Friday, April 29, 2011

Tweetweek: A predictable bear editorial, a credit card company that hates hero shots, and NYT love

Not a slave to Twitter? No problem - here's my Tweetweek in Review:

L.A. Times on bears: I'm sure it will come as a shock to everyone that the L.A. Times just posted an editorial that takes the HSUS position on black bear hunting hook, line and sinker.

This is to say that the venerable Times thinks our Fish & Game Commission needs to back off a proposal to raise the statewide bear cap next week from 1,700 to 2,000. Instead, the Times says, it should take time to study regional bear populations to see if there are any variations that should be taken into consideration.

Granted, we do apply some special limitations in some regions on deer hunting so it's not like the idea is inherently freakish. It's just that ... hmmmm ... the HSUS's biologist suggested taking that route but for some reason didn't mention that there is really any hint at all that there are any regional bear population problems.

Given HSUS's propensity for, and considerable skill at, exploiting any advantage it can get, I'd think HSUS would've mentioned it if there's a sensitive population that warrants extra consideration. Funny, eh?

Then at the end of the editorial, the LAT recommends banning hunting bears with hounds because animal rights activists think it's unsportsmanlike.

Naturally, I tried leaving a comment on the LAT site, but of course, the comment feature doesn't seem to be working this evening. I hit "post" and nothing happens. No spinning wheels, nothing. So, L.A. Times, here's my comment, and I hope I don't see 17 copies of it on your site tomorrow:

"(T)he bigger question is how bear populations are faring region by region in the state."

Bigger question, indeed! Is there a region where we have some hint that bears, as a species, are in trouble? Do you really believe that if there is such a region, the HSUS, with its vast resources, hasn't heard about it? I looked for, but did not find, hint of it here.

"Animal welfare advocates have argued for years that this is unsportsmanlike."

Tell me, what do "animal welfare advocates" consider sportsmanlike? Could it be that they use the term to sound reasