Saturday, 22 December 2012

Eating Around / Olympic Provisions

Olympic Provisions SE on SE Washington St. in Portland

Portland is a food town, local food is akin to a religious phenomena there.  A few years ago, when the the travelling pig extravaganza Cochon 555 visited Portland, a local chef got into a fist-fight with the organizer of the cook-off because some of the pigs used in the cook-off were not locally sourced.  There was a broken leg, a concussion and the police had to use pepper spray and a taser to break up the fight.  Portland people are very serious about local food.

For a city of its size there are uncommonly many cutting edge restaurants.  In addition to the restaurants, there are excellent specialty food shops, high end grocery stores and innovative food carts everywhere.  Safeway in Laramie is only a poor second cousin to those same stores in Portland. Whenever we travel there we try to find the time and money to eat a meal cooked by someone else, someone who is hopefully more skilled at the stove than we.  This time we went to Olympic Provisions SE on SE Washington Street in Portland.  The chef at OPSE is Alex Yoder. According to their web-page, they were Portland's first salumeria - specializing in charcuterie and cured meats with a menu inspired by rustic Spanish and Mediterranean cooking.  In Portland, if you want excellent European style charcuterie you don't import it (you might get beat up) you make your own, and that's just what they do at OPSE.  You can see the meats hanging in a cure room behind the main counter.

Note window into the meat curing room.

The restaurant itself is a modern loft space in a old renovated building.  Having spent part of my youth in NYC renovating lofts in SoHo when it was still the art district, I am a sucker for these industrial spaces. With the high ceilings the space initially feels large, but it's not really. The dining area is narrow giving it an intimacy that feels just about right for sharing a meal.

Olympic Provisions menu - 22 December 2012

The dinner menu was perhaps not quite as interesting as I might have liked but the wine menu was exceptionally so. There were five adults and two children in our party.  Among the five of us we shared two bottles of wine. One was a nice Chardonnay from Jura: Domaine Labet “Fleurs” Côtes du Jura, 2010. We also shared a very special red from Provence, a bottle of Domaine Tempier, Bandol, 2008.  This is the wine made by the Peyraud family.  Lulu's Kitchen at Domaine Tempier has been extensively written about by food writer Richard Olney, wine importer Kermit Lynch, American chef and doyenne of the local food movement Alice Waters, iconoclastic food writer John Thorne and writer/poet gourmand Jim Harrison.  Lulu is an instinctive cook, never measuring ingredients but working by taste and feel; Richard Olney recorded her recipes and introduced her to America.

Domaine Tempier 2008
The wait-staff was knowledgeable, friendly and efficient. The children happily supped on frankfurters and fries (not on the menu).  Among the adults, we shared a charcuterie French Board which I insisted we order, mainly for the rillettes.  Rillettes are a kind of potted meat - usually pork but also made with other meats as well: duck, hare, salmon. If you've not had them, think of a home-made version of deviled ham.  The rillettes were fine and the salamis and other items on the board were very good.  I have tried my own hand at making cured sausages and the result, while not bad, was nothing like this. We shared a lot of the food - I tried the Baby Octopus that Tom ordered - it had an rich chickpea and aioli sauce that smelled and tasted of the sea  - a discordant note to the other flavors I was enjoying. I ate most of a Belgian endive salad which was light, sweet and refreshing and not something I would have made myself - I might try to duplicate it at home soon.  Others at our table enjoyed the braised cardoons but I did not taste them.  I also ate the braised short rib, a favorite of mine. It was delicious with a rich thick slightly sweet gravy but was no better than I make at home.

All-in-all we had a very good meal with exceptional wines.  With so many interesting places to eat in Portland I'm not thinking I'll be heading right back - though on our next visit we might just buy a selection of Olympic Provisions charcuterie as a prelude to a home cooked meal.  Mainly, when I go out to a restaurant like this I hope to eat something astounding, something I'd never though of or that I can not easily reproduce at home. Though the food was very good - I did not really find that at Olympic Provisions. I enjoyed a very good meal with family in nearly perfect space served by a competent wait staff.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

A Pleasant Surprise

"... it was doubtless made for an opinionated older man past his greatest strength but still enthusiastic, with good taste and a limited budget."   John Hill 
The January/February issue of Shoorting Sportsman magazine arrived the other day and after dinner I sat down to page through the new issue.  Imagine my surprise when, turning the page, I saw the word "Sidley".  "Ha!" I thought.  "Someone else has a Sidley."  And then I looked at the photo and realized it was MY Sidley!  Of course the author was Steve Bodio - and I knew the rest.  What a pleasant surprise.
Shooting Sportsman, Jan/Feb 2013, pp. 102

As readers of this blog know, the Sidley came to me from Steve Bodio in a "trade" earlier this year. I  subsequently had good success with it in my local grouse and snipe coverts.  Since then I've had no luck finding any reference to then name "Sidley" anywhere.  It is probably the name of a English ironmonger who decided to market some shotguns under his own name.  The name engraved on the action and barrels of my boxlock remains a mystery.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

New (old) truck

2004 Tacoma Double Cab 4X4 TRD Off Road
Bought this truck in Denver yesterday to replace my old faithful Tacoma. On the way down we test drove a couple of new ones - damn they are big.  This one has 77,000 fewer miles than my old one and, overall, the condition on this one is much better than the one we lost.  It's silver, not white like the old one, but really it's more gray than silver. Things could be much worse.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Truck woes.


A bad week last week. We lost the Tacoma in a rollover accident in an ice storm.  Thankfully, the driver (who shall remain unnamed) only sustained a minor concussion and was otherwise unhurt.  The roads were icy and, even going 20 MPH under the speed limit, an ice patch resulted in a sideways skid off the road and a 450° roll.

