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Thursday, November 16, 2017

Deercation doe 11.09.17

The last few days of my deercation were the ones I was looking forward to the most. Since our college days, a group of us have been getting together at least once a year to hunt public land in southern Ohio. It all started many years ago with gun season, but quickly transitioned to spending more time together during bow season. We've been "keeping it public" long before "keeping it public" was cool, and our time at deer camp is something I truly look forward to  every year. 

A good deer camp has a magical way of letting friends pick up exactly where they left off. At camp we eat like kings, laugh until it hurts and make our time together an adventure. There's old war stories relived while new memories are being made. We wake up earlier, hike in farther, stay later and hunt harder than we do when we're all hunting separately back home... where ever each other's home hunting grounds may be. There are no trail cameras, no deer with names, no food plots and no corn piles. We review maps, supplemented with the latest apps to formulate ideas on new spots to hang and hunt. Then we mix in real-time boot leather, a dash of woodsmanship and a sprinkle of tribal knowledge to create our strategies. This recipe usually results in at least one or two good bucks taken at camp every year. 

The first afternoon, Marc and I decided to put the venison vessel in the water and hunt "the swamp." Another quality all good deer camps share are names of specific places. In addition to "the swamp" there's places like "the secret spot" and "the horse farm" along with everybody's favorite, "the shit-stir." I could try to explain, but some things are better left a mystery. The swamp is accessed by boat so it doesn't see as much pressure as the other roadside walk in areas, although people do hunt it. It's public land in Ohio so chances are somebody is hunting it. 

I dropped off Marc to hunt the top end then I ventured on, heading toward one of those predetermined way-points already pinned on my phone app. As the canoe quietly cut along the river channel, I must have jumped at least 50 wood ducks and a few mallards. The drake woods ducks looked amazing in the afternoon light. A short paddle later I pulled the boat ashore and diagnosed every tree in the vicinity of several well-worn trails. My stand was promptly hung among a selection with some cover and a favorable wind. I settled in for the afternoon hunt.

Not much happened until the last part of the evening when two does wandered in from behind my stand. They made themselves at home underneath me for quite a while, browsing away on everything green. Hoping a buck would soon follow I was stranding, bow in hand, release on my d-loop. Suddenly they both picked their heads up and looked to my left. I could hear the steps approaching but didn't want to move too quickly as the does were right beneath my feet. With my eyes strained to the left I could see another doe joining the party. Still optimistic that perhaps she would be luring a buck along I scanned the woods. No suitors in pursuit. 

Now there were three does under my feet with shooting light fading. I continued surveying the area for a cruising buck while debating whether or not to take a shot at one of the does. It seemed as though they were going to be dining underneath me for a while, but my time was setting like the sun. The decision was made. As the largest of the three turned broadside the string was drawn back toward my face. Feet, grip, anchor, pin, follow. That mantra repeated thousands of times during practice becomes automatic in the moment. 

The shot felt good, the arrow looked good, I felt certain I heard the deer crash after a short scramble through the brush. I paddled up to Marc and we returned to retrieve my deer. The trail was a short one and easy to follow. Just like you want. We recovered the doe within 50 yards of where my arrow passed through and stuck in the ground. Thanks was given, new memories were made and I was fulfilled.  

Friday, October 6, 2017

Trophy is a Bastardized Term

Hearing the word "trophy" associated with "hunting" makes me cringe. Not because I'm against keeping non-consumable parts of an animal. As a conservationist, I advocate for utilizing as much of the animal as possible. I cringe because the anti-hunting movement has completely bastardized the term "trophy hunting," painting a picture of those who hunt as blood-thirsty mercenaries killing for their next taxidermy mount. This could not be a more fictitious representation of the hunting community. But why do hunter's feel the need to keep something like a skull and antlers, to hang for display?

This 2015 archery buck provided many trophy meals for family and friends. 

