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.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Patch, aka, Great White Lab
Patch: Your Basic Smart Ass, Talented, Versatile, Renegade English Setter  

Earlier I ratted a few of Patch’s many less than admirable traits and barely hinted on his many talents. So this last time I promise nothin’ but good stuff.

With few exceptions the good ones really do die way too young.  With us losing any dog—good, bad, even ugly—leaves a huge all but unbearable void.  Like his mama, Ginny, Patch hunted well for several years beyond what sadly seems to be the normal dozen or so season life-expectancy of most rough-shooting dogs.  And as we did with Ginny, as he began to slow down we let him call the shots—when and for how long.

But like Ginny, Patch didn’t know quit and even the last couple seasons most days it was me, not him who called a halt. But a couple hours into a borderline too warm November afternoon he pointed a woodcock and it fell on the far side of a creek. In typical fashion he charged across, snatched up the woodcock  with enthusiasm, turned, came running and...You guessed it, flopped down in mid-stream, with a look left no doubt...

Boss, this case is closed.

Those days he brought his A-game ( and stuck with it) my other dogs  were demoted to also rans. Blessed with a keen nose, inherent instincts, stamina and tenacity to, as I like to say, git ‘er done, running mates were left to eat his dust. Uncanny at knowing just which spots in any given covert (even those he’d never seen before) should hold birds he coursed from one objective—green briar, grape vine tangle, hedgerow, alder swale, you name it—to the next probing each one like a heat seeking missile until he struck pay dirt.

Given even marginal conditions—hot, dry, windy—he was rock steady, pointed staunchly for as long as it took for the guns to arrive, unless, of course, he deemed it necessary to relocate on a running bird.  Trailing a running bird he seemed to know just how hard to push and not bump. He rarely lost a cripple.  But unlike his Mama (and most of the rest of the pack) he fetched to hand as opposed to bringing part way before tossing bird down...

Like you got hands, see ya later... 

Patch seemed to relish jump shooting ducks and water retrieves as much as busting brush for upland birds. A friend labeled him “Great White Lab”. He jumped in with enthusiasm no matter how cold the water. Back then, geese were pretty scarce in our neck of woods and he didn’t get many chances. The first one beat him up pretty good but the next time he didn’t so much as flinch...The ensuing brawl wasn’t pretty but he won and dragged it in. Gasping for breath, he trotted off a ways, lay down and refused to even look my way leaving no doubt geese were no longer a part of his agenda.

One day while hunting grouse, he brought in a hen turkey sporting a broken wing but otherwise unscathed. Had I not already shot and tagged a turkey what to do would not have been an issue but...OK, I can put you out your misery, leave you for the foxes or...So I did what seemed more (fill in the blank), dispatched the poor thing and dropped in freezer alongside the legal one. But when this happened again and then again...Well, I got a little spooked, like what if someone sees me, turns me in to the game warden--a friend, in case you wondered...

(Let’s call him Joe to protect the guilty) “Joe, hypothetical? You’re a bird hunter, your bird dog brings ya a crippled turkey, otherwise unscathed. You already tagged a bird, so... Leave it for fox bait or what?
“Well Chuck, without a doubt first thing I’d do is not tell the game warden.”

One of his last hunts I get lucky and double on grouse. Feathers fly, both fall just a few yards apart. In typical fashion he’s on the first almost before hits the ground, snatches it up, brings it straight to me, drops in my outstretched hand, wheels about, heads for the second.  But runs right by the bell sound growing dimmer by the second.

Recalling the time he ran off after fetching a grouse and I found him a short time later upside down sound asleep in his kennel, well, right off I get on him pretty good. But when I can no longer hear the bell naturally I'm really pissed and, cussing such to make a muleskinner blush, head for the truck.

It starts as a barely audible tinkle, then for sure bell clanging and here he comes--of course proudly  toting the missing grouse. 

“Hey Boss, wait up, I got somethin' for ya.”

Twas a wise man once noted, "Trust the dog."  Amen.