“Winslow Homer was an American painter, illustrator and etcher, one of the two most admired American late 19th-century artists and is considered to be the greatest pictorial poet of outdoor life in the United States and its greatest watercolorist”. – From Winslow Homer: 216 Colour Plates, by Maria Peitcheva
“The place suits me as if it was made for me by a kind of providence.” – Winslow Homer, Speaking of his love for Quebec
Things are definitely going to happen when you put a boy, a dog, and a deer together, somewhere in the waters of the Adirondack Wilds, and no doubt that there is more to the story behind the makings of this scene. After all, what could go possibly go wrong?
Few artists have ever been able to capture the mood and nuance of a sporting moment like Winslow Homer. His “Hound and Hunter”, completed in 1892, is certainly a wonderful example of the master’s art. One look, and I am transported to a time gone by, drawn to and within it like a bloodhound to a hot scent.
Like so many great paintings, it begs more questions than it answers, and I for one want to know more. So much more. No doubt you have some questions of your own.
It has been one of my very favorite Homer paintings for many years, and it was one of the very first header images that I ever used to help illustrate Through A Hunter’s Eyes. Apparently I have a good eye, for as it turns out, it may have been Homer’s favorite work too!
“There’s no such thing as too many paintings and prints. Or bronzes of Labradors and pointers and Brittanies and setters. Or glasses with pintails and canvasbacks and salmon and trout flies. Or pictures of you and Charlie with Old Duke and a limit of bobwhites, or a pair of muleys, or a half dozen Canadas, or about a yard of rainbows. Or old decoys and duck calls. There are never too many memories of days past or too many dreams of good times to come”. – Gene Hill, from A Listening Walk, 1995
*”Hound And Hunter” did produce some controversy at the time of its release to the general public. The use of hounds to drive deer before the gun was seen as unpopular among many, even then, and Homer repainted parts of it to make it more appealing. Yet, it remains, as Homer himself referred to it, “a great work”.
I arrived home past midnight last night, to find a small herd of elk feeding in an open pasture to the west. My neighbor keeps his horses here, and I have an unobstructed view of it from our house on the hill. I spotted them as I walked over to our dog kennel on the fence line, and as I studied them I saw a big cow raise her head, just to let me know that she was watching me too.
I don’t suppose I will ever tire of seeing elk. They have a way of taking over the conversation, you might say, to make you pause in mid sentence when you spy one, to make you completely forget whatever you had been doing at the time, as if the world is a mere background created just for them. It has always been this way between the elk and I.
They looked particularly surreal this night, quietly feeding on a blanket of fresh, white powder, surrounded by the mystical light of a high, full moon. I am struck by the picture quality of it all, the sharp crispness of the image frozen in the cold night air. I can only smile. It is a perfect moment in time.
Watching For What Comes
My dogs knew they were out there, of course, being that they were no more than 100 yards away with just some old wire to separate them. They had probably been watching them for some time, waiting for me to come home, whining nervously, and wishing they could run over and join up. The elk, for their part, paid us no mind, as they pawed in the snow. They had seen this show before and are not as impressed as us.
We see quite a few elk around our property when the snows grow formidable in the high country. It is one reason to look forward to winter. They especially like to feed at night in a large hay-field below us, and at first light they bunch up and head for the cover of rougher grounds and cedar trees on the properties and public lands to our North.
To my everlasting delight, they like to cross one small corner of our property as they leave the hay fields, and if we are lucky, we get to watch. I often sit in an overstuffed chair behind our big picture window, waiting, hot coffee in hand, enveloped in the approaching day as the rest of the world wakes up.
Without Winter, No Spring
We have seen herds of one hundred elk and more, although smaller groups are most common. One morning I sat transfixed as a herd of about fifty or so lined up to jump the fence at the edge of the field below our house, then crossed our field on a run and passed along our fence line next to the house. I counted seventeen bulls, some small, some large, surrounded by foggy breath when they stopped. I can see it in my mind’s eye, just now.
At times, a small herd will bed down for the night under our apple trees. Once I looked out to see several lying contentedly in the sun, with freshly laid snow still shimmering on their backs. I’ve seen them browsing in the remnants of our flower garden or standing next to our bird bath, and I wave and say hello.
Welcome, I say, and good morning to you.
Last night, I reach my door and turn one last time to watch the elk and try to lock this image in my memory bank for all time. It is the quintessential Rocky Mountain postcard, a picture postcard for the soul, and I wish I could send it out to you, to all, with good tidings and cheer.
Tis The Season, To Yank Something Up The Hill, And Build The Hunter’s Fire
Just in Time For Christmas Dinner.
Oh Joy To The World!
Man in all his forms has been dragging something along behind him since he first stood upright and made his first staggering steps toward the horizon. Sometimes, it was a big hunk of life sustaining meat just like this.
They say that modern man hunts to fulfill some relentless though mysterious primordial need. Perhaps it is a way to reconnect with mother nature, to feel the wind on our face and remember our true place in the world.
“The real work of men was hunting meat. The invention of agriculture was a giant step in the wrong direction, leading to serfdom, cities, and empire. From a race of hunters, artists, warriors, and tamers of horses, we degraded ourselves to what we are now: clerks, functionaries, laborers, entertainers, processors of information”. – Edward Abbey
“One does not hunt in order to kill, on the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted…” – From “Meditations on Hunting”, By Ortega y Gasset
Apparently, the proper thing to do these days when you miss a deer is to quickly cover your head with your hunting hat and reach for your nearby smartphone. Or at least this young Wisconsin hunter thought so.
Can you say buck fever?
nervousness felt by novice hunters when they first sight game.
Not to fret, young deer huntress (yes, this is a young lady here). We’ve all been there, some more than once, whether we will admit it or not.
And to think, in my day you simply froze in complete, unmitigated panic until the animal walked off, and then hung on to the nearest limb with all of your arms and legs and with everything you had for an hour or more.
So you did not fall out of your treestand… As if your life depended on it…Because if you were high enough in the tree, it probably did.
At least that’s what I’ve heard…
“He grouped his last five shots right in the center of the bull’s-eye. Then I showed him my technique of scattering shots randomly around the target because, as I explained, you never know which way the deer might jump just as you pull the trigger.” — Patrick McManus, The Hunting Lesson, February 1983
One That Did Not Get Away
Mark Miller from Mauston, Wisconsin and a deer of a lifetime. I don’t know if he had any buck fever, but there is certainly no ground shrinkage here!
Some of my fondest childhood memories revolve around long, broken-down rows of recently picked corn, their remnant tassels chattering nervously in the brisk autumn wind coming hard off of the Chesapeake Bay. We hunted geese there from pit blinds dug from the rich, black earth, surrounded by rafts of decoys as we peered hopefully into fast approaching storm.
Waterfowl hunting, and especially goose hunting, is the high art of the gunning world. It requires dedication, intimate knowledge of the game at hand, and specialized skills acquired and honed over a long period of time. It is generational expertise not easily attained, most often passed down from close family or good friends.
To be successful a hunter must be able to read the weather and the lay of the land, and place oneself if even for a moment in the eyes of a gander. One must present the perfect setup of form and function, in order to lure even the most gullible birds.
You must speak their language too, for one wrong note can spoil the day. Patience, above all, is key, even when standing in ice-cold water up to your knees while trying to slow down the incessant chattering of your teeth.
Bring it on, you say, all if it, for in the end there is nothing in the realm of mortals to match the thrill of cupped wings over the spread, sliding and swirling down over the gun as you tell yourself to stay calm and focus on a single bird.
Impossibly large, and bold, a canada goose has a way of unsettling even the most practiced sportsman among us, Chaos reigns, and it is a rare gunner that can stay composed under a full gaggle of decoying geese. Perhaps I can do just that, next time…
I can hear them now, honking and clawing, forever upwards towards the promise of a limitless, blue sky.
With luck, and blessings, you can see them too.
“Against the bright, luminous sky one sees just after sunset on clear, cold days the geese were etched, flock upon following flock. Those farthest away bore on with steadily beating pinions, the nearer birds beginning their glide, great wings cupped. It was beautiful beyond speech, almost heartaching to behold, and suddenly Carl was aware of the gun slanted back across his curved arm, and without reason (but with a certain knowing), he saw that the gun gave the sight a greater beauty, for it was his hunter’s soul that transfixed him at the sight of the living splendor overhead.” – Kenneth Otterson, Last Casts & Stolen Hunts, 1993
Here are a few photos from my hunt this fall in Eastern Colorado. As you can see, it was a very, very good day of goose hunting, and I wish you all, just one day, at least one day, like this too.
