Thursday, November 1, 2012


I grew up in the woods, but my kids, to date, are having a very different experience. We live in a town/small city and for very simple economic reasons, this is unlikely to change. I can’t pretend this doesn’t bother me, but I try not to make too much fuss.

I’ve recently been putting more effort into getting Cormac (the eldest) outdoors. He is already pretty stoked about fishing (more on that later), but he tends to get… complicated, let’s say, when we get into the woods. I’ve been trying to take him on more walks – emphasis on “walk” – in the woods in the parks around us, but I don’t always do a good job with that. Always, in the back of my mind, I’m trying to remind myself of how I hope woods time will be in the future. I don’t care if it means the same thing to him someday as it means to me, but God forbid it’s meaningless.

This time of year (i.e., archery season), we spend a lot of time at the family farm where I grew up. We headed there this past weekend and instead of trying to kill my first fall turkey Saturday morning, Cormac, his grandpa and I headed up into the woods to squirrel hunt. First I rounded up some ear protection for Cormac and we gave it as thorough a test as I could muster. I even took a trial shot to see if it hurt his ears or scared him, but it didn’t seem to. He said “whoa” and smiled after I took a shot into the hillside.

The real test here was seeing how far we could walk before he started getting fussy. Given the conditions – chilly and windy – he did pretty well. We made it all the way up to the top of the hill (this took about 30 minutes), in the area where I had intended on sitting us down to look for squirrels, before he launched into some serious whining. He said he was hungry (and he probably was), that his legs hurt, etc., so I kneeled down and asked him if wanted to head back to the house. He said “yes,” so I scooped him up, told him we would go home and get something to eat, and started back down the hill (after safely handing my shotgun to dad, of course). He processed this for a minute or so and changed his mind, deciding he wanted to stay out in the woods.

This is one of those parenting moments that it’s impossible to give advice on, but here is what I did:  I put him down, made him look at me and talked to him for a minute. I told him that it was ok to go home and get a snack, but that he had to stick to his decisions instead of shifting directions every 5 minutes. We went over this a few times, and he eventually chilled out and we headed on down the hill. Before we got to the house, I had him sit down with me in the woods and look around and listen. He was very patient and pointed a lot of stuff out to me and asked questions. It was one of those fall days that I live for – a steel gray sky with infrequent blue holes, a cold wind, and leaves beginning to fall all around.

It may not sound like it, but just getting him out there, walking in the woods and looking around seems to me to be a really vital step in a positive direction. Cormac – due to age or personality, I don’t know or care, really – can be a little wishy-washy. I hate using that term, because I’m worried it’s going to make me sound like some kind of shitty dad, but it is a good description of his attitude. We’re working on it and making progress. As any woodsman worth his salt will tell you, patience is virtue of paramount importance.  And let’s face it – under better conditions, we probably would encountered a lot more squirrels and other wildlife and that would have helped the situation. And hell, I should have packed a little snack for him. Dad-foul.

Later that afternoon, Dad and I took Cormac to a local farm pond to do some fishing. This is a great pond: it is loaded with some huge bluegills. The guy who owns the place, John Wolfe, says that every time he sees us there, usually over the roar of the tractor he is driving at the time: “Oh yeah, great pond for kids. Great pond.” Cormac has been fishing on several occasions now, and his interest is really piquing. This trip was definitely a high point in terms of keeping his attention, as he excitedly reeled in close to a dozen fish before his interest turned to other things, like Grandpa’s tackle box, stumps, the burn pile, what daddy is doing, etc. It’s always a challenge keeping a four year old interested (and we were hindered by the difficulty of putting a tiny garden worm on a hook), but as this video attests, he was pretty stoked. This is from pretty deep into the fishing session, and you can see that he is highly entertained.

Dad and I took turns fishing with him, and while dad was helping him out, I threw some flies. I caught a few bluegills, but no bass. This particular pond has some nice bass in it, but is definitely dominated by bluegills. Mr. Largemouth continues to largely elude me on the fly, except under the most ideal conditions.

We let Cormac hold a lot of fish this time, which is a new thing. In the past, with bluegills, especially, we were always a little cautious because we didn’t want him getting stabbed by one of the spines on the dorsal fin. That shit hurts, after all. To my knowledge he didn’t get poked, so maybe my caution in prior encounters was over zealous. He did drop a lot of fish when they wiggled, but all but one fell right into the water. The one fish that fell on the grass made it back in the water quickly enough, though it was propelled by a kick from Cormac rather than a gentle toss. Crude, but effective, as Richie would say.


Thursday, October 25, 2012


I staged a pretty hot and heavy debate in my head about the focus of the first venison cookery post here on The Meat Hunter. I settled on a ubiquitous venison product that, at least in these parts, goes by a lot of different names, including deer bologna, summer sausage, trail bologna, and venison sticks. Why the debate? The answer to that gets to the core of my overall venison philosophy, but the short reply is:  limits.

A large contingent of the deer hunting public seems to have a pretty limited idea of how venison can be prepared for consumption. On one side of the fence, you have the cast iron purists, guys who seem to believe that deer are made only of steaks and that those steaks should only be cooked, in a cast iron skillet, with butter, salt and pepper and that said steak better for damn sure be red in the middle and if, so help you god, you over-cook it, prepare to be belittled.

