Total Outdoorsmen: Eat, and Share, What You Kill

Total Outdoorsmen: Eat, and Share, What You Kill

No matter if it’s a gourmet feast or a rustic camp supper, a family meal of shared wild game has always brought hunters together

The dusky grouse came from the big slopes of the Flathead and Kootenai national forests, behind Tom Healy’s house in the Northern Rockies. When Fast Eddie, Healy’s wirehaired pointing griffon, locked up along an edge of pines, Healy knew instantly and intuitively that it was no ruffed grouse. “The big duskies like that sunshine, that open ground in the big woods,” he says, standing in the deep shade of a wall tent, stirring a mixture of grouse meat, elk meat, and wild rice. “I knew what was coming.”

Healy harvested this wild rice too, with his wife, in a canoe deep in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters. Now he stirs the dirty rice in a black iron pot as he describes arrowing through the dense rice stalks in the canoe, knocking the grains loose with short wooden batons so they fell into the boat.

There is elk heart in Healy’s dirty rice mix too, and elk sausage from a cow he killed eight days into a Big Hole Valley backcountry hunt. He had a .270 in camp, he recalls, but he carried a slug gun that day. “I wanted to force myself to get a little closer,” he says. “Make it a little more real.”

I glance around the tent. Nearby, a tall, bearded, cowboy-hatted guy sears mallard breasts from a Rocky Mountain spring creek. Another outdoorsman debones a Bristol Bay salmon. There is snowshoe hare and Idaho chokecherry sauce and goose confit in the works. On an open fire outside the tent, skewers of lynx meat sizzle. Getting closer to the heart of the matter seems to be the dish of the day. I’m in Boise, Idaho, at what is arguably the world’s most impressive wild-game meal: the Backcountry Hunters & Anglers field-to-table dinner, held during the group’s annual Rendezvous. Each year, some of the country’s best wild-game cooks put on a fundraiser feast so fine, it’s been written up in gourmet-cooking magazines.

I wander from camp stove to fire pit, sampling beaver meatballs and smoked Lahontan cutthroat trout. I quiz the chefs about each dish, but what I hear most isn’t the merits of wild plums versus the grocery-store variety, or why jackrabbit is underrated on the table. Instead, everyone tells me a story about the harvest. I hear how warm it was that January day on the Boise River when the trout were biting, how the moon lit the trail on the tough hike out with the elk quarters.

It’s been this way, always. This might be one of the fancier wild-game gigs I’ve ever attended, but I’ve felt this same kinship in Cajun squirrel camps, Yukon duck camps, and my deer camp back home. It’s what we do. The earliest art, religion, and connections between human communities were all rooted in the things we chase, kill, and eat. And share.

Spice of Life

Here’s another story: A few years ago, my wife, Julie, and I had new friends over for dinner. I smoked a chunk of pronghorn backstrap and served it with Gouda cheese and red peppers blackened on the grill. It was not terribly different from our normal wild fare. To our guests, though, antelope was the most exotic meat they’d ever eaten. They gushed about its tenderness and sage-tinted bite. They wanted to know where I’d killed it (Wyoming) and how (arrowed from behind a decoy). They asked about my other hunts. They were surprised to learn that I butchered my own deer and aged ducks in the refrigerator’s vegetable crisper. They were unaware of the modern hunter’s connection to this ancient cycle, that wild meat still nourishes soul as much as body.

I asked if they’d like to meet their meal, since the antelope’s head was hanging on my office wall. They politely declined, but still, that one simple meal sparked a conversation about hunting, sustainability, and the honesty of eating what you kill. They still talk about it. Not every wild-game dinner is a conversion experience, to be sure. Sometimes you just want to chew on a squirrel leg. But there’s no doubt that a grilled backstrap is as fine an argument for hunting and fishing as any philosophical treatise.