“As long as there is such a thing as a wild goose, I leave them the meaning of freedom. As long as there is such a thing as a cock pheasant, I leave them the meaning of beauty. As long as there is such a thing as a hunting dog, I leave them the meaning of loyalty. As long as there is such a thing as a man’s own gun and a place to walk free with it, I leave them the feeling of responsibility. This is part of what I believe I have given them when I have given them their first gun”. –Gene Hill, from A Hunter’s Fireside Book, 1972
“I have lived! The American continent may now sink under the seas, for I have taken the best that it yields, and the best was neither dollars, love, nor real estate.” – Rudyard Kipling, After Landing His First Steelhead in 1926
What could be finer than family, friends, and turkey dinner with all of the fixings on Thanksgiving day? Well, it could be an appetizer of ocean-caught silver salmon, filleted just right and quick frozen with care for a long plane ride home. Now that’s a slab of goodness that will really put you in the Holiday spirit!
Lucky was I, to be so invited, and it was my first, of gravlax, that is.
We owe our Scandanavian brothers and sisters for this rather simple preparation. Cured with sugar, salt, and spices, Gravlax is not as salty as Lox, and not smoked like many other salmon recipes. The result is a clean tasting, invigorating dish, and you can almost feel that beautiful, sliver bullet dancing on the line.
It’s a perfect way to celebrate a grateful day, particularly in a room full of sportsmen and lovers of all things wild.
In this title, three delightful cookbooks are brought together in one Scandinavian gift collection. It offers everything you need to know about Swedish, Norwegian and Danish cuisines with over 180 authentic recipes. This title features evocative and informative introductions that cover the history, geography and culinary traditions of each country, as well as the local ingredients. Dishes include classic Gravlax with Mustard and Dill Sauce from Sweden, traditional Roast Hare with Lingonberries from Norway and world-famous Danish Pastry from Denmark. It is illustrated with 900 beautiful photographs, including a picture of every finished dish. Nutritional breakdowns are provided for every recipe. Classic Scandinavian cuisine is rooted in the natural bounty of the land, with fresh fish from the seas, wild game from the forests, and delicious dairy from the animals that graze on the fertile pastures.
There are many “firsts” in the life of a hunter. Who can forget their first BB gun, a first bow & arrow, or the satisfying heft of that first box of shotgun shells of their very own.
And then there is the game to pursue. I cut my teeth on English Sparrows and Starlings, before graduating to a cadre of overeducated pigeons in our old dairy barn.
Soon I became fairly good at thinning out our local rabbit and squirrel population, with thoughts of bobwhite on my mind.
You could say that a Canada Goose, well, that was an entirely different proposition…and the thought of actually killing a goose of my own was outside the boundaries of my young boy’s possibilities…
That all changed when…
“A goose represents the rebel in all of us and because they’re wild and free, they have a certain quality that shines out and makes us wish that we were not bound to labor in life, but rather that we could drift as they do with the seasons.” – Paul S. Bernsen, The North American Waterfowler, 1972
“Above came a swift whisper of wings, and as the loons saw us they called wildly in alarm, and took their laughing with them into the gathering dusk. Then came the answers we had been waiting for, and the shores echoed and re-echoed until they seemed to throb with the music. This was the symbol of the lake country, the sound that more than any other typifies the rocks and waters and forests of the wilderness.” – Sigurd Olson, Listening Point, 1958
There is a place in the world that calls my name, with a voice as strong and true as could ever be. It thrums in my head, somewhere deep behind the bustle and noise of everyday living. Searching, beckoning – for me, since the first time I learned of it through my readings long ago. It became some vague and unfilled need, an itch I could not scratch, leaving me in want of something I could not capture. I did not know if I could ever get there.
It is a land of windswept waters and shimmering weed beds, dark timbered islands with ledges of stone, and jagged, multi-dimensional rocks that wrap the untamed shoreline as far as the eye can see.
There are loons here, lonely gulls and bright headed eagles, moose and bear, and the occasional otter slipping gracefully through the waves. There are fish here too, toothy critters, and some as long as your leg. It’s about hovering clouds of blood sipping mosquitos, and impossible days of light that do not end, but only change in tone and hue. It’s all about boats and motors and good friends laughing, eager to see what lies around the next bend.
41 1/2″ of Fun and Fury
They call the place Manitoba, and she is a crown jewel of boundless and spellbinding beauty. To my everlasting satisfaction I finally made it, having returned from her just now. With focus and joy I hold the spirit of it all close to my breast, lest she slip away quietly like a dark shadow in the night. I miss her already, with a depth and breadth of longing indescribable by mere mortals.
To say that Manitoba is all about game fish would be a vast understatement. There are Northern Pike and Walleye in numbers and size that would give any hard-core angler a tingle. Both species have legions of diehard fans, of one or the other, or both. They do seem to go together as naturally as warm sourdough bread and butter, and that’s just fine with me.
It’s easy to become obsessed with this kind of fishing, and it doesn’t take long to discover why. You simply have not lived an outdoor life in full until you’ve seen a green backed missile smash a brightly colored floating Rapala dropped perfectly at the water line, streaking through the sun dappled waters like a bear on fire as you remove the slack and make that first electrifying twitch. It is what piscatorial dreams are made of.
A pike is a ferocious customer. He is mean and crude and bursting with bad intent. There is never any doubt about what lies upon his mind, that being to destroy and consume any fish or small creature that will satisfy however briefly his incessant appetite and fulfill his instinctual need to perpetuate the species.
When hooked he is a stout rod full of trouble, and you can feel his mood through the line and see it in his eyes when he knows that he has been fooled. You have diverted him from his one unabiding mission, and he will not forgive you for it.
It makes one very glad to be something other than a baitfish. I, on the other hand, forgive him completely. He is only doing what a northern pike is designed to do, and he cannot change his ways no more than a wolf could cease to dog a wounded moose. I feel for him too, because without a doubt life is tough if you’re a pike. Just imagine the millions upon millions of his kind that never made it to breeding size.
The Walleye, on the other hand, seems a most different kind of gentleman. His real name is Wall-Eyed Pike, or Pike Perch. He is really not a Pike at all, but is in fact the largest member of the Perch family.
A tackle thrasher he is not, and I think it fair to say that although they are great fun to catch that is not why we seek them out. Walleye are challenging too, but perhaps that’s not it either. Dare we say that it’s all about the shore lunch fillet, done up right with a side of deep-fried potatoes?
I am squarely in that camp, and he may well be the pre-eminent panfish of North America. I simply cannot look at a walleye without salivating, while instantly picturing that glorious white, boneless slab sizzling in a dark black cast iron frying pan. If that’s a bad thing I stand guilty as charged, but blissfully unapologetic, just the same.
Still, walleye possess their own kind of seriousness. They are a more finicky eater than the pike, and seem more dignified and refined. They may prefer to gorge themselves upon mayflies or minnows depending on the day, or….perhaps not. Fisherman seem to talk of them in hushed and respectful tones, so as not to offend them and put them off of their feed. They remain a most mysterious fish, at least to me, and I plan to spend many more hours trying to figure out what makes them tick.
Of course northern Manitoba is the perfect place to do just that. We four booked our trip with Sam Fett at Silsby Lake Lodge, and they offer some of the finest trophy pike and walleye fishing in North America. Sam and his family have been in the outfitting business for decades, and it’s quite obvious that they know how to turn out some mighty happy sportsmen.
Their literature and impressive brochures speak of fish long and broad enough to test the skills of even the most seasoned outdoorsman, and they are not exaggerating. Boy do they have the fish!
Silsby Lake Lodge offers commercial flights from Winnipeg direct to an airstrip just one quick boat skip from their lodge, and it does not take long to get a line in the water. They offer full service guided lodge packages, or outpost camps with cabins or tents if you prefer to guide yourself and do some of the work on your own, as we did.
We fished from the High Hill Outpost camp for our first three days, and it was everything I had imagined a classic pike fishing camp to be. The scene and scenery is so picturesque that one could spend quite a bit of time relaxing at camp – that is if the fishing wasn’t so good. According to Sam, High Hill Lake and other adjoining or nearby waters may hold one of the largest concentrations of trophy pike found anywhere in the Province.
Home, Sweet Home
They have practiced strict conservation and catch and release policies for years, and it shows. Anglers may keep a few smaller fish each week for lunch or dinner, and great care is taken to fully revive the bigger fish.
A combination of perfect habitat, large baitfish populations, and exclusive access leads to a rare opportunity for mature fish – and lots of them. Sam told me that we had an opportunity to catch a northern of over 50″ in a weight range up to 45 pounds, and I believe him. That kind of possibility adds a very special spin to every cast!
