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Friday, July 7, 2017

Simple and Delicious Venison Backstrap

Scouring the internet for backstrap recipes is unnecessarily complicated. Keep things simple with this recipe and treat yourself to the most tender, juicy, delicious backstrap you've ever had. For this recipe I used half of a whitetail backstrap, a smoker and a hot skillet. Now, I've heard people say that smokers are not for tender cuts of meat like backstrap. To that I would say don't listen to those people, you don't need that type of negativity in your life.

  • Coarse ground salt & pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Fresh pressed garlic
  • Butter
Several hours prior to smoking, rub the backstrap with a coating of olive oil and cover with coarse ground salt and pepper to your liking. I purposely chose not to measure anything, but my salt to pepper ratio was probably 2:1. Keep refrigerated until you're ready to smoke.

Different woods add a different flavor to the meat you smoke. I used hickory chips for this recipe mainly because it's considered "The King" of all smoking woods and it was what I had on hand. Preheat the smoker to 225 degrees and smoke the backstrap until the internal temperature reaches 120 degrees. Depending on the size of the cut you're working with it should take roughly an hour. Use this time to press a fresh clove or two of garlic into a glass bowl with quarter stick of butter. Heat the garlic and butter up in the microwave until it melts and stir them together. Once your backstrap reaches an internal temperature of 120 degrees remove the meat from the smoker and head to the kitchen.

Heat a large skillet, add the backstrap and begin searing the outside. While you're searing, spoon the garlic butter over the meat. Do this until your internal temperature reaches 130 degrees. Remove the backstrap from the skillet, place it on a plate and cover with foil for ten minutes. Slice, serve and enjoy.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Is Wild Game Really Organic?

Organic eating is the fastest growing food phenomena in America. Everywhere you look, certified organic labels are strategically placed on packages attracting consumers to a healthier food choice. Organic produce, cereals and meats found in grocery stores across America have experienced double digit sales growth each year for the past four years, according to the latest Organic Trade Association survey. In the case of some organic food categories, consumer demand is outpacing supply with no signs of weakening.

From little league games to the office lunchroom, conversations are taking place about organic this and organic that, but hunters have been eating organic since before it was cool. At least that's the claim made through a growing number of Instagram and Facebook posts. But can hunters accurately claim the wild game photographed from their kitchen table is really organic? Are hunters eating organic by filling tags and stocking their freezers with free-range, fair chase wild game?

Let's break down what it means to be organic. Merriam-Webster defines organic as

1 a: of, relating to, or arising in a bodily organ. (Hunters are good here. The wild game hunters eat is related to an animal muscle group.)

b: affecting the structure of a living thing <an organic disease> (It's safe to say hunters affected the structure of a living thing because it's on a dinner plate.)

2 a. of, relating to, or obtained from living things <organic matter> (Check the box. The meal hunters are eating was once living until it was caught or shot.)

b. of, relating to, or containing carbon compounds (Hunters are good here too. All living things on planet earth are carbon-based.)

c. of, relating to, or dealt with by a branch of chemistry concerned with the carbon compounds of living things and most other carbon compounds. (While hunters are not really referring to chemistry while using this term, a chemical reaction definitely takes place when a backstrap hits a hot grill.)

d. relating to, producing, dealing in, or involving food produced with the use of feed or fertilizer obtained from plants or animals and without the use of laboratory-made fertilizers, growth substances, antibiotics, or pesticides. (This specifically addresses food production and hunters use the term organic referring to meat obtained from animals they kill.)

So far, wild game is organic by definition. Next, let's narrow the field of view to the technical aspects of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) definition. I won't make your eyeballs bleed by reading through all of the USDA regulations, but let's analyze livestock requirements. After all, when hunters use the word organic it's done in relation to meat. The main requirements for livestock are: 

1. Raised in living conditions accommodating their natural behaviors. (100% yes for this criteria. It's called wild game for a reason.)

2. Not administered antibiotics or hormones. (Another 100% A+ here. Free-range, wild game animals are not receiving antibiotics or hormones.)

3. Fed 100% organic feed and forage. (This is the gray area. It is the one criteria that is impossible to verify unless you have become one with the animals and are living as part of their herd.)

All that being said, in the current and historic social context defining organic, wild game absolutely qualifies. Let's speak specifically to whitetail deer because they are the most pursued wild game animal in North America. A free-ranging whitetail deer that is hunted, killed and butchered by a hunter is infinitely more organic than any certified, grass fed, organic beef you buy at the store. Why? Besides everything addressed thus far, consider the complete quality of life a deer experiences compared to the neatly packaged, carefully weighed and labeled cellophane meat product in the grocery store. Moreover, do you know where that meat came from? Do you have a natural connection to the meat aside from swiping your bank card at the register? Did you prepare and practice shopping for that meat for months on end, just waiting for the one opportunity to place it in your grocery cart?

The deer's entire existence defines complete freedom. They live in the wild, adapt to a wide variety of habitats, eat natural forage, constantly avoid predators, exist as an integral part of the food chain yet live in complete survival mode. This begins the moment they're born and ends only at the time they die. Deer have roamed the land this way for thousands of years and mankind has hunted them for just as long. To be a hunter involved in that process is organic as hell. Nobody needs a government certification stamped on a package to tell them that.

Besides truly being more organic than any meat consumers put in their grocery cart, venison is also a healthier choice than store bought beef. According to the USDA, venison beats beef in several categories. It is lower in calories and fat while delivering higher amounts of protein, vitamin B-12, B-6, iron and magnesium. Not to mention the ancillary health benefits the act of hunting provides. While I haven't found any scientific studies comparing calories burned grocery shopping versus hunting whitetails, I'll place my money on hunting as the healthier activity. So next time you prepare the perfect venison steak, get your phone out, snap a picture of those grill marks and post up your organic, free-range masterpiece! As a hunter, you put the OG in organic.

Nutritional ValueVenison Roast%DVBeef Tenderloin Roast%DV
Amount Per 3 oz.85 g85 g
Total Fat 2.7 g4%21 g32%
Saturated fat 1.1 g5%8 g40%
Polyunsaturated fat 0.5 g0.9 g
Monounsaturated fat 0.7 g9g
Cholesterol 95 mg31%72 mg24%
Sodium 46 mg1%48 mg2%
Potassium 285 mg8%281 mg8%
Protein26g52%20 g 40%
Vitamin B-1260%35%
Vitamin B-623%10%
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Somebody Needs to do Something

Words have a way of staying with us. Especially those words received in a way that make an impact. At times the impact is immediate. The words spark a fire and create action. Other times the words are absorbed, reflected upon and remain idle until one day they begin to percolate. Nonetheless the words remain until the exact moment they are needed most.

Several years ago at a national sales meeting the opening speaker addressed the group with a presentation centered around the mantra, “If it is to be, it’s up to me.” Those words excited the crowd, not because of a clever rhyme but because of the speaker’s empowering delivery. He energized the crowd, the words chosen created action resulting in year over year sales growth and market share gains for the company. Those long-forgotten words now percolate once again.

It serves no purpose to keep positive, meaningful words to yourself. Those words can accomplish so much more when they’re shared because the words might be the catalyst someone is seeking in their life. There is a drive inside us to take action, to expand our thoughts, to write these words, to share them with others in hope they inspire action.

Sportsmen have had it so good for so long that we have largely become complacent. We take for granted all of the amazing resources at our fingertips. We live in a time of abundance compared to the time of scarcity sportsmen experienced just one century ago. Yet decades upon decades of conservation advancements will change drastically if today’s sportsmen do not engage in the growing number of issues affecting our wildlife and wild places. It is our responsibility to protect our passion.

How many times have you thought, somebody needs to do something? How many times has that thought resulted in you taking action, beyond posting a rant on social media? How many times have you looked in the mirror and thought, is that somebody me? What can I do? I'm just one person. With those four little words creeping into your mind you've just let yourself off the hook. You've given yourself a way out. And yet, you've done absolutely nothing.

Whatever the topic is that grabs your attention and raises your blood pressure, you need to know that you can have an impact and there are many ways to use your time, talents and treasures to do so. The easiest way to start engaging in the process of protecting our outdoor heritage is to stay educated on the issues of today. Seek out and join organizations that have a proven record of results coupled with a vision for the future.

At the very minimum sportsmen should belong to three organizations. Which organizations to support is the choice of each individual, but you should protect your method, protect your pursuit and protect your passion. If your method is bowhunting then belong to an organization experienced with that discipline. If your pursuit is rabbits then align with the group working in that arena. If your passion is hunting, fishing or trapping then you need to join the Sportsmen’s Alliance, the only organization whose mission is 100% dedicated to protecting and advancing those outdoor traditions.  
Conservation carries a cost. One that won’t be covered by simply buying a hunting, fishing or trapping license. If deer tags, duck stamps and trapping permits were adjusted for inflation half of our aging demographic would have a heart attack and die! The bottom line is sportsmen need to step up and get in the game. The good old days we have all been able to experience must remain available for the next generation. That simply will not happen if we sit on the sidelines mumbling, “somebody needs to do something.” Get engaged, get involved and protect your passion. If it is to be, it’s up to me. No, if it is to be, it’s up to all of us.

Need a few more sources? Here's what leading outdoor writers have to say....

Saturday, November 12, 2016

2016 Deer Camp Buck

Panoramic view facing the ridge. 
For nearly twenty years I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of a deer camp in southeast Ohio. We see each other a couple times a year, sometimes more sometimes less, but whenever we gather it’s like we never left. Deer camp creates a unique and special camaraderie. If you’ve ever been lucky enough to experience a hunting camp then this kinship is understood. It can’t be replicated in anything else I’ve experienced. Likewise, describing our somewhat tribal connection with deer camp to those outside the hunting circle is difficult to translate.

Our camp hunts public ground consisting of mountainous (by Ohio standards) big-woods, briar choked clear-cuts and winding river bottoms. The terrain varies widely across the different sections as does the hunting pressure. Through years of trial and error we’ve learned which spots produce and which ones are black holes. Yet each season we explore new ground discovering potential spots to ambush a whitetail. Now, we hunt smarter using today's app technology to take the virtual first steps for us instead of trampling the hillsides like we used to do.

Preparation for this year’s deer camp began weeks in advance, scouring aerial and topographic maps on my onXmaps hunt and ScoutLook apps. These apps are a crucial piece of hunting gear, no different than the knife I keep in my pack, each used for a specific application. With potential new spots marked on my maps and previous stand locations saved I’m able to scout without alerting deer. With limited time to be in the woods I want to make the most of it hunting, not wandering aimlessly.

I arrived in camp on Sunday to find the first deer hanging from the gambrel. It was a nice sized doe, the very first for our buddy Marc who has joined us at camp for years. Initially he joined us for the food and fellowship, now he has a deeper connection to camp. It’s exciting having a new adult-onset hunter discover this pursuit as a truly honest way to put healthy, free-range meat on the table.

After trading stories and hearing about the hunts experienced over the weekend, we all decided which directions to go that afternoon. Alan and I were heading to a huge section known in camp as “The Secret Spot.” I had a ridge location already marked from my cyber scouting but it was meant to be accessed by canoe. Hiking back that far was one thing, getting a deer out would be altogether another. Looking at the topo maps I picked the next parallel ridge that was perpendicular to the main ridgeline. It was still a good hike to get to, hopefully meaning hunting pressure would be lower that far back.

With our customary good luck fist bump, my buddy Alan and I split up. Temperatures were in the lower 60’s. I’m trying not to sweat packing my treestand, backpack and bow while clipping through a wall of briars. Even going at a snail’s pace sweat dripped off of my nose. Along the way I had a close encounter with a button buck. The wind was obviously in my favor as he worked to within ten feet of me.

Finally summiting the ridge, the terrain flattened and opened with oak and hickory trees dominating the high ground. Turkey sign and squirrels being squirrely meant that this likely travel corridor was also a buffet. Some decent deer sign combined with well worn trails and the afternoon getting late gave me confidence to stop pushing further and hang my stand. Within a few minutes I was pulling up my bow and nocking an arrow.

The sweat had evaporated and I settled in for the afternoon sit. A text from my sister buzzed my phone…

Finishing my response I could hear what sounded like chasing on the ridgeline above me. I hit send, slid the phone into my pocket, stood up and grabbed my bow. Staring into the woods to find the source of the action I could see brown fur dashing back and forth. Quickly that movement was accompanied by grunts of a rutting buck. With the doe playing hard to get, she followed the ridge toward me. In the blink of an eye she was passing through about 50 yards downhill of my stand.

