Thursday, March 31, 2011

Into The Unknown

     Tomorrow morning I depart on an epic adventure across the sea to parts unknown. Actually, no. But I am going to Bermuda, and I haven't been there before, so it is an adventure of sorts. Not knowing much about the place, I haven't any idea what kind of adventure I'll be engaging in, but you can bet my 9 weight  flyrod, and a few new flies are making the trip with me. I expect I'll spend a good deal of time in the cockpit of a kayak too. An enjoyable way of seeing the coast.

     The glossy print posters at the travel agency, though I'm kind of scared to admit it, have me secretly longing to dress in white linen, with a panama hat while duffing a round on a pristene golf course, cigar dangling from my lips. Yeah, I know. The thought makes my puke a little in my mouth, too. After all, cigars are to be enjoyed, not clenched in anger. I do liken golf to wingshooting. The way I see it, both activities have you walking around in beautiful scenery, and every once in a while you make a nice shot. The biggest difference; golf leaves no doubt as to how close you're miss was, wingshooters can still fudge the truth. "Really, I missed in front."

      I doubt I'll have any trouble swimming up to the in pool bar, or enjoying the bar in the 100,000 year old grotto. No doubt I'll be faced with eating some interesting island fare too. This is, however, my first adventure which requires me to wear a sport coat at dinner.

     On a less jovial note, a good friend, Tino, has passed into the unknown. Tino was a rugby mate of mine, and I'm proud to have been on the pitch with him at the Acton 10s last summer, as our rag tag team won the bowl division. Though the outdoors connection is vague, there is one. Tino was fixture at the kennel where I regularly board my dogs when travelling. He was good to my dogs, and thats enough in my book to be called a friend. I hope they're taking care of him now, like he took care of them. He deserves it. Rest In Peace, Tino.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Dream Hunt

Every year at grouse camp, around a campfire or over dinner, the subject of the conversation eventually turn to future hunts, or more specifically, dream hunts. Ducks in the flooded timber of Stuttgart, Ptarmigan in the Alaskan bush, Red Grouse in the Scottish highlands; the list goes on, often changing year to year as goals are achieved, though most likely the influence of a glossy magazine spread. I, too, have a dream hunt, though I doubt it'll ever be realized for the simple fact it doesn't exist. It's a hunt I've dreamed up, equal parts common place and exotic, luxury and simplicity. It goes like is.

As a dedicated grouse hunter one might think my dream hunt would revolve around a species exotic to the upland range I frequent. Ruffed Grouse, Woodcock, Hares, and rabbits being common place, my dream hunt still targets these, grouse being numero uno on the list. Everything else is just a tasty target of opportunity. The cover I dream of mirrors that of the cover I hunt up north, with few exceptions. I envision hundreds of acres of timber land, managed and manicured into a checker board pattern of second growth hardwoods, and shelter giving softwoods, interlaced with a gravel gated logging roads. My logging roads are absent the logging trucks, and associated vehicle traffic.

I'd hunt this utopia in similar fashion to the quail plantations of the south, from the back of comfortable wagon outfitted with gun racks and dog boxes. But rather than having a long-eared mule, the wagon would be drawn by a smooth gaited Cydesdale. Eye catching, ain't it? Ruffed grouse being wary creatures, and grouse hunters royalty, the wagon would have to be modified to not only remove squeaks, creaks, and clatter, but to represent the ultimate in style. Well cushioned leather seats, with foot rests and drink holders, suspended above smooth riding rubber tires would allow horse and buggy to slide down the gravel roads without mechanical rumbling, nor hunter grumbling.

Sitting atop the buggy, we'd be entertained by the sight of a brace of setters, heads held high, coursing the cover in search of birds. One setter running on the left, and another on the right leave no patch of cover unturned. Though I must admit, a brace of setters on either side would be nice too, and running two brace of dogs would allow for a pointer to run a beat on occasion.

A dream hunt isn't complete until birds are shot, and for the retrieving duties I'd enlist a Springer, and a lab, deploying them on alternate retrieves, and pampering them in their well appointed dog boxes between.

I've yet to find an outfitter offering wagon drawn grouse hunts, so I'll have to do some serious wheeling and dealing to make it happen. I've got a plan, though I don't know if I'll get past the first step. It starts out easy enough, though, and I've decided I'll start tomorrow. Step one; buy lottery ticket. I'll let you know how I make out.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Lost in the Supermarket

    Iconic punk band, The Clash, of the late 70's and early 80's had a tune called Lost in the Supermarket. I must admit, I've had days when I've shut down key operating systems of the cerebral kind and left a supermarket unaware of why I'd bought some of the garbage in my cart. Being a bit of a gastronome I'm usually focused, thinking of little more than the task at hand. Today, however, I was pleasantly surprised, and amused when I came upon the gift card center at the local Stop & Shop. According to the sign on the gift center, it's now easier than ever to buy an appropriate gift for anyone. Just get them a gift card. This holds true when shopping for the sportsmen (or sportswomen) in your life. When pressed with getting them a gift, all need to do now is just run on down to your local Stop & Shop and pick up either a Cabelas, or Bass Pro gift card.