It was a 2004 Toyota Tacoma 4WD Double Cab with the TRD Off Road package.  I bought it new in 2004 and eight years later it had 187,900 miles on it.  We used it hard. It had virtually new new pair of Goodyear Wangler LT 235/85R16 tires on it.  Perhaps worst of all was that less than week before I paid $700 to have the door fixed and a bumper fixed. The door got away from me in a 60 MPH wind and blew open bending the hinges. We had it remounted on the hinges.  The bumper had been damaged for years after I hit an antelope. The deductible was $500, just about what a new bumper cost so I kept putting it off; until two weeks ago. That truck took me many places only 4-Wheelers dare to tread.

My truck in better days - sighting in.

This means I need a new truck, and the need for a new truck has put the brakes on a gun trade I was working on.   Can't really say there is any truck I'd rather have than the one I lost - so I've been looking at used ones like it. They are hard to find classics and they go for top dollar and tend to have a few more miles than I'd like for the money.  Toyota started changing the body style of the Tacoma in 2005 and since then they mostly look to me like they've been pumped up on steroids. The white color was great for the dog - the truck stays cool even on hot days in the summer - but I'm not sure I'll get another white one.  Somehow the later model white ones are not as appealing. Probably the big white bumpers on them.

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Lifted 2009 Tacoma Access Cap in Pyrite Mica with a Softtopper.
I do like this one (not for sale) but I need to find something quickly and they're somewhat rare in this brown color - which will not be as good for the dog.  I liked the double cab for all the room inside (locked space).  I think the extended cab (Toyota calls it an Access Cab) probably has enough room in the back.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Elk Milanese

Last week, poking around on the net, I ran across Hank Shaw's recipe for Jaeger Schnitzel and immediately I wondered why on earth I had never made elk Milanese.  My wife spent time growing up in Argentina and her family made Milanese whenever good veal was available.  I whipped this dinner up last night after a long day at work.  Call it what you like: Milanese, Wiener Schnitzel, Steak and Frites, Chicken Fried Steak and Fries.  Whatever, it was a truly excellent meal that I can hardly wait to repeat.

Elk Milanese:
Slice an elk steak into thin slabs, maybe 1/2" thick and then, covered with a piece of plastic wrap or wax paper - pound/press them even flatter.  I used a wine bottle. A quarter of an inch thick is fine and even thinner is not unacceptable.  Salt and pepper the meat.  Have three shallow plates - one with flour, one with a beaten egg and the third with bread crumbs. Heat 1/2 a stick of butter and olive oil in a large pan (I use a cast iron frying pan).  Add as much olive oil as needed to make the oil  1/4" to 1/2" deep in the bottom of the pan.  Dip the meat in the flour, then coat with egg and finally drop it in the bread crumbs, sprinkle a bit more on top and press.  Once the oil is hot - place the breaded meat into the pan and cook for a few minutes a side - until golden brown.  Put them on a paper towel to soak up any remaining oil and then put them in a warm oven while the next batch cooks. Garnish with sliced lemon wedges.

A favorite food book.

Packed away somewhere in my basement is a copy of Joseph Wechsberg's  book The Cooking of the Vienna's Empire. I can't remember the exact trick but I seem to recall that he has rather excellent advice on how to flour, egg and bread the meat so that the crust lifts off in a thin layer.   Maybe it was in his other excellent book Blue Trout and Black Truffles - also some in my basement.  I could not find Wechsberg's technique in any of the cook books I do have access to.  I was surprised that it is not mentioned in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage Meat Book, but it isn't.  I am surprised that Nicola Fletcher does not include a Milanese recipe in her excellent book Ultimate Venison Cookery.

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Between the two of us, we shared a small elk steak, a large potato and a bottle of Chardonnay.  The potato was cut into fries using an inexpensive but handy mandolin.  A salad would have been a nice addition - but it was late and I was tired and we were hungry.  Properly done, this a rather delicate presentation - a thin golden brown crust, with the meat still pink inside.   The earthy and slightly gamey flavor of the elk was magnificently present. We drank a Chardonnay with this - perhaps not the best choice, but it was the bottle we first opened when we got home and really, it was just fine with the meal. Next time perhaps we may uncork a light red - perhaps a Pinot Noir.   This meal is highly recommended.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Spawning Browns on the North Platte

What I was after.
For a few years now I've been wanting to get up to fish for the big brown trout that run up into the North Platte from the series of reservoirs west of Casper.  The run of spawning browns is a mid-November to mid-December event that happens to fall during prime pheasant and sharptail hunting season so I never seem to make it.  This year, with the drought, reports from pheasant country are not promising so the decision to fish instead of hunt was not difficult. Jeff and I drove up to the North Platte leaving at 7:30 Sunday morning from the West Laramie Fly Store.

Tom McGuane (via Steve Bodio) wrote "Shoptalk is lyrical."  Here's the technical details for them that likes them. I was casting a 5wt 11 foot Z-axis switch rod loaded with a Scientific Anglers 280 gr Extreme Skagit head with a 10' Airflow Salmon/Steelhead fast sinking polyleader with a bit more than a foot of 15 lb. tippet attached to a streamer.   My running line is the yellow Airflow Ridge.  This is all spooled on an old Lamson LP4 which really needs to be replaced; if the reel gets wet the drag slips or even goes free spool and the spool occasionally spontaneously falls off.  The orange Skagit head is 18' long. I feel like I'd cast it a bit better when I'm not in deep if was a couple of feet longer - but I do pretty well with it. Although I am no expert, I can Spey cast a lightly weighted streamer far further with this rig than I can with a 9 foot 8 wt. rod.  For this kind of fishing I far prefer fishing the 5 weight switch rod to my 14 foot 9 weight Spey rod though that works too.

I caught one big brown, a few smaller ones and a decent rainbow. I went for a big brown and was completely satisfied to have caught one: you can't always get what you want. The take was textbook perfect - the fish took a white marabou streamer I was swinging in classic Salmon/Steelhead fishing style.   Jeff netted it for me and took a photo.  By then I was anxious to release it so it could continue the sexual business it was there for - and so I did not measure it.  I'd guess it was a 26 or 27 inch fish.  Jeff hooked up more than once but did not land one.

