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

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Easy Fried Venison Chops

I remember learning to fry venison in college. No, it wasn’t a class. Wish it was – I would have actually attended. I always had plenty of deer meat but little in the way of cooking experience, especially frying. As with other aspects of collegiate life I was inadequately prepared for, I blame my parents. My mother rarely fried foods, I guess, caring for our hearts more than our appetites. The backstraps and tenderloins were left whole to grill, and the rest was generally converted to ground venison for tacos, spaghetti, and the like. So, frying venison chops in the apartment was an exciting proposal.

And the fire alarms were exciting as I invariably filled the room to the brim with smoke. See, somehow, I had it in my mind that the proper way of frying anything was to heat the oil on the stove at the highest setting. Made the oil hotter faster, why not? The chops were always over-cooked coated in singed breadcrumbs. Delicious when covered with enough BBQ sauce and after several adult libations.

Luckily, these meals never ended in fire trucks and smoke inhalation trips to Shands. Turns out I became a whole lot smarter after I left college than when I was enrolled there, and I slowed my act down. It seems one can fry foods without a rolling plume of smoke emanating from the stovetop.

I bring this up, not only to satisfy my insatiable need to ramble and relay inane stories, but also to pass this knowledge around to others who may be in similar straits. The Internet was very much in its infancy then. I searched and surfed for recipes and help but found little. Recipes I did find took it for granted that any Joe Shmoe knew what they were doing in the kitchen.

The key elements to fried venison are a cast iron pan, canola oil, and medium-high heat. With this combination, you can fry just about any cut of venison. But for today’s purpose, I want to stick with fried venison backstrap chops.

In the field, leave the backstraps and tenderloins attached to the backbone and have your butcher cut bone-in chops about an inch thick. You can, of course, make boneless chops on your own; I like the little handle of bone to eat without a fork and knife like a savage.

In the kitchen, pour oil in the skillet until it’s about an inch deep. The oil will shimmer when it is ready. If you have any doubts, take a few fingertips of breading and flick it in the pan. It should immediately bubble and cook on the surface, and as they say, you’re now cooking with grease. If you're the anal type, though, use a thermometer to gauge when you hit the optimal temperature of 360-370 degrees.

Defrost your chops – talk about a mess if you don’t – and soak in icy cold water for 30 minutes or so to remove blood and gamey tastes, if you’re concerned about such things. Trim any fat or sinew away from the meat. Pat dry and press into Vigo Italian Breadcrumbs.

Place the breaded chops in the hot oil until browned on both sides for medium-rare to medium and remove to a paper towel-lined plate. It shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes. Nothing wrong with A-1 or a Mustard-Style BBQ sauce for dipping.

It’s not all that hard and is delicious. I’m a constant advocate for trying new things when cooking venison. If you’ve not tried frying a batch, you are missing out.

And remember, always put out grease fires with salt or an extinguisher. Never use water. Or adult libations.

Trust me.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Field and Kitchen Care for Wild Hogs

A lot of wild hogs are going to die in Florida this fall and winter. The signs are everywhere for a fine season. I’m seeing rooting everywhere – even along public roads and highways. It’s a weak acorn crop in many parts of the state, and the hogs compensate for this cash crop deficiency by increasing this destructive, hatred-breeding feeding style. Hunters are reporting plenty of swine activity. I’ve not set foot on hunting land in Florida the last three months and not seen a hog - total opposite from last year where you’d slide across acorns like marbles on a tile floor. The hogs fed at their leisure, limiting their daylight movement.

As we move out of the deer rut in most parts of the state, hogs will become the primary target of opportunity. Let ‘em have it!

Well, let’s pretend you snuffed out a hog. What to do now is critical to fine eating pork, a memorable mount, and even your health.

Things to consider as you slice your swine.

1. Taxidermy Tips – Starting on a high note, let’s say you have bagged that monster boar for the den, garage, camp, or wherever this animal head will fit with your spouse’s d├ęcor. Avoid dragging the hog with his head hitting the ground. This could burn off his hair and even potentially wreck those chompers on a pine stump or some other debris. Most large boars will have a thick shield over his shoulders. It behooves the hunter to cut well behind this and peel everything down from there. The taxidermist can then deal with the extra hide. Ice it down immediately and keep it on ice, making sure it’s not sitting in a puddle of melted water. Freeze or take to the taxidermist ASAP. A buddy of mine shot his first boar a few years back in pretty warm weather. The taxidermist’s best guess was the hog was either sick or improper care led to a mount that stunk so bad, the boy had to keep it in a shed outside after getting it home. We tried knocking it out with Febreeze, Lysol, and even scent-killing foot pads. The flies enjoyed it. By the way, you’re likely to pay more for a boar mount than a deer; it’s just that much more work for the taxidermist.

