Springtime is turkey time in my hunter’s world. Snow season slowly yields to mud season in the heart of the Rockies, and milder nights and that sweet, sweet green-up simply cannot come fast enough.
No doubt that the turkeys are quite happy about their prospects too. It is the time of yelping hens and owl hoots and gobbles from the roost. It’s the time of the hunter’s moon, and of hurried walks to one’s favorite ridge or field well before fly down.
Anticipation hangs thick in the air, for turkeys, and hunters too. They must fulfill their need to breed, and we, in turn, must hunt. And, I say, is there anything more thrilling than spying a wary old bird slinking towards the decoy, suddenly halting to lay its head back and roar as that big, magnificent fan jumps to life?
Such are the joys of turkey hunting, and the mere possibility of those memorable moments are calling us out, just over here, and there. It is a serious outdoor addiction waiting to be born. Once acquired, it must be respected, nurtured, and satisfied. Sometimes, you may even kill a turkey.
I did just that, late last week, as did a great friend and hunting partner (and master caller too!). As you can see, pictured below are two fine examples of Colorado’s turkey hunting opportunities. The hunting can be grand, though almost always challenging.
Colorado offers a vast catalog of public hunting lands, and the turkey population is expanding every year. That’s some very great news for the turkey hunter.
With that being said, one of the downsides of hunting in Colorado is that much of the turkey hunting areas are easily accessible, and hunting pressure is increasing exponentially. Frustration can run high, and success can be a rare and elusive target.
But it can be done.
Both of these birds were taken on some of the heaviest hunted public lands in northwestern Colorado, and they both came to a call. We left a few in the woods too!
So, get out there and burn up some boot leather. See what’s over the hill and down in the draw, and listen for that unmistakable springtime exaltation!
The birds are there, ready for action, and a thrill. I wouldn’t miss it for the world…
And by the way, did I mention that wild turkey can be most excellent table fare.
SPRING TURKEY HUNTER’S BRUNCH
1 turkey breast, cut into strips, or cubed into small pieces
cracked black pepper
1 pound mushrooms
1 package fresh spinach
small package of goat chevre (or other cheese)
sourdough english muffins
Mix and cover turkey meat with mustard, garlic powder, and italian dressing. Refrigerate for 24 hours.
Saute mushrooms and spinach in butter. Fry or grill turkey meat until just cooked through, about 170 degrees. Spread Chevre on toasted sourdough muffins, and top with meat, mushrooms, and spinach.
Serve with chilled Champagne, or a Mimosa on ice.
– Marinade Recipe provided by Rocky Tschappat, who was given it by a grizzled old turkey hunter whom we would all no doubt like to meet…
Outdoorsman’s Edge Guide To Advanced Turkey Hunting. By Richard Combs. Published by Woods N’ Water, Inc., 2001, 165 pages. With chapters on scouting, setup, advanced calling strategies, blinds, recovering turkeys, the optimum turkey gun, fall turkey hunting, and much more. Photos throughout.
In Fine condition, and Near Fine dustjacket.
$12.95 plus $4 shipping (US). Subject to prior sale. Paypal and checks accepted.
I often wonder where I would be were it not for a man called Jim Kjelgaard.
More than likely I would not have become nearly half the man I am, or strive to be, had we not been introduced. Nor would I have lived the life of a hunter, biologist, an outdoor writer, or an ever hopeful wildlife photographer.
I probably would not have left my home in the New Jersey Pine Barrens for the wide open views of the Rocky Mountains, either.
Chances are you may not know him by name, though his reach and influence continues to this day. His work captivated a generation of young boys, soon to be men, searching for the soul of adventure and the heart of the wild outdoors.
Wikipedia defines Mr. Kjelgaard as an American Author of Young Adult Literature, which in my way of thinking is like saying that an ocean of water is very wet. As an author of forty novels and countless short stories and other works, he was certainly that, and more. Much, much more. He meant everything to a young boy bursting to learn what lived beyond the outer limits of his own backyard.
I have always been a reader, blessedly so, and born for it I suppose. I took to books like black ink yearns for the creative freedom of an empty white page. My face became well-known in any library I could enter, until I had read almost everything on animals and fishing and all things outdoors from their limited selections.