Opposite of those folks are the processors – the guys who convert (or pay somebody to convert) entire deer into MSG laden “product,” often with the help of various branded packages of seasonings and kits. “Big Chef Joe's Jerky Juice.” That sort of thing. 

Neither of these two groups is wrong, per se, it's just that they both have a pretty limited idea of what can be done with venison. Look, you can “over-cook” venison – it doesn't have to be served hot on the outside, cold on the inside. Likewise, you don't have to grind or pulverize the entire animal into submission with piles of spices fit for a curry. Each of these contingents neglects great swaths of cooking tradition.

But, this first recipe I'm sharing with you fits (though no seasoning kits are employed) in that latter category. This a “product,” rather than a dish – something you make a lot of and that, frankly, uses up a lot of meat for less caloric return than, say, a plate of steaks of equal weight. That being said, it's among my very favorite things to carry in my backpack while fishing or hunting or what have you, and it's without a doubt, one of the very best ways to use up that last 5 pounds of last year's ground venison.

Rebecca's Aunt Roween came up with this. It's dark in the room in which I'm typing up the first draft of this or I'd go pull Charcuterie off the shelf and try and track down a sensible category for this stuff. I think it's a summer sausage. It tastes great in the summertime. It's appealing for some simple reasons:  you can make it without any fancy gadgets or sausage casings;  the spices are very general and simple and the recipe itself provides a nice framework for variation;  and the final preparation is flexible – want to smoke it? Knock yourself out! Scared of that sort of thing? No problem!

The finished product! Note the absence of mustard seeds; I ran out and used dry mustard. Tastes the same, but is missing the pleasing texture of the seeds. Also, this ground venison wasn't trimmed that well;  I got lazy on this particular deer, I guess. Nobody's perfect. 

In short, I love this stuff.

So here you go:  Grade A West Virginia Deer Baloney.


5 lbs ground venison, the redder the better (that means very little fat and silver skin – put in the time to trim your meat – it's worth the effort)
4 Tb Morton Tender Quick Curing Salt
2 Tb coarse ground black pepper
2 heaping Tb mustard seeds
½ Tb garlic powder
2 ½ Tb liquid smoke  (optional – I leave it out and use 1-2 Tb chipotle instead; definitely leave this out if you’re going to smoke the meat and be aware that 2 1/2 Tb of liquid smoke is a lot)

Mix all  ingredients together well and knead for 5 minutes. You can use a mixer like a Kitchen Aid for this and subsequent kneading steps. Ensure that the spices are well distributed – mix longer if necessary.

Cover and refrigerate. Over the course of the next 3 days, remove from the refrigerator and knead for 5 minutes each day.

On the fourth day, pre-heat your oven to 160 degrees, knead again and divide into logs/sticks. (Think of those summer sausages that get sold in kiosks art shopping malls around Christmas time, roughly 2 1/2” in diameter,) I divide it into 4 very long sausages (the length of a broiler pan), but 8 smaller sausages would work as well so long as you adjust your cooking time. Let these rest, covered, at room temperature for at least an hour. It's good practice to bring meat up to room temperature prior to cooking it.

If you're going to smoke them, put them in a low temperature (< 180 degree, ideally) smoker for an hour, otherwise load them onto broiler pans with plenty of room between them and place them in that 160 degree (oven won't go that low? No problem – just ball up a piece of tin foil and prop the door open a little) oven. Leave them in the oven for ~9 hours. You'll want to flip them once in that time.

At the end of the period, remove them from the oven and let them cool. Store in the refrigerator while you eat away at them or, considering how much this recipe makes, freeze them in vacuum bags. They defrost very nicely.

A quick word on curing and recognizing doneness:  First off, don't panic – you used curing salt. That shit is magic. Some basic information about salt curing can be found HERE. More information on Morton Tender Quick can be found HERE and HERE. Morton Tender Quick contains nitrites, which deal with nasty microbes. Secondly, this isn't jerky – it's ok if, when you cut them in half, they're a little moist inside. They shouldn't be downright soggy, but if they are, split them and put them back in the oven for a time. Chances are you skipped the room temperature advice I gave above. Don't do that next time.

Enjoy! Experiment! Send me pictures! Or samples! 

Thursday, October 18, 2012


Last year saw the introduction of a new event in Morgantown, WV – an organized archery hunt for the purpose of controlling the population of deer. The approval process was a bit of an ordeal, with various citizens putting in their two cents on the issue (Not to stereotype, but it basically boiled down to “My rose bushes!” vs. “Think of the children!”), and the city paid for and conducted an altogether strange aerial/infrared survey of the deer population. At the conclusion of the democratic process, the rose bush contingent won out and the city gave their blessing.

I was excited about the prospects for this hunt, though not for the normal reasons (ie, the joy of the hunt). The big (admittedly selfish) appeal for me was convenience. We were pregnant with our second child at the time (Elias Jack, now an incredibly enthusiastic 1 year old) so staying close to home pre and post birth was of paramount importance. I went through the process of getting a permit, which was easy enough – take an extra safety class and pass a basic shooting test. Five arrows on a pie plate later, BOOM – legal.

