"There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot." - Aldo Leopold

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Florida Spring Turkey Journal 2011 - The Reckoning

The Osceola slipped through the fog like an apparition 90 yards away. We’d elected not to use decoys since this was a field bird and others in the area didn’t respond well to them. As he craned his neck to peer through the haze towards our calling, I wondered if we’d screwed up.

He gobbled once or twice on this terribly humid morning. He paced back and forth and strutted, but never came any closer. Finally, he lost interest and wandered over a berm than ran along the ditch.

We’d seen him fly down with other birds, probably of the female nature. When his feet hit the floor, there was no doubting this to be a trophy animal. His companions were nowhere to be seen as we attempted to will the gobbler across the clearing lifting our hopes that he’d saunter by to investigate the soft purring and clucking emanating from the oaks.

When he did top the rise, PJ and I sneaked half-crouched to the berm to see if we could whack him on the other side. By the time we made it there, he’d already put 100 yards on us. And this time, we saw the hens, feeding in the freshly graded road along the ditch, eating the sprouting green grass. He moseyed along with them, gobbled once or twice more, then off towards a large Bahia field on private property.

This was near Orlando on private land. That next evening, PJ and I returned to hunt. We spotted the large tom and another out in that Bahia field. We slipped around to where he had roosted the morning prior hoping to intercept him on the way to bed.

Oh, they gobbled just fine. Problem was, they never left that field until fly-up time, and even then chose a distant treeline to call it a day. Hampered by boundaries of private property and potential armed trespassing charges, there wasn’t much we could do.

I loathe writing about unsuccessful hunts – if a hunt’s success is measured by a kill. Most folks want to read about lead and dead. Anyone can write about NOT killing something; hell, it’s the easiest thing to do.

I’m not even sure I could impart wisdom on what to do different; of course, I pulled out no secret trick or tactic. Maybe we could have used dekes in a magical arrangement. Perhaps less calling. Or maybe realizing that this bird was inviolable. Again, there’s not much knowledge one will glean from the One That Got Away. You can just never be sure as individual birds possess unique attributes.

This spring has been like that. Quiet at first, then gobbles, but on other properties. That, in a nutshell, was the last three weekends of the season.

Hunting Chassahowitzka, the only gobbler I heard was again on posted land. Tracks dug up the sandy firebrake I hunted. Strut marks, in several places – it was a super-highway that had the hopes piled high. However, not a thing visited the set-up but a bobcat with a caught rabbit and a doe that tip-toed close out of curiosity, which is neat and all…

Last year I couldn’t stay out of the gobblers, in many of the same places I hunted this season. It goes to show how everything can change.

If there is anything to learn or recognize from all of this, it is that Osceola hunting is a unique challenge. Downright difficult at times. I can’t really say I should have hunted more, because I about maxed out the time available. Luck, Mother Nature, the toms themselves all have to align themselves properly.

It’s been humbling and frustrating, for sure.

And I sure can’t wait for next year.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Pulled Mojo Wild Pork

A number of friends cook excellent pulled pork, typically with domestic swine. It’s a source of pride for them. They slow-cook the meat for hours on a grill or smoker, covering with special spices, colas, beer, etc. They hem and haw about strategies. To their credit, more often than not the meat is tender and delicious. Props to the boys.

But I sincerely mean it when I say I am typically too lazy for this method of cooking. Most of the time, maintaining a grill all day just doesn’t spark my wick.

Enter the crock pot. Turn the dial and let her go! No charcoal, no dousing with liquids to keep the meat from drying out. Just easier.

Now, I will concede and opine that, when done properly in both manners, the best pulled pork from a slow cooker won’t rival the average offering from a grill. You just can’t substitute that smoky flavor in your kitchen.

If you want to prove me wrong, I will be happy to accept this challenge! I love pulled pork. There are a number of serviceable recipes that utilizes the crock pot. One of my favorites is mojo pork. Mojo is a liquid marinade comprised primarily of citrus juices, garlic, and a variety of spices. Most grocery stores will carry a handful of different brands, Goya being my favorite – if they carbonated it, I’d drink it on the way to work every morning.