And then an angel of a librarian handed me a copy of “Stormy”, a story about an outlaw Labrador Retriever and his owner, written by this fellow with the strange name. It was unlike anything I had ever read and I was hooked deep in my insides like a catfish on a cane pole.
I was to discover very soon that dogs were a prominent feature in a Kjelgaard story. It’s easy to see why, since there is something completely natural and magical about young boys and their dogs. The combination just begs for adventure and open space to run and roam. They encourage each other on and on, over the hill to the next discovery, past the bend in the ever beckoning road. Together, there is nothing a boy and a dog can’t do.
I have read a little about the author’s life and I am convinced that he understood and loved the outdoors with a passion that even he could not convey. You can feel it on every page and in every character of every sentence. He had a remarkable ability to put you in the moment, in and of the scene, as if it were written just for you. He tells you that you can experience it too, if you chose.
Don’t wait, he says, just get out there and listen to the music of the hounds between deep breaths of pine and sugar maple under the brilliance of a harvest moon. His books hold the waving fields of marsh grass and the woods full of white-tailed deer and bobwhite quail and the screams of brightly colored blue jays. He shows us boys with guns, back when it was a natural and good thing that made you smile, knowing that some lucky family was sure to be enjoying a meal of squirrel or cottontail rabbit very soon.
Open to any page, and you can hear the sounds in your head as if you were standing there yourself. It was a guaranteed transport to a technicolored world of motion and light with a dog by your side. A world defined by the movements of animals and the rhythm of the seasons, punctuated by the sounds of drumming grouse and the chorus of frogs in the evening.
The comforts of family and home life ran strong throughout his stories. It was what made it all work.It was the knowing that safety and the comforting hearth of home stood solidly back where you had come from, when you needed it, which give us all the strength to be brave and venture out and abroad.
Sadly, Jim has been gone for some time now, just like the world he once knew. He was taken from us much too soon, by illness and despair, and though that world he inhabited may be gone his voice is as relevant today as it was back then. In fact it is even more important than it ever was. He is a beacon of light for the spirits of young boys and their four-legged companions, filled with the quest for exploration and the simple, unmitigated joy of being a boy.
Of course I never met him personally, though I wish I had. Sadly, he was already gone when I was barely born. I would give much of what I have just to thank him for all of his precious gifts to me. It is because of Jim Kjelgaard and men like him that I have wandered the wilderness and spirited air, and lived a life filled with my own stories to tell.
Turning to face the world, what more can a young boy hope for?
To hear an excellent audio reading of this post, listen at ADVENTURECAST.
Jim Kjelgaard books are prized by collectors. First Edition copies with dustjackets in collectible condition are extremely difficult to find. They can be expensive, too!
This amazing inscription reads: “All best wishes to the best darn teacher – librarian, and best friend in the world. Jim Kjelgaard”.
Something tells me that this teacher was very proud of the student!
*Many of Jim Kjelgaard’s books are still in print across the globe, and he is a pre-eminent favorite among those who wish to home school. So, if you somehow missed him, it’s not too late. You may also want to track down a copy of the 1962 Walt Disney film “Big Red”, named after that marvelous and unforgettable Irish Setter of the same name. It will make you want to run out and acquire an Irish Setter too!
“Born in the wilderness, the puppy had to learn the ways of survival like any other wild thing. Staghound and Husky ancestors had given him speed and stamina, but it was his own courage and intelligence that brought him through when a weaker dog would have perished. He learned to hunt, to find shelter, to protect himself from enemies”.
Kalak of the Ice – 1949, Holiday House
A Nose for Trouble – 1949, Holiday House
Wild Trek – 1950, Holiday House
“Wild trek is an adventure story involving Chiri, the half-wild hero of snow dog, and his trapper master. Their problem is to find and rescue a naturalist whose plane has been forced down in the Caribou Mountains, deep in the Canadian wilderness”.
Chip the Dam Builder – 1950, Holiday House
Irish Red, Son of Big Red -1951, Holiday House – 1962, Collins Famous Dog Stories
Fire-hunter – 1951, Holiday House
“This is a story of the days when sabertooth tigers and wooly mammoths roamed the earth. When men lived in wandering bands and stalked their prey with spears and clubs. When fire was their greatest friend, and human hands and brains their only advantage over wild beasts”.