No snow up there yet - a shocking continuation of the current drought conditions.  People all over, even those who don't much like snow,  are wishing we'd get some.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Elk Season: The Conclusion

Fresh snow, rifle, and pack.

As I mentioned I was going to do in a previous post  - I picked up a leftover cow/calf tag and continued hunting this past weekend on the northeast side of the Snowy Range. I hunted with an unnamed friend on Saturday who I'll call The Pirate and on Sunday we were joined by  Mr. Stone.

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Saturday, 10 November 2012: Overnight we'd had two to four inches of fresh snow and temperatures we predicted to drop all day going down into the single digits by nightfall.  As we got on I-80 West out of Laramie the warning sign blinked the message "NO LIGHT TRAILERS - WIND GUSTS 60 MPH+".  This was perfect.

There is no shortage of theories among elk hunters; some of them hold up to scrutiny bearing some relationship to reality and others are just  pipe dreams or wishful thinking. Theories abound as to whether the elk are up high or down low, and if so, why? One theory says that fresh snow, high wind and a significant cold front coming through will tend to push the elk down to lower elevation.  This is the one the Pirate and I were counting on.  How else can you put a positive spin on 60 MPH+ winds?  It's good weather for elk hunting,  that's how.

As we parked the truck at the Pirate's cabin he spotted an elk up a steep hillside in the open sage about three quarters of a mile away.  With my binoculars we could make out six elk. I thought to myself:  "This is just going to be too easy.  I'll be home by mid-afternoon."  We grabbed our rifles, threw on our packs, hopped on the 4-wheeler and headed toward the base of the open slope.  Last I saw them, the elk did not seem to mind the noise of the ATV.  We parked in the timber and carefully made our way on foot to the sage opening where we'd seen the elk not fifteen minutes earlier. They were, of course, gone but the tracks in the fresh snow were easy to follow.   We followed the tracks for two and a half miles before giving up near the top of a ridge with the wind blowing hard and snow falling.  The snow was much deeper up high which made walking a significant effort.  The creeks flow west off the slope we were on and we followed the ridge south to drop back down toward the truck in the next drainage over.

It was after 1 PM and by now and we were cold, tired, hungry and thirsty and a bit wet so we started to get sloppy.  In our rush to get to the elk in the early morning we'd failed to pack our lunches or even drinks. This was a lesson I thought I'd learned before - no matter how short you might think a hunt will be - take everything you would carry for a full day.

Because we were tired and thirsty we were anxious to get back down to the cabin - and so we were moving faster than we should have been, stumbling our way down the mountain.  I'd mostly given up glassing the timber ahead and of course, that's when we bumped a small herd of elk.  They saw us just about the time the Pirate saw them.  He hissed "Elk!" and I looked and saw them.  Nervously trying to fingure which way to run.  I quickly set up on my shooting sticks and though it was a far dicier shot than I like to take, I was willing. As the elk started to run I fixed my sights on an opening in the trees where I'd seen the others pass and as the last cow in the herd ran through, I pulled the trigger. I pulled and nothing happened.  My safety was on.  Exhausted and embarrassed I did not mention the safety to the pirate.

Blowing snow and blue skies on the drive out.

We got back to the cabin in a howling wind with temperatures in the teens and even after warming up, neither of us could bring ourselves to head out for a late-afternoon/evening hunt.  We drove back to town in a big blow.  If it was 10°F and the wind was blowing at 50 MPH,  the wind chill was -39°F (old method) or -17°F (new method). In any case it was brutally cold and a minute without gloves on left your hands hurting. This is weather that can cause frostbite, it is weather that can kill you.

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Sunday, 11 November 2012:  The Pirate's friend Mr. Stone joined us on Sunday. He and the Pirate had been hunting hard all season in the same area where we'd bumped elk the day before but they had never been so lucky.   The plan was that the Pirate and I would hunt together up one drainage and the quiet Mr. Stone would hunt alone up the next one to the south. We planned to meet up in a few hours at the top of the ridge.  It was still damn cold with high winds and it was practically unbearable riding in on the back of 4 Wheeler through the open country trying to get into the trees.

Almost as soon as we got into the timber we cut tracks.  A heard of five or six elk headed uphill.  We followed the tracks on foot.  About a half a mile in, as we neared the top of a steep slope, I just knew they'd be bedded down on the flat in the timber.  The Pirate and I separated a bit, me to the right, and moved up onto the flat.  We quietly stood and looked and listened when we were off the steep. Just like the day before, the Pirate hissed  "Elk!" and I turned toward him and saw them, about 60 yards away through the timber.  After the previous days shooting debacle I quickly got my sights on them, flipped off the safety and, just as they started to run, I pulled the trigger.  I did not see an elk fall and I felt I must have missed - for the second time this season.  I quickly headed toward the spot where they'd been.  There was no blood. I was sure I'd aimed high.

We tracked those elk for more than a mile before we gave up. We circled around and headed back to the 4 Wheeler and to the cabin for lunch.  Mr. Stone had also followed elk and jumped one off her bed but had not had a shot.

Cow elk down last Sunday - just at dusk.
For the afternoon hunt we drove up as high as we could get through the snow on the 4 Wheelers and hunted from there. The winds were still high, my legs were tired and I'd lost hope.  I really just wanted to call it a day.  The three of us split up and hunted uphill meeting on a rocky high point absurd winds ravaging the landscape. As I stood there I heard the honking of a flock of geese and I saw them for a moment through the blowing snow before they were blown away into the haze.  None of us had seen fresh tracks. As we hunted back down the Pirate and I dropped off a steep slope into dense timber and Mr. Stone hunted the contour.

