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

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Gorgonzola Stuffed Venison Sliders

I’d assume if you can make a hamburger, you can make sliders. There’s just a slight change-up in the overall design and purpose of sliders. They’ve become rather popular in sports bars and at parties.

To wit, I was invited to a Daytona 500 get-together this last weekend. My plan called for venison burgers, but I couldn’t be certain how many people would show, and I couldn’t sacrifice 6 pounds of ground venison - it’s gotta last a few more months. So sliders were the answer - everyone gets a taste.

The trouble with venison burgers is they dry out quickly and fall apart. I have the butcher add beef fat to guard against the patties desiccating, but they still tend to crumble. Some folks prefer to add crumbled soda crackers or stale bread to their meat to combat this; I use Vigo Italian Breadcrumbs. They add more flavor, in my opinion.

1 lb. ground venison with beef fat added
½ cup Italian Bread Crumbs
3 tbs. Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce
1 tbs. Garlic Salt
1 tsp. Dark Brown Sugar
Charbroil Seasoning
Potato Rolls
Crumbled Gorgonzola Cheese
Land O’ Lakes Colby Jack slices

I work in the order listed. Start with half the bread crumbs and knead into the meat. Add the other half and repeat. Do the same with the Lea & Perrins. Then add the garlic salt and brown sugar. (Don’t overdo the brown sugar – it can really ruin the recipe.)

After it’s all well-blended, roll into 6-8 meatballs. They should be slightly bigger than a golfball. Take your thumb and push a hole into the meatball and stuff with a pinch of gorgonzola. Wrap the meat back around the cheese and flatten into a micro-patty and dust with charbroil seasoning.

However you grill them – charcoal or gas – don’t leave on too long. Overcooked venison is still overcooked venison no matter how you doctor it up. I prefer to cook hot and fast on gas – 3 minutes a side, at most.

Place the patties in small potato rolls and top with a slice of cheese. I like A-1 as a dipping sauce, but I guess you can ketchup and mustard it, if you prefer.

People like them – they didn’t last nearly as long as that race!


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

2012 Florida Spring Turkey Primer

As of this very second, the Interweb says I’m 1st in line for a Special Opportunity Spring Turkey hunt at Homosassa WMA. I covet this tag. I’m in Homosassa all the time, and it’s a pretty successful hunt from what I understand. Out of five available quota tags for this hunt, there is one left.

Unfortunately, this is Round 3 of permit pickups. The deadline to pay for this tag is April 22nd, the last day of Spring Turkey season. So, this goon in front of me can either buy this permit at the last second or not even bother with it, allowing it to go unused and unloved. This is the closest I have come to drawing this tag. It is maddening. It wouldn’t be so bad if I’d drawn a quota tag but whiffed in this lotto, too.

But, I have tentative, alternate plans. I’ve been invited to South Carolina and hope to pull that off. Our new lease has transient birds – with luck, the toms will spread out from adjoining property and roost on ours. There’s public land, of course. I’d love to visit friends in North Carolina or take a week-long hunt-by-boat adventure down the Kissimmee River and traipse the public hunting areas there. With the twins, though, either option and Carolyn would have my head on a silver plate. She’d have her Toyota adorned with those charming Family Car Stickers prevalent on the rear windows of minivans and Xterras these days. My headless stick-figure body would be laid prone and puked on by the babies, while she held my little round head with X’s where my eyes should be.

Despite the risks, I have to turkey hunt, no matter where it may be. 2011 was an odd year, and I’m hoping for a change in luck. According to many hunters I spoke with, the toms just didn’t gobble as hard as in years past. It rained a lot during the middle of the season, flooding many areas. It’s hard to tell the value of these anecdotes because plenty of hunters did indeed fill their bag. I was not in the latter group.

(Remember, if you are seeking the Osceola, they inhabit the peninsular area of the state. The Eastern subspecies is found in the panhandle.)

Florida Spring Turkey Seasons

Zone A (Youth): Feb. 25 – 26
Zone A (Regular): Mar. 3 – Apr. 8

Zones B, C, D (Youth): Mar. 10 – 11
Zones B, C, D (Regular): Mar. 17 – Apr. 22

Holmes County (Youth): Mar. 10 – 11
Holmes County (Regular): Mar. 17 – Apr. 1

Bag Limits

Spring Turkey Daily bag limit: 1
Season and possession limit: 2 for spring season

Florida WMA’s that do not require quotas
Map of Florida WMA’s
State Turkey Densities

(Information provided by myfwc.com)

Monday, February 6, 2012

To Small Wild Animals or Whatever

Provo and I were polishing off our third-to-last or fourth-to-last evening drinks on the front stoop of Uncle Joe’s Fish Camp down in Clewiston during a duck trip a couple Decembers ago. The crowd had dispersed for the evening and left us to blather away on a tailgate about whatever subjects the Beam would lead us to.