2. Hose that Bad Boy Down – If you have a water hose available, wash the animal thoroughly. Get off all of that caked mud, dust, dead ticks, or whatever. One, this helps prevent against contaminating the meat once you commence to dress it. And two, hog hide will dull a knife quickly; the extra dirt and grime will accelerate this process. Put that piggy through the wash.

3. Wear Gloves – I’ve never heard of a hunter getting sick from cleaning a hog. I’d have to believe contracting a disease from a tick from their hide or even from a mosquito hanging under the lights of the cleaning shack would be more likely. However, wild hogs are known carriers of human-transmittable diseases such as swine brucellosis. Simple, cheap latex gloves from the grocery or drug stores are invaluable in your day pack.

Here are the recommendations on hog handling from the FWC:

Wild hogs, though not originally native to Florida, are now found within all 67 counties, and like any wild animal, can carry parasites and diseases - some of which can be transmitted to people. One such disease for hunters to be concerned with is swine brucellosis.

The FWC is advising hunters handling wild hog carcasses to take the following precautions to protect themselves from exposure to this bacterial disease:

- Avoid eating, drinking or using tobacco when field-dressing or handling carcasses.

- Use latex or rubber gloves when handling the carcass or raw meat.

- Avoid direct contact with blood, reproductive organs and fecal matter. Wearing long sleeves, eye protection and covering any scratches, open wounds or lesions will help provide protection.

-Clean and disinfect knives, cleaning area, clothing and any other exposed surfaces when finished.

- Wash hands frequently with soap and water.

When cooking wild hog, as with any wild game, care in handling is an important part of disease prevention, and the meat should be cooked thoroughly to 170 degrees. Swine brucellosis is not transmitted through properly cooked meat.

Brucellosis in people is called undulant fever and could be transmitted if a hunter cuts him/herself while field-dressing a wild hog or was exposed to the animal's blood or bodily fluids. Symptoms include a recurrent fever, chills, night sweats, weakness, headaches, back pain, swollen joints, loss of appetite and weight loss.

Hunters who exhibit these symptoms or may have been exposed should contact a physician.

4. Meat Care – Ice down well after cleaning the hog. Now, here’s where people separate. Some folks prefer to brine wild hogs – boars, especially – to remove a lot of the gamey taste out and tenderize the meat. It’s a long process of salt, water, large coolers, and time. Some hogs are just going to be poor without brining. But I am ignorant of this procedure. I don’t have the time, space, or the need to keep large hams frozen for any length of time.

5. In the Kitchen - Generally speaking, I’ll put the whole hog in a coffin cooler and take it to a processor. The hams I’ll have cut into cube steaks or roasts. The shoulders are rolled into roasts. I prefer the roasts because I can put it right in a crockpot and slow-cook it. I’ve not had this fail me yet. The backstraps can be kept whole and marinated and is quite delicious when cooked over low-heat. Or, sliced into boneless chops and grilled quickly. Or, I’ll have bone-in pork chops cut. The chops and cubed steaks I like to fry and simmer in gravy to tenderize. Ribs are good if meaty enough; if not, it gets ground into breakfast sausage or links. A lot of people do this with boars in lieu of brining. Fat should be trimmed – it’s not nearly as delicious as on domestic swine. For grilling, wild hog begs for marinades; Stubbs Pork Marinade my favorite, followed by Italian dressing. (Feel free to go through my recipe archive for ideas.)

There ya have it. From loving life to your fork and knife. My Porky-Senses are tingling – it’s gonna be a banner year for the wild hog hunter. Best of luck on the hunt and keep these things in mind to keep enjoying your kill after the hunt is completed.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Treestand Time Waster Apps

2007. The year started with Bulgaria and Romania officially joining the European Union and signed off with the conclusion of the Massive Big Dig construction project in Boston. Between those two marks, not much else exciting happened either - except for one event that changed the world of treestand hunting forever.

On January 9th, Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone, ushering in the Age of the Smart Phone. No longer did hunters have to concern themselves with just poor cellular reception. We were then confronted with the possibility of weak Internet signals, fragile phones that aren’t exactly built for outdoor use, and batteries that die within a couple hours of going off the charger. It became a brave new world.

See, despite consuming copious and irresponsible quantities of Kentucky Water since that time, I do recall what Treestand Living was like before we could wield this powerful new technology. All we had for entertainment during the Dark Ages was to sit in our perches and appreciate and revel in the beauty and glory of Nature. Thank God that’s over.

Case in point. This last weekend I bowhunted Lake Panasofkee WMA on a Special Opportunity Hunt. I saw a spike, a doe, and a young boar hog, but these encounters were fleeting, leaving plenty of down time. The wind was blowing 30, the rut was all but over, the bucks weren’t moving. But I was still able to accomplish a lot including harvesting crops in my virtual rural community, photograph my surroundings, keep tabs on my wife and kids – or vice versa – and stare at my pitiful bank account in a vainglory attempt to figure how I’ll pay for Christmas gifts and an upcoming duck trip to Okeechobee. Even killed a few rampaging dinosaurs in the interim.

No, these phones are great tools, and I’m very pleased with my iPhone. It’s so much more than could have been imagined before 2007. I’m not sure how they don’t cost thousands of dollars. Luckily, you can make up this difference by purchasing apps – which I hope is a term everyone is familiar with by now.

Many hunter-helpful apps come installed on the factory phone. Weather apps give you up-to-date radar and forecasts. The maps app on my iPhone provides a Google-powered aerial photo of where you are or want to be; a fantastic scouting tool. I’ve taken my first videos of deer with the phone and uploaded them to YouTube, all while swatting mosquitoes and listening to armadillos rustle in the palmettos.

Then there’s the social media. I’m now able to tweet every excruciating minute detail of a hunt, from swatting mosquitoes to the activities of said armadillo. With Facebook, I can update my status and wait for responses from family, friends, and acquaintances. (Example response – “You’re disgusting! Hunting again while your wife is home with infant twins?”) And, of course, stay updated on football scores and baseball trade rumors.

But there are other special apps you can download through the App Store. Some are free; others come at a nominal fee. These are the ones I want to cover today; ones that help slay the slack in stand-time while waiting for Bruiser Buck to bumble by. Not that this has happened yet. Perhaps I’ve been too busy fooling around to notice him.

So without further delay, here are a few of my favorites.

1. GroupMe – If all you do these days is text your hunting buddies, you are mired in the mid-2000’s. GroupMe is an app that allows groups of friends to text and banter in an open forum. It’s neat to compare notes on what’s being seen when a few people are on the same trip, or get reports from those in other places. And it’s positively devastating to get these messages when they are hunting and you are not. You can text pictures of your latest kill, or kill time with mindless banter, insults, and jokes.

2. Oregon Settler – This game is based on the old Oregon Trail game we played on PC’s in grade school. In this version, your pilgrim is dropped in the middle of God’s Country with the objective to raise a town, improving its economy, and care for the livelihood of its citizens. Wild animals gallop through town that you can blast for more food. It’s realistic in that it takes me typically 3-4 shots to kill a deer; unrealistic that after every shot, a food icon falls off, like you are blowing hams off the animal to collect. Really, it’s the ultimate game of socialism. Your character runs around harvesting crops, raking in monies, and solving each level’s new challenges. All the while, a herd of shiftless citizens plague you to solve their medical and social ills without even an offer to help around town. (HINT – move all your sick people to the far end of town and let them croak. It won’t affect anything other than your conscience.)

3. Carnivores: Dinosaur Hunter – Pretty self-explanatory. You are dropped off on a distant planet with a handgun to hunt herbivorous dinos. After accruing enough points, the game allows you to upgrade your arsenal with rifles, shotguns and, inexplicably, a crossbow. After honing your skills on plant-eaters, you can trek down the carnivores. You'll probably be eaten a few times before getting the hang of it. The ultimate goal is a trophy stegosaurus – no, wait, it’s the tyrannosaur. He can only be killed with a careful shot to the eye. If you miss, he tramples everything underfoot to catch and toss you around like an orca pitches a baby seal around its pod. There are dinosaur calls, you have to play the wind; it’s a solid hunting game. Your biggest kills are displayed in a virtual trophy room that can be shared with your family, friends, and acquaintances on Facebook – weirdo.