Off that rim and down in the thick timber it suddenly got very quiet and there were elk tracks everywhere. There must have been 20 elk and possibly more in the herd we'd dropped into.  We hunted slowly downhill, separated by 50 feet or so, slowly and silently weaving our way through the trees, expecting to see them at any second.  Further and further down we went until we were well below the 4 Wheelers.  It was close to 3:30 PM and after a short consult,  we decided to hunt just a bit further.  And of course, that is when we saw them.  Determined not to repeat my earlier errors I clicked off the safety and took aim but did not shoot because the shot was not clear. And then they saw the Pirate who was below me  and the forest exploded with elk running in every direction.  A panicked cow tore up the steep gully, not more than 15 yards in front of me, I swung my rifle like a shotgun and pulled the trigger and she ran by.  She fell instantly onto a log sticking out of the side of the narrow ravine.  She wasn't going anywhere but I put a second bullet into her heart to finish her.  The first shot that had dropped her was a neck shot.

I gutted my elk and left her where she lay and walked out to the 4 Wheelers in the dark. From the cabin  we drove out to I-80 in a serious whiteout which forced us to stop frequently to wait for the wind to die down.

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Monday: 12 November 2012

Up at 5 AM again.  During a long elk season a work day, when I can sleep in until at least 6 AM, is almost a welcome reprieve.  This day I had a PhD prelim to attend.  It had been scheduled for months and I could not miss it.  The wind had died down and up on the mountain we were able to get the 4 Wheeler to the edge of the ravine where my elk had fallen.  We were able to use the winch to pull her up and out of the ravine and then were able to drag her all they way to my truck. We managed to load her whole into the back of my Toyota. 

Whole elk in the back of my truck.
Thanks to the Pirate and Mr. Stone for their help.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Elk Season (so far)

An exceptionally well outfitted jeep (not mine) that did not survive the elk season.

I hunted elk five days in October, by my accounting that's nearly 50 hours of hunting in total. Add another four days hunting deer and I managed to spend a lot of time in the field this past month.

There was a lot of good hunting in that time but the most eventful day for my elk season so far was Saturday October 27th.   We had about 4" of fresh snow on the ground that morning so all but the steepest roads were still passable for my Tacoma and the conditions were perfect for tracking.    I took the photo above of the jeep on its side on my drive into my hunting area.   I stopped to see if anyone was hurt but the occupant was gone.  Whoever it was, hope they are OK. This was an exceptionally well outfitted vehicle with excellent offroad tires, a winch, auxiliary lights, permanently mounted high-lift jack and Jerry cans for extra gas.

I got onto the track of two bulls around 10:30 AM and tracked them until I finally caught up with them at 2 PM.  There are so many moose tracks in the area that I occasionally convinced myself I was foolishly tracking a couple of moose, then I would regain my confidence that they were indeed elk.  According tot he GPS they'd gone a bit more than two miles by the time I caught up with them.  Just before I did catch up they'd changed their direction of travel.  I wondered why. I'd been following them in the same direction for more than an hour - essentially heading NNE following the contour of the land (at about 8500 ft) headed into the wind. Then they turned 90 degrees left heading WNW and downhill.  Soon I found myself in a sea of elk tracks. The bulls I was following had scented the cows long before I realized what they were up to and had merged with that herd.

A stand of lodgepole pines - looking for elk in the timber.
I was far from my truck at this point with lots of deadfall between me any road.  I reasoned that I could find a cow elk closer to a road later in the season and decided I would only shoot a bull this far in.  I was in a thick stand of lodgepole pines - each tree uniformly six to eight inches in diameter and standing about 25 feet tall.  Some were spaced as close two or three feet.  Moments after I'd made the decision to only pull the triger on a bull  I glassed an elk through the thick trees.  After glassing for elk and fully expecting to see one at any minute for more than three hours now it was exactly what I'd expected to see. Finally. His head was in profile through a small gap in the trees and I saw his large eye - looking at me.  He turned his head and I could see the base of his antlers.  I kneeled down and put the rifle on the shooting sticks and sighted him through the scope. He was aware that something was up -  but he did not know what and he was not sure which way to turn so he stood still. Elk feel secure in the deep timber.  And when they are with a noisy herd, a movement or sound is not as alarming as it might be to a lone animal.  On the other hand, eight elk have sixteen eyes and ears and eight noses the better to detect you with.

He was about seventy yards away - certainly less than a hundred and slightly downhill from me.  He was facing away from me - turned slightly to the left - more than quartering away but not straight away.   A raking shot to be sure, but I had most of the flank in sight through the narrow gap in the trees. I was not rushed. I took aim and pulled the trigger and fully expected to see him drop right where he stood.  No such luck - he ran off uphill. I was unconcerned until I got to the spot where he'd been and I found no blood.  I had been certain that he was, or would soon be lying dead.

Gaia GPS ap for an IPhone - a new addition to my hunting technology -  excellent.
After spending almost an hour searching for blood - moving back to the spot I'd shot from and down to where I had seen him -  I got back on his trail and started tracking him.  I could only believe that, even though I had a clear sight picture of him through the scope, the bullet must have hit a small branch. I'm shooting a pre-64 model 70 rifle rebarreled to 35 Whelen.  I'm shooting handloads: the bullet is a 250 gr Hornady Spire Point  in front of 54 gr of H4895 powder with a Federal GM210M primer in a R-P case.  These loads clock in at 2525 fps.  The Whelen is known as a brush bucking cartridge - but brush bucking may be more a matter of luck than anything else.  These trees have few if any low branches so I am still confused.  Another theory is that the bullet went in and did not exit (which it probably would not do at that angle) and he was mortally wounded but not bleeding. I've read that fatty tissue will sometimes close a wound. Since he had run uphill before angling off downhill toward the other elk who had run off down the ridge I was able to follow him.  No blood.  About a quarter of a mile later his tracked merged with the rest of the herd and he was lost to me.  I followed the herd for another quarter of a mile - further and further from the truck - before giving up.  A completely surprising and disappointing end to a nearly perfect elk hunt.