And it was quite the mess on the patio – a collection of duck hunters is a savage band of outdoorsmen who can be quite cavemanish. We’d had a fish fry, and grease and small flecks of burned breading had covered the concrete and empty beer cans strewn between our various rooms as if one would finish a beer and just drop the can wherever. No, wait, that’s exactly what happened. It’s all very classy, as you can imagine.

Well, this spotted skunk, oblivious or undeterred by our drivel and boastings, snuck out of the dark and under the patio lights, no doubt lured in by the smell of cooked fish. He was clearly a camp veteran, knowing how and when to get a free meal. He shuffled about, eating the detritus of our earlier feast like burned fish breading was part of its natural diet, something game managers may want to consider if interested in bolstering spotted skunk populations on their property. Maybe it was just the whiskey talking, but this guy was about the most adorable little creature I’d ever seen. Cute as a button with a striking coat of white blotches mottling with the black hairs, he’d last about ten minutes in a Petco before a downtrodden mother was whined into taking him home to a loving family.

Some folks call them civet cats – I don’t know why. “Spotted skunk” was as an apt description of the animal as you’d think necessary. Not sure why people want to make up different names for the same thing. It reminds me of the TV shows where American Cape Buffalo hunters on an African safari almost wet themselves with excitement using the term “Dugga Boy” within earshot of the PH just to let him know they are hip and savvy to the Dark Continent’s dialect and bush tradition. I’d like to think these PH’s get together later - much like teachers in the school’s faculty lounge - to poke fun at these Great White Hunters.

Erik: “And Bob repeated Dugga Boy so many times over the trip, I thought he had suffered a stroke. Ndugu walked off the job the third day, and I won 200 shillings off Lars betting I couldn’t get him to say it 35 times in one day.”

Hans: “Bloke.”

Anyway, the skunk – or civet or stink weasel – had fed to within a handful of feet from us. This was my first run-in with one, and I was fascinated. Provo leaned over to me and said - in the same benign tone and temper you’d normally employ to ask a fellow diner to pass the salt -“I bet I could catch him.”

On cue, the skunk stomped his front foot and his tail shot into the air, bristling like a bottle brush. He wasn’t so cute anymore.

We didn’t twitch a muscle. I don’t recall how long the standoff lasted but enough for sweat to bead on my forehead. He could have doused us, no problem, and we’d be spending the night on the patio in the grease and beer cans with the rest of the vermin.

Don’t antagonize the wildlife. It’s an important lesson grown near and dear to my heart over the last twenty years.

Last weekend I was up in Homosassa relaxing with the family. A group – school, herd, flock – of otters was patrolling the docks. The neighbor had told me the thieving weasels had destroyed a couple of his wire-mesh traps relieving him of both bait and blue crabs. I said the best thing was to leave them at it and hope they go away. Our conversation led to an experience I had a dozen years back hog hunting along a little creek in Manatee County.

I had been slipping along this creek carrying my .44 Mag Ruger Redhawk not having much luck on the swine. This splashing kept coming farther down the bank so I strolled on up to investigate. A momma otter was hunting the shores with her pups. I whistled at her to see what would happen. She barked at me once and disappeared, and I watched the pups mill around for a moment before pressing forward. As I walked back to the truck I kept hearing this weird blowing noise and was shocked to see the adult otter had snuck up behind me, just a few feet from my ankles, baring her teeth and hissing at me.

That Redhawk probably weighs as much as she did, but I still felt overmatched.

You don’t get many Disney moments with wild animals, though occasionally there’s a d├ętente and neither party is fleeing in the opposite direction. I ruined a perfectly good deer hunt one evening feeding a buck fox squirrel Jolly Ranchers. They are fairly curious anyway, but this one particularly so. I was sitting on the base of a large oak, feet kicked out and rifle ready for antler. He’d rustle through the leaves a couple yards away looking for acorns or whatnot. Well, figured I could satisfy his sweet tooth. He took the first couple of offerings I tossed to him, licking them, rolling them around in his paws before scampering up a tree to stash for later or to bait ants, I don’t know.

He returned one last time, and I unwrapped a sour apple Rancher. Fun fact, sour apple Ranchers are evidently a fox squirrel favorite. You can’t get this kind of information elsewhere, folks.

The squirrel stood on his back legs, nose sniffing, whiskers twitching and long tail rainbowing behind. I think he would have taken it from my fingers, but I thought better of it. This was a wild animal, after all, and I didn’t have much interest in receiving the distinguished title as the only hunter killed by a Fox Squirrel-to-Human pathogen. Or FSH. Get the facts.

I could go on and on. Bats and mice in camphouses and other places you want to sleep. The weird things hawks and owls do. Foxes and bobcats. There are a lot of cool encounters that happens on hunting adventures that’ll rack up in the memory banks.

But by God, never threaten a skunk. Or even joke about it.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Aging Hunter

In Jeff Bridges’ last scene in the new True Grit, he drops to his knees with the snake-bitten Maddie Ross in his arms and fires a signal shot into the night to awaken the good doctor. As he catches his breath and wheezes, trying to again fill his lungs after the many-mile marathon through the wilderness, he gasps and says, “I have grown old.”