Our small group did not catch the “fatties” as they call them on our brief stay at High Hill but we did catch all of the smaller pike that we could have wanted and two fish that we estimated to be in the 17 to 22 pound class. It was the first big pike that I had ever brought to the boat, and it is a thrill that I will not soon forget.
Our next destination was Pritchard Lake Outpost, which involved a short boat ride on High Hill Lake, a spectacular jaunt across Silsby Lake, an all terrain vehicle trip of a few miles to Cuddle Lake, and then another spectacular cruise to our new camp at Pritchard Lake. Suffice it to say that this was a big day of boating for a dweller of high mountain valleys and other high grounds, and I thoroughly enjoyed every rollicking wave of it. And the day was still young!
We filled out our booking with two days of fishing at Pritchard Lake, and it was everything that we had thought it might be. There was a surreal quality to this place, which no doubt had something to do with the fact that we were 90 miles from the nearest road on a body of water that in the past had maybe only ever been fished by a brave float pilot or two. The nearest other fishermen to us were probably 12-15 miles away, and true as it was, I nearly had to pinch my arm to remind myself that this was not some far-fetched dream.
We caught thick walleyes and small pike in a small outlet within ear shot of the tent, which tickled us to no end. Fishing on the main lake was slow, no doubt due to the record heat and high temperatures we were experiencing. Not the sort that give up easily, we fished hard and finally started to pick up some chunky pike in the 6 and 7 pound class, which was more than enough to make me grin.
We found the big boys, finally, on the last late afternoon of our trip. They were hanging in a weed bed in the middle of the lake, and the next two hours went by in a slow motion heartbeat. My boat partner and I caught three large pike in that 15 pound plus range again, and we had several others on that were probably bigger but spit the single barbless hook we were using. Later, our other friends fished that same weed bed and boated a 39 1/2″ fish, which surprised us since we had thrashed the area pretty good. Apparently our efforts had just warmed him up for another tussle.
We returned to camp completely exhausted, knowing that we had left behind all that we had to give, and receive, somewhere out there on those lakes. The only thing left to do was to raise a glass to the northern lights and bow before the utter majesty of this small nick of time. Some places are even harder to leave than they are to get to – and Pritchard Lake was certainly one of those.
I had a lot to think about on the boat ride back to the ATV, and it was all good. At first we picked our way through the shallow bars and watched for logs or other obstructions before opening that engine throttle. It reminds you of what it took you five days to figure out; that this is a world to slow down to and that there is no need to hurry like we all do in our lives back home.
It also warns you that there is danger here too, easily found. Like much of the north country, Manitoba can be a gentle sister or one mean mama, and things can change rather quickly. The character of a trip can be redefined in the blink of an eye, and sometimes not in a good way.
You can sense it in her moods, in the air and upon the changing weather. She can be a woman of tough love that suffers few fools, and rarely more than once. As with all wild things in wild places, there is a thin red line between the living and the not. Fail to respect her, and it’s “Gone beaver”, as the Mountain Men used to say.
If you doubt this then you are simply not paying attention. There are rocks here aplenty, anchored just under the surface, waiting for the unwary sport. Hit one just right and it can punch a hole in your boat faster than the stab of an eagle’s beak, or bash your engine prop off in an even bigger hurry. Do so and you may spend a cold wet night on the beach; that is, if you are very, very lucky.
But in all things worth attempting there is no reward without risk, as well it should be. A little danger can be an exhilarating thing, and it does one good to get that much too civilized blood pumping in the veins. Meanwhile, she dares us on into the waves and spray.
“Take me if you can”, she says…Are you ready?
I could go on and on about our Manitoba experience, but perhaps I shall save some more of it for another time. It’s always good to keep a few good things in reserve to savor and contemplate, at least for a while. One last point though.
Take my advice and don’t ever let anybody tell you that a Northern is not fit for eating. All of my life I have heard pike described as inferior fare – too many bones they said. Well, I am hear to tell you not to believe them.
Another Day At The Office
I asked our Cree Indian guide Lenard about the matter before I got to try one, and being a man of few words it was an easy decision for him. He told us that he liked walleye and pike about the same, and that he liked his fish baked or fried, but not boiled. “They don’t taste too good boiled”, he said. So there you have it.
We found the taste of pike delightful and not too far removed from that of walleye, and the bones not so bad if you filleted them well and were on the lookout. They are fabulous cooked simply on the grill, and my friend who knows a lot about these sort of things thought the feel and texture reminiscent of a nice hunk of halibut. Poor man’s lobster he called it, and it simply screamed to be dredged in butter and garlic. It was one of the greatest surprises in a most surprising trip.