At the BHA chow-down, I hover over Idaho chef Randy King as he works up a dish of spring rolls stuffed with goose confit. Always a sucker for a good goose dish, I’m about to ask for the particulars of the dish, but King tells a different story. “This is kind of funny,” he says, “in sort of a bad-funny way.” He tells me that he and his 12-year-old son, Cameron, hunted these geese from a southwestern Idaho farm ditch last winter. Cameron was shooting a single-barrel 20-gauge, the kind with an exposed hammer, and with the first shot, the hammer bit the boy on the cheek hard enough to require stitches. Blood gushed. “I felt awful,” King says, “but he is so proud of that scar, you wouldn’t believe it.”

But I would, of course. What hunter wouldn’t? It’s the kind of story that seasons a meal and life long after the hunt, and makes every day on this Earth a sweeter bite of life.

Gear Tip: Cooking by the Book

Time to make some room on your bookshelf. Randy King’s collection of recipes and essays, Chef in the Wild: Reflections and Recipes from a True Wilderness Chef is pretty close to sharing a cooking fire with the Idaho icon. And the latest cookbook from award-winning food author Hank Shaw, Pheasant, Quail, Cottontail: Upland Game from Field to Table, elevates gamebird and small-game cookery to its rightful status.

Written by T. Edward Nickens for Field & Stream and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

Featured image provided by Field & Stream

Hidden Values of Hunting and Fishing Licenses

Hidden Values of Hunting and Fishing Licenses

Words by Joe Starinchak

Today, outdoor recreation is a big business that includes multiple activities, different sectors and an annual contribution of $889 billion to the country’s economy.  However, in spite of the sector’s size and diversity, the government is only involved in a few of these activities through licensing and registration processes.  More specifically, participants in hunting, fishing and boating either are required to buy licenses or submit annual registrations to government agencies.

What is interesting about government-run licensing and registration processes is that not much has changed over time.  Today, hunters, anglers and boaters can do much of the same things needed to get their licenses or registration online through agency websites; however, the perception of having to endure a bureaucratic process still exists.  Additionally, the unspoken values that a customer gets in return for purchasing a license or registering his or her watercraft remain vastly under promoted.  Besides securing the legal right to hunt, fish and harvest an animal or to use your watercraft, anglers, hunters and boaters also receive a bundle of lesser known rights, values and responsibilities – we call this bundle the hidden values of a hunting, fishing and boating.  Unfortunately, these agencies have not effectively communicated about these values, which helps to create an ethically driven culture compelled by conservation behaviors that protect the environment, species and habitat.

Hunting and fishing all create impacts to the environment and the licensing/registration processes represent a critical part of a longstanding user-pay model that has funded conservation for over eighty years to help offset these various impacts.  This federal-state-industry partnership has been a very powerful collaborative conservation model. 

When hunters, anglers and boaters engage in a transaction with a state fish & wildlife agency, they exchange money to secure a legal right to hunt, fish or boat and harvest an animal or fish.  Included within this right is the basic acknowledgement of a state’s authority to manage fish, wildlife and waterways and to abide by the various regulations that govern these activities.  While this partnership has been very successful over the past eight decades, a lot has changed and now is the time to improve the partnership and maximize the hidden values of these activities to help elevate conservation.

The impacts that hunting, fishing and boating all create, their foundations are grounded in an ethical framework.  While the framework differs between activities, the overall focus is on safety and conserving the environment.  Unfortunately, with today’s culture of busyness and a lack of time; these processes have been reduced to financial transactions and the ethical conservation frameworks have become an afterthought. 

Regardless of this reality, obtaining a license or registration is still key touchpoint to engage prospective customers in conservation.  With the transaction’s exchange of legal rights for money, this specific interaction represents an ideal opportunity to promote conservation’s ethical framework.  At the end of the day, these licensing and registration processes not only generate money, they also provide a critical opportunity to communicate with customers – in essence, these bureaucratic processes have an embedded communications platform that can be maximized to promote conservation. 

Since we are now living in the age of internet, information has become much more accessible and technologies like smartphones have changed how we consume information and interact with one another.  The federal-state-industry partnership that has been so successful in funding conservation needs to adapt and use this new technology to sell licenses, promote boater registrations and elevate the ethical culture that is so important to these activities.

Fortunately, a forward-thinking company, Pursuit has focused on these processes and has developed a refined smartphone application that allows state agencies to sell licenses, promote boater registrations while also elevating conservation’s ethical framework.  Besides helping the states, the Pursuit also helps hunters, anglers and boaters by simplifying the licensing and registration processes with an organized license utility and real-time field-mapping program for mobile devices.

This new smartphone technology makes these processes much more accessible and the Pursuit app’s multi-purpose functionality and its communication capabilities can be leveraged as a targeted conservation messaging platform that helps sportsmen remember their obligations and ethics while in the field or on the water.  Research shows that when organizations deliver repetitive messages at key points, the receiver is more likely to answer the call to action.  With technology being part of our everyday lives, now is the time to take advantage of smartphone technology to help with the licensing and registration processes and elevate the ethical foundation for interacting with nature by pushing out the critical conservation messages.   

Besides registering your boat and buying your license, hunting, fishing and boating all have specific and important conservation principles that influence these activities.  Fair Chase, an ethical approach to hunting big game animals where the animals are wild and free-ranging, and not confined by artificial barriers is one of the more influential principles for hunting.  In a similar vein, the practice of catch & release influences anglers to use this conservation practice to unhook and return to the fish to water.  This maintains healthy fish populations and allows anglers to catch fish again.  With boating, stopping aquatic hitchhikers is another influential conservation practice.  Boats can inadvertently move non-native species to other waters, so it is important for boaters to clean, drain and dry their equipment and prevent the spread of these harmful species.  Ultimately, with a growing population and interest in the outdoors, these ethics must be practiced vigilantly to help conserve game species and their habitat. 

In addition to the conservation-driven values, a host of other values and benefits exist that a person gains access to when they purchase a hunting or fishing license or register their boat with their respective state agency.  To effectively position this communications platform and to elevate the conservation ethics, it is important to highlight these other features.  Below is listing of some of the other values and benefits that people can access when they buy a license or register their boat.

  • Access to awe – Nature is incredible and by purchasing a license or registering watercraft, people purposefully choose to access the outdoors, whether it’s the mountains, rivers, open space or wildlife populations.  This choice gives us access to Nature, its beauty, healing powers and connectivity.
  • Improved mental and physical health – Whether you fish, hunt or boat, these activities require you to be fit and skillful in your engagement of Nature.  Also, with incredible therapeutic value, Nature gets us out of our heads and into a world where we are part of something larger.  Harvard and other research institutions show that Nature interactions are very beneficial to our mental health and hunting, fishing and boating get us into Nature and create connections to life all around us.
  • Stronger family and friend relationships – One of the best things about choosing to engage in hunting, fishing and boating are the relationships we have and the value that these experiences can create for them. With Nature, we see each from a different perspective and strengthen our relationships with each other.
  • An escape from everyday life – Modern day life is hectic and chaotic.  We are under pressure to make money to feed our families and pay our mortgages.  These pressures mount and create undue amounts of stress.  By engaging in Nature, we can escape this chaos and rejuvenate ourselves with our escape from modern society.
  • A spiritual connection with other living things – Activities like hunting and fishing require concentration and skill.  Once this mental stamina is built and the skills are realized, hunters and anglers begin to notice things around them, like the rise of a trout sipping a mayfly, the majesty of a moose in the wild or the wind whispering through the aspens.  These experiences help you to appreciate Nature, it’s vibrancy and all of its creatures and it makes you want to share these experiences with others, because you begin to realize what is truly important.
The Craft Lager That’s Saving Our Rivers

The Craft Lager That’s Saving Our Rivers

Why a brewer of fine beers is fighting to keep our water sparkling, our trout frisky, and our brews crisp.

