I won’t pretend that my 24 hours off the grid this weekend even remotely resembled a backcountry excursion into peril. No, this was camping in comfort with my two best friends, Wirehaired Vizslas Winnie and Finn. It was fly fishing for pond bass, a roaring campfire and ice cold beer. It was a wood fire grilled New York Strip steak at dusk cooked to perfection and big enough to share with the dogs. It was perfect weather, a star filled night and a steady breeze. This was glamping, plain and simple. But even setting up my truck tent on the familiar grounds of my friend’s Rose River Farm puts me far enough away from civilization that I was able to (okay, forced to) disconnect from my phone for a day. And as I get more and more dependent on that connectivity — from constant texts, emails and calls to Googling questions the moment they pop into my head instead of taking the time to sit and ponder a thing — the more value there is in unplugging for a bit.
Speaking of pondering, Winnie immediately took to the pond not to swim and hunt toads and do whatever it is normal dogs do, but to simply stand there. It’s her thing, her zen. She stood here the entire time it took me to set up camp and then for a good hour beyond that. She’ll turn her head toward a rising fish, but has no interest in further investigation. I do not know what’s on her mind, but I figure it can’t be all that different than what’s on mine when I step into a cool stream with a fly rod.
Fly fishing for bass with poppers is a blast when the topwater action is on. And in the evening, it was on. Nothing too big, but lots of splashy fun all around the pond edges. Finn and Winnie watched with great interest. I actually have to keep Finn in a ‘Stay’ a fair distance away from me as he can not be trusted with a fish on the line. If he’s too close, the splashing fish sends him into a crazybananafrenzy and he can not help but dive in after it. (Pro Tip: Make sure you do not have a dog like this before you try kayak fishing with him.)
But the pond will be there all night. It was time to lighten the beer cooler a bit and get the fire started. I don’t think I would have any interest in camping if I couldn’t have a fire. It was through the first wafts of wood smoke that the initial oddness and that dull, background anxiety of not having a cell signal started to feel more like a benefit than an inconvenience. And from that point on I was no longer interested in who was trying to contact me, what was trending on facebook or even what time it was. It was simply time to start a fire and open a beer.
Dogs, like people I suppose, are very routine animals. The whens and wheres of eating and sleeping are a big part of their lives, so I wondered how they would react to a complete changeup on this, their first camping adventure. Turns out they literally could not care less. They ate their dinner around the fire while I grilled my steak, then they shared some of mine. They were comfortable and utterly relaxed the entire evening. After dinner, Winnie fit in some more pond standing time, I did a little night fishing and the beer cooler got lighter still. We watched the stars for a bit, all silently agreed this was a fine way to spend a weekend, and we called it a night.
I mentioned this Napier Outdoors truck tent and Airbedz air mattress in an earlier review and I stand by what I said. Both these products perform extremely well, and it’s just an extraordinarily comfortable setup. The dogs loved stretching out but still being next to me, and we all slept like logs. Until, in the middle of the night, we were awakened by what I would describe as a Blood Curdling Cacophony Of Odd And Terrible Animal Noises. Before I even realized I was awake, the dogs and I were kneeling in front of the side window of the tent, staring into darkness. In the hazy, jittery half sleep that comes with abrupt awakenings, my brain could not make sense of the sounds. Later, in the light of day my brain told me they were coyotes, but the cackling, crying and screaming was definitely not what I thought a pack of coyotes would sound like. The dogs never barked, and I was glad for the low tech brand of radio silence not to give away our location. We went back to sleep easily and awoke at dawn, happy, rested and not surrounded by coyotes.
The agenda for the next morning was to explore Skyline Drive and find a new spot to hike. As we entered Skyline Drive I purchased an annual pass. Shenandoah National Park is one of my favorite places and I happily support it.
Hawksbill Mountain is the highest peak in the entire park. The hike to it, even when taking the longer loop, is only about three miles, with a moderate elevation gain enough to get your heart pumping. With a long drive back home still ahead of us, this looked like a great way to get a little exercise and not keep us out all day.
The overlooks (there are four) along the way are spectacular. And photos are a must at the highest point in Shenandoah National Park.