A Little Friendly Competition
Home now in the brisk night air of the Colorado Rockies, I am left with only memories and whimsical deliberations.
How many modern-day human beings, for example, have been blessed to be able to say that they have pitched a plug to game fish that have never seen a lure; in a lake that most certainly has never been plumbed with any kind of thoroughness?
How many of us have become part of a place where a loon can be born to paddle and dive and court; to lay its head back and cry to the heavens for the sheer pleasure of its echo without ever being heard by a human ear?
And by the way, does any bird or animal possess such a plaintive and soul-searching call as the loon? I don’t imagine I could stand it if there was.
How many of our kind have marveled after bears who have never seen such strange two-legged creatures and do not act like the bears of the settled country, or at gulls that are not at all like their more urban cousins and would never think of looking for a handout, but are only disturbed and offended by our presence?
It is all business as usual in Manitoba, and I am a most fortunate son and a far richer man for the transaction.
Many ordinary souls may look at her as a lonesome place, but not I. There is grace here, and the elegance of intelligent design. This world does not suffer for need or lack of anything, including people. It remains an enchanting realm of elementary nature and high adventure, and one cannot feel lonely when most solidly at home.
I know now that a small part of her essence will always be with me, and I can not wish for more. Yet the best part of Manitoba is the way that you feel when you get there, and in the hope that she gives to you to know that she is there, waiting, when you are not. I will return to see her again, should the spirits and the fishgods smile.
Perhaps she waits for you.
*Izaak Walton, one of history’s most famous fisherman, offered a recipe for roast pike in “The Compleat Angler”, and he had a thing or two to say about cooking pike for the dinner table.
He wrote: “This dish of meat is too good for any but anglers, or very honest men; and I trust you will prove both, and therefore I have trusted you with the secret.”
Gee Izaak – tell us what you really think!
Stay tuned for the recipe – while I hunt for my misplaced copy of this most famous angling book!
“I never lost a little fish. It was always the biggest fish I caught that got away.” – Eugene Field
A TROUT OF A LIFETIME – UNTIL NEXT TIME!
A big trout is an extraordinary creature – built for power, speed…and battle. Some, like this guy, are more than a match for any fisherman.
We all wish to catch a trout like this one day. If any of you already have, then you know that maybe, just maybe, there is another fish like this out there…deep below the surface…finning…watching…waiting – for one more cast…
May your waters be wild, and big!
And Oh, By The Way – You Might Want To Get A Larger Net…
Original Pencil Drawing Of a Brook Trout By Charlie Manus of Marble, Colorado
My friend and my brother and I used to hunt squirrels, and other game, on a game-filled property in the heart of the Maryland farm country. Things with wings were the main attraction, like ducks or mourning doves. Canada geese, however were the real lure that brought us there, and populations were on the upswing in the early 1970’s. The shooting was often truly extraordinary.
The goose hunting was more than satisfying for our fathers and their friends, but not always enough for us. We were, after all, young boys bursting with inexhaustible momentum, and guns, and we badly needed something to do when the morning flights of Canada Geese had ended and the birds had laid up to rest.
For me, it was not just a way to pass the time until the late afternoon hunt. Goose shooting is thrilling, and fun, but squirrels…now that’s a young hunter’s big game.
Fortunately, the hardwood fingers between the cornfields and the backwaters of Chesapeake Bay were absolutely jammed with the elusive bushytails. We spent a lot of time still hunting through the autumn leaves, sharpening our eyes behind the rifle sights and practicing our future whitetail hunting skills. Squirrels fell all around us, though I doubt that we ever really put much of a dent in their numbers. They are, among so many things, a restless and boundless survivor in the long-term scheme of things.
I miss those days spent within that colorful cathedral of canopy, slipping soundlessly around the trunks of tall trees with my chin pointed to the sky. Patience is a virtue in this game, as is focus and sharp eyesight. A flash here and a flash there was sometimes all you got, but sometimes, if you were lucky or good, you got a little more too. A squirrel’s head is a tiny target, and you could fancy yourself quite a marksman if you could drop one cleanly and quick.
Long ago I graduated to hunting much bigger and more glamorous game, in places where the terrain and scenery could not be much more different from that gentle land. But those squirrels of my youth have never journeyed very far out of mind, and that is a good thing.