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I hunted again Sunday the 28th with more fresh snow and roads less passable than the day before. Early on I got a the very fresh tracks of a herd of cows and followed them for about a half a mile until they crossed into Colorado.  I followed them some more hoping they'd angle back into Wyoming but eventually I was not able to justify following them further.

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It turns out that there are still leftover licenses available for a nearby area that will allow me to kill a cow or calf elk until January 31st.  I'm going to take this weekend off and start again next weekend.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Meditations on Deer Hunting

2012 Wyoming deer regulations - summary map.

    Deer seasons in the areas I hunt in SE Wyoming have all been cut by half, from two weeks to a single week; and now only  bucks are legal game. In some areas bucks must have at least three points on one side to be considered legal.  Mule deer populations have been crashing in SE Wyoming and Northern CO for a number of years. The changes to this years season dates and regulations are the first major ones since I've lived here. The changes are obviously an attempt by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to relieve hunting pressure on the deer populations.  Some people complain that these changes came too late - I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

    For the first ten years after moving to WY I hunted and killed a deer every year.  Never a doe, always a buck but sometimes a spike.  The last mule deer I killed was in 2008.  In 2009 I had a nice shot at a good 3x3 mule deer but I passed.  I was mainly focused on elk at the time.  I had real failures in the 2010 and 2011 seasons. I hunted hard for deer both years and did not kill one.  This year I had a very nice (and unique) 3x3 in my sights for more than 15 minutes and did not pull the trigger.  Still pondering the reasons why.  It turns out that not killing can be complicated.

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Monday October 1, 2012 -  Even with work piling up I managed to get out for a morning hunt.  I hunted the upper reaches of a small stream that flows west into the North Platte river.  The stream bed cuts quickly into the landscape forming a narrow canyon not far from its source. The north side of the canyon is heavily timbered and the south side is mostly open sage country with aspens  filling the draws that drop to the canyon floor. Shots from the north side of the canyon to the south side are, depending on exactly where, somewhere between 150 and 350 yards. It makes for a somewhat long shot - but in the mid-ranges is very doable with a 270 Winchester shooting 140 gr Barnes boat tail bullets.  I'd watched a mature buck feed up the open south slope one morning last year while hunting elk (after the deer season was over.)  On this day I walked a long way after getting a somewhat late start and only ever saw does.

Saturday October 6, 2012 - Hunted the same spot in the early morning with no luck.  Headed to the Platte river valley for the afternoon hunt.  Around three in the afternoon I walked into the wilderness area about a quarter mile from my truck to the rim of an aspen filled draw.  This is big open sage country and was not far from where I killed my best mule deer. As I slowly moved along just below the rim, I spotted a hunter coming down toward the draw through the open sage way up on the the far side. I decided to sit down and in the shade of a low rocky outcrop on the rim to see if he pushed any deer out.  I sat down an set up my shooting sticks to wait. Any deer moving down the draw would have to pass through an opening in the aspens giving me an excellent downhill shot at about 100 years.  The other hunter has seen me and he diverted his path but I still sat and waited.  It was 120 yards to the far side of the draw where the aspens ended and the sage opened up.  Glassing the thick aspen cover with binoculars I hear a branch snap somewhere below me, and then a few minutes later I spotted the rump of a deer.  Ten minutes later a deer stepped out of the sage and then there was a second behind it.  Amazingly, both were bucks, the first was a spike horn and the second a good three by three.  The larger of the two was a fine animal with long willowy antlers of a beautiful orange color.  The smaller buck was half the size.  I sat on the rim and watched them browse their way uphill on the far side of draw - alternating between the view through my scope and through the  binoculars.  Finally, they wandered into the  timber on the far rim and they were lost to sight.  I continued to hunt until dark though I did not see another deer.

Sunday October 7, 2012 - On Sunday I hunted mule deer and elk hard all day in a different area - closer to home where I could shoot a bull elk or a mule deer buck in overlapping seasons.  I did get onto some fresh elk tracks early but never saw the animal.  Other than a mature four-by-four lying dead in the back of another hunters pickup I passed on a remote forest service road - I did not see a deer.

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    So on Saturday, after a textbook perfect hunt, I had what I was hunting for in my sights.  It was an easy shot at close range with no wind off a secure rest - and yet I did not pull the trigger. Why? I'm still thinking about it. There are a number or reasons I can think of  but none provides a really satisfactory explanation.  My first suggestion is that, in the back of my mind, I carry the thought that my wife and I prefer elk meat to deer meat.  Elk populations are up so I, perhaps unrealistically, expect to kill an elk this year.  A second reason is that, although I do not really consider myself a trophy hunter, I have killed a number of deer that were "better" than this one.  Irrationally, I had it in my mind that I would find a fully mature four-by-four buck within the following twenty-six hours before the season ended.  Another reason is that, with deer populations so low, killing a not quite mature deer seemed unnecessary. And also, I was just plain tired. Hunting big game alone is hard work: field dressing and packing out an animal is even more work.  I was dog tired after a long day of hunting on foot in steep country.

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José Ortega y Gasset
  Not pulling the trigger raises the issue of killing or not killing while hunting.  In his book Meditations on Hunting (originally published in 1944) Ortega y Gasset famously wrote: "one does not hunt in order to kill; on the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted".  It is true that even though I did not kill that mule deer I know that I surely would have pulled the trigger on a more mature buck - so I would claim I hunted - I think.  My interpretation of Ortega y Gasset's remark is that he was getting at something  else.  Every kill is different and each one builds into a store of experience that cumulatively makes the hunter who (s)he is.  Much of that knowledge is technical knowledge that can not be gained in any other way except by killing.  How well (or not) did the bullet perform?  What was the extent of the wound it caused? How far did the animal go with the wound it sustained and how quickly did it die?  How much blood was lost - was there a blood trail? These are aspects of the hunt that we perhaps prefer not to discuss.  Even hunters ready to discuss the finer points of butchering and cooking game meat rarely discuss these points.  And yet, these technical aspects of actually killing are part of the hunt that can not be experienced without  pulling the trigger. That body of experience is what makes books like John Taylor's African Rifles and Cartridges  or Elmer Keith's Big Game Rifles and Cartridges truly substantial works.  I think this experience is required for a hunter to have hunted.