Coming home from camping trips with my Dad as a kid, we always stopped at Whitey’s, a North Arlington, VA mainstay with a big sign out front that read: EAT. It was just a few miles from home, but my Dad always stopped there no matter the time of day or night. He would have a Budweiser in one of those thick, heavy, frosted mugs, and I’d have an identical mug of A&W root beer. We would order burgers. Back in the day, Whitey himself was sometimes there in the last booth along the wall, under the deer mount with Christmas lights on the antlers. My Dad would pretend to calculate how much grief my Mom would give him for keeping me out late on a school night, then order us another round. We would, each in our own way, embrace those little extensions of our weekend. Done with fishing and camping and canoeing and sunburn and mosquito bites, done with cleaning and loading and securing and double checking it all, but not quite ready to be home. It’s there, it’s close. But not yet. On this camping trip, the role of Whitey’s was played by Shawn’s Smokehouse BBQ in Culpeper. This time my mug was filled with Devil’s Backbone Vienna Lager, and while I ate every bite of my pulled pork sandwich, the mac and cheese was split three ways.
But delaying the trip home doesn’t mean you don’t like home. It just means you found something special while you were away, even for just a day. And if you take the time to reflect on it a little more, maybe you’ll remember it better. Or bring a bit of what you found home with you. So we ate slowly, savoring the last morsels of our first camping trip together. And when the time was right we headed north, with full bellies, full hearts, and all the windows down.
“There’s nothing like a nice piece of Hickory.”
Last year some friends gathered for an evening of food, drink and fun, with everyone bringing a dish made from wild game acquired over the course of the year. That night was such a success we’ve decided to make it an annual tradition! This year we gathered at my friend Jason’s house, and his smoker added a great new dimension to many of the dishes. Here’s a little tour of the feast!
This marinated venison backstrap was on the smoker for about three hours, cooked to perfection and so incredibly tender it was hard to believe. Fantastic. Don’t ask Jason for the marinade recipe, he won’t give it to you.
My friend Carolyn told me about this dish and I had to try it. Baked beans mixed with browned ground venison, peppers and onion, baked, then topped with crumbled bacon, drizzled with honey and put in the smoker for 45 minutes.
Full smoker! Marinated dove breasts, jalapeno poppers filled with shrimp and seasoned cream cheese, then wrapped in bacon, mushrooms stuffed with ground elk meat and cream cheese, and the tenderloin.
Cheese stuffed beer bread? YES PLEASE! Thank you Anna!
These are the finished smoked bacon wrapped cheesy shrimp jalapeno poppers. The cream cheese, I’m told, counters the heat in the peppers. Um, no.
Anna made this incredible mac and cheese. It was delicious and popular, and good to have a dish on the table that wasn’t meat colored.
I don’t really get tired of marinated bacon wrapped venison tenderloin morsels of awesomeness.
The finished mushrooms stuffed with elk meat, cream cheese, mushroom and seasonings.
I actually forgot to try this! Wild turkey breast stuffed with goat cheese and peppers.
Another view of the perfectly cooked venison tenderloin, marinated and then smoked with hickory. Like butter.
I took the smoked, marinated dove breasts, wrapped them in puff pastry and baked them for ten minutes or so.
Anna made this wonderful lemon meringue pie from scratch, in addition to the pie and the amazing beer bread.
It was a real treat to sample amazing donuts from Front Royal’s Naughty Girls Donut Shop. The story of the shop and the amazing young woman who started it is a great one, and I encourage you to read about it here.
And in addition to all of the above, we of course had a variety of excellent seasonal beers to enjoy.
It’s never too early to start planning for next year’s Game Night, either — I’m thinking venison meatball and cheese sliders will be on the menu!
My wife Sandy and I don’t go away together very often. We tend to take trips separately so one of us can stay home to tend to the zoo. So she goes to Rolex, and I go fishing. But for our sixteenth anniversary this past weekend, I arranged a short getaway to Solomons Island, MD, a great place I’ve gotten to know from a couple recent trips. Just a bit over two hours from home, it’s a perfect spot for an overnight trip. I’ll get to the rest of the photo tour in a bit, but first I want to say a little bit about this first photograph.
I love this portrait of my wife. Yes it just shows her hand, but it shows so much about her. We hiked along the trail at Calvert Cliffs State Park. The path was riddled with inchworms hanging down from branches high above the trail. From a distance we must have looked comical, dodging invisible obstacles as we walked. Some of the little guys, though, inevitably ended up as passengers. Sandy found this one on her shirt and observed him for a while. Then she felt bad that she had broken his silk line to the tree above, and wanted to replace him somewhere out of harm’s way. I almost missed the moment, but got the camera up just in time to capture this act of tenderness. This is the essence of the woman I love, I thought as she waited for the inchworm to move to that leaf like it was his idea. I hope you enjoy the rest of my favorite photos from our special weekend.
We didn’t see any beavers, but they certainly live here!
We both think this is a Northern Water Snake.
Skink, I think.
Okay there is a lot going on here. First and foremost, that sewer cap with goo dripping off it is an enormous snapping turtle. Follow that same log to the left and you’ll see another turtle, maybe a painted turtle? And then there’s the one in the foreground, can you see his back legs? He is actually moving so fast his legs are flying out behind him!
I didn’t have a long enough lens to capture many of the great birds we saw, but this trail is a birdwatcher’s paradise! We must have seen dozens of species, including a few we had never seen before.
I love these red headed woodpeckers! This isn’t the first time I’ve seen them, but we definitely do not get these at home. Very cool sighting, and I loved capturing two together on this log, despite the technical problems with this photo.
Calvert Cliffs. We walked this beach looking for sharks teeth. No luck, although we did find some cool little fossils. But even though fossil hunting is the focal point of the park, we were both anxious to hit the trail back up and find more live critters!
These two fly catching birds were having a pretty serious discussion.
Trail closed. Shutter open. Oddly I only took one photo of this scene, but I like it.
An example of the well maintained trails at Calvert Cliffs State Park.
This is the view from my favorite hotel room in the east. The Holiday Inn Solomons Conference Center and Marina is a great property, conveniently located near anything you want to see at Solomons.
And being a marina, you can have a boat pick you up right at your hotel and take you fishing! This is Captain Robbie, who showed us a great time on the water.
Early on we spotted this very unusual nesting spot for a Canada Goose. Robbie said in 50 years on that water he had never seen a goose nest up high like that.
Lots of beautiful Osprey around. This one seems to only have one foot.
I absolutely love being on a boat. The fishing was slow but we didn’t care. I find it extremely relaxing to just watch the water go by.
Speaking of relaxing, Sandy got comfortable while she was waiting for a fish to hit one of the trolling lines Robbie put out.
It was pretty exciting to hear that reel screaming after a few hours of settling into the hypnotic drone of the motor. And if you’re only going to catch one fish on your sixteenth anniversary, let it be this one. This striper (they all call ’em rockfish down there) weighed in at sixteen pounds. Pretty cool.
After a day on the water we were in the mood for a big seafood dinner and a few cold adult beverages. Kingfishers delivered exactly what we came for. I love this restaurant. Really great food, fun and friendly staff. I will eat here every time I visit.
All our friends who love Solomons told us, “You have to go to the Tiki Bar!” And they were all right. This place is amazing. It’s more of a compound than a bar, just a great place to hang out on a beautiful night.
We fit a lot into the 36 hours or so we were away. And while we found a great getaway destination, we are always glad to get back home. Special thanks to our friends Chris and Anna, who allowed us not only to get away but to do so without worrying about our animals. And a huge thanks to Joyce Baki, Tourism Specialist for Calvert County, who helped with all our arrangements. Captain Robbie, Lilly the funny waitress at Kingfishers, the guy who bought us anniversary shots at the Tiki Bar, the friendly hotel staff, everyone was great. I do also want to mention if you visit the Calvert Cliffs State Park, say hello to Charlie or Pat of the Friends of Calvert Cliffs. They might be the two nicest people you’ll ever meet.
Some good friends gathered on the Saturday after Thanksgiving for what we hope will become a new annual tradition. Game Night is a feast, the sharing of wild game hunted throughout the year. It is a celebration of cooking, drinking, laughing and eating, and all of those to excess. Let me walk you through some of the delicious ways we gave thanks to the animals we hunt, and the friends who shared this special night.