The Explorations of Pere Marquette -1951, Random House
Trailing Trouble – 1952, Holiday House
Outlaw Red, Son of Big Red – 1953, Holiday House
The Spell of the White Sturgeon – 1953, Dodd Mead
“The vivid, action-packed story of a boy from the New York waterfront who sought adventure on tempestuous, yet fascinating Lake Michigan when the Midwest was growing hardily and fishing was the chief energetic industry of that great body…and he found too, that the giant white sturgeon who cast a spell of fear over the sturdiest fishermen whenever it appeared, could mean good fortune for him”.
The Coming of the Mormons – 1953, Random House
Haunt Fox– 1954, Holiday House
Cracker Barrel Trouble Shooter– 1954, Dodd Mead
Lion Hound– 1955, Holiday House
Collins Famous Dog Stories
The Lost Wagon – 1955, Dodd Mead
Desert Dog – 1956, Holiday House
Trading Jeff and his Dog– 1956, Dodd Mead
Wildlife Cameraman– 1957, Holiday House
Double Challenge – 1957, Dodd Mead
We Were There at the Oklahoma Land Run – 1957, Grosset & Dunlap
Wolf Brother – 1957, Holiday House – 1963, Collins Famous Dog Stories
Swamp Cat– 1957, Dodd Mead
The Wild Horse Roundup-Collection of Stories by Western Writers of America, Editor – 1957, Dodd Mead
Rescue Dog of the High Pass– 1958, Dodd Mead
Hound Dogs & Others-Collection of Stories by Western Writers of America, Editor – 1958, Dodd Mead
The Land is Bright– 1958, Dodd Mead
The Black Fawn– 1958, Dodd Mead
The Story of Geronimo – 1958, Grosset & Dunlap
Hi Jolly – 1959, Dodd Mead
Stormy – 1959, Holiday House
Ulysses & his Woodland Zoo – 1960, Dodd Mead
Boomerang Hunter– 1960, Holiday House
The Duck-footed Hound– 1960, Crowell
Tigre – 1961, Dodd Mead
“Pepe, the youthful Mexican goatherd, had many battles to fight…and hardest of all, against the killer tigre or jaguar which had taken the life of Pepe’s father and threatened to destroy the family herd of goats, their very livelihood”
Hidden Trail– 1962, Holiday House
Fawn in the Forest & other Wild Animal Stories– 1962, Dodd Mead
Two Dogs & a Horse– 1964, Dodd Mead
Furious Moose of the Wilderness– 1965, Dodd Mead
Dave and his Dog, Mulligan– 1966, Dodd Mead
“…his great wish was to become a game warden…Dave had a second big dream for the future. He wanted to prove that hunting the “varmints” – the coyotes, the bobcats and lions that ran rampant in the nearby countryside – could prove a challenging, diverting sport to the countless hunters who swarmed into the area each open season, mostly in quest of deer. This would also put a stop to the reckless placing of poison bait by certain ruthless sheepmen whose flocks were being raided by the varmints”. (From the Dustjacket Flap)
The best meal I ever ate, anywhere, featured cottontail rabbit fried hot in an electric skillet, hunted up fresh from the fields within sight of the big picture window of my friend’s southern New Jersey family homestead.
I had eaten many a rabbit by the time I had nearly finished highschool. Cottontails were our sportsman’s consolation prize. They were everywhere in our neck of the woods, and we could always count on bagging a brace or two when we could not find a covey of bobwhite quail or other small game.
But the rabbit of my experience had never tasted like a lesser prize. My friend’s mom knew her way around the kitchen, and she knew exactly what to do with farm fresh ingredients, be they wild, or not. She was, in fact, a culinary wizard, conjured up to look like an ordinary woman.
What she did I suppose I will never really know, but I suspect it had something to do with buttermilk, flour, a perfectly matched selection of spices, and hot lard. The meat hit the pan with crackle and sizzle, and it spoke of blackberry leaves and sweet clover and sun dappled woodlots.
It literally melted in your mouth, and I remember watching as a heaping plate of rabbit pieces disappeared into smiling faces around the long farm table. It was ordinary fare, dressed in high style, and I was the honored guest of their simple realm. I knew then that I would never forget that wonderful dinner, and I have never looked at the unsung cottontail in the same way since.
