Sunday, December 17, 2017

Maggie McGoo: My Last Best Pennsylvania Rough-Shooting Dog
Previously (Part 11, Boot Camp) I related how in Maggie’s first season (age 6 months) ruffed grouse in our neck of woods had hit rock bottom—even with the big dogs on the ground we went days on end with seldom a bird contact. It seemed grouse, like Pennsylvania’s wild ringnecks,  were all but goners. The woodcock flight fizzled as well.

And so, for the first and only time in my life, we spent the winter gunning pen-raised quail and roosters.

I’m a strong believer too many tame birds ranks high among the many reasons some really well-bred, well-trained dogs never develop into top-notch wild bird mavens. The worst thing is when the young dog learns it can get away with crowding tame birds and breaking that habit is too often way beyond the capabilities of most of us John Q. Amateur dog trainers.

But Mags was different.  For whatever reasons, she pointed tame birds staunchly,  relocated as necessary but very carefully—catlike—and rarely crowded.

We shot a lot of birds over her points that winter.  But every now and then her sire’s infamous stubborn streak reared its ugly head. Acting as if she’d never smelled a bird, busting birds left and right and, worse, refusing to comply voice or whistle commands until she damn-well felt like it.
So starting in early spring and all thru the summer three days on and three days off  it was back to the basics in the yard and on the training table. I didn’t like it any more than she did but I vowed to by God break the “stubborn bitch” once and for all or...

Or as Gale said, “Get over it, get on with your life or get done with her, you’re driving yourself mad and me insane.”

If this were a fairy tale we’d all be living happily ever after. Mags would be hunting lights out all day every day.  Grouse would be thick and I would be knockin’ ‘em dead. But didn’t exactly work that way.  As turned out PA grouse would never again be “thick.” Your intrepid reporter would forever remain the streak shooter of yore.  And Mags...

Well when the so-called dog training season opened August 15 (meaning  can now run dogs in the field) it seemed she’d hit a wall. Near perfection for days on end always followed by a day or two flipping me the bird.

So I took Gale’s advice.  Ditched the yard stuff for good and, for better or worse, took to the woods. Bird numbers were far from great but at least better.  Free at last of ropes and chains, Mags turned the corner and morphed into the dog  I’d always envisioned.
I always liked the late season best.  Less competition we could pretty much hunt wherever, whenever.  Grouse seemed to hold a little better and with less food available were far more predictable. And like me, the dogs just seemed a bit more juiced by the snow and cold.

For me, that first week of the late season was by far the best week of grouse hunting ever. With Mags hunting lights out and me shooting out my butt, well after all we’d gone through it was beyond freakin’ wonderful...

But then one day I found Mags pointing at grape tangle. Same look in her eye, same intensity but instead of tail ramrod straight, it was bent and listing to one side. Don’t get me wrong here, frankly I do not give a good goddamn about style points. But when next time she pointed same I knew something was wrong. Worse, in the house more and more we found her standing, tail between her legs, obviously distressed, or worse in real pain.

So I called vet buddy, Mike Moss, and he said, “Bring her in sounds like a ruptured tail-disc.”

To make a long, really sad (actually torturous as hell) story short:  X-ray indeed showed a tail-disc injury (not a big deal). But to be safe Mike x-rayed the rest of her spine and though no further spinal injury the one above her chest showed a severely enlarged heart.

For the next 48 hours Mike moved into the office and drained fluid as it developed until at last it coagulated such he could no longer draw with a syringe.

“Chuck, I’ve done all can do. Only thing left is open heart surgery, only place is Cornell, she needs to get there quick, cost is at least $5000, chance of survival less than 5%.”

Next day we buried her on a knoll over-looking  the  spot she pointed that last grouse.

Up Next:  The Montana  Wirehairs...

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Braised Deer Shanks...Try 'em, you'll love 'em...
Wanted: Eight-legged Antelope, Deer and/or Elk

I shot my first whitetail at age 12. Many deer later around age 70 I read a recipe in Montana Outdoors for braised venison shanks.