So, working with wild pork. For this recipe I used a shoulder roast from a sow I shot in March. Just a word of advice, it’s best not to blow holes through the shoulder. The bone fragments will be tough for the processor to remove, though your dentist will be more than happy to buy another plane for his fleet after replacing your chipped teeth. If you've committed this error, you'd do well to wait for another hog and more thoughtful shot placement instead of tying up a shot-up shoulder for a roast.

Once defrosted, I let the roast soak in icy water to draw blood and any gamey flavor from the meat. After an hour, I patted it dry, scored the roast (It got an 8.0! Zing!), and pushed minced garlic into the slits. Then, I seasoned the pork with Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper and lightly brushed with olive oil.

This rested in the fridge until the next morning when I put the roast in the crock pot with ¾ of a bottle of mojo. The heat was set to low, and I went about my day – errands, a few chapters of a Teddy Roosevelt biography, a fajita lunch, and filling a kiddie pool for my wife so she could sunbathe. The usual, we call it.

As I readied for an afternoon turkey hunt – 8 hours after placing it in the pot – I carefully lifted the roast from the cooker. It fell apart when it hit the pan. I took two forks and pulled the pork.

I poured off all but ½ cup of the mojo and juices and returned the shredded meat to the crock pot and left for my turkey hunt. Carolyn turned off the cooker after a couple of hours.

When I arrived home, the pork was ready to eat. As I said before, it doesn’t rival the smoker version, but with a bottle of Sticky Fingers Carolina BBQ sauce, mac&cheese and a salad, I doubt there will be much dissension if put in front of a hungry crowd.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Florida Spring Turkey Journal 2011 - The Silent Spring

I began turkey season with sky-high optimism. Browsing back through February and early-March forum and Twitter posts, I posited that this would be one of my best turkey campaigns.


I heard my first gobble of the year last Saturday on Weekend 4.

And I’ve been steadily hunting public and private lands. The gobbling activity is just slack. Like airplanes and long-division, generalizations are stupid, but I’ve talked with enough other hunters to believe it’s a weird year for turkey hunting.

Now, some people have obviously whacked toms. The stories are about the same. A gobbler going nuts – but that was the only one really doing much. Those tales came from early in the season and private land. Finding that hot tom has been key.

As usual, weather has played a role in my lack of success. I hunted the Green Swamp a couple weekends ago. Dad had located gobblers a few days prior. Unfortunately, a week of rain passed through the area. You needed a Jet Ski to traverse that property.

The gentleman who yanked Dad’s stuck truck out of a washed-out limestone road he should have never attempted to ford said he’d been hunting hard this year and has heard very little. There or on his private lease in Alabama. A buddy of mine who also has a lease in Alabama was told to not even bother making the drive due to silent toms.

Still, on the ride out of the Swamp, 16 birds had been killed. Someone found them.

Maybe later in the season things will pick up. Seems primed. I hunted private land in Levy County this last weekend. I heard that solo gobble Saturday morning. The fog was authoritative. It ruled the roost until well after 9:30am. Never had much luck in those conditions.

It burned off the next morning and the gobblers went gangbusters. One bird east of me gobbled a hundred times, at least, and all morning long. Everyone in camp heard at least a few gobbles – problem was the hens. They were thick, too.

We hunted late but the gobblers stayed on neighboring, un-hunted land with large cow fields, following the ladies around. It’s tough to do turkey in two days, I will clue you.

Still, we roll on. Will hunt this weekend, then a quota hunt at Chassahowitzka WMA. Hope the birds come on late in the season.

I am still optimistic.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Trapping Wild Hogs

Well, Mike shot the 40-pound red boar for a BBQ. He called a few people to see if they’d want fresh pork but solicited little interest. Out of my allegiance to sport and good form, I passed on shooting one in the pen – really, I didn’t need the meat and abhorred the thought of cleaning a hog in the rapidly climbing heat.

So what to do with the 3 other young boars? There were five originally but minus the deceased and one that jumped up and wiggled his head and body through the fencing to freedom, this trio remained. They were certainly eaters – and they should be dispatched to alleviate the rampant damage they do to the area.