     In his excellent book The Why of Hunting (which will hopefully be published very soon) Gerard Cox argues that Ortega y Gasset's aphorism applies only to sport hunters in the European tradition from the middle of the last century. These were Ortega y Gasset's audience for his essay on hunting.  It may be unfair to Gerry to publicly argue with is book before publication - but based on not killing this year,  I think Ortega y Gasset's remarks hold more true than Gerry admits.  
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Although I did not kill a deer this year  - and so missed the rich aspects of the hunt that come after the kill - thankfully, the story remains.  And also, there are still two weeks left in the elk season.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Snipe Recipes

Snipe at Dawn - Aiden Lassell Ripley (1986-1969)
Dan on the Rock asked about cooking and eating snipe.  As snipe are small birds - it takes more than a few of them to provide a real meal.  I combined the two I killed recently with a single dove to make some tapas before a more substantial meal of grouse in blackberry/pepper sauce.   After a long day in the field, the expedience of just breasting the birds out seems to be the way to go.  If you have more time, a plucked and roasted bird is a perhaps more fitting way to prepare them.  If you're short of snipe recipes, they can always be cooked in the same way as woodcock, though woodcock may provide slightly more meat.  The first game birds I ever managed to kill were woodcock near Williamsburg Virginia.

Snipe and dove breast tapas.
Sauteed Snipe Breast on Toasted Baguette RoundsIngredients: As many snipe breasts as you can muster; butter; salt, freshly ground pepper and a medium hot chili powder; rounds cut from a baguette; and (optionally) a few drops of truffle oil.Method: Breast out the birds. Salt and pepper the breasts and sprinkle on a dash of chili powder. I use Fernandez Chilie Molido Puro which is available in my Safeway store in 7 oz. bags. Slice the baguette into thin rounds - about 1/4". Melt a generous portion of butter in a frying pan, add a drop or two of truffle oil and then dip the bread into the butter and place them on a plate in a warm oven.  Add the breasts to the butter and brown them on both sides until medium rare.  Place them on the toast and enjoy with a favorite glass of wine.  A dry white or a light red like a Pinot Noir goes well.

There is a nice web site devoted to snipe hunting. They have a  list of recipes including the old standby, snipe wrapped in bacon.  Also a favorite way of mine to cook dove - wrap a small piece of jalapeno in the breast and then wrap the breast with bacon - grill until the bacon is nicely browned.  Hank Shaw at Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook has done some nice writing about snipe. He has a somewhat elaborate recipe and a plainer one too.   The Derrydale Game Cookbook by L. P. Gouy lists 24 recipes for woodcock and any could be used for snipe as well.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Morning snipe, afternoon grouse.

You may be shooting too quickly on snipe.  If memory serves, an old snipe hunter explained, "First they zig, and then they zag, then they shit, and after that they straighten out and you shoot 'em."  I spent many happy hours snipe hunting on the flats of the Skagit, but unfortunately I didn't know this technique. -- Personal correspondence from Gerry Cox

A brace of snipe on the counter.

Went after snipe on Sunday morning and grouse in the afternoon with my son who was visiting from Portland.  I can't , nay won't, say exactly where we hunted the snipe. Look for marshy country and cross your fingers that they are in.   I killed the first snipe on the first flush with one shot from the right barrel on Sidley.  I'd rather not say how many shells were expended by both of us before Garrett managed to drop the second one.  Once again, the open right barrel on the Sidley proved it's worth.

Two snipe in the field with the 20GA boxlock.

In the afternoon we drove up high to a spot I know for grouse.  Erdos was past tired after slogging through the muck all morning - but he hunted hard for us and we (Garrett) killed two birds.  On the first flush, two birds went up with Erdos on point, I hit one at some distance, feathers flew and the bird wobbled and glided into the forest.   Did not find him until we managed to flush him about an hour later from where he'd hidden in a tree.  Garrett dropped him.  Of course it is hard to know if it was the same bird, but we both thought it had to be.  We hunted more and flushed another four birds, one of which Garrett also managed to drop.

A brace of grouse taken up high.
Not a bad day at all, two snipe in the morning and two grouse in the afternoon. 

Friday, 14 September 2012

Rainy Afternoon Grouse

 “The physics of beauty is one department of natural science still in the Dark Ages. Everybody knows that the autumn landscape in the northwoods is the land, plus a red maple, plus a ruffed grouse. In terms of conventional physics, the grouse represents only a millionth of either the mass or the energy of an acre. Yet subtract the grouse and the whole thing is dead. An enormous amount of some kind of motive power has been lost. – Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac”

In the quote above, Aldo Leopold was writing about Ruffed Grouse, here in Wyoming I hunt Blue Grouse.  Hunted behind a dog, blues are not all that different from their ruffed cousins. The blue grouse is a bit larger, probably a bit slower, and possibly dumber - but they inhabit the same kind of cover as the ruffed grouse and they perhaps hold a bit better for a dog than a ruffie does.  In terms of their ability to escape from danger - they are no less wily, they somehow always manage to put a tree between themselves and the hunter before they embark on their  thunderous escape.

Blue grouse hunting starts on September first in Wyoming. It's the first bit of the hunting season. For me, there is a nice symbiosis between grouse hunting and hunting for deer and elk.  Grouse tend to inhabit the edges of the best elk habitat and they live in the same country mule deer do.  This means that a grouse hunt is more than a casual deer and elk scouting trip. And it works the other way as well, I have found my best grouse coverts by noticing birds while hunting deer and elk.

