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Archive for the ‘Big Game’ Category

The Untold Stories – Black Bear [Pt 1]

08.14.14

Gutting a Black Bear w/ Pocket KnivesWhen we started to take a look at the 2014 production schedule of From The Wild, it was clear that there were going to be some epic memories captured on camera. One of those was the haul-out of the black bear in crotch-deep water, then walking a mile or two in sloshing boots and soaked jeans with a bear carcass soaking the guys in blood. What I didn’t expect as an outcome of the project is the crazy, hard to believe true stories that simply wouldn’t or couldn’t make the episode edit for a variety of reasons – in the case of the bear haul-out, it was far crazier than shown in the edit, but I had to tame down the gore if we were going to have any chance at a broadcaster touching it. So that’s one memory left out of the edit – the intense gore associated with the project. We’re constantly debating the merits of sanitization of food content.

Another is the simple lack of time to spell everything out – an example being the bear skull below that did appear in the final shot. It’s the actual skull from the sow harvested in the episode. We’d taken a few days between the hunt and the post interviews, and in that time Trevor had boiled, peroxided, and painstakingly cleaned the skull – including gluing in any teeth that had fallen out during the process. No small task. I’m still impressed. Didn’t have time to mention the context of the skull in the show though.

Also didn’t have time to mention what’s happening in the photo top left. I laughed. We were prepared, and well equipped, with all field dressing gear in my vehicle. Except that evening we’d hopped into Jeff’s vehicle as it was far more capable in the mud holes we were going to need to get through in the area we wanted to check out. When it came time to gut the bear: no field dressing knives. Trevor happened to have a couple crappy pocket knives he’d been handed by a relative earlier in the week – still in his pocket. So the boys got to it with horribly qualified tools. These are two pro butchers who, side by side, kill and gut a dozen or two animals every week at work, struggling to gain every inch through the hide. Then Jeff says ‘no problem, I’ve had to gut an animal with my Durango key before’. Dodge Durango. Couldn’t believe it. #superhero

Worst of all though, is having to omit ‘that which might be misunderstood‘. This episode has an intense story attached to it that one day may make ‘Part 2′. Maybe.

My takeaway: for all the epic adventure we can capture and show on camera, there will always be so much more to the story. It’s a piece of the legacy of the series that’s becoming dear to me - an unexpected treasure.

Black Bear Skull

FROM THE WILD – S1E3 – BEAR

05.22.14

Black Bear - Spring Bear Hunt

Don’t think I wasn’t apprehensive about tackling this one. When the prospect of bear hunting for From The Wild first came up, I scoffed. I’m now firmly on the opposite side of that fence. Rationale: Spring bear is not in fact fatty at all, which many claim is what makes it ‘gross’. Bear meat is far from ‘gross’, and in fact is more delicately flavoured than moose or elk. The bear in the photo and the others we saw are feeding heavily on the first grasses of the season. Bears are omnivores, like pigs, and I’m fine ethically with eating a pig. My backyard hens are omnivores too for that matter. Bears are a managed species in Alberta and hunters aren’t chomping at the bit because 1] they’re gross to eat (false) and 2] it’s illegal to abandon the hide so it’s a commitment to get it processed afterwards. Sadly, it would have been fully legal for us to harvest this bear, skin it, and walk with the hide leaving the carcass for the scavengers. Instead, we’re putting it to marvellously good use. I’m now on a mission to wake others up to the fact that black bear indeed should have a place in our culinary repertoire, especially if we’re going to claim that we know the foods of the place that we live. Expect more posts about bear, and I welcome any challenges about the ethics around its culinary use. For those of you who are going to see me at Host Edmonton – bear is on the menu. Full episode is still in edit.