Anyway, 2011 wasn’t that productive for my partner and I (we shared stands – I was lucky enough to work with Paul Liston, a hunter, mountain man, drinker and womanizer of some renowned) and at the end of it I only had one city deer to show for my efforts, which were actually pretty considerable. That deer did represent a few firsts for me, though – first deer from the ground, and first deer killed over bait.

View from the blind. 

It was also the first deer I’ve ever killed within 30 yards of an incredibly busy and noisy highway. The photo doesn’t do it justice, but here it is:

Difficult to see, but that's a mini-van on a 4 lane road right behind my blind.

Despite these strange environs, nature showed up to some degree; lots of squirrels and rabbits and plenty of great bird sightings, along with an incident wherein a moot of starlings all gathered in the oak tree above my head and had a giant, incredibly loud conversation. I narrowly avoided being shat upon. Crazy. One more first, a little more esoteric: first deer killed out of a ground blind constructed out of trash; a discarded swing set, to be specific:

Swingset support members, now supporting camouflage burlap!

I’m not into hunting over bait – I think it’s largely unnecessary, for one thing. Baiting has always struck me as man trying to impose his will over the deer rather than getting in there are really hunting. Urban hunting has softened my stance on that, however, due in large part to the fact that in many of these stand sites, due to safety concerns, the hunter needs that deer to stand RIGHT…. HERE. Bait helps accomplish that.

Enter 2012. Rick Bebout, the citizen lead on this hunt, has the unenviable job of securing access to properties, assigning stands and acting as the public face for the hunt. He has done nothing short of an amazing job with that task. He called me one evening back in August to go check out a potential property to hunt that’s very close (even closer than last year) to my house. We head down there and check it out and both of us are… cautious… about the area due to the fact that it’s Urban. Really urban. I agreed to go through with it for the good of the hunt. I secured permission from the adjacent landowner and placed a ground blind at the end of a row of conifers that forms a property line overlooking over a busy deer trail. “Overlooking” is the wrong word, actually – “practically on top of” is more accurate.

Find the blind!

Anyway, as I alluded to before, for safety reasons, this ground blind position has a pretty narrow shooting window. I would conservatively estimate it to be about 50 degrees. Within 50 yards of where I plop down my stool, there are 5 houses. Two of those houses are within 20 yards, and the back porch of one of them is within spitting distance (with a tailwind, anyway). There is no doubt, when sitting in this blind, that I am in a city.

View from the blind; a manicured lawn!

This year has been pretty productive. In four hunts out of that blind (all from about 4pm till dark after work) I’ve had deer sightings 3 nights, kills two nights and lots of ancillary wildlife action, including an insanely loud and up-close blue jay howling session. Those guys, now, they can TALK. 

Cities are alive with nature (though not like wild places) if you take the time to poke around a little. Even though sitting in a ground blind in the middle of a neighborhood is noisy and urban, it’s given me a window into the lives of the smaller and overlooked denizens of our little town. Groundhogs grazing, squirrels and chipmunks doing acrobatics, and of course house cats, deer and all manner of song birds. Just sit still – melt in a little.

I still prefer rougher places to hunt, but the world is closing in on a lot of territory. An interesting offshoot of the aforementioned primary appeal of this hunt (convenience) is that I feel less urgent to tag out when I do get out in more traditional hunting locations. At this point (it’s only mid-October!) in the season, I already have two deer down and plenty of hunting opportunities remaining to fill the larder. Urban archery, for me, has been well worth the effort and I feel like I've learned a lot about the town I live in. I can't help wishing sometimes, when sitting in my blind, that all the people around me would just STOP for a minute, but I've overcome the urge (so far) to let it bother me. A win, so much as it is, in these modern times.  


The legendary Jim Pickett, a friend and 73 old veteran of the sporting life, talks a lot about camaraderie. On more than one occasion, usually while sitting around a campfire, drinking beer and telling stories, he has come back to this idea – that hunting and fishing and the outdoor life are, at their core, activities defined by how you share them. John Gierach has touched upon this seemingly strange dichotomy – that the ideal fishing partner is someone you see in the morning and at the end of the day, but rarely if ever while actually fishing. They both acknowledge a fundamental truth – these experiences are amplified by friendship and a mutually open love of telling and listening to stories, rather than occupying the same adventure at all moments.

I’m sure there are some latter day Jeremiah Johnson’s out there, whose pursuits are more solitary, but I do not – nor do any of my peers - fit that lonely mold. Make no mistake, a lot of my stories are deserted of all but the narrator; steel gray timber, fog and snow and eerie half light. Hunting is often like that, but not always.

This blog is about the sporting life – hunting and fishing in particular – with a nod towards cooking and eating what you kill. This is what I do. Why I prefer these pursuits over others, I couldn't say in a succinct way. Maybe, someday, I’ll know. For now, I’ll tell some stories and share some food and continue to look towards the next ridge.


The Legendary Jim Pickett has a bug on his glasses.