Contrast that with the worst meal I ever had, which I had the displeasure of ingesting in a windswept Quebec-Labrador Caribou camp north of Schefferville, somewhere below the arctic circle.
It was a vile concoction of rancid grease, pan drippings, and rendered fat, and we ate it with a big metal spoon of questionable cleanliness. My native guide kept it stored in a good-sized mason jar, and he carried it around like it was the holy grail of gourmet cuisine. He ate it while sporting a huge grin, and I tried it because he wanted me too, and because he acted like it was so damn tasty. Who knew?
It seems that many people in the far north country can develop a bad case of “fat hunger”, as a result of their super lean, high protein diets. This affliction is also called “rabbit starvation”, having been given its name by those unfortunate souls who at one time or another subsisted solely on rabbits.
A hefty jar of partially congealed fat can be a highly prized commodity in that world, where calories count, and the lack thereof can literally mean the difference between life and death.
One throat gagging spoonful was quite enough for me, followed by an old candy bar of some kind to dull the taste, and washed down with some lukewarm canteen water. To this day, the occasional thought of that wretched goo turns my stomach inside out, now almost 40 years later. It definitely gives one some perspective on the otherwise fine cuisine of Canada.
With that in mind, an honorable mention must go to the partially raw and burnt slices of elk heart I skewered over an aspen fire one clear, brisk night in the Colorado back country.
I should have been more than happy that lonely, star filled night. I had taken a fat four point bull elk with my recurve bow just hours before, and I was headed back to my friend’s small hunting shack when I ran out of daylight, and flashlight batteries.
I took a breath snatching fall from a low cliff, and by all rights I should have hurt myself badly, but did not. So, I gathered up some branches and hunkered down for the night, and thanked my guardian hunting angel. The animal’s heart and liver was all that I had packed with me.
It wasn’t so bad, after all, if you enjoy rubbery, half-cooked offal, but it could have used some salt. And it would have been far better if I had some water, which I had run out of during the hot afternoon. The head pounding hangover left over from the previous night’s shenanigans was still with me, which did not help my predicament.
In my defense, let the record state that it was the weekend of my bachelor party, and it is fair to say that the boys’ and I had just a little “too much fun”. I had been the only one to stagger out of camp that early morning, and only then because I had somehow managed to pass out in my hunting cloths, with boots on. One downhill step, and I was on my way.
My head and parched throat told me that I was in for a rough night, but my heart said that there were far worse places to be than in the abiding lap of the Rocky Mountains, with elk bugling all around, even if the meal was merely marginal. It’s how memories are made, and I would not trade them now for all the world. We laugh about it still.
The supper I am most grateful for consisted of one big can of yellow cling peaches, packed in heavy syrup. I ate them while huddled in a sleeping bag, in the low light of a small gas lamp. I did so from a short bunk in the cabin of a small crab boat, anchored just off the beach somewhere in Prince William Sound, Alaska.
My guide and I had spent the day above timberline hunting mountain goats and glassing for coastal brown bear, and we had been late getting back to our pick up point. Loaded with the heavy hide and meat of a white-robed goat, we struggled down through the rocks and heavy underbrush in a race to beat the faltering late night sun. We didn’t make it.
Left with no easy choices, we made our way to a gurgling stream in the bottom of a canyon, and waded in. We thrashed and slipped and bullied our way down through knee-deep water for more than a few miles, while desperately trying to keep our feet under us. It was a truly dark and soul-searching night, made far worse by the occasional loud crashes of large, big things, just out of sight. These things most probably had huge tearing teeth and long, flesh ripping claws to go with them. It was not a pretty picture, and I am not proud of the terrified thoughts and hobgoblins which danced and screamed inside my head and nearly got the better of me.
I have never been so happy to break clear of thick brush, and to see a low slung skiff waiting hopefully on an open cove in the light of a wispy moon. My father could barely speak, relieved from his duty of pacing the shoreline and imagining the worst. Once on board the main boat, and safe, I had enough energy to slurp down those aforementioned peaches that had appeared under my nose, to then lie back and fall instantly asleep.
A can of peaches is certainly not much of a meal, but it was heavenly sustenance to me. It was much better than the alternative, which most importantly meant that I had not become the hot and ready to eat snack of a snarling 10 foot beast. Thank god for life’s little graces.