Oh, and then there was the matter of the 120-pound boar in there that would kill you just as soon look at you.

Trapping hogs is kinda cool, and it has hit Prime Time on the Discovery Channel’s Hogs Gone Wild. The show is overly dramatic, but it documents the troubles landowners are facing with the exploding pig population from Florida to Hawaii. Some of the hunters on the show use dogs to chase down feral swine. Others utilize traps.

The trappers really provide the theatrics. When they capture the hogs, the danger awareness lessons commence at once, what a perilous occupation this is and so on. True, but if your objective is to rid a place of hogs, you could make it easier on yourself by, I don’t know, shooting them in the head once trapped. This is work, not sport. Then donate the meat to local charity. Or local scavengers. I know they are not rehabilitating and relocating the damn things. The producers are probably catering to the sensibilities of the common viewer, but I know better.

So, they have one lackey distract or lasso the hog while Stud Trapper gets in and wrestles with the filthy animal. The hog is then tied up and hauled into the back of the truck while the wranglers pose for adoration or perhaps kisses and tins of chocolates like the Parisians bestowed upon Allied troops in 1944. It’s a fun program.

Trapping hogs really isn’t all that tricky, though they do learn in a hurry to avoid them if there’s too much human activity. Basically you build a pen high enough they can’t jump out – and yes, hogs can jump. Not like deer, but I’ve seen them easily clear silt fences. Place bait, typically corn, in the back of the pen and rig a tripwire to slam the door shut behind them.

For the tripwire, most folks use a peg on a line connected to the door and place it in the middle of the bait where it is triggered while the hogs feed. I built one when I was 12 or 13 in my parent’s backyard for a boar that was tearing up the horse pasture. I borrowed chain-link fencing material from a neighbor that included poles and a gate.

After the posthole and wiring work, I ran a tripwire across the back third of the cage. This connected to a tire looped over a pine branch to provide the energy needed to slam the gate courtesy of yet another line. It was all very Mouse Trap-ish and had more rope than a Mayan suspension bridge.

But. It worked. Sort of.

Friends and family helped test and fine-tune the contraption until one evening we watched the boar enter the pen. He tripped the wire. The tire fell from its perch. The gate slammed behind him. The boar immediately pummeled under the fence and into memory.

In hindsight, I probably should have just shot it. But, a lesson was learned. Make sure you bury the wire around the pen or have reinforcements to prevent the hog from burrowing under or running through it.

I thought of this lesson last Saturday morning on my way to try to call in a Levy County gobbler. I had been told the trap was baited. The squealing and banging of metal down the path confirmed a capture.

I approached the trap and shined in with my flashlight. The morning was pitch-black and a low fog hung on the edge of the cypress head, drifting in and out of the cage. I immediately noticed the young swine shuffling about and clamoring over one another to get away from the intruder. Then I heard another, deeper, grunt from the far back corner. I lifted the light to look, and the big boar charged from out of the fog and slammed full-speed into the fencing at knee-level.

A cup of coffee has never been brewed that’ll wake you up that quick. Glad that fence held. Had it been my trap, family and friends would currently be asking doctors which limbs can be saved.

He shook it off and pranced in a circle, popping his teeth. I checked my pants and shuffled on down the road to set up for the turkey hunt. All morning long, I listened to those hogs squeal and whine and bang into the doors. 2 ½ hours of that will threaten dementia.

Gene and Mike met me after the hunt and after we exhausted the rudimentary list of locals who’d possibly want a hog, Mike elected to turn them loose.

This prospect did not excite me.

For all the fun I’ve made about the Discovery Channel boys, they are correct that an angry wild hog is a dangerous critter, and this boar didn’t appear to have lost any zest for reprisal. He continuously beat against the fence, charging us as we walked by. His eyes were fire yellow. Truly, he was a young male, an adolescent eager to prove his aggression.

Mike climbed onto the top of the pen, the boar running about in a fury, sweeping aside the smaller hogs and flipping them in the air out of just pure anger. If Mike had fallen in...