I long to hunt squirrels. I crave those simple and rewarding days in the land of sassafras and scolding bluejays. Some are quick to say that the world moves on, and that you can never really revisit a time gone by. Perhaps that is true, but certainly not in all things. I would like to think that squirrel hunting is one of those.
I feel a well deserved squirrel hunt coming on, and some Brunswick Stew to go with it, wherever they may be…
There are a number of hacks and subs you can do here. First, you can use any white meat for the filling. Rabbit, turkey, pheasant, quail, partridge and yes, chicken would all be fine. Next, you can skip the acorn flour and just use a whole wheat or some other darkish flour your like. Third, you can use regular walnuts for the black walnuts… or use whatever nut makes you happy.
1 3/4cupswhite whole wheat flour, or regular AP flour
1/2cupduck fat, lard, butter or shortening
1cupfinely shredded cabbage
1 cupminced yellow or white onion
3/4poundshredded and chopped squirrel meat
1cupdiced apple, peeled and cored(I use Granny Smiths)
1/2 cup toasted, chopped black walnuts
1/2teaspoonCavender’s seasoning, or black pepper
1/2cupwarm stock, squirrel, chicken or something light
2teaspoonssorghum syrup or molasses
1cupshredded gruyere, emmental or jarlsberg cheese(optional)
MAKE THE DOUGH
Mix the flours, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. In a small pot, heat the milk until it’s steaming, then turn off the heat. Stir in the fat until it’s mostly melted in; a few bits that aren’t melted are fine.
Mix the wet ingredients into the dry with a fork until it’s a shaggy mass. Knead this all together until you have a smooth ball, then shape it into a cylinder. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and set it in the fridge for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.
MAKE THE FILLING
Heat the bacon fat in a large pan over medium-high heat and add the cabbage and onions. Saute until softened, about 6 to 8 minutes. Salt this as it cooks. Add the squirrel meat, apple, walnuts and Cavender’s seasoning (or black pepper), stir well and cook for a few minutes.
Stir the sorghum syrup in with the stock until combined, then pour this into the pan with everything else. Stir this well and let it cook another few minutes so the ingredients absorb the liquid. Turn off the heat and let the filling cool.
MAKE THE PIES
If you have a tortilla press, get it out and cut a heavy plastic bag apart to make two plastic sheets that you’ll use to keep the dough off the metal of the press. If you don’t have a press, lay out a work space and flour it well.
Cut the dough into anywhere between 8 and 10 pieces, trying to keep them about the same size. Put half the pieces back in the fridge. Roll a piece into a flat, disc and set it on a piece of plastic on the press. Put the other piece of plastic over it and squash the dough into a thin disc. I find that I do one squeeze, then adjust the dough so it’s perfectly centered in the tortilla press.
If you don’t have a press, roll the dough balls into flat discs about 1/8 of an inch thick.
Remove the dough from the plastic and put about 1/4 cup of filling on one side of the disc. Sprinkle some shredded cheese on top if you’d like. Fold over the dough to make a half-moon and seal. Crimp the edges with a fork and set on a floured baking sheet. Repeat with the rest of the dough.
Bake at 400F for 25 minutes. Move to a cooling rack for about 10 minutes before you eat them. Best served hot, but they’ll keep for a week or so in the fridge and are pretty good cold, too.
NOTE:I start with meat shredded off squirrels used in making stock. You can do this, or braise squirrels in salty water until tender, or you can just cut meat off the bones of raw squirrels and chop that up. All methods will work.
“Sure, the usually available squirrel is fine game for the beginning hunter. No game animal will give him better training in hunting fundamentals – stalking, concealment, woodsmanship, and shooting and gun handling. And should he become so fortunate that he has a chance at them, those early lessons will serve him well on this continent’s most prized big game animals…Frequent jaunts to a convenient squirrel woods season the long and colorful careers of many of our most famous hunters…
The hunter pussyfooting through the squirrel woods is not seeking a trophy animal, is not concerned about the behavior of an expensive bird dog, nor is he attempting to impress a hunting partner with his wingshooting. He is in the hardwoods for the pure joy of hunting…” –By Bob Gooch, Found in All About Small-Game Hunting in America. Edited by Russell Tinsley.
All About Small-Game Hunting in America. By Russell Tinsley
Published by Macmillan, 1984. Very Good condition in Very Good Dustjacket.
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