Ever since that first deer what to do with the shanks had always been an issue—grind them up and spend the next week cleaning the grinder, carve them up and spend hours peeling off the silver skin to say nothing of those gawdawful tendons. Anyway it took all of about 30 seconds to decide what to do this time around with the four elk shanks still hanging in the garage.

Beyond sawing off the elk shanks and helping Gale with the heavy lifting (cast iron Dutch Oven is not light, in case you wondered) the credit for THE most delicious venison dish I’ve ever eaten goes entirely to Tom Dixon (who wrote the piece) and of course to Chef Gale who made sure it all went together and turned out properly. 

While the shanks were cooking I did a little research and came up with this: Cooked on low heat (300° or so) for several hours (4 or so) in some sort of broth the meat is super flavorful and all the nasty stuff melts away, further enriching and somewhat thickening the broth (Gale has used chicken and beef broth some chefs suggest venison broth) and rendering the meat almost too tender to require chewing. According to Shaw the shank muscles work harder than other muscles and the more work the richer the flavor.  Remember I’m just the messenger…

So begin by browning the shanks well in your favorite cooking oil, lard or,  as Shaw suggests, duck fat. Go slow and turn the shanks often until every surface except the bone is well-browned. Beware: Too much on the bone side and the shank will fall apart…Not good.

Once browned, Gale adds enough broth to cover the meaty part of the shanks, a cup or so red wine, zest of a lemon, butter, her favorite spices and a small peeled and diced onion. Cover, put in preheated oven and then we take the Wire Sisters out for a run. Returning couple hours later she adds other veggies (any sooner they’ll turn to mush or worse, flat out disintegrate (though some recipes suggest straining and others suggest a food processor), adds liquid as needed and returns to oven until the meat starts to drop off the bone…

Serve over mashed potatoes, add a glass of wine and ENJOY…Trust me you will not be disappointed.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

This ol' gun has done me good...
This year marks the 30th season tramping the uplands toting an over and under, 20 ga. Browning Citori. Having suffered countless miles, in thick and uncivil places, the stock and forearm are nicked and scarred, the bluing well-worn but otherwise the old gun is as good as new.

I bought it new (can’t recall how much) from the Grice Gun Shop in Clearfield, PA. As Gale was quick to question “with a half-dozen other shotguns in the gun cabinet do you really need another?” Indeed a silly question, one difficult to answer. But we bird hunters are seldom satisfied. Miss a bird or two and well, you know, it’s never the operator, always that damned gun.

I bought it in late spring. By a strange coincidence just a couple days after getting my butt kicked at the season’s first Sporting Clays shoot—imagine? It came equipped with modified and full choke tubes but naturally I needed more of a selection and purchased several others—open, skeet 1 & 2, improved cylinder, improved modified and extra full. And don’t even bother to point out that after 30 seasons I have yet to even open the latter two containers, and not a single shot fired through the full choke tube because… Well hell, ya just never know so tis best to be prepared. Right.

Besides the 12 ga. Elsie was too heavy, choked modified/full and never did fit. The 16 ga. Model 12 was cursed with a modified barrel—worse, on the tight side, way too tight for early season grouse and woodcock, for-get-it. Ditto the Browning Sweet Sixteen and the Special Field 870—granted the spiffy as hell custom straight-grip stock was pretty to look at, but way too heavy and never did quite fit.  And while the ancient Fulton Arms 16 ga served me well as a kid, it was way too clunky, stocked beyond ugly and choked way too tight for serious bird shooting. And nobody in his right mind would tote the Browning Superposed 12 ga. ,sporting 30-inch barrels choked full and fuller.

I rest my case.

At this stage (61 seasons and counting) barring unforeseen disaster the Citori is it. Most days I shoot it pretty well and those not so honky dory well, who gives a rat’s butt. I’ve always been something of a streak shooter and would hope that by now I’m wise enough to realize, for better or worse, all things pass. Truth be known at this stage, shooting—good, bad or ugly—is the least of it. You young guys go ahead and giggle but I guarandamntee one day you too will come to agree a day still standing is a really good deal.