and did a spin down. Which means he spun in circular motion, but did not coast at all. Despite a slight breeze, he hit the water almost directly beneath the spot where he was hit. One shot and done.

Lola retrieved the bird and I noticed right away that its belly-feathers were yellow – almost the same color as Lola. Some say that this coloration is a stain created by hanging out in rice fields. Others say the stain is because these are birds that have been living in the Susuin Marsh where the brackish water stains the birds. This scenario sounds more credible. In either event, this bird had spent some time elsewhere before moving to the grasslands.

The second bird was shot about three hours later and its breast feathers were pure white. Since this is the natural color of pintail, I don’t know where it had been. However, according to some of my knowledgeable duck hunting friends, it is likely that this white bird has been living in the grasslands for a while. In the grasslands it probably has had plenty to eat and has not been overworked searching for food. And, the grasslands water is very high quality.

After I plucked the two birds, it was even more clear that their life styles have been quite different. The yellow-stained bird appeared to have zero body fat and when stripped it looked gray. The snow-white bird had so much body fat that the fat showed through its skin. It looked yellow.

I’ve eaten enough ducks to know that a duck with a layer of fat is much tastier than a duck with no body fat. So when dinner time came, guess which duck I selected?

You got it. I salted, peppered and seasoned the duck. Then I placed it in a convection oven at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. When I pulled the bird from the oven, it had swelled up nicely and was crispy looking on the outside.

Here’s what a great duck looks like when it comes out of the oven. I sliced the bird to see if it was done. It was – medium rare.

roast-duck

It was fantastic. I ate every drop and finished the last vestiges of meat from the carcass while holding it with two hands and leaning over our sink.That says it all. The second duck will be a let down, but I’ll eat it one of these days.

The moral to the story is pick out the whitest drakes you can and hope for a layer of fat.