     Its evident that the influence of these big box outfitters is growing, spreading through our society. Yet so frequently we read in outdoor sporting publications that the number of hunters is shrinking nation wide. As I drove home, I wondered if this was true, and what my role is in preventing our disappearance. Not having kids of my own, I've had little chance to introduce children to hunting. I've taken kids fishing before, but fishing remains widely popular, and requires little effort to start. I've also taken non-hunting friends on bird hunting trips. Usually friends who've helped me with dog training, so they could see the results of their time. I've got hunting friends with children, but even they are split, one friend frequently taking his kids fishing, or to the deer blind during the season, and another who tries to insulate his kid from his passion for hunting. Seems I'm planted firmly in the middle somewhere; wishing I could introduce a child to hunting, and the responsible use of our resources, but instead introducing adults when the situation arises. No less important, either.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Puppy Alert!!!

     I am happy to announce that I've received word from the dog breeder that the litter has been whelped. For you non-dog people out there, that's Dog-ese for, the pups have been born. The litter was smaller than I'd expected, four pups total; two males and two females. Though I would prefer a male dog, there aren't enough males in the litter to satisfy everyone waiting for a pup, so I'll be getting a female. In reality, gender is of little concern; good health, quality breeding, and genetics being the most important elements of an outstanding bird dog. These pups have that, and I'm really looking forward bringing one home, and helping it fulfill its natural potential.
          Now, the hardest task of all; picking an appropriate name. Hmmm,......

Monday, March 14, 2011

Door Mat, or Guardian

A friend sent me this picture. Thought I'd share it.

Lions, and Tigers, and.....Meltdowns?

     Lions, and tigers and bears, has been replaced by earthquakes, and tsunamis, and meltdowns, and in northern Japan I'm sure there are a lot of people who wish they could tap their heels together and be transported to a better place. I've got no idea if the hunting and fishing in Oz are any good, but I've learned over the years that there is actually some good hunting and fishing in Japan.While I've never had the opportunity to do either in Japan, I have done some hiking. Restrictions on firearms in Japan are quite strict, and the requirements to qualify for a hunting license rigid, so I've no realistic expectation of ever hunting there, fishing can be made a reality, however, being popular, and accessible. But while Japan suffers the effects of a devastating earthquake, Tsunami, and the resulting nuclear emergency, all thoughts of which rod, and waders to pack for my next trip there are erased from my mind. What is foremost in my mind is the safety of family, and friends I have in Japan; some of whom are sportsmen I wish to someday fish with again, whether here or in the land of the rising sun.
     Tyler, and Hiroaki are two of those people. While here in the states we had a few adventures in western Mass. chasing trout, and dodging mosquitoes. In Japan our exploits were restricted to rehashing our lies over a couple beers, and sashimi in Tokyo. Hiroaki insists her knows of a stream, teeming with trout, in Niigata. We've yet to see it. Tyler has since been transferred out of Tokyo and is living in another Asian country, but has family in Japan. Hiroaki is still in Tokyo.

     If you're ever in Japan, and in doubt about their sporting tradition, take a visit to the city of Sapporo. While in Sapporo last year I was surprised at the number of outfitters I saw there. Hiking, or trekking as it's called in Japan is popular. Sapporo, being the largest city on the wilderness filled north island of Hokkaido has plenty of outfitters ready to get you going. Being from Boston, I compare Sapporo to Portland Maine,  where I frequently visit, both being cities in states with lots of sporting tradition and identity. What other conclusion can be drawn of a city where the shopping mall displays a mannequin in waders and fishing vest?
     Many people throughout the world are unaware of the sporting opportunities in Japan, or even their areas of vast wild lands. The Tohoku area, where this tragedy is taking place is one such area. And I guess that's why I'm writing this; because being half a world away, with different cultural perspectives, foods, and languages, we're not really all that different.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Things We Carry, Outdoor Safety

     For all the enjoyment I get from my time in the outdoors, the satisfaction of bringing home a bounty to cook and serve to my family and friends is unparalleled. Good shooting, excellent dog work, snappy retrieves, spectacular misses, and the beautiful scenery are the memories that season a hard earned meal, and sharing these memories, and a hunting tale or two at the table complete the experience. It's also among the many reasons to get home safely; Something I think too many sportsmen take lightly, as I have in the past.  Maybe because I'm getting older, and don't bounce off the ground like I used to, or perhaps it's the result of a close call, but I think about preparedness, and safety more than I ever did in the past. Whatever the reason, a bit of emergency preparation is something we should all think about. To steal a bit of wisdom from the pro-gun advocates; better to have a plan and not need it, than need a plan and not have it.

     So,...What exactly is "the Plan"? Well, I don't believe there is any one size fits all plan, as we all experience our outdoors is a variety of ways. I have taken bits popular safety convention, and put together what I feel works best for me. Here's what I've done, why, and some of the draw backs to my plan.

     The first thing I did was to put together a small survival kit. My kit is nothing extravagant; two small survival blankets, two ways to start a fire, a lighter, and a magnesium starter, an extra knife, a small spool of parachute cord, and a snack which I rotate to keep fresh. Why this collection? I figure, should I need to use it, staying warm and dry will be the two things I'd want the most to accomplish. One safety blanket can serve as a rudimentary shelter, aided by the parachute cord, the second blanket will undoubtedly end up wrapped around me. With two ways to start a fire, I'm pretty confident I'll get one started, provided I'm not subject to a downpour or blizzard like conditions. When I get hungry, the snack gets sacrificed, which I'm sure will be good news for the dog. As most of my hunting involves a dog, and a gun I don't feel the need to worry about dangerous wildlife very much. I try to always carry this kit with me, even when I'm not going far. I reason, if I should turn an ankle I may not be able to get myself out of the woods, but I will probably have enough mobility to collect a bit of wood for a fire, and get myself someplace dry while waiting for help.

     Another thing I've taken to doing is letting someone know where I'll be. A couple years ago, while duck hunting alone in early November, I capsized my canoe. Common sense had me wearing a life vest, and I'd tucked an extra paddle under the seat, but I hadn't secured my gun. Fortune shined on me that day. The autumn had been relatively warm, and the water wasn't numbingly cold, so I was able to swim, dragging the canoe behind me to a beaver lodge which I climbed up to drain the canoe. After I collecting my flotsam and jetsam, while paddling back to my car in the dark I realized that not only had I ruined my cell phone, which I'd figured I could use if I had any trouble, but also that I hadn't told anyone where I was going. Neither my friends, nor my wife was aware that I'd decided to go duck hunting. Bad move. I now try to let someone know where I'll be, and when to expect me back. In fact, when I go duck hunting in the canoe now, I not only tell my wife where I'll be, but set up a check in time with her. If I don't call by a certain time, she's to alert the local PD. Sometimes I'm unable to inform anyone of where I'll be as I often hunt way up north where cell phone signals don't exist. Also, I'm seldom in one place the whole time, as I move from one spot to the next, so this system isn't fool proof, but I use it when I can.

     The last principle I have been adhering to is not getting lost in the first place. I've bought a GPS, and have learned the basic functions and use. The GPS I use is the type that shows a topo map on the display screen. I've found this to be useful when navigating the woods, and though I haven't been lost in the woods yet, I have confidently navigated into, and back out of some big woods areas, rather easily because I could relate my travel direction to the land features. The GPS has it's drawback, however. Batteries can run out, which is why I carry a couple extra with me, as well as keeping rechargeables plugged in and ready to go at camp. I switch the batteries whenever I reach or near the 50% level. Another drawback is the human factor. Yes, I've forgotten to mark my starting location before, and once, after marking the car's location I headed into the woods leaving the GPS on the roof of the car. Good thing I had an idea of which direction the road ran, and had a compass with me. Which leads to one last point; a GPS is no excuse to leave your compass at home.

     These three provisions are just a small sampling of ways to be safe and accounted for, and while they may be what I think will work for me, they may not work for everyone. As I've shown, they aren't fool proof, but they're better than nothing. We give our recipes a lot of thought, so why not give a little consideration to getting these gifts from the outdoors to the table, whatever it may take.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Cooking Tip, Get the Stink Out.

As much as I like cooking and eating game, I think I enjoy cooking it, and feeding it to others even more. Few things are as enjoyable as sharing a game dinner with good friends. Properly handled, and cooked game, paired with an appropriate wine and the right company is unforgettable, whether it be served on a dinning room table or a picnic table.

Some game can be more difficult to prepare, Woodcock being an example, while others like Venison, are relatively easy to handle. In both cases, over cooking being the main factor of a failed meal. Every once in a while, some of the more common game meats can be challenging. I've found that occasionally white breasted game birds, like Pheasant and Grouse, have a pungent odor, and a flavor I feel is best defined as funky. Though I detest the term "gamey" in the description of food, finding it unoriginal, perhaps this odor, and flavor, when stumbled upon, is the "gamey" flavor I've heard of. This odor, and flavor are not something I'd prefer to plate if I'm feeding to the uninitiated. But I've found a pretty simple way to combat it.

Many years ago my father, before he became a bowhunting fanatic, was quite the wingshooter. Any game bird he shot was treated to a saltwater brine. According to him, this would draw out any blood in the meat. This was how I treated game in the beginning, but soon noticed that the brine made the meat taste salty, and that the water really never had any bloody remnants in it. As a result I took to simply cleaning, and drying the meat well. Lately, however, I've take to using a simple treatment I learned while studying Japanese cooking. A treatment that works well with the occasional "difficult" bird.

The treatment is nothing more than a simple marinade of Sake. About an hour before cooking, I soak the meat in a bit of sake, with about three or four 1/4" thick slices of Ginger. The sake can be either the drinking variety found at most liquor outlets, or the cooking variety, most likely found in an Asian grocery store. Ginger is usually available in the produce department of the grocery store. Ground Ginger may be available in the ethnic food aisle of the grocery store, but I don't recommend using it, as it will impart it's flavor into the meat, unlike a few slices of the actual root.

So, next time you find yourself faced with cooking some poultry with a challenging odor, give this simple solution a try.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Shotguns, Shotguns, and More Shotguns

     What is it about shotguns that makes us wingshooters want more? Take me to an outfitter, and guaranteed the first place I go is the gun rack. There really isn't anything better than cruising a used gun department, navigating the endless variety of gauges, barrel lengths, and actions, to finding a hidden little gem that you just can't believe someone parted with. Of course, it isn't long before the glimmering light reflecting off  the wall of perfectly polished new guns behind a counter draws you in as if caught in a tractor beam straight out of a sci-fi flick. I find it's best to approach the new gun counter when the sales person is busy with another customer. Usually the glow of new gun finish kind of hypnotizes me and I stand there unable to form any rational thought, my brain completely over-loaded, let alone able to muster up a complete sentence, should I even comprehend whatever the sales person may have said.

     What's most interesting about shotguns is that with so many configurations, endless really, that even though a shooter may have a preference for a particular type of gun, we're always able find something else that'll make us happy. While I prefer guns with two barrels, whether stacked or juxtaposed, I find myself really wanting, no,... make that needing, an auto-loader. I haven't any idea what I'd use it for, but I'm feeling it's pull. No doubt it'd find it's way to the clays course, and probably the duck blind too. Not that I don't have guns for those purposes already. I recently made the mistake of putting my hands on a .410 double. What a sweet little creature, with an English style straight stock, and double triggers. I'd never thought about owning a .410 before I touched this one, and I don't believe they have any place in the field, but it has injected me with it's poison, and I'll no doubt be adding it to my collection. I have, however, thought of a good reason, or excuse if you want to call it that, to buy one. I'm getting a new dog this spring, and a .410 is the next reasonable step in gun breaking a dog after you've accustomed it to the .22 blank pistol. Yeah,.. I'm good. Of course, getting a .410 presents a problem too. The gap in my collection, where the 16 gauge should be, will be clearly evident.

     Some guns work better for us than others, and I'm not talking about fit, or configuration. Some guns have a special something about them that makes us shoot them better. I recently found a replacement for my old 12 gauge over-under, that I primarily waterfowled with. The gun fits well, and I shoot it pretty good, too. It doesn't hurt that it's got some nice engraving, making it a step up from the old fowler, but I'd still not call this a nice piece, just a utility piece that won't cause me to sweat over carrying it into the salt marsh. As I shot it today, 100 round of sporting clays, I was aware that I was maintaining a better score with this gun than with my 20 gauge double I usually shoot. Of course, stupid. It's a 12 gauge. But the truth is, I shoot this new gun (yeah, it's still new) no where near the level I shot my old gun.

     The old 12 gauge was a Stoeger, Uplander. The Stoeger weighed about 10lbs, with a trigger pull of about 8lbs, but it had something magical about it. One friend described the way I shot the Stoeger as "money" in my hands. In reality, the gun probably wasn't blessed with any super powers, but having shot so much game with it I was confident whenever I carried it. And confidence goes a long way in the shooting sports. It instilled the kind of confidence that allowed me to shoot 6 birds in 8 rises one day a few seasons back.  I shot 3 Woodcock, 2 pheasant that may have been wild, as I wasn't hunting a WMA or anywhere near one, and a Ruffed Grouse. I'd like to say it was done with 8 shells, but it wasn't. One of my misses was on a grouse, and one was on a Pheasant. It instilled a similar confidence on the skeet field.  Though I've never been one to post high scores when it comes to shooting clays, I did post a 22 shooting a low stakes game of Doubles one afternoon.

     In the end, it comes down to this; If the gun did, however, have any magical powers it probably wouldn't be buried in mud on the bottom of a river, the result of a duck hunting mishap. In the absence of a gun actually being the recipient of a supernatural incantation, I'll have to continue shooting what I have regularly (or semi-regularly) and hope to find the same mystical confidence I found in the Stoeger. I'm betting it's out there somewhere, too.