Last but not least, I savored my most memorable meal on the day after my wedding in the high mountains of Colorado. We spent a pampered night or two in Aspen’s only five-star hotel, and dined in its’ fine restaurant.
The company and the conversation was grand, to say the least, as was the atmosphere, and the setting. The hotel has a grand view of the area’s towering, snow-covered peaks, and sits within close proximity of summering herds of elk, and the occasional black bear. It was a most appropriate location from which to approach a colorful plate of elk tenderloin with sun-dried cherry sauce and sweet potato fries, duly crafted by the expert hands’ of one of the world’s greatest chefs. I can only describe the entire experience, as well, absurdly, …grand…
Now that was a preparation for the ages; a far cry from a flame scorched elk heart to be sure, and almost as good as that lovingly tendered rabbit dinner of my youth.
So, these are some of my food highs, and lows, in the proverbial nutshell.
No doubt you have several of your own. If you do, we’d love to hear about them.
Care to share?
You may also wish to see the recipe for grilled elk loin and cherry sauce here.
A big thumbs up to Jenna McBride, who took this magnificent Wisconsin Eastern Turkey in April 2017.
Jenna is becoming quite the huntress too! At fourteen years old, this is already her second bird…
“It was an interesting day, we were in a blind and I called once or twice early when the turkeys were still roosting.
We then had a hen come to our two decoys and stay by the decoys for 2.5 to 3 hours or so until this tom came in. We had one other tom that stayed just out of range for almost two hours before leaving once it started to rain. So I never had to call again as I had a very cooperative hen with us all morning.
Jenna did all the gun work though. She told me if she gets a shot, she would get a turkey. She didn’t miss!
And I forgot, I’ve never got one that big”. – Kevin McBride, Proud Father
Not to be outdone, 16 year old sister Molly McBride followed up in May with an even bigger 27.1 pound tom.
Now that’s a turkey hunting duo to reckon with!
Dad had a tag in his pocket too but never picked up the gun. He says that it is much more fun to be their guide. And yes, Kevin also acknowledges that “the girls had a good year”.
Now that’s the turkey hunting understatement of the season…
My biological nature makes me wonder if there is something in the water out there, or just what in the world these turkeys had been eating to get so big. Whatever it was, it certainly did the job. If registered, both birds would fall in or near a list of the top 50 heaviest birds ever recorded with The National Wild Turkey Federation in Wisconsin.
Search The National Wild Turkey Federation Record List Here
As for Jenna and Molly, something tells me that this will not be their last turkey hunting adventure. I can only hope that I get a chance to hunt with them sometime, or at least follow them around for a bit. No doubt they could show me a thing or two about how it should be done.
Now that’s a mean set of wheels, and some spurs to be proud of!
Children and hunting are two of the greatest joys in life. What better way to have the best day than combine your two favorite things? While teaching children about hunting might prove to be challenging, it is also one of the greatest lessons you can teach your kids as well as one of the most rewarding for you. Here are a few tips to get started.
Put Safety First
Hunting is dangerous, so when teaching your kids, make sure they get the message. Teach your child the responsibility of handling weapons, and practice with them before hitting the woods. Remind your kids that hunting might be fun, but it isn’t a game.
Get the Gear
You and your child should be outfitted for the hunt, from your boots to your hat. Don’t forget lots of orange (see the safety point above). Purchase quality gear from trusted retailers like Carhartt, and enjoy it for years to come.
Remember what it was like when you were learning to shoot a gun or throw a ball? Your child will be experiencing the same things as you teach them about hunting, so be patient. Also, don’t withhold praise. If they are doing a good job, let them know.
Be a Role Model
Children love to do whatever adults do. It’s the plight of childhood. Be the type of hunter you want your children to be. Part of being a great hunter and role model is keeping a positive attitude. Whether the deer get spooked or the shot isn’t aimed perfectly, stay composed and positive. There will always be more deer, but you can’t replace a moment to teach your kids about positivity.
Hunting isn’t just about bringing home the venison. Hunters are conservationists, and that plays a huge role into the sport. Teach your child about harvesting only what they need as well as the balance of giving and taking. Explain how hunters play a role in population control and what you can do to ensure these animals, as well as the land, trees and vegetation, are still around for their children.
