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