Hard work on a rainy afternoon in the grouse coverts.
One day earlier this week Mike and I managed to get away from work a few hours early to hit some favorite grouse coverts.  I prefer to not say which day that was. We did not plan on the rain - hell, it hasn't rained here in weeks.  Never mind, I followed Erdos carrying the new Sidley 20GA SxS and Mike followed his setter Luna carrying one of a pair of 16GA Woodwards. We got into birds, big males in one covert and some young of the year in another.

Mike and Erdos in good cover. Where Luna?
The grouse theorists pretty much all say that at this time of year the big males will be up high and the young of the year down lower near water.  It's all about the altitude - when you find birds - stay at that level and you'll find more.  This theory may make perfect sense along the Front Range in CO where the forest starts around 6000 feet and goes up to around 10,000 in a kind of continuous rise.  Here in southeast Wyoming, the forest starts around 7500 feet and in large areas there is not a lot of elevation gain or loss for many many square miles.  There are grouse there and they don't migrate up or down as much as the biologists might have us believe.  I think they a re more keyed to water than altitude in these areas.  Once the snow flies, they are freer to find the big Firs they like for winter cover. My evidence is that I tend to find grouse year round in the same spots every year and it seems to have little to do with altitude.  Where I mostly hunt - it's all high - around 8000 feet or more.

Sidley 20GA with a brace of Blues.
In the first covert Mike and I hit we got into a large covey of big male birds. There were at least eight birds, maybe more, I lost count.  I only managed one bird there though a good shot might have had her limit and an unethical hunter even more than the allowed three.  The bird I shot was a big male as were the others in covey - or so I believe. In the second bit of cover we hit, one I had never hunted before but which looked good, Erdos went on point and a bird flushed as I moved up. It uncannily managed to perfectly place a tree between me and his escape.  As the bird exploded out of the cover, I shot the tree and the bird flew off unharmed.  And then, for the first time this year, Erdos did not run off after the escaping bird. He has a great nose but he suffers from having had a poor trainer. (That would be me.) When he does run off after a bird he bumps the others in the covey on his way and I am reduced to watching them all bombing up and flying off into the distance. A beautiful sight - but not the one I hope for.  This time, with some serious urging from me, he stayed with me.  He pointed another bird quite nearby and as is flew up I managed to cleanly drop a mature female.

Mike and Luna with a brace of grouse.

On the way out, we spotted a covey crossing the road.  We stopped and moved in on the birds and  Mike managed some nice shooting and dropped two birds on the wing as darted off between the pines.

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Even though all of us, dogs and men, got very wet, it was a wonderful afternoon.  The symbiosis of the grouse and elk hunt was working too, in anticipation of upcoming elk seasons, we spotted two nice bull elk on the drive out.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Gun Trading

Trading is a great way to do business, no money exchanges hands and (hopefully) everyone gets what they want. The problem is finding someone who has what you want and is willing to pass it on and that same someone must want something you have and that you are willing to give up.

W. R. Sidley, 20 GA British boxlock  with 30" barrels and chambered for 2 1/2" shells. 
Recently, Stephen Bodio and I have been corresponding about guns, hunting and life in general. Our mutual friend Gerry (who introduced us to one another) knows that I've been looking to replace my 20 GA Citori Superlight with a SxS boxlock (preferably British) and he also happened to believe that Steve might be interested in thinning his battery.   Steve recently acquired a gun that makes his 20 GA British boxlock redundant in his own battery.  Bodio got this very interesting shotgun in a trade a few years ago. He wrote about it on his blog under the heading Gun Deal.

British 10 GA - Steve's ideal in a sitting turkey gun.
 Based on Gerry's suggestion, I suggested to Steve that he might have a gun that I might be interested in. Steve quickly constructed a rather interesting trade.  He was willing to trade his light weight 20 GA boxlock (with elegantly long 30" barrels and beautiful wood ) for a 10 GA Damascus barrelled gun that he sees himself using for turkeys. Of course the glitch is that I don't own a 10 GA, Damascus barrelled or otherwise, so how are we to trade?  Steve had his eye on a 10 GA that he wanted and quoted me the price.  I sent him the funds for the 10 GA (plus the cost of shipping the twenty to me) and before I knew it the Sidley boxlock was at N. L. Heineke's shop in Laramie.

The Sidley arrived in Laramie - on the leather covered counter at N.L. Heineke.

Nathan Heineke in his shop - a former bank building - looking for some 2 1/2" 20 GA shells.

Steve's twenty (now mine) is indeed a very elegant and light gun. When I first picked it up I was astounded by how light it was and good it felt in the hand.  Light guns are not necessarily favourites of experienced gunners - that's because they tend to not have enough inertia through a swing,  The 30" barrels make up for that on this gun.  In one email regarding the gun Steve wrote: 
You will rarely see any 28 as slim and elegant as this 20 -- if you are not used to good English shotguns its lines will amaze you, and the smallness of the action.  I wanted it the moment I saw it, and all romantic analogies apply!  Good Brit 20's compare in looks with US 28's and 410's and pattern better.
It really is a light gun, I believe Nate's scale read 5 lbs 2 oz.  He went over the gun carefully and declared it sound.  The gun shows more wear on the outside than it does inside with the locks in near new condition and it's had some work done on it to try to mitigate that difference.  It was reproofed in London in 2002 and, based on barrel wall thickness measurements, it is still in proof. The right choke is a "bell" or "trumpet" choke (-.005") and the left barrel is what Nate called a tight quarter choke at (.009") - others would call it Improved Cylinder.  We patterned the gun and it shoots to point of aim.  I thought the gun balanced perfectly - Nate says it could loose 2 ounces from the butt end and be better balanced.  To prove it to me he taped 2 ounces to the barrels about 14 inches north of the triggers.  I have to admit that there was a subtle but noticeable difference.  This is one of those ineffable things.  You can't specify the point on the gun (say 4" in front of the trigger guard) where it should balance, it should feel balanced when you naturally hold it in your hands.