Connect with the Outdoors
Hunting is more than making a kill. It’s about connecting with nature. Encourage your kids to take everything in, from the birds chirping to the wind in the grass to the vines growing up the tall oaks. You could even take a minute to enjoy nature and discuss the hunter’s role in maintaining the ecosystem, from keeping the balance to not disturbing nests.
Make a Tradition
While we love passing down a good hunting tradition, you can also use this time with your kids to create new traditions. It will make the hunt even more special to the kids, and it will be a great tradition they can pass down to their kids.
Children are the future of hunting. It is our responsibility as adults, mentors and parents to teach them the right way to hunt. This way the tradition of hunting can be passed down through the generations. We love hunting, and we hope the next generation carries on our longstanding traditions for years to come. Good luck with your young ones, and don’t forget the camo!
The Analysis of The Hunting Field; Being A Series of Sketches of the Principle Characters That Compose One. The Whole Forming a Slight Souvenir of The Season, 1845-1846
By Robert Smith Surtees. Illustrated by Henry Thomas Alken.
Published by Rudolf Ackermann; Cook and Co., Printer and Engravers, London (1846).
First Edition, Second Issue.
In Good condition. No dust jacket as issued. Some wear and short tears to cloth at end of spines, and a light and short split to cloth at backstrap. Top edge darkened, with some browning to pages and some occasional light foxing. With titles and preface dated 1846.
There are 6 hand colored plates (including frontispiece), and a hand colored title page. Plates 2, 3, and 4 are dated Nov. 19th. In original maroon cloth, with gilt front and spine decorations.The First Printing is quite scarce in any condition.
Her Offered at $350 postpaid in U.S. (Subject to Prior Sale)
Robert Smith Surtees (1805-1864) was an English editor, novelist and sporting writer. Thackeray envied him his powers of observation, while William Morris considered him ‘a master of life’ and ranked him with Dickens. In The Analysis of the Hunting Field, Surtees offers wry, fatherly advice in this satiric romp through the key archetypes of the fox hunt. As Lord Denham says in his introduction, “this should be required reading for anyone connected with hunting. From the right sort of Master to the wrong sort, from the hunting nobleman to the whip and from the blacksmith to the braggart with horses to sell we find the people ‘pon the ‘orses are much the same as today.”
Alken worked in both oil and watercolor and was a skilled etcher. His earliest productions were published anonymously under the signature of “Ben Tallyho”, but in 1816 he issued The Beauties & Defects in the Figure of the Horse comparatively delineated under his own name. From this date until about 1831, he produced many sets of etchings of sporting subjects mostly coloured and sometimes humorous in character, the principal of which were: Humorous Specimens of Riding 1821, Symptoms of being amazed 1822, Symptoms of being amused 1822, Flowers from Nature 1823, A Touch at the Fine Arts 1824, and Ideas 1830. Besides these he published a series of books: Illustrations for Landscape Scenery and Scraps from the Sketch Book of Henry Alken in 1823, New Sketch Book in 1824, Sporting Scrap Book and Shakespeare’s Seven Ages in 1827, Sporting Sketches and in 1831 Illustrations to Popular Songs and Illustrations of Don Quixote, the latter engraved by John Christian Zeitter.
Alken provided the plates picturing hunting, coaching, racing and steeplechasing for The National Sports of Great Britain (London, 1821). Alken, known as an avid sportsman,is best remembered for his hunting prints, many of which he engraved himself until the late 1830s. (Charles Lane British Racing Prints pp. 75–76). He created prints for the leading sporting printsellers such as S. and J. Fuller, Thomas McLean, and Rudolph Ackermann, and often collaborated with his friend the sporting journalist Charles James Apperley (1779–1843), also known as Nimrod. Nimrod’s Life of a Sportsman, with 32 etchings by Alken, was published by Ackermann in 1842. In many of his etchings, Alken explored the comic side of riding and satirized the foibles of aristocrats, much in the tradition of other early 19th century caricaturists such as Thomas Rowlandson and James Gillray. One of his best known paintings, “The Belvoir Hunt: Jumping Into And Out Of A Lane”, hangs in the Tate Britain and shows one of the oldest of the great foxhound packs in Leicestershire. A collection of his illustrations can be seen in the print department of the British Museum. – From wikipedia