Marinated, Bacon-Wrapped Venison Tenderloin Morsels of Awesomeness
I’ve been making these for a few years, they’re easy and very popular. Cut the tenderloin into good size chunks, marinate overnight, wrap each with a half slice of bacon and secure with a toothpick (soak the toothpicks for 10-15 minutes so they don’t completely burn up). Then grill. Keep an eye on these as the bacon will cause flare ups. Some charring is of course delicious, but you don’t want to leave these unattended.
Here’s what I use in my marinade: 1/4 cup Worcestershire, 1/4 cup soy sauce, a bottle of beer (try different varieties for fun, but I like using a dark, richly flavored beer), 1/4 cup maple syrup, 1 tsp black pepper, 1/2 tsp onion powder, 1/2 tsp garlic powder, 1/4 cup brown sugar (light or dark), 1 tsp of cayenne pepper.
Here are the completed venison morsels, which by the way came from this beautiful deer. Thanks to Anna for this and other great photographs from the night. Please check out Anna’s web site, AKG Inspiration.
Bacon-Wrapped Dove Appetizers
Across the board, everyone loved these incredibly delicious dove breasts that Chris and Anna brought. Regular readers might recall our dove hunt. What a fun day that was, and tasting these makes me want to get my full limit when we go back next year. Chris marinated these, wrapped each breast around slices of green bell pepper and onion and secured with toothpicks. Absolutely delicious. Anna also made an amazing pot of macaroni and cheese made with four cheeses: fontina, havarti, brie and sharp cheddar. (Photo courtesy of AKG Inspiration.)
Horseradish Encrusted Venison Tenderloin
My friend Jason loves to cook wild game almost as much as he loves to hunt it, and he is very talented at both. I’ll let him walk you through preparing these great main course: Coat the tenderloin with olive oil, salt and pepper. Then spread prepared horseradish over it evenly. Mix a sauce of about 2 cups balsamic vinegar and 4 tablespoons of sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Stir occasionally until it gets syrupy. Grill the tenderloins (preferably to about medium rare) and remove from grill. Top with crumbled goat cheese and broil on high in the oven for 3-4 minutes until cheese begins to brown. Slice, drizzle with balsamic reduction and serve! (Photo courtesy of AKG Inspiration.)
This, in my opinion, is absolutely perfect medium rare venison tenderloin. Great job by the grillmaster Jason.
Fresh Wild Turkey Breasts
And I do mean fresh! Jason shot this turkey on Thanksgiving morning. He used a liquid garlic butter rub and coated with Cajun seasoning. Then this was cooked in an oilless turkey fryer. This is the first time I’ve had wild turkey and it was great with quite a kick to it! (Photo courtesy of AKG Inspiration.)
Grilled Bacon-Wrapped Asparagus
Thanks again to Jason and Allie, Jason’s girlfriend and a long time dear friend of mine. I did not actually try these, but they looked and smelled great! (Photo courtesy of AKG Inspiration.)
At some point when everyone was occupied in the kitchen there was a knock at the door. This is what we saw waiting to be let in. Now, and only now, can we get this party started. Our friends Ken and Mary accompanied this bear, along with more treats. Which brings us to dessert…
In addition to this amazing thing I’ve never had before, our friends Brad and Jess also brought one. I love these things! It’s like pumpkin pie/cake and cheesecake all rolled up and sliced. Fantastic.
Bourbon Pecan Pie
Okay I love pecan pie. It’s one of my very favorite things, especially at this time of year. And in the heat of the moment last night, with the beer flowing, the hugs being distributed, the laughter and friendship warming us on a cold night, I might have been heard saying that the bourbon pecan pie Allie made from the recipe in my favorite magazine, Garden & Gun, is the best pecan pie I have ever tasted.
Now, a day later, with a clearer head, I do not hesitate to say it again. This is honestly the best pecan pie I have ever tasted.The recipe can be found at Garden & Gun here. Thank you Allie for this! (Photo courtesy of AKG Inspiration.)
I want to thank everyone for coming and making such amazing contributions to a meal I will not soon forget. As we go through the next year spending time in the woods or on the water, we’ll enjoy setting aside some venison, wild birds, maybe a fish or two, with plans on preparing for next year’s Game Night. Can we top the First Annual? Does a bear drink wine out of a bottle?
I stood quietly, waiting for enough light to see and already feeling like it wasn’t going to happen today. I wanted this to be the year that I finally get my first real buck, and with a late rut and a favorable weather pattern, this, the first day of rifle season, was as good an opportunity as I could have hoped for. But at first light I already found myself emotionally throwing in the towel. Maybe I was talking myself out of wanting it so much.
The first time I ever entered the woods with a rifle, after waiting all morning I watched a large buck walk towards me, a hundred yards out but in heavy brush. I lined up the sights on my Dad’s Model 94, but didn’t have a clear path. I waited for a better shot, but a better one never came. The deer either sensed my presence or smelled my fear, and turned and swiftly went back the way he came. Ever since that day I’ve been a little bit haunted by my decision. Should I have taken the shot when I had it? Would I feel better if I had taken the shot and missed? Will I ever look at a buck over a rifle barrel again? I would forget all about it for months at a time, but when deer season rolls around I’m haunted, just a little, all over again. And as the sky brightened I could talk myself out of it no more: I did want it.
From my position I had two areas to watch: A creek bed in a wooded area to my left, and a hillside off to the right where deer may come up from a ravine largely hidden from my view. Before dawn, I heard movement from the creek bed so that area was getting most of my attention. Two friends, Ken and Chris, were hunting with me, set up near an adjacent field. Chris had just taken a shot and we were texting back and forth when I looked up and saw a deer on my hillside. I raised my rifle to get a look through the scope and saw a nice rack, maybe eight points. But he had already passed the first perfect backstop unnoticed and was now too near the crest of the hill for a safe shot. My heart was pounding just having him in my scope.
He approached a lone pear tree at the horizon and I watched him, magnified 7X, as he stood on his hind legs and rattled the low branches with his antlers. He then got to work scraping the ground around the trunk. After a few minutes of buck stuff, he did exactly what I needed him to do. He slowly moved left, down the hill, giving me a good backstop. So, heart pounding, arms shaking from excitement, nerves and fatigue from watching him through the scope for several minutes, I pushed the safety forward and tried to breathe.
A hundred and forty yards, I would later pace off, is ninety yards farther than my Winchester Model 70 was sighted in for. I steadied the rifle, put the crosshairs on his heart, let out a breath I had been holding for an unknown span of time, and squeezed the trigger.
The round left my muzzle traveling at about 2,850 feet per second and reached him in a blink. It first took about a pea-sized nick out of the fleshy part of the back of his front leg, then passed about two inches below his chest and buried harmlessly into the soft earth. I cycled the bolt and heard the metallic ting of the spent round ejecting as the next round found the chamber. When I reacquired my target in the scope, he had run back up to his pear tree. He was looking back at where he was standing when I first shot at him, occasionally picking up his nicked leg and shaking it. He was putting weight on it, and I have no doubt he was perfectly capable of running away. If he had run to freedom, we both would have deserved that outcome.
Again he was too high up the hill for a safe shot, there was nothing I could do but wait. As I waited, I watched him through the scope and thought about him. Probably three and a half years old, most likely born not far from where he now stood. He has avoided hunters and motor vehicles and illness. And now his life hinged on which direction he would step next. Up the hill to freedom, or down.
He stepped down the hill three or four steps, and the second shot hit him in the ribs. A bit farther back than I would have liked, but good enough to hit a lung and put him down. My heart was racing still as I took the scope away from my eye and slung my rifle on my shoulder. The distance between us felt like a mile now. As I walked toward him, I felt a flood of emotions all at once. Grateful for the opportunity, and to live where I live, and for my friends who were now driving up the hill to meet me. While part of me is saddened at the taking of a beautiful animal, I am so thankful for this deer that will not only provide food for the table, but will also put to rest some internal doubt. I will honor and respect him the best way I know how, by remembering him at the meals he provides, and by being careful to continue to take the very best shots I can take whenever I’m hunting. They won’t always hit their mark, but I owe it to these animals to try my hardest.