FULL EPISODES AVAILABLE HERE

Whitetail Hunt #2

12.04.13

Deer Hunt 2

So apparently fate would have it that last year’s season of harvesting zero big game was to be juxtaposed with 2013′s crazy successful season. First morning out deer hunting, I filled my general whitetail tag. Bought supplemental doe tags because I didn’t think I’d actually shoot my elk. Being as it may that hunting is the new golf for business meetings, and butcher and friend Jeff Senger and I were overdue meeting re: a business we’re about to roll out – the obvious choice of venue for such a meeting was clearly a deer hunt. By late morning, we were loading up a whitetail. I’m used to shooting a calf moose every year, and that’s the end of the season. So this 3 animals in 4 days thing is both new, exciting, and a whole lot of fun, especially given the company I was keeping.

As an aside, Jeff is a gutting ninja. He slaughters animals for a living, so by the time I went to the truck to get my knives 50 yards away and back, he had the animal tagged, gutted, and dealt with. Gutting ninja.

I’ve been asked a few times already what I’m going to do with all the meat. The reality is that when you hunt with friends, the meat gets shared amongst families. So I don’t have a singular whole big game animal in my freezer, all of them having been shared. I still have lots though, much of it being made into delicious smoked sausages, and lots of elk and deer will be on the menu at my home until next hunting season. Big game season is now over. Time to start looking at seed catalogs.

Why I Need an Annual ‘Charcuterie Day’

11.25.13

Charcuterie Day - Sausage and Bacon It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that an annual ‘Charcuterie Day‘ marathon immediately following the annual ‘Pig Day‘ is in my future for a long, long time. Here’s why.

Bacon.

Beyond bacon [reason alone], I’m not concerned with the possibility of trichinosis in my extremely high quality bush-raised-and-handled-by-me pork and skipping right past freezing and into to curing and dry curing. Purists prefer this approach to frozen meats. I’m happy to have it an outcome of pragmatism. Having spent a few hours breaking down the pig, I have fresh in the brain a host of ideas for the delicious possibilities in front of me, and can save myself the following steps: bagging, butcher paper wrapping, hauling to freezer, energy required for freezing, taking it out to defrost, throwing out of packaging, handling of post-freeze sloppy wet meat [fresh is nicer to work with]. I also avoid the possibility of neglecting a cut deep in my freezer, and the worry of having to inventory it to figure out whether that is the case or not.

So I spent a relaxed 8 hour day putting it all up. Both entire sides of the pig went into various forms of bacon – some plain, some spiced with chili, white pepper [deep gratitude to John at Oyama Sausage for the hook-up], and fennel before getting hot smoked. No more ‘when are you going to make bacon again?’ from the family for this guy. It’s done. I also put up the 2 pig faces into guanciale, and a kilo or so of back fat into lardo. In this year’s case, I’d just shot a deer a week prior, so taking fresh deer trim and making 15lbs or so of best-I’ve-ever-made sausage with fresh pig belly seemed sensible. Salted a whole back leg for its long fate of air drying.

I acknowledge that it’s super handy to have cold storage that is my cellar setup to handle the volume of meats so that they’re not consuming my entire fridge. If that was required though, it’d be worth the bother. A big change for me is that I to finally caved on my ‘no energy input‘ purism about my wine/cider/charcuterie cellar and actually put a heater and humidifier in there to create the conditions necessary for dry curing. I’m going to say though [read: justify to myself] that the energy my humidifier and heater consume are a saw-off for the freezer energy, time, and packaging I won’t use for the dry cured items. So while I used to have a 2-3 month natural window [Jun-Aug] of optimal temp and humidity in my 6x6x8′ dry curing chamber, I’ll now have it rolling year round.  Gearing it up is a bit challenging as substantially all of what others have done and shared online relates to the constraints of a repurposed fridge. Still trying to figure out the best way to tweak out my space. A happy problem.

A reason NOT to do a ‘Charcuterie Day’ immediately post ‘Pig day’? It’s a busy time of year typically, and there are many another food thing to tend to. I’m over that one. Or perhaps you don’t have your own ‘Pig Day‘ to follow up. That, my friends, unless you have a religious/cultural justification, needs to be rectified.