The buck chose the higher ground. Keeping his eyes downhill on the doe, he followed the ridgeline but he wasn’t planning on stopping to browse on any acorns. I pleaded with him to stop, letting out a doe bleat, “mep.” Followed by a second, slightly louder “Mep.” Already anchored, holding at full draw, the third and final, practically yelling attempt, “MEP!!” halted the buck. His front legs skidded to a stop like a driver slamming their brakes at an intersection as the yellow traffic light turned red. He should’ve run the light.

The green pin on my sight hovered behind his left shoulder, aligned with his opposite right leg my arrow was already on it’s way. The world that had gone silent for a nanosecond erupted with the buck racing down the hillside and into the tangles of briars below. I could see him stop but quickly lost my visual through the foliage still clinging to the thick undergrowth. In my mind I replayed the shot and believed the deer to be dead, but uncertainty creeps in when you don’t see them fall or hear them crash.

Hanging my bow up I reached for my phone to text my sister…

I remained on my feet watching the woods where I last saw the buck. Subtle movement caught my eye. A patch of white or perhaps an antler appeared to have moved. It was now motionless. I watched the spot, identifying the location by the bright orange leaves not yet blown away by November's winds. The leaves were a beacon, seeming to be glowing from the afternoon sun. Still no movement from the patch. After enough time passed I quietly climbed down to inspect the trail.

Disturbed leaves exposed bare earth marking the point of impact. The trail quickly became easy to follow with the bright, bubbly sign that only lung shots provide. The deer laid ahead, right where I saw his last movement and below the glow of orange.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Smoked venison backstrap

With every bite of wild game, memories from past hunts combine with flavors of that particular meal. There aren't too many more satisfying moments in life than combining the aspects of hunting and eating. When you make a meal that would qualify for a culinary Boone and Crockett it's worth sharing. I hope you enjoy what I consider a trophy-class dry rub recipe!

Dry rub mixture:
2 tbs paprika
2 tbs brown sugar
1 tbs chili powder
1 tbs garlic powder
1 tbs sea salt
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp crushed rosemary
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp onion powder

Apply the rub to a venison backstrap a few hours prior to smoking.

Preheat the smoker to 250 degrees.

Place the backstrap in the smoker and cook until the internal temperature reaches 130 degrees.

Remove from the smoker, wrap in foil and let it sit for 20 to 30 minutes.

Slice, smile and enjoy...

Sunday, December 6, 2015

There's only one first. 12.05.15

The first deer I ever shot came several seasons after I was first able to purchase a hunting license and go afield with my uncle Paul. Although that memory occurred many years ago, it might as well have happened yesterday. Yesterday was also a day that I will be able to recall for as long as I'm on this side of the dirt. It was the day that my son, Caleb, shot his first deer.

My son and I have been hunting deer together for several years, but this was the first season in which he was prepared to be on the trigger during a deer hunt. Saturday afternoon found us hunting with our friend Nick after he extended us an invitation. After several hunts with limited sightings, we graciously accepted the offer with high hopes of at least seeing some action. A shot opportunity would be a bonus. 

At 2:00 pm, we pulled into the farm, reviewed the game plan and headed out to hunt. We slowly followed the terrain along an overgrown ditch which lead us to the treeline we would eventually settle into. Along the way we spotted a doe who was already watching us before we realized. Uncomfortable with our presence, she bound off when we paused and looked her way. 

A little farther up the treeline we brushed our position in with a few fallen limbs to help break up our outlines along the hilltop, then settled in for the afternoon. I was in the cover to the left with Caleb seated field-side on my right. The shooting sticks cradled the muzzleloader barrel, aimed toward the inside corner identified by the white-barked sycamore. This is where we expected the deer to appear. Right at the twelve o'clock position. 

On cue, the sun settled below the barren treetops behind us and the deer appeared. The only issue was that they appeared at the two o'clock position off to our right. The deer browsed comfortably in the bean stubble 130 yards away. A young buck soon popped out next with November still on his mind. Thankfully, he pestered every doe he saw which eventually caused two of the deer to break away. 

The two annoyed deer were headed into range but we had to adjust the shooting sticks. The deer moved farther to the right, now at about the three o'clock position. We tried to move only when the deer were distracted. Several short moves put us into shooting position, but the target deer was on to us. She knew something wasn't right. She saw something but wasn't quite sure what it was. We would later learn that the wind was in our favor due to the evening's falling thermals. Unable to catch our scent, curiosity kept her wondering.

I thought for sure we were busted as the deer closed to within 70 yards. Determined to cause us to move, she gave us the infamous deer head fake. She had us pinned down. We couldn't move. I kept whispering to Caleb, "Don't move. Stay still." She was at about the four o'clock position now. Too far to the right even after moving the shooting sticks. She should have continued off to the right, leaving the area, but she didn't. Still fixated on discovering what we were, the deer walked back toward the hilltop and into our shooting area. 

Back on top of the knoll I talked through the situation with Caleb. He was anxious to shoot but we had to wait for the right opportunity. She stood facing us for an eternity. "Get ready. Keep looking at her trough the scope. Keep your head down. Just be ready." Finally the deer turned broadside and the gun's safety was slid to fire. "Shoot her as soon as you're ready. Shoot. Shoot." 

The muzzleloader blast instantly cleared the field as the doe dropped in her tracks. The deer was down. A congratulatory smack on the shoulder was my first reaction, followed by fist bumps, high fives and hugs. The expression and excitement on his face was priceless. Smoke from the muzzleloader now drifted down the hillside as we walked toward to downed doe.  It felt spiritual in that moment.

The teaching moments continued as we approached the deer and throughout the entire field dressing process. It was exciting, emotional, powerful and indescribable all at the same time. I couldn't help but think about my Grandpa looking down upon us, smiling from ear to ear. I could hear his voice, "Atta boy Caleb!" Atta boy indeed. 

You have to get a tailgate picture with your first deer!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

2015 Archery Buck 11.20.15

There was nothing particular about this day other than I was itching to get back into the woods. The inside corner pinch point that I was hunting produced an exciting hunt several days before, with lots of does active in the area, young bucks cruising, active scrapes along the edge of the woods and plenty of rubs inside the treeline. The dropping temperature and favorable wind made the decision a no-brainer. It's November and I'm playing the rut lottery, hoping for a winning ticket.

The first sighting of the morning was a young buck that worked perfectly through the woods at twenty yards. With the wind in my favor and his nose preoccupied on the ground, he bird-dogged his way around trees, clearly on a mission. It was exciting to watch and my mind couldn't help but hope that more deer would follow the same script.

An hour and a half later I heard the telltale cadence of deer hooves shuffling through the leaves. Instantly reaching for my bow before I made visual contact, I knew it wasn't one of the squirrels that had kept me entertained. With my release automatically clipped on the string, the deer had already crossed into shooting distance but paused facing me. No shot.

If he maintained the same line I would have a shot. Set in motion again, I drew my bow back while he stepped behind a cluster of trees that blocked my movement. The deer was at 15 yards, paused again, quartering toward me. I needed a little better angle. A few more steps were taken and a perfect window to his vitals was open through the intersecting sapling branches. Picturing my arrow's exit path the pin hovered tight to his right shoulder.

It's this single moment, frozen in time, that is forever tempered in my memory. The seconds just before the release surprised me, everything is silent. My eye captured the flight of the arrow burying through the fur of the deer. Then, as if a hypnotist snapped his fingers everything awoke in commotion. The deer jumped and quickly fired off like a rocket through the woods. I lost sight but still listened intently. Nothing.

Analyzing the arrow I was confident it was a good shot, but the lack of blood in the immediate area told me to be patient. I texted my amigo John. An hour later we met at my truck and prepared to take up the trail. The blood was visible but less than impressive. Certainly not a trail that Helen Keller could have followed but we managed. Periodically we lost sign then picked it up again. This pattern repeated several times. Finally we lost it for good. Another drop could not be found. John continued to micromanage every square inch while I lost patience, ready to start a grid search.

We looked at the aerial map on my phone and planned the next steps. About three steps later John said to me, "Hey, look over there!" Immediate relief lightened my mood. The buck laid piled up in a slight depression, not twenty yards from where we lost blood. The arrow passed completely through but the exit hole had plugged up. The shot was lethal as the deer didn't make it a hundred yards before sliding to a final stop. I felt complete gratitude for the great hunt, deer and friend to share the moment with. Smiles, hand shakes and pictures were next. Then a trip to the Mexican buffet.