Speaking of respect, two hundred miles south, my good friend Josh Williams was having a special day in the woods as well. Three weeks ago, Josh was hunting on a friend’s land during archery season when he encountered a spectacular beast of a buck, but he, too, decided not to take the shot. His respect for the animal and care to do the right thing was repaid when he returned for opening day of rifle season. He hunted the early morning with no luck, and was calling it a day when he saw the buck again. Less than an hour after I got mine, Josh brought down this beauty. My sincere congratulations to Josh on this well deserved buck. Read more about his outing here, and while you’re at it, sign up to follow Josh’s great blog.
I was about thirteen years old when I tagged along with my Dad for a few days of fishing down in North Carolina. We ended up at some sort of camp with a bunch of his friends, and it was here he told me we were dove hunting that afternoon. When the time came, he brought me to the perimeter of a huge rectangular field and handed me my Remington 870 20 gauge and a box of shells. He turned a bucket upside down and told me to sit there and if a dove comes my way, shoot it. Some other kids and I were at one end of the field, and my Dad and his friends would be at the other. That was the extent of my dove hunting tutorial. Really? People do this? Is this a thing? Or is this a snipe hunting type trick to keep all the kids sitting quietly on buckets for a few hours while the men pile into a pickup and head out to a bar?
Well, it turns out it really is a thing. And that afternoon there was very little bird activity down at the far end, and even fewer birds at the kid end of the field. But in one spirited volley at the far end, dozens of shots were fired at a cluster of birds. Some went down, some retreated over the treeline behind the hunters, and one lone dove flew straight toward me. The shots silenced as he flew out of range of the adults, and I watched him for a while as he approached. I loved the idea of hitting this dove that my Dad and his buddies all missed. This is called, “counting your chickens before they’re hatched.” But I had an easy, low, straight flying bird coming directly toward me. I put the bead on him, waited until I had a nice short shot, and pulled the trigger.
Let me interrupt this story to begin my list of Helpful Hints for the Beginner Dove Hunter:
1. Be aware of the status of your gun’s safety.
In the time it took me to realize the safety of my gun was on, the bird slipped safely and quietly over the tree line behind me. It was the only bird that came my way that afternoon. I unloaded my Remington, put the three pristine yellow 20 gauge shells back in the now full box and closed it and my dove hunting chapter, not to be opened again until almost four decades later. Yesterday.
My friends Chris and Anna invited me to come out dove hunting with their dogs Wyatt and Luna on a stunningly beautiful, blue sky day in rural Virginia. Considering how my first experience went, I was excited to give it another try. We got to the field early and then Billy, the host who set up the shoot, gave us some ideas on good spots. We chose an area where some power lines intersected with a tree line at the far end of the fields. The terrain was brutally difficult to walk in. Deep, irregular mounds and ridges of firm ground – an artifact of a chisel plow early in the season – made it feel like you were walking on bowling balls. But we navigated the obstacle course the several hundred yards with all our gear and set up for the day. Anna was working the dogs and taking photos, Chris and I would be shooting. Here is the spot I chose, some cover of overhanging limbs and plenty of shade, but with a good view of the fields and open sky. (Photo by Anna Gibson)
The gun I brought, a 1952 16 gauge Winchester Model 12, is one of my very favorites. Light and comfortable, the 16 gauge is built on the 20 gauge frame. I’ve often said of this gun that I could shoot it all day long, but on this day I did exactly that. And the simple, brilliant Model 12 design just makes this gun aim where you’re looking the second you throw it up to your shoulder. However, aiming and hitting are two different matters when it comes to dove.
Chris chose a spot more out in the open, sitting against the base of a phone pole about 75 yards away from me to my right. He immediately started shooting single flyers racing by him from behind. Here is Chris and Wyatt with the first bird of the day.
Wyatt making sure I got a good close up before he gave the bird up.
Watching their flight pattern, it doesn’t take long to identify and recognize these birds. We didn’t get any photos of them in flight, but here is a file photo of a common migratory mourning dove. Note the distinctive shape:
Early on I had opportunities but just couldn’t get a handle on shooting these things. Chris’s success, I determined after observing for about ten minutes, was due to better instincts on where to sit and where to watch, faster reaction time, and better shooting than I exhibited.