Gene and I backed up to the nearest climbable tree fifty yards from the pen, though the 12 gauge was my first line of defense. Never had a hog charge before. Can’t say how I’d react. If there was ever an alignment of the stars for such an event, this was it.

Mike lifted the gate and the little ones streamed to freedom, leaving their fallen comrade behind. The big one froze at the entrance of the gate, not sure what to do. He gazed our way for a moment, but thought better of it. I doubt he slowed down before hitting the Georgia line.

I would hope no one got in his path.

New Alligator Hunting Hours

Just received this e-mail. Thought I would pass it along. I am definitely in favor of the proposed times. Especially the extension in the morning hours.

Dear Alligator Management Stakeholder:

We recently sought your input regarding additional daylight alligator hunting hours under our Statewide Alligator Harvest Program. After carefully considering all of the input and assessing the pro’s and con’s of making any changes, the Commission was presented with a draft rule change that would provide four additional hours of daylight alligator hunting and set the legal hours from 5pm until 10am each day during the established harvest season. The Commission conceptually approved this draft rule at their February 2011 meeting, and they will be considering it for final adoption at their June 8-9 meeting in St. Augustine.

Please do not hesitate contacting me (harry.dutton@myfwc.com or 850.410.0656 x 17279) if you have any questions, concerns, or feedback about this draft rule change. Additional details of this endeavor, including summaries of the input received, can be found on the Alligator Management Program’s website.

Best Regards,

Harry J. Dutton, Coordinator
Alligator Management Program
Division of Hunting and Game Management
FL Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
620 S. Meridian Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1600
(850) 410-0656 ext. 17279
(850) 921-7793 FAX
Visit http://myfwc.com/alligator for all your Florida alligator management information needs.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Recoil and Flinching

Recoil is the backward momentum of a gun when it is discharged. In technical terms, the recoil caused by the gun exactly balances the forward momentum of the projectile, according to Newton's third law. In most small arms, the momentum is transferred to the ground through the body of the shooter - Wikipedia

On Sunday, I took my Knight Disc Rifle to unload into a creek bank. I’d been delaying the inevitability of disassembling and cleaning that mother for a while. Hey, it’d only had that charge crammed down its barrel since October – figured it was time.

I hefted the rifle up, put my finger on the trigger, tried to squeeze off the round, and flinched as if I’d suffered a Grand Mal seizure. If anyone had been paying attention, it would have been embarrassing, though only slightly more so than forgetting to disengage the safety.

What’s wrong with me? I’ve always prided myself on my shooting acumen – and things probably aren’t as bad I make them, but something is definitely askew. I’d noticed this yip affliction at other points over the last year.

Back in December I took friends of mine on a Stuffed Animal Safari. Armed with an AR-15 and a MAADI, we slung serious lead into toy animals, creating quite the fuzzy mess. At the end of the first 30-round gasser with the AR, I suffered a serious tremor on the 31st pull of the trigger. And this was with a .223.

Deer hunting in North Carolina, the doe was a chip shot with my .300 Win Mag – the very rifle I’ve been hunting with since I was 16 and has slain numerous beasts. I settled the crosshairs behind her shoulder and was taking the tension out of the trigger when I flinched as if reacting to someone trying to flick my ear. I caught myself before firing an errant shot, but this alerted me to a serious defect. I took a deep breath and ended up making a perfect shot.

It’s not just the flinching. The paper targets have shown my three-shot groups are spreading out. The crosshairs dance a little more than in the past. But the flinching has been the most distressing. Something serious has occurred that needs to be addressed immediately.

Why do I tell you this? So you know your hero is fallible? (Keep in mind, though, that I am man enough to admit all of this.)

No, it’s more selfish than your peace of mind. It’s the belief in Socrates’ philosophy that an unexamined life is not worth living.

The genesis of this problem rests, more than likely, with my increased employment of 3 ½ magnums. Two duck seasons ago I shifted to the 3 ½ inch magnum full-time. I started out OK; ended this last year wondering if these loads were packed with rock salt. I was flat whiffing the fowl. But duck hunting being duck hunting, there was a lot of muzzle music.

