The Big Buck Contest

Next Saturday, is the date of the local big buck contest, an annual event and as usual I’m looking forward to it. I don’t think I’ve missed one in the last 25 years.

All the usual characters will be there and the format will be familiar.There will be three categories of the bucks, local, all California and out of state. For the last few years, the contest has been held on a weekend and it has a family flavor, but that hasn’t always been the case.Winning the contest at least once is on everybody’s bucket list.

This weekend the event will be filled with wives and children and attendance numbers will be higher than ten years ago, when this story took place and probably there will be a little less drinking and the crowd will be more subdued.

Ten years ago this was an all-male event.

A good friend of mine has attended the big buck contest almost every year for longer than I have, but misfortune overtook him about a dozen years ago and he had a stroke. Unfortunately for him, he laid on the floor for quite a while before he received help and the effects of the stroke became permanent, leaving him disabled.

As is still the case, he was able to walk a short ways in those days, but not far and generally traveled by wheel chair. His friends, myself included, made an effort to include him in events whenever possible and the big buck contest was an event that he almost never missed.

My brother, Rob, and I took pleasure in assisting him to the big buck contest where he was popular with the guys, especially those who didn’t have the opportunity to see him but once or twice a year.

Over time, the inability to exercise as well as his propensity to consume food led him to become somewhat overweight, but what the heck, he had to enjoy something. The stroke left him paralyzed on one side and hampered his ability to communicate, but he could carry on a limited conversation and worked hard at it.

The guys could usually figure out what he was trying to say.

On one particular night, the big buck contest shifted to a new venue. The room was upstairs and we had to take my friend to the second floor in a small elevator. It was a tight squeeze and there was no room for a second person in the small space. We were a bit anxious as the door closed and he disappeared upward. Without trouble he made it to the top and the door opened.

As we arrived his many friends moved in to visit and offer him drinks, which he accepted with a smile. Everything seemed to be going well, so Rob and I dispersed into the room to say our own hellos.

The night wore on and all was going well, when I checked in to see how my friend was doing. He indicated that he needed to use the toilet. Now we were entering uncharted waters as I’d never had to accompany him to the toilet on our previous ventures.

I just assumed it would work out fine as I wheeled him to the John. I got the wheelchair in place helped him raise his 300 pound body into the air. So far so good. Standing behind him I helped him move into position, leaving the wheelchair behind. I helped him get his trousers down, clear his underwear and use his good arm to take aim. At that point I offered to leave him on his own to do his thing and he seemed to accept my initiative.

I backed out of the small room and closed the door most of the way, acting like a body guard watching over a crime boss.

All of a sudden a major thud rattled the room and I immediately knew what had happened. When I looked around the corner of the entry to the narrow room, I could see him lying on his left side, face next to the toilet, not moving. Somehow he indicated to me that he was OK.

I told him I’d get some help because I couldn’t lift him by myself. Retreating into the room I grabbed the first two young men I could find -two guys who were not oversized and looked capable. It wasn’t long before they were in the bathroom lifting back onto his feet.

Amazingly, there seemed to be no damage. The two young men who had helped melted back into the crowd and before long my friend was back at his table ready to continue the party. As before, I left him mostly alone with our mutual friends who continued to buy him drinks. Naturally I suggested he hold it down. He was not normally a heavy drinker, but the situation was ripe.

Dinner was served and the awards were presented. All the while my friend was surrounded by buddies having a great time. As the end of the event neared, it became apparent that we needed to get my friend home sooner rather than later and as we approached the elevator, we once again grimaced at the prospect of putting him in the elevator alone, especially in his inebriated state.

We were in a bit of trouble when the elevator stopped at the bottom floor, but the door would not open. After a bit of panic, we finally succeeded in releasing him at ground level and soon we were rolling well and in the parking lot.

I was driving a new Hummer at the time and I really enjoyed that vehicle, but it wasn’t the perfect car for transporting a 300 pound partially paralyzed former deer hunter who was very inebriated. We muscled him out of the wheel chair and got him to step onto the running board and eventually into the passenger seat.

Once again we were relieved and thinking we were out of trouble. I walked around the car, opened the driver-side door, stepped in, pushed my key into the ignition switch and started the vehicle.

For some reason, which I do not remember, I decided it was necessary for me to exit the vehicle and go back to my friend’s door. As I stood next to the door, my friend wobbled back and forth and then with a fairly powerful motion he leaned out with his right elbow and hit the lock switch. Clunk, all the doors locked in unison.

The key,  the only key, was in the ignition. All the windows were up. My paralyzed and inebriated 300 pound friend sat in the passenger side of the vehicle nearly motionless.

Yelling and beating on the door produced no positive sign. He could not unlock the door. Now I was wondering how bad this might get. I did not have my cell phone in my possession, so I borrow a cell phone from a friend and called the phone number for ONSTAR a GM service that boasted an ability to open the door of cars which carried the ONSTAR package, particularly valuable if the owner’s key was lost or locked inside.

This would be our savior. Like magic, a voice came on the line. “Hello, this is ONSTAR.” I provided the necessary security information and the voice on the line said something like, “OK we’re ready to open the doors, make sure you don’t interfere because we have only one chance of making the happen.”

I replied OK and turned towards the passenger door just in time to see Rob yanking on the door handle exactly at the same moment that the attempt was made to use the ONSTAR door-unlocking method.

Oh no! What option was left? We had blown our remaining chance to  release my paralyzed and passed- out friend. Time to find a lock smith.

As I stewed and paced while looking for a lead to a midnight lock smith on the borrowed cell phone, I noticed movement in the Hummer. It was my friend who was now swaying back and forth in the passenger seat. All at once he leaned to right, much like he had at the beginning of this issue. His elbow once again came down on the door lock and clunk, like magic the door was unlocked.

We were saved. And, that should be the end of the story.

But not quite.

As the three of us drove towards my friend’s house, he once again rocked in his seat. This time rather than sideways, he rocked forward and back. With a tremendous belch, vomit shot from his belly. It was a mammoth shot from deep within his large body. As is typically the case it was not just one belch, but two or three.

It was quite a sight when his wife came out the back door to get a report on the results of the contest. You might think that she would be upset, but she took it in stride like an angel, she accepted the fact that this was just another of life’s trials.

The Most Beautiful Bird

On a trip to South Africa nearly ten years ago, Linda and I spent two nights at Sun City. On the second day of our stay, I played a round of golf at the Gary Player golf course.

As I stood beside the club house, a lilac breasted roller bird landed in a tree nearby. Grabbing my camera, I moved beneath the tree on which it was perched and attempted to photograph it.

Amazingly the bird flew down from the tree and landed on the lawn about five feet from me. There it stood just long enough for to take two photos.

Here is the result.


Lilac breasted roller bird at Gary Player golf course in Sun City, South Africa.

This photo was posted on my blog for some time, but I took it down and don’t remember why.

Now it’s back.

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.


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.


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