2. Have better instincts, react faster, and shoot better.
I brought over 100 shells and within the first hour I had burned through maybe 20 and I’m not sure I even scared a bird. Chris graciously let me sit in his spot for a bit, probably to let his gun cool off and give his shoulder a rest, and before long I had another chance. Three doves whipped around the phone pole I was leaning against, I picked one and quickly took two shots at it. Miss, miss. I took my time on the third and connected, downing my first dove ever. Chris is a truly good friend, and he exhibited this with a genuine, spontaneous celebratory outburst when those feathers flew. I know he would have traded all his birds to that point just to see me hit one. Anna brought Wyatt over to find the downed bird in the thick millet and he made quick work of the task. Here we are sharing the glory.
Breaking the ice with this one helped a lot. I felt like I started to shoot better and react better. But I was still leaving a lot of opportunities in the field. Some lessons learned:
3. If you stare too long at one distant part of the field, birds will appear very near you in the other direction.
4. When #3 happens, and people try to bring it to your attention by yelling, “LOOK UP!!”, you would be surprised how vast an area “up” is and how easy it is to not see something there.
5. If you put your gun down to pee, you will miss birds.
6. If you hit a bird on your second or third shell, reload before you go to find it. Doves are watching you, and if they count three shots and don’t see you reload, they will come and land on your shoulder or roost on your dove stool till you get back.
7. When you watch a huge field for doves, your brain will send you some false alarms. Dragonflies look like doves. Butterflies look like doves. Trust me, it happens. I had the safety off and the bead drawn on a big, beautiful orange butterfly half a dozen times.
8. If you switch places with someone because you haven’t seen action in a while and they’ve almost limited out, birds will stream toward your original location like your cooler is the very place they are migrating to.
Luckily there were enough birds around that despite my missed opportunities and missed shots, I was having some success. And having the dogs there to find downed birds was just key. We spoke to some guys on our way out who were shooting a lot of birds but not finding many. We didn’t lose a bird all day. Here is Luna with our first joint effort together.
Anna tucked into the shade and sent dogs as needed.
9. Bring a dog.
Chris, as predicted, got his limit of fifteen birds, and took just under fifty shells to do it. That, from what I know of dove hunting, is pretty fine shooting. (Photo by Anna Gibson)
These dogs worked their butt off in very difficult terrain for a long, warm day. (Photo by Anna Gibson)
As for me, I ended up with seven, and took about 70 shells to do it. Not too bad, considering I burned an entire box before I even hit one.
But more importantly, I had an absolutely fantastic time. Shotgun shooting is my favorite kind of shooting, and dove hunting is as exciting as shotgun shooting gets. It’s really a blast!
10. Don’t get frustrated, everybody misses these birds. A lot. Just remember how much damn fun it is, hit or miss!
I’m exploring recipes, and will do a follow up post on eating these dove breasts. It’s always rewarding to me when a hunt becomes a meal.
I’ve come a long way from that upside down bucket in a North Carolina field a couple hundred yards across from my Dad, watching that solitary bird over the barrel of my Remington as he slipped above the trees. And I think if you told me that afternoon as I placed those three unused shells back in the box that one day I would be writing that in dove hunting I’ve found perhaps my favorite type of hunting, I would have disagreed strongly.
But it’s true. It’s fun, casual, social, challenging, rewarding and exciting. And I can’t wait to do it again.
Okay I have only been able to catch one tiny little snakehead fish. But I continue to try, because they fight like hell. I really want to catch a big one on a fly rod. In fact I just purchased some new frog flies that I think are going to be very effective.
But while I’m waiting for that to happen, my friend Monica was kind enough to share some snakehead with me that is actually of the size that a person could cook and eat. The last two times I saw Monica were the last day of school in third grade, and then again a week ago when she came kayaking with us and brought me this gift of snakehead fish. I encourage you to check out her new blog, Shedding Suburbia. Monica is a great writer and I know you’ll enjoy her insightful commentary on life and the outdoors.
Okay back to the snakehead. To be honest, even though I had heard good things about them, I really didn’t know what to expect. I mean, we’re talking about a fish that is alarming in appearance and behavior. It looks ancient and wicked and completely alien. When caught it thrashes so violently if you get one to take a fly or lure in the shallows against the weeds you’d swear you had an alligator on the line. As difficult as they are to hook, they are damn near impossible to land. And once you get the powerful, slippery bastards in the net or in your kayak, you’re only about a third of the way into the battle.