Charcuterie Day - Venison Sausage

Elk Hunt 2013

11.19.13

Elk Hunt - Hunting

Elk are damn smart. Someone visiting Jasper National Park might not think so as they drive by an elk casually grazing within the throw of a paperweight, but in any other setting they demonstrate why they out-survived the sabre toothed cat and the wooly mammoth. I’m serious, look it up. They’re nocturnal feeders [park elk excluded], so you’re essentially trying to get between them and their feed just before dark, or coming back from it at first dawn. It’s how the hunt goes – one I’ve been doing since 2006. When my calf moose draw was declined for the first time since that same year and I was left holding an antlerless elk tag, I was highly motivated to buy deer tags. Such was my optimism for success.

As it turned out this year was going to be different. The guys had been out before me [I'm spoiled, I know] and had two fields with serious amounts of elk track to hunt. First night out there was a missed chance at a large herd. Next morning I saw a bull that I’d have had no chance at even if I had a tag. This was already success as my prior experience was hunting elk morning and evening for days without seeing a thing. Day 2′s evening, we spread out across the field where we’d had the chance the first evening. I heard animals in the bush right away, but without cows chirping or bulls bugling there was no way to know for sure whether it’s deer, a coyote [one did turn up], a moose, etc. An hour or more in, as legal shooting time approached and after a visit from a coyote, my heart freaked out as I saw a string of elk walking out of the bush into the field to feed about 150-200 yards away. A lot went through the brain in those few seconds that get printed indelibly before pulling the trigger – including a pile of adrenaline that doesn’t help the cause. It IS antlerless, right? Not interested in making THAT mistake. It IS a safe shooting direction considering the location of my hunting partners, yeah? It’s broadside. There are other animals coming, should I scope others? They’re calm now…do I have time, or if I hesitate will they turn and bolt? I then had this moment of realization that I’d been hunting days of years for this one singular moment to happen – my crosshairs on an elk I was tagged up for. Committed. Pulled the trigger. The elk went down in its tracks. I got really, REALLY cold as the adreneline jolt went away. One of the most memorable hunts of my life just ended as well as I could have hoped.

Elk Hunt Kill

I suspect my gratitude for the successes I’ve had big game hunting this year is in part to last year’s doing without having been on the floor sick rather than on my hunt. I went a year without big game for the first time in a decade. Not a drama as there many other delicious things to eat, but it made me consider how much it’d become part of my culinary culture. My grandfather’s recent passing reminded me all season of the legacy of culture he left behind. My dad shared a story this time out about my grandfather first taking him deer hunting when my dad was 21. He’d shot a whitetail and didn’t even know what to do with it when it was down. My dad’s one of the most seasoned, accomplished, and cool-headed hunters I know. My newbie-ism is slowly dissolving, and I’m now bringing my kids out. Just in my immediate family game will have impacted the culture and flavours in our  Canadian kitchens for 100-200 years. When I was a kid that sounded like a really long time. It doesn’t anymore.

Deer Hunt 2013

11.10.13

Whitetail Doe

I’m pretty sure I was a teen the last time I shot a deer. Long ago enough I don’t remember how old I was, but I remember why. And it’s not because I don’t like deer.

My thoughts on deer as a game meat or red meat in general were changed a few years back when I had a chance to take antelope [deemed best], calf moose [close behind], and mule deer doe [deemed barrel bottom, at the time] side to side, prepared the same way, aside friends-now-food-heavies Allan Suddaby and Kristeva Dowling. Kristeva had brought the doe. To my pre-existing bias’s shock, the three were all lovely. Different yes, but shockingly not as much as I thought would be the case. Certainly not in a fashion that would justify someone disparaging one over the other by the margin I had been. That moment I decided to be more open minded, revisit my bias, and start afresh.

My prior bias was influenced by a lot of things, in my defence. Not the least of which was my first and only prior experience hunting deer being traumatic. My first big game hunt where I had rifle in hand. By that I mean high powered – pretty sure I’d never even shot one. I’d grown up shooting grouse with rifles as a kid, but certainly the kind that had enough power to kick the scope back into your face to cut you open above the nose and bleed down your face was new to me. So there’s that. That, and it wasn’t a great [or confident] shot, and I shot her badly, in the hind quarters. It was an unpleasant death for her, and a very unpleasant experience for me as an influential neophyte big game hunter. It did not end well. I decided that sucked. I’m good. Add to that some complexity around my parents’ concurrent divorce somewhat revolving around hunting, and this late teen got his mind in a corner. Wasn’t the deer, let’s just say.

Fast forward a couple decades. I’ve been spending the last one hunting moose and elk, having gotten over both my resistance to big game hunting AND my preconceptions about deer as a culinary happy-place. Decided to hunt big game during my food supply renaissance back almost 10 years ago. I fondly remember Hank Shaw weighing in on my experiences back in the day pre-his career in the wild food space. Good friend and Shovel & Fork business partner Chad Moss invites me out deer hunting. Truth is we seriously needed to have a business meeting. So I bought a deer tag.

I learned a few things on the hunt this week. One is that hunting with Chad is ridiculously enjoyable – so gratifying to get along with anybody so well. I learned that if you’re going to walk several miles in the bush in a foot of snow in big boots, you should probably be in shape. I learned what ‘hip flexors’ were. Was reminded not to give up when hunting – food only happened when we were just about to drive home, and decided to check ‘one last spot’, well past noon. Another is that I didn’t crumble under pressure. I had my scope on one animal, had one chance, and connected. With big game, as I’m sure others can attest to, I’m pretty sure that last moment before pulling the trigger is burned into your brain whether you want it to be or not. I vividly remember that moment from every kill I’ve made. This one presented a challenge I’d never seen – I could see her hind quarter and her head in my scope, the rest hidden by a big spruce tree. No kill-zone shot. Wasn’t going to shoot her in the guts and prime cuts. It ended well. Thank god for that – didn’t need another bad experience to put me off for another twenty.

A lovely lady on instagram challenged me [which is fine] about posting such a picture on social media. I get it. It’s not for everybody. I swear the moment I shot my first calf moose I fully understood why somebody might not want to participate in death that way – and let me tell you, most folks have no idea what they’re saying yes or no to. My take as a human is that things must die if I don’t want to do the same from starvation. I market garden veg for a living, at least in part. I kill a lot of plants. Some people think killing fish and chicken is somehow different and okay [I have laying hens that are my buds] – but I’m of the opinion that taking one life with lots of biomass is better than taking many, many lives to do the same [you chicken people, I'm looking at you]. A whitetail deer that has freely lived in the bush for its whole life, and dies with zero stress prior is about the best meat I could define. I’ll take it any day over anything that’s domestically raised for more reasons than make sense to itemize in this post. I’ll let you fester though with pondering what your meat eats, how much stress it goes to prior to death, the conditions in which its killed, how it’s handled, and how much the person handling it is concerned about your well being.

Anyway. High five Chad [he hates high fives]. Won’t wait another twenty, I’ll tell you that much.

An Heirloom Tool

08.20.13

Shotgun‘Fabrique Nationale d’Armes de Guerre – Herstal – Belgique’. My uncle figured my grandfather had had it since at least the mid 50s. I suppose firearms made by military manufacturers would have been a lot more common back then, only a few years after WWII. My grandfather was an officer in that war. I have a painting of his that was extremely important to him, depicting the emotions he saw in the faces of the Dutch when he arrived in wake of immediate post-war clean-up duty. He passed away a few months ago, and my uncle thought that this long-loved 12 gauge shotgun should be put to good use by somebody in the family. I’ll do my best.

It was odd feeling immediately emotionally attached to an object, nevermind a firearm, that I’d never laid a hand on until I received it. It was the closest I’d been to my grandfather since he passed away, I suppose. He’d spent decades in fields and forests with it and his kids – my uncle sharing stories of its use on hunts back when his brother that has now long passed away was still around. It has a really long barrel, and apparently my grandfather could connect on sharptail grouse and ducks that others thought were out of reach. Stories. I look forward to the opportunity to compound the stories when in the field with my kids. One of the mighty valuable benefits of a tool well made.

Shotgun Belgique

 

Letter to The Moose & Elk

11.18.12

Dear moose and elk,

You won this one. You did. But it’s not because you’re awesome, or cause you ran really fast or hid really good. The big reason you got away lucky was cause I was in camp crumpled on the floor with the flu. Otherwise, you were totally, totally, totally in so much trouble. And yeah, whenever we found you we didn’t have a tag for your particular ‘gender’ or ‘age’, but really that’s not something to be proud of. It’s pretty ‘sexist’ and ‘agist’. Yeah, ‘agist’ is a thing, even if you’ve never heard of it cause you live in the bush.

If you laughed at me while my sick self glassed you to determine that I couldn’t shoot you, I’m totally coming after you next year. In fact, either way I’m coming after you again next year. Yeah, be scared. And guess what. My hunting buddies bagged 2 bull elk, 2 cow elk, and 2 moose calves the weeks before and after I was there. They totally have your number. Be scared.

See you next year.

Sincerely - Kevin

Dry Cured Elk Heart Verdict

12.12.11

I got a lot of questions about how the dry-cured elk heart turned out – and I didn’t know until today. Sliced into it exactly one month after the start of the cure, and I’m on the fence if leaving it longer would do it harm or good. You can see in the photo that the exterior’s dry like a jerky, while the interior’s got some texture like a lightly cured fish. Describing fish texture and game meats in the same sentence likely doesn’t conjure pleasant thoughts, but it’s not unpleasant. That’s what’s shocking.

My expectations were strong, rich, heavy, mineral/irony, dense. It in fact is delicate and mild – almost to a fault. It smells lightly like game but not strongly so, with light smoke notes from the cold smoke [I'd go longer next time], and is simply mushroomy & salty. I noticed the mushroom, then looked to see if I’d added any, and sure enough it’s obvious in the photo below that I’d dusted it with crushed wild mushroom and hadn’t noted it. I need to work on my note-taking-discipline. The texture reminded me of a thin slice of lardo in texture [more on that later] – denser than the norm, but in a pleasant way. Overall this is so light, in fact, that when thinking about pairing a wine, I think it would be lost by any red, even the lightest. I wanted a brandy after giving it a go.

So the dry cured heart was surprisingly delicate. Next time around, I’d omit the mushroom [too dominant], and herb and cold smoke it quite a bit harder so that it had some aromatic balance to the game vibe on the nose. Other than that, pretty happy with this one. Yes, I’m a little surprised.

Dry Cured Bull Elk Eye of Round, Part 1

12.07.11

The day we butchered this year’s bull elk, we started curing a couple pieces of eye of round whose fate was to dry in my cellar. Outside the loin and tenderloin – which I’m so not going to dry cure – eye of round is about as uniform a shape as comes out of an animal. That makes it handy for dry curing as it dries evenly and ready all at the same time as  opposed to having a dry end of a piece and an end that needs time. It’s also a bit of a boring and not particularly tender cut on a big animal, so adding some interest via dry curing is now my default use rather than having an uninspiring steak or roast from the cut. It cured in the fridge for 17 days simply in salt, instacure #2, and black pepper. I gave the pieces a quick rinse today and dusted them with some dry summer savory and maldon organic black pepper. Tied them up like a roast, wrote up the tag, and hung them.

Below you can see the tags I’m now using. They’re little shipping tags from an office supply store, and they happen to slip perfectly onto my S hook hanging setup. They also happen to be very easy to read hanging on the hook, as opposed to tied to the string – you can stand in the middle of my cellar and easily read all the tags of what’s up there without mucking about. Handy. This is the first time I’m actually tracking start weight, a step I should have taken long ago to track progress – you can measure moisture loss by loss in weight. The waiting begins.