A twenty  chambered for 2 1/2" shells is essentially the British equivalent of a modern twenty-eight. The standard load in a 2 1/2" twenty gauge shell is 7/8 oz of shot while modern 28 gauge shells carry 3/4 ounce - an eighth of an ounce less.   So a light weight 2 1/2" twenty is a lot like a twenty-eight carrying 16% more shot.  You can find 7/8 ounce loads for the twenty-eight (Fiocchi makes them) and you can find 2 1/2" 20 GA shells loaded with a hair less than an ounce of shot (Gamebore makes them).   In fact, I was able to buy a few boxes of these at Jax in Fort Collins so I do have some shells - if not grouse loads.  These heavy loads are pushing the limits. The standard loads for my gun are made by RST and they sell them by the flat (250 shells per) reasonably priced and in every possible configuration you might like.

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In the end I'd say this was a perfectly constructed trade.  Thank you Steve!  He'll get what he wants and I'm very happy with what I got - even if it may have seemed to Steve at some point that I was dragging my feet.  I took the gun out chasing Blue grouse for a few hours yesterday and although we did not flush even one bird (unlike the day before) I did get to spent a few hours in the field with the new gun and am even happier with it than I was before.  I'm hoping it will turn out to be a magic grouse wand.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Rob Kelly (1956 - 2006)

Rob Kelly leading the Great White Book on the Stately Pleasure Dome, Tuoloumne. 1987
My friend Rob Kelly died on this day in 2006. I've been thinking of him all day today and thought I'd put up some of the photos I have as a remembrance. We shared real adventures together in some of the most beautiful places in the world.  He was a reliable and trustworthy climbing partner and friend and he died too young.

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In 1986 Rob, Don Hamilton and I climbed in the Canadian Rockies and the Bugaboos in British Columbia.

Rob Kelly on the summit of Mt. Athabasca in the Canadian Rockies. 1986

Lunch on the summit of Pigeon Spire in the Bugaboos, BC.  1986

The Howser Towers peeking over the Snowpatch (left) Bugaboo (right) col. 1986

Approach to Pigeon Spire, the view from the Snowpatch Bugaboo col. 1986

In 1987 I climbed with Rob in Tuoloumne Meadows in the Yosemite high country.  We did many of the classic rotes including the spectacular Regular Route on Fairview Dome.

Rob on the Great White Book in Tuoloumne. 1987

Fairview Dome, Tuoloume. 1987

Rob Kelly high on the regular route on Fairview Dome, Tuoloumne. 1987

Rob Kelly after a swim in an icy lake in the Yosemite high country. 1987

Friday, 17 August 2012

Drifting the North Platte

Blue heron watching / Patient at the waters edge / Speared rainbow wriggles

For someone who mostly wades rivers, floating is a different approach, it provides a different perspective.  Drifting downstream, the path of the river through the landscape unfolds before you. When wading, the river passes you by, flowing around your legs as you work to keep yourself well planted to the bottom.   On a float, each bend reveals something new: an osprey dropping into the river and coming up with a large trout in its talons; a lone buck antelope silhouetted against a deep blue sky; a blue heron patiently waiting for and unwary trout. You'll see many of the same sights while wading but floating streams them to you in continuous succession.

You can't argue with results - nice rainbow hen taken on a WD40 emerger.
And of course there is the difference in the quality of the fishing.  I've always felt that carefully and successfully working a run on foot is the best demonstration of an anglers skill.  Drifting in a boat, with your line overboard, waiting for a hookup, seems rather stochastic.  Hookups come as a surprise.  It seems to me that it has more to do with the skill of the oarsman - who works hard to keep the boat tracking through the best water - than it does with the skill of the angler.  I haven't done much drift boat fishing so maybe I am not tuned to the finer points.

A boat gets you to water you could not otherwise get to but, without some superhuman rowing on the part of your oarsman,  you may not be able to fish it as thoroughly as you might like. In Wyoming we have the absurd law that, even for navigable waterways, the bottom of the river is the property of the landowner.  This means that dropping an anchor is a form of trespassing.  Notoriously, there are posses that patrol the private stretches of water.

John with a nice rainbow early in the float.
In the photo above the rectangular red sign over John's right shoulder indicates private land upstream of the sign.   The opposite side is blue indicating that downstream of the sign the banks are publicly accessible.  Sometimes this is through the generosity of a land owner who has granted access to the public (thank-you) and other times it really is public land - state or federal. Red private - blue public.

They don't call them "greenbacks" for nothing - a nice rainbow being released.

Grousing about access aside - we had a great float. We hooked, played and landed plenty of good fish. Great thanks to Jeff's friend and neighbor John D. Baker.  Aside from being our generous host, John is an artist, a falconer, a master angler, a hunter and a generous oarsman.  I can recommend his website: where you'll find an array of wildlife art.  I especially like the drawing of the stooping peregrine on the front page of his website. 

We floated from the Gray Reef Access to Government bridge.
We floated from the boat ramp just below the Gray Reef dam to the takeout just below Government bridge, a distance of 10 miles. It was a lazy trip and we stopped and fished from the bank when possible. The float times listed here is six and a half hours for a raft; drift boats times can be faster. John's boat is an RO skiff, which has to be just about the perfect rig for the North Platte. It had plenty of room for the three of us with casting stations fore and aft and with its lower sides it is less affected by wind.  We took our time, shoving off from Gray Reef at about 8:30 AM and getting off the water at Government Bridge at about 5:30. Next time I think I'd take out at Lusby - although we caught fish, the section between Lusby and Government Bridge is slower water and not quite as interesting.  This was John's recommendation - wish we'd taken it.

John with a nice cutbow.
Throughout the day we hooked up on a number of patterns.  I started out with a two fly rig, a bead-head caddis pupa and a  mercury midge on the point. Eventually I switched the point fly to a WD40 and then switched to a dark leech pattern in favor of the caddis pupa. I hooked fish on all the patterns though the WD40 was the most productive pattern. Interviewing some others who came into the ramp after us Jeff found out they'd had a rough day with few fish - couldn't tell it by us.