So honestly, how good could something taste that is constructed entirely of muscle, slime and anger? Despite being decidedly nervous about trying new foods, I wanted to find out. I decided the safest method would be beer battered and fried, so I picked up the basics shown above. When recipes call for beer, I always like to use something flavorful and interesting. Here the Sam Adams Octoberfest seemed like a nice choice. Then I cut the fish, which was very firm, into bite sized pieces.
So far, so good. The fish had no odor to speak of, and the texture was firm. The bite-sized pieces were dipped in the batter and plunked into a skillet with some hot vegetable oil. They cooked for about four minutes, until golden brown as the package instructs, turned once for another four, then drained on a paper towel.
I wouldn’t be writing a blog post about this unless it was really good or really bad. And this fish was really good! The fish is tasty and mild, and cooks white and flaky. This was a lunchtime experiment, served with some cheddar macaroni salad and tartar sauce out of the jar from McCormick. I think next time I will maybe add a little kick to the batter, maybe a little cayenne pepper or something. And perhaps look for an interesting tartar sauce recipe. But I will gladly keep any snakehead fish I catch, and be happy to know it’s in the freezer for a quick, easy and delicious meal!
One of the advantages of a beer dinner like this is it makes you explore food and drink that you may not otherwise consider ordering. I’m quite fond of a couple of Goose Island products, but had not sampled any of the five here. And regardless of what food I was ordering, I would probably order the type of beer that’s more in my comfort zone, an IPA perhaps, with no consideration given to which beer would be best paired with which dish.
These culinary creations come from gifted Chef Adam Harvey. I don’t know a lot about food and what makes things taste great together, and I thought “pairing” was something you did with wine and food. But I was highly impressed with these beer pairings put together by Chef Adam. A handful of my very favorite meals of all time have come from his kitchen, and I would certainly add this one to the list. So let me take you on a tour of my meal to remember…
First Course: Crispy oysters, with vanilla and apple soubise, toasted hazelnuts, lemon confit. Paired with: Sofie Farmhouse Ale.
This course really got my attention, as immediately the lemon and vanilla flavors, the caviar and the nuts combined with the Sophie Ale just went perfectly together. I knew right away I was in for a fun meal!
Second Course: Speck wrapped halibut, pumpernickel, pickled radish. Paired with: Matilda Pale Ale.
The flavor of this halibut, and the texture of the crunchy pumpernickel and pickled radish were just fantastic together, and were beautifully complemented by this truly delicious pale ale, one of my two favorite beers of the night.
Third Course: Charred pork belly, romanesco, burnt brussels, dirt roasted beets. Paired with: Pepe Nero Farmhouse Ale.
Oh my, was this delicious, every single bite. Whatever that orange rectangle of deliciousness was on the plate was a little spicy, again all these flavors worked brilliantly with each other and with the excellent Pepe Nero.
Cheese: Noble cheddar, huckleberries, coffee crumble, red ribbon sorrel. Paired with: Pere Jacques Abbey Ale. This was utterly sublime. The flavors of this wonderful cheddar and the huckleberries, with that little crunchiness of the coffee crumbles was the tastiest dish of the night. It was paired perfectly with this malty Abbey Ale, my favorite of the five beers. If the previous courses were all home runs, this was a grand slam.
Dessert: Bitter chocolate mousse, yeast crumb, salted toffee. Paired with: Big John Imperial Stout. Wow. What a way to end this meal. The Big John Stout would have sufficed as a dessert on its own, with plenty of chocolate flavor and aroma, but like all the courses before it, this mousse and stout, when paired, become more than the sum of their parts.
I hope you enjoyed the tour of this special meal! For my local readers, I simply can not recommend the Wine Kitchen strongly enough. And if you are a brunch fan, their Sunday brunch is a meal that has made my top meals of all time list more than once. Also look for these fine beers from Goose Island. Their seasonals, as well as the more widespread Honker’s Ale are delicious, but if you can get your hands on some of these Ales (the first four of these are all part of what they call their Vintage Ales), you will not be disappointed. Thanks to the Wine Kitchen and Goose Island Beer Co., and as always, my compliments to Chef Adam.