Came to realize, I was bracing for the recoil. My cheek was coming off the comb. The shotgun was resting below my shoulder as the bruises around my armpit would reveal. My form distorted completely. Ugly, ugly.

What I can’t compute is how I possibly became so tender-shouldered and recoil sensitive. I have fired Big Kickers most of my life with little concern or blow to my abilities. I bring you back to my .300. Or the .44 Mag pistols I’ve toted since before I had a driver’s license. .45-70’s and 50 caliber muzzleloaders. Nothing big like the elephant guns, but packed with enough “Whump!” that I shouldn’t be flinching to the point I look like I’d been zapped in the neck with a stun gun.

Rewind ten years. I did much more shooting with rimfires. I took them with me when I zeroed my deer rifles - partly for fun, partly to warm up for the serious guns. I shot a lot of small game back then. I hunted more, too.

In the last couple of years, time has been at a premium. Cash flow ebbed to a trickle prohibiting the purchase of additional ammo. And I've been headstrong with hubris, believing, like the wise Allen Iverson's and Charlie Sheen's of the world, that I was too good for practice.

As a result, everything about my shooting mechanics, from squeezing the trigger to breathing and preparing for the recoil has disintegrated out of sync. My previous devotion to MOA groups evaporated, too, when “good enough” substituted for the painstaking range time I once invested to accuracy.

So to sum up, I’ve shot a lot more 3 ½’s in the last two years than I have any other round. At the same time, I’ve cut out practice with easy-to-shoot cartridges. It’s like replacing a balanced diet with fast food. Bad habits and lethargy lead to sloppiness.

I plan on correcting this whole issue. One, I’m easing off the 3 ½’s come duck season. Any advantages, real or perceived, over the standard 3-inch loads aren’t worth a quack if the pattern is not finding the bird because I’ve degenerated into practically shooting from the hip. The majority of the waterfowl we kill around here anyways are decoying teal, woodies, and mottled ducks - maybe save the 3 ½ inchers for sea duck or diver hunting when shots are generally further and the birds tougher.

Two, I need to get back to shooting more and shooting healthy. I own a bevy of different rimfires dying for attention in my safe. They are fun to shoot, anyhow, and the cost per round is significantly lower than the big game calibers. They really do keep you in tune with shooting mechanics.

Being a cool, collected marksman requires as much practice and discipline as any other skill. I have been there before; I hope to get there again. But as with any major lifestyle change, the trick is in sticking with it.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Maple Syrup Venison

Last week, the Suburban Bushwhacker posted a recipe for venison carpaccio that instantly drew my attention. Carpaccio is generally served as an appetizer of thinly sliced raw veal, venison, or beef. If you read through his recipe, you’ll see there’s an awful lot of preparation for serving something raw.

I was willing to give it a whirl, but my pregnant wife is a little off her feed for wild game. Those changing hormones have created an uninvited distaste for what were some of her favorite meals. Raw deer wasn’t likely to remedy this.

So I compromised. We’ll just use his recipe but cook it. That’s the kind of supportive husband I am.

Anyway, I soaked a whole pepper-coated venison backstrap overnight in generic maple syrup. I had my doubts that the meat would absorb much of the syrup’s flavor. Next, I worried the syrup would char and burn once I placed it on the grill.

Maybe it was the Sugar-Free syrup, but the meat did not charcoal as I feared. I placed the backstrap on the gas grill over high heat, cooking four minutes a side for medium to medium-rare. I let it sit for about ten minutes before carving.

The venison was tender – no surprise there – and the syrup had in fact penetrated the meat for a unique maple flavor that took me back to the wistful days of tapping trees in Vermont’s Big Woods.

I liked it. Carolyn loved it – thankfully. Krunk thought it tasted funny. Of course, his palate has become victimized by years of grilling for hours at a time on a smoker, and I’m convinced if meat doesn’t taste like mesquite, oak, or hickory, he’s not as impressed.

He was right, though, it did need additional spice. Hard to say what I would use with the syrup. Maybe garlic? More pepper?

This is one to keep working with. Maybe cooking it slow would help out. Either way, I’d never considered using maple syrup on venison. We’ll get it perfected in the years to come.