Last I read – or have totally made up – there are hundreds of millions of apps for your pleasure. The hunting world is well-represented. As I’ve said, they are great ways to kill time in the stand. These above are all free, but many others will be happy to take your money.

If you have any you’d like to share, please do. I have three more deer hunts this year, and my town doesn’t have much more room on which to build.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Reconciling The Wild Life

I hate not hunting. Truly despise the thought. Work or weddings, enmity seeps from otherwise bloodless and paralyzed veins when collared to another facet of the Real World. Every hunt I make is an event I’ve looked forward to my whole life. And each time the sun sets, a creeping feeling whispers that this may be the last time I get to hunt. Silly, but certainly palpable. There are no pills for this fear. I suppose this is one of the reasons I write - to maintain a written history of the fun and remember the Good Old Days.

This is the second anniversary of The Wild Life, in its current form. Also, the 250th post. And, oh, there’s been no lack of hunting. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve gone back and visited with the past. What a strange chapter to a long-ish, fairly productive hunting career.

When I got this site cranked up, I was fading out of the trophy deer hunting. The previous five years, I dedicated myself to leases and the pursuit of nice bucks. I was successful meeting my expectations some years and exceeding them in a couple others. But with the money I wrapped into this, I realized I was missing out on a lot of the rest.

If you’re a far gone antler crank, good for you. But living in Florida, whitetail expectations are little tempered compared to the Holy Land of the Midwest. I wanted to snoop around more, spread myself thinner in the hunting world. And in this, too, I’ve been mostly successful.

Over the course of this blog, I’ve really come to enjoy gator and duck hunting. Not just the actual hunts but learning about these pursuits. The gear has been fun to collect. After a dozen years of deer and turkey, one kinda maxes out on what he or she wants to buy. I think, also, the factors that make these hunts so much fun is what is lacking in today’s deer and turkey hunting world.

One is opportunity. Deer have gotten expensive. When I started out on my Antler Quest, a Georgia lease was a reasonable number – as was gasoline. Quality deer management took hold, and all of a sudden, bragging about big bucks became taboo because no leaseholder wanted to lose their spot to someone with big bucks of the green variety if word leaked out about local monsters. Leases in Florida are even worse since the demand for land is so high. Osceola’s are part of this equation, too.

Duck hunting, in particular, is on the rise in these parts because of the lack of deer opportunity. Public lakes are accessible, as are most coastal waters, and there’s plenty of game at which to shoot. They may not all be Duck Commander-style hunts, but if you can’t find a place to splash waterfowl in Florida, you simply aren’t trying that hard.

The other thing that I enjoy about ducks is the camaraderie. Now, I love a treestand. It gets me right in ways years of therapy would be unable to accomplish. I feel recharged after a cool evening in the stand. And I love venison a whole lot more than duck breast. But I have quota tags for a duck hunt and a deer hunt for the same weekend in January. When I study my chances of catching up to a six-point or better on public land with a bow, or BS-ing with buddies in a duck blind, blasting away at teal – well, it may take more than a flip of a coin to get me to ride that climber up a pine. Heck, I even flew to Montana, Land of Mulies and Pronghorn, to shoot ducks last fall. Would do it again in a heartbeat.

So, yes, I’ve chronicled a change in my Fall Routine, and it’s been fun. Luckily, gator hunting doesn’t interfere with deer. It sure is exciting, and I wouldn’t have bothered paying for those tags if I’d had feeders to fill and food plots to plant in another state. Two years ago, I took a December weekend off of deer to hunt bobwhite at a Georgia plantation. I’ve done more predator hunting since this blog’s inception than ever before. Done more small game hunting, in general. Yikes, I’ve even gotten married and had twins since two Decembers ago.

The other thing that has changed in this transition has been my utilization of public land. Besides a missed opportunity on a gobbler a couple springs ago, I’ve not really tapped into much luck on these properties. But, I will say, I’ve learned a lot. Mostly, how gorgeous and well-kept most places I’ve been are. I’m impressed. The game is there, and it’s not necessarily the land’s fault I’m not tagging out – I’m not really left with as much time to scout as in the past. That’s a critical component to success. A public land buck and gobbler is high on my list of priorities at the moment. I need to work harder at it, which I should probably do soon.