I found myself repeating this line one evening in December having waded nipple-deep through a mucky flag pond to retrieve fallen whistling ducks. Since they inconveniently die without tall blaze orange flags to help mark them, this was quite the chore with the lilies reaching over my head. I may need a duck dog. On the overall exertions scale, I can’t claim the exhaustion Rooster did. Feet burning and lungs cramped, I rested against a willow tree in the twilight, stripping myself of the waders and swallowing as much oxygen as possible, though it didn't seem I was getting any. I could croak here. Beautiful land. Sunset. They’d probably name the pond after me. I realized I had hit a turning point – I have grown old.

This wasn’t my only moment of weakness this season. I’d slightly shifted in the seat of the Summit Viper to relieve the cramping in my ever-aching back. The pine was just on the border of being safe enough to scale, but in the dark, on an unfamiliar piece of property, it’d have to do. I couldn’t go too high anyhow or the sweeping oak branches would obscure my view of the hammock. That little movement was just enough to cause the stand to lose its grip on the spindly shortleaf, and suddenly my butt was jammed on my boot heels. Thankfully my denim camo pants protected my rectal integrity – any lesser fabric and we’d had a very real threat of surgical extraction.

Luckily, I survived, though my knees were so bent back and tendon-tight, a pair of broken legs would have been a sweet kiss from a beautiful woman, in comparison. And thank goodness the foot platform held or I’d ratcheted 15 feet down the tree like an amateur, ugly stripper. Nothing shy of a bat flying in your face would start a day in such a pulse-pounding manner. I’ve had treestand mishaps before – mostly by doing something stupid, like whacking at far-out branches with machetes or climbing up ladders that were 1 part wood, 2 parts termite - but this time it got my attention.

And for some reason this last year, I was unable to strap on a pair of waders and ride in a duck boat without a looming, back-brained fear of an errant wake or stump or driver error splashing me into the gloom and sinking like a stone. It’s doubtful I’d been able to board an airboat without peeing my pants. I’ve been tossed from boats before but was able to roll up my Big Boy Britches and press forward. Why it alarmed me so this year is tough to pinpoint.

There are many other more perilous aspects of my hunting trips – namely tobacco products, moonshine, or mentioning the “H-Word” to my wife anytime after mid-January – that impact my health but don’t even register on the danger scale. Though they probably should. A lot of this anxiety can be traced back to September.

As you may or may not recall, I had twins in mid-September. I’ve read people develop a heightened sense of mortality after children, but I didn’t totally buy into that. Consider me sold, now. Mainly, I don’t want Carolyn to raise our children with another guy because I was too big of a boob to buy a safety harness and a rescue party eventually finds me like a dead fly on a window sill under a pine. And then my children would probably never discover the joys of hunting because there’s no way she’d ever marry another hunter. Best legacy I could hope for them would be a butterfly netting trip at the local park.

Pushing aside all responsible aspects of raising children, being a provider, and the need to be ever stalwart with your health and finances, the wear and tear on your body, emotions, and psyche is very real, especially with twins. On my best days I feel like I tumbled down a flight of stairs. Years of self-inflicted abuse have left me rickety and whiny. Add an abject lack of sleep and pronounced increase in stress only exacerbates this.

But I can’t blame the babies. They got here by the same choice process that leads me up trees without safety equipment. Namely, the “Ah, Why-the-Hell-Not Method of Important Decision-Making.” I could found a lecture tour on this. I'm consistently reminded I should take better care of myself and think of the children. So, this could be the year I hang up my guns and bows and call it a day...


Some normal-person physical exertion is probably in order. I hate – as in, hate, hate, hate – pointless walking, but Lakeland has plenty of pedestrian-friendly, beautiful lakes where I could educate the kids about various waterfowl while getting exercise at the same time, at the very least. It’d make Carolyn happy and various friends who I’ve chided over the years for partaking these family-friendly jaunts. I’m looking forward to Spring and Summer and swimming, putting floaties on the kids and introducing them to the water. Swimming is a fine workout – so long as you’re wearing a bathing suit and not waders. There are always means of bettering your health, and after the last 16 years of pretty severe abuse and neglect, it’s probably about time to patch holes in the hull. Whether this is actually accomplished is the tough thing. Kids don’t leave a guy much free time.

I can tell you one thing. I’m not slowing down on the hunting when that free time is available. I’ll take the precautions. Buy a harness for the stands. May wear one of those blocky orange life jackets in duck boats and take the ridicule if it eases my mind. Life is too short and the outdoors too great to let fears stand in the way. And I have these kids that need to learn about the natural world.

In a few years, I hope they will adopt my love for hunting. I hope they will seek out their own adventures. And I hope they will learn from my mistakes.

Mostly, I hope they retrieve all my downed ducks – well, they won’t really have much choice. For better or worse, I’m the parent.

And I'm far too old.