Archaeologists discovered fossil evidence suggesting humans hunted and ate meat as far back as 2.5 million years ago. It was at this point in time that humans began cooking and eating meat, leading to the increased brain and body size of modern man. If we use an average human life expectancy of 80 years, those fossil remains represent 25,000 lifetimes of genetic hunting experience. Considering planet earth formed over 4 billion years ago the length of time humans have walked the planet is a drop in the bucket, but for humans to have hunted that many lifetimes certainly explains why we hunt. But why do hunters keep and display non-consumable parts of the animals we hunt?

Hunting is part of being human, as is our desire to express emotions through song, dance, art and countless other ways. Art is mankind's attempt to communicate an experience, to express what is difficult to describe with words. No different than our ancestor's recreating the emotion of a hunt through petroglyphs and pictographs. Early petroglyphs date back to 700,000 BC while some of the earliest pictographs date back to 70,000 BC. To continue measuring in terms of human lifetimes, that represents 8,750 and 875 lifetimes of artwork expressing and communicating the hunting experience.

Pictographs from a back country canoe trip in the Boundary Waters.

Keeping possession of hides, antlers, feathers or creating artwork through taxidermy is a continued expression of the hunting experience. Beyond the nourishing meals provided by the animal, artifacts kept for display tell the story over and over, honoring both the life of the animal and the pursuit involved. This ancient practice is akin to hunting, just as acrylics or oils are akin to creating a painting.

Art is one of the oldest forms of  human expression and part of our documented hunting experience for thousands of lifetimes. The argument can be made that in our increasingly modernized society, the discipline of hunting is an art itself. After all, few people existing today have a connection with the natural world, and their food, like a hunter. Regardless of bastardized terminology, hunters shouldn't shy away from these discussions. Instead, we should create conversation and have an open, honest dialogue about hunting. We understand the true trophy is the complete hunting experience, we simply need to do a better job of expressing and communicating this with others. 

I'm thankful to have hunting pictures of my Grandpa, and the antlers from this Colorado mule deer.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Opening Night 9.30.17 ~ All the fun, none of the mess

My goals for hunting are simple: 1. Have fun. 2. Fill the freezer. With those expectations set I ventured out to bowhunt for the first sit of Ohio's season. The breeze was coming out of the north to the north east with temperatures in the mid 60's and dropping throughout the afternoon. I decided to hunt out of an oak tree situated on the edge of a freshly combined bean field and inside corner of two blocks of woods. The deer should show up as evening arrives to dine on either waste grain left by the combines, grass along the freshly cut waterways or acorns dropping from the canopy that are not yet squirreled away by the squirrels. It felt good to be back in my element.

The golden hour was fleeting when the first doe appeared like a mirage, standing sixty yards to the south feeding toward me in the open field. What began as one, suddenly turned into three deer casually dining their way northward. I was already on my feet, reaching for my bow as they inched closer to one of my open shooting lanes. 

The lead doe quickly saw or smelled something that made her uneasy. As she was quartering toward me, her head snapped alert, staring into the woods to my left. I was at full draw, waiting for her to turn. She blew, spun and trotted out of the left side shooting lane. A clean shot was now blocked by the leaf cover in front of my stand. I was still holding at full draw as she stepped back into my lane. The doe was now quartering away at a hard angle, nearly facing away from me. Moments later she and the other two trotted south, bounding back into the woods. I let down from full draw, wondering if they had winded me or if something else had their attention. 

In the waning minutes of legal light I could hear more deer approaching, this time from the woods behind me. Two does stepped out into the field, working just outside of range through the shooting lane to my right. At about 40 yards out the lead doe froze in her tracks, her attention focused to the south. Noticeably uneasy, she turned and trotted back into the woods with the younger doe, running just ten feet from my stand. 

With darkness signaling the end of opening night I thought, "Well, that's that I guess." Just as I hung my bow on the hanger I could see what had all the deer on edge. The silhouette of a coyote quickly slinked through my shooting window and into the woods, following the deer that had just done the same. I don't blame the coyote for messing up my hunt, after all the coyote and I were both after the same thing, a meal. It definitely felt good to be back in the woods. 

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.