For despite the embarrassment of riches I’ve lightly detailed above, I want more! I’m toying with the notion of another Georgia lease. It’s not exactly the most financially sound decision in the world, but I feel the itch to chase that Antler High once more. The way I figure, friends have to stop getting married in October and November eventually. I’m not that popular. That should open up a few weekends a year. Ducks can be done on the weekdays if all is planned correctly and after the rut in November. I’m not sure how this will fit with potential invites to other states next season, but I’m sure it can work. I feel like a running back carrying multiple defenders on his back just trying to cross a goal line that never gets closer.

That’s my bag of issues, though. Want to thank everyone who has taken the time to read, comment, or otherwise visit my site. I try to keep it entertaining for those who want to burn some time; informative for those looking for answers. I’m a Jack-of-all-Trades and legitimate Expert-on-Nothing.

Looking ahead, it should be a productive next couple of years. Duck season has only just begun. Hog hunts a-plenty coming. I just signed on to a new lease in Central Florida with a few deer, hogs, and it's going to have an awesome dove field. There's also a terrific number of predators. You can guess what I’ll be doing come February after the other seasons fizzle. Then gobblers, hogs, gators, early deer, early duck, blackpowder..it keeps coming...hopefully.

(If you have any suggestions to improve the site, please share. Content, design, whatever. Also, feel free to read back through the archives. Enjoy and Thank You!)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Oyster Ideas

I don’t want to waste people’s time posting recipes for some creature I didn’t wrangle down myself. Like, I cook a pretty evil chicken cordon bleu...but, it’s not anyhow, anyway, anytime appropriate in a hunting forum. Even if I pursued feral chickens. It’s just not proper camp food. If someone cooked and served chicken cordon bleu in one of my camps, I’d be sleeping in the bunk farthest from. This person would be clearly touched in the noggin with no realization of where he or she is.

Oysters are different. True, I am not an oyster hunter, or farmer, or collector thereof, but I don’t think anyone would rationally fault me for procuring them from the market. And they are excellent camp fare. Some of my best days on God’s Green Earth have come at the expense of a hot campfire, cold beer, and a bushel of fresh oysters.

Which is weird. I loathe most vegetables. I’m allergic to onions, repulsed by tomatoes, and generally dislike most greens. But slimy oysters? Sign me up!

In North Carolina a few weeks back, I indulged in the saltiest bivalves I can recall in some time. They were harvested from the waters north of Wilmington and Wrightsville and tasted like they drank the Gulf Stream dry. This, naturally, got the hankering flowing for more when I returned home. Krunk bought a half-bushel from Publix a couple weekends ago. The lady said they had just come in; otherwise he would not have bothered. Once they get too freshwatery from multiple icings, they lose much of their charisma. I never order them in restaurants for this reason. Bleck. These were good, though – not North Carolina good, but a passable addition to a day of football. Bought more in Homosassa this last weekend that certainly hit the spot. I don’t know if it really matters that you should only eat oysters during months with an “r” in them, but cool weather is definitely more comforting when designing an oyster feast.

I prefer oysters raw out of the shell. But after so many, it’s never a bad thing to dress them up a little. The usual procession routes its way past the straight-from-the-shell routine and on to a few slapped on a saltine and topped with Louisiana hot sauce or horseradish. Then you get the ones that are difficult to shuck – the Tough Mothershuckers. I flip on the ol' gas grill. A couple minutes on there loosens their hinges and steams them in the shell. But if we’re gonna heat them up, let’s just take it a step further.

Now, this isn’t completely original, but I forget where I learned this, so there are no pangs of guilt for plagiarism. However you do it, whether you steam them open or shuck them raw, arrange a couple dozen on the half-shell. Turn your grill to medium-high heat. In a coffee mug, melt in the microwave one stick of salted butter with two tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce and a few dashes of garlic salt and fresh ground pepper. Place the oysters on the grill and drizzle the butter combo over them, then top with shredded parmesan cheese – get the good stuff, not the generic brand. Cover and cook until the cheese and butter bubble. Some people refer to these as charbroiled. Or a hybrid of this method – when one converses with passionate oyster aficionados, however, you never can be too sure that what you’re doing is kosher. I just think they are delicious.

A bushel of oysters goes a long way. There are a lot of different ways to eat them. Nothing seems to get a group of hungry hunters – at least ones I know - excited more than when someone arrives with a cooler full. Give this recipe a try for a quick change-up.

Unless you are a Chicken Lover.