Way back when, about 11 years ago, long before quality craft beer in a can was much of a thing, Upslope co-founder Henry Wood was catching up with his old NOLS instructor colleague and pal Tom Reed—Trout Unlimited’s Angler Conservation Program Director—over a beer. Reed wanted to take the conservation group’s 1% For Rivers program national. And Wood was gearing up to do the same with their new Colorado born Craft Lager. If you’re envisioning some affirmative head-nodding you have the right idea. The gist of it? Buy a Craft Lager and one percent of the gross sales goes to the Trout Unlimited chapter in the state where you bought it. That’s “gross” not “net,” which translates to no small sum. Since just 2015, Upslope has donated $60,000 to the cause. “Beer and trout have a lot in common,” says Reed. “They both depend on clean water.”

Fishing and Craft Lager, A Great Pairing

What you drink matters. That’s true regardless of your passions, but if you’re into fly fishing, it’s especially relevant. Why wouldn’t you buy a beer that helps restore and protect rivers? Also, Craft Lager comes in cans, which are the perfect vessels for your vessel. Cans are lighter to ship, reducing the carbon footprint, and they’re easier to recycle than glass. There’s almost no waste: If Americans recycled every can, 96 percent of that aluminum would get repurposed. As for pairing, it doesn’t hurt that this crisp, straw-colored lager is sessionable. “It’s an easy drinking, 4.8 percent alcohol, American made all grain lager,” says Wood. “It’s tough to crush higher alcohol IPAs and steer a driftboat.”

The Upslope Crew Walks the Talk

Just as it’s hard to find a mountain biker or hiker that doesn’t see the value of spending an afternoon standing in a cold stream with a rod in hand, it’s hard to find an Upslope employee that isn’t willing to wade into river conservation work. “Beyond our donations to Trout Unlimited, we’ve physically done stream restoration as a company for years,” says Wood. “We coordinate with Rocky Mountain Anglers here in Boulder on Boulder Creek, and on South Boulder Creek in Eldorado Canyon State Park pulling out weeds and rebuilding banks. Our employees get two paid days off a year to donate their time to nonprofit work.”

The Smith River Thanks You

Like the Grand Canyon is to whitewater boaters, the Smith River in Central Montana is to fly fishers—one of the crown jewels. As such, it’s the only float in the nation that requires a permit—which you draw for much like choice elk habitat. To call that float “coveted” would be an understatement. But now a proposed hard rock copper mine on Sheep Creek near the put-in for the Smith is jeopardizing that storied waterway. With money that comes in part from Craft Lager sales, Trout Unlimited is paying lawyers to fight the Australian company pushing the mine and hiring an educator to travel the state singing the virtues of the Smith. “There’s a checkered history of hard rock mining in the state of Montana,” says Reed. “But even though Montana’s mining laws are friendly to international corporations we’ve given them a good fight. We don’t think that’s an appropriate place for a mine. And we aren’t alone. We have good grounds for a lawsuit. I’m hopeful that with continued support t we’ll win.”

Upslope’s Commitment Has Only Grown

Upslope is now one of only two certified B Corp breweries in Colorado, and one of only about 30 worldwide. What’s that mean for the average fly fisher in search of malted beverages? A lot actually. B Corp status depends on a commitment to three overarching promises to take care of employees, the community that the business touches, and the environment. Because Upslope has been committed to such goals since day one, it earned B Corp certification on the first bid. Now the challenge is to constantly improve to meet B Corp’s evermore exacting standards. Much of that challenge falls on Upslope Sustainability Coordinator Elizabeth Waters—who started out at the brewery in the tasting room as a bartender with an environmental degree. “Our biggest blind spot was our supply chain,” says Waters. “Unlike employee benefits and environmental initiatives, we didn’t have any set policy around how we source materials. Now we’re chipping away at it vigorously. It’s the little things that add up. And those little actionable initiatives get identified by our employees. Like when a hops supplier recently switched from non-recyclable paper bags lined with plastic to full paper. That simple move keeps tons of waste from the landfill. We hope to be 85 percent to our zero waste soon.”

Check Out Upslope Brewing

Late Season Turkey Action

Late Season Turkey Action

Turkey patterns constantly change during the Spring season, knowing what those are and what they might mean for your hunt can be critical in filling that tag. During the final week of May, turkeys may exhibit specific behaviors due to various factors, including breeding activity, weather conditions, and hunting pressure. Here are some key behaviors to consider during this time:

1. Breeding activity: By late May, the turkey breeding season is typically winding down, but there may still be some late-nesting hens and active gobblers. Toms might continue to gobble, but their response to calls may be less enthusiastic compared to earlier in the season. However, if you come across receptive hens, gobblers may still be in pursuit.

2. Roosting patterns: Turkeys generally maintain consistent roosting patterns, and during the final week of May, they may still be using the same roost sites as earlier in the season. Pay attention to where turkeys roost, as it will help you plan your morning setups.

3. Feeding routines: Turkeys will continue to feed throughout the day, with a focus on replenishing their energy reserves after the breeding season. Identify preferred feeding areas such as open fields, agricultural fields, or mast-producing trees. Turkeys will often travel to these locations during the late morning or early afternoon.

4. Increased wariness: As the season progresses and turkeys have experienced hunting pressure, they tend to become more cautious and wary of calls and decoys. They may be less responsive to aggressive calling and exhibit more skepticism towards decoys. Using subtle and realistic calling techniques can be more effective.

5. Adjusting to weather conditions: Weather can play a significant role in turkey behavior during late May. If the weather is warm, turkeys may adjust their activity patterns and feed more during cooler hours. Rainy or windy conditions may limit their movement and make them more likely to seek sheltered areas.

6. Changing habitat preferences: By late May, turkeys may alter their habitat preferences. They might move from dense cover used during the breeding season to more open areas, such as fields or edges of woodlands. Consider scouting to identify these transitional areas.

7. Hunting pressure impact: Turkeys that have experienced hunting pressure throughout the season can become more difficult to hunt. They might move to less-accessible areas, become more nocturnal, or change their patterns altogether. Adjust your hunting strategies accordingly, such as hunting quieter or less-pressured locations.

Observing turkey behavior in your specific hunting area during the final week of May is crucial. Spend time scouting, noting any changes in turkey activity, and adjust your hunting techniques accordingly. Adapting to their behavior patterns can increase your chances of a successful hunt during the closing days of the season.

Turkey Hunting Essentials

Turkey Hunting Essentials

So you’re planning to go turkey hunting, well you should! We’ve put together a simple list of Turkey Hunting Essentials that will hopefully help you out as you make the next step into the exciting side of Turkey Hunting.

1. Turkey calls: Turkey calls are essential for attracting turkeys. There are different types of turkey calls, such as box calls, slate calls, mouth calls, and locator calls. You may want to bring a few different types to see which one works best for the turkeys in your area. Box calls are always an easy first introduction to calling and easier to use then mouth calls.
2. Camouflage clothing: Turkeys have very good eyesight, so you’ll want to wear camouflage clothing that matches the environment you’ll be hunting in. Make sure to wear a camo hat, face mask, and gloves as well.
3. Turkey decoys: Turkey decoys can be effective in luring turkeys into range. There are different types of decoys, such as hen decoys, jake decoys, and tom decoys. Depending on the season and location, different decoys may work better.
4. Shotgun: A shotgun is the most popular firearm used for turkey hunting. A 12-gauge shotgun is the most common, but a 20-gauge can also work. There are even .410 options that can work well. Make sure to use turkey-specific loads that provide enough shot density and penetration to take down a turkey.
5. Ammunition: As mentioned, turkey-specific loads are essential for hunting turkeys. Look for shotshells that are specifically designed for turkey hunting and have a shot size of #4, #5, or #6.
6. Turkey vest: A turkey vest can hold all of your turkey hunting essentials, such as calls, ammunition, decoys, and more. It can also provide some cushioning when sitting on the ground for long periods of time.
7. Safety gear: Safety should always be a top priority when hunting. Make sure to wear a hunter orange hat and vest when moving to and from your hunting location especially when hunting on Public Lands.