Archive for the ‘Upland Game’ Category

An Heirloom Tool


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


Episode 54 – Grouse


There are photos kicking about of me when I was 3-4 years old, holding grouse. I think there was talk of this hunt the first week my first daughter was born – an excited grandpa eager to get little ones out hunting again. As she grew up, she increasingly wanted to leave with me when I set out moose hunting. This year was her inaugural hunting trip. It was a lucky one, with a lengthy black bear adventure, mule deer, white tailed deer, a weasel, and lots and lots of grouse. We came home with our possession limit of 15 ruffed grouse. Interestingly, not a single spruce grouse – all ruffed. Don’t remember it rolling that way when I was a kid.

An artsy diary-esque episode this one is. A point of interest for me is that it shows how to break a grouse down with your hands into the breast on breastbone with the necessary wing attached to be able to legally transport the bird – preserves identity of species – and also shows a grouse being plucked. Grouse skin is super fragile, tearing easily relative to waterfowl, say. Whenever I skin a bird though I have Hank Shaw in the back of my head, he having spent ample time a number of years ago pre-him-being-a-rock-star prodding me in the comments on this very site. Skin-on wasn’t a revelation like I had expected. Seemed to deliver more value on the waterfowl front, for me. More research required.

Ruffed Grouse: Before the Snow


I was lucky this year. I got up to my moose hunt only a day before the snow. Ruffed grouse , although well geared up with cool anatomy to walk on it [see photo below], they seem to go in hiding when it snows. If the trails and roads are bare, they’re often found simply standing about the side of them, especially if it’s sunny. My first outing of the hunt, we happened upon a grouse, and as is often the case, once we found the one, we found more in the grasses and bush around it. An evolutionary foible of the ruffed grouse is they don’t try very hard to get away if threatened. That’s a nice way of saying they’re really dumb and easy to shoot. So I was able to get all 3 of them in this particular group. With the bag limit having been knocked down from 10 to 5 this year, a single group of 3 was happy-making, considering they weren’t our primary objective – calf moose was the goal, more on the big-game portion of the hunt tomorrow.

Ruffed grouse is the lightest, most delicate of the grouse that live around me. Their meat looks like domestic chicken and is mild and delicate, but with a distinctive twang uniquely their own. Spruce grouse is a red meat, and decidedly sprucier. Sharp-tails are somewhere in the middle, I find. I’ll take ruffed grouse 3:1 over any other, any day. This is one seriously under-appreciated local bird, and why that is, I have no idea. It’s not available in a box-store, I guess. I noticed @offalchris is bigging-up local-to-him grouse onto his menu, so props to him for that. @Hank_Shaw, I know, I should have plucked them. Didn’t have time. Had bigger fish to fry, so to speak.

As it’s not a regular meat in my kitchen, I’m going to have to give some thought as to how exactly I’d like to treasure and enjoy it. I bet it’d be good with highbush cranberry jelly – poultry and cranberry done ‘bush-style’. Breaded and deep fried into a chicken-finger with honey-mustard? Fricasseed in a wild-mushroom cream sauce? I’m sure I’ll think of something. And I’m guessing I’ll be wishing we’d found more before the snow came.

How to Butcher a Grouse


My dad showed me a really cool way to field-dress a grouse immediately after it has been killed – without the need for a knife. We used to step on the wings, and pull the feet to get a similar result, but this is cleaner and more consistent. By photo, left to right:

1. Ruffed grouse, head shot to protect the breast meat. They don’t die from heart attacks, as my dad says.

2. Tear back the skin from the center of the breast outward, and pull back to expose the breast meat. They’re delicate birds, and this part is not hard.

An important unillustrated step: put one thumb under the v of the wishbone, and the other directly opposite pointing towards the neck. Carefully pull in opposing directions. Be careful, as the bones are small, and if they break they can cut you. My dad has used a wooden spoon before to avoid cuts.

3. The result, after the pulling. In our province, one wing is required to legally transport the bird [for species identification]. We just twist the other off. Bag and off you go – all the mess is left outdoors.

4. Back in the kitchen, time for a knife. Following the breastbone, cutting the breast meat off each side. Exact same as for a chicken [which is what we usually call grouse around other hunters].

5. Finished product.

Moose & Elk Hunt 2007 – Day 1


Times have changed. Last year we were tripping on moose out here, and had a hard time finding elk. This year, the moose are scarce, and the elk are far easier to find. This is bad news as I have a calf moose tag. Filling it this year will be a challenge.

Dinner in ‘camp’ tonight? Fresh cow elk tenderloin in cambozola cream sauce with onions and mushrooms. And a favorite bordeaux to wash it down, of course. I figure this is one of those occasions that warrants a nice bottle.

Another thing that has changed – last year there was no wireless connection here. This year, there is. So I will be able to post while up here.

Today’s tally. I saw a couple elk driving up here, and we saw about 20 deer on this evening’s drive. Zero moose. Ouch. We saw 2 grouse, both of which I’m happy to report are in our fridge now – both Ruffed grouse. Tomorrow morning, calf moose season opens. Big day.

Burned Yu Choy & Ruffed Grouse Stir-fry on Rice

There’s a contingent of readers out there who arrive at my humble blog-abode by googling for ideas on how to use their game meats. I’ve read a lot of game cookbooks, and have looked around online, and recipes tend to be…not so good. Not-so-interesting, at the very least. So in an effort to help out some fellow game-eaters [and use too-many-hyphons], I’m going to take a moment to ‘recipe-ize’ my lunch. I took some grouse for a spin in my wok, and the result was solid. Please don’t be intimidated by the asian ingredients – a good asian grocer can hook you up.


Bowl A

2 grouse breasts, sliced [mine were fried the day before]
2 tbsp fish sauce
small handful of 1″ sliced garlic shoots or chinese chives

1 thumb of fresh ginger, grated
1 clove garlic, grated or pressed

Bowl B
2-3 shoots of Yu Choy, roughly sliced
2-3 baby bok choy, pieces pulled apart [optional]

Bowl C
1/4 cup water
2 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp hoisin sauce [optional]

Get some rice steaming. Prep all the bowls, stirring the meat one to coat everything up nicely.

Heat up your wok nice and hot, and add a tbsp or so of peanut oil. In goes Bowl B. What you want is the greens to burn slightly. I know. Sounds crazy. Trust me. Let them sit, stir infrequently, until you get a bit of burn action. While that’s going on, add a tbsp or two of water from the tap to your empty bowl. When you see some char, toss the water on the greens, and turn your bowl over them to help steam them a bit. I used a stainless bowl, and kept my hand holding it. As soon as it got hot to touch, I took it off and the greens were nicely done. Put the greens on a big plate/platter.

Hot wok? In goes bowl A. Since my grouse was cooked, I was just looking for some heating through, and even a little stick-to-the-bottom [ie. 'fond'] action. Prior to any burning here, add bowl C. It will go nuts, and then start to bubble and reduce. When it’s at a decent sauce consistency, plate that too. It should look something like the photo? I hope?

Serve atop rice.

Bull Moose Tenderloin & Ruffed Grouse Breast

My dad invited us over for dinner tonight, and I had my first full-on game dinner of 2007. The photos below show the hefty tenderloin [note: bull moose are damn large] and the chain separated [top strip]. The right bottom right: the portioned tenderloin and ruffed grouse breasts seasoned and ready for the pan. We did this up with some BBQ baked potato, salad, last year’s beet pickles, garden tomatoes, and sautéed mushroom/onion that deglazed the tenderloin fry pan. It was good. Very good. Good thing he had a respectable South African wine hiding in the ‘cold room’ [cellar]. I CANNOT WAIT to get hooked up with the year’s supply of calves. Can’t wait. You’ll hear about it so much, you’ll be sick of it.

Ruffed Grouse with Red Currant & Rosemary Sauce

It’s a notable occasion. This is the first game to enter my kitchen this fall – ruffed grouse. We call them ‘chickens’ more often than not, and they do have a similar texture and flavor. Except for their distinctive, almost ‘sharp’ flavor. They have a definite sour, evergreen gaminess to them that is definitely not chicken-esque. Kind of like lamb is ‘stronger’ and different, so is this. It used to be my favorite game of them all. That is until moose ‘veal’ was discovered, trumping all game meats, imo. But ruffed grouse is probably #2. And I’ll be geeky and differentiate: spruce grouse is also common, but is dark red instead of white fleshed, and tastes like a bird that eats in spruce habitat. As opposed to ruffed grouse, who often have crops full of clover. Ruffed grouse may have #2 spot, but spruce grouse is a lot further down the ranking list.

Just fyi, the photo on the left is what the meat looks like uncooked.

The potatoes were pulled from my in-laws’ garden a few hours ago, the rosemary from my herb bed. I cook this style of dish a lot with game, and mostly, I remembered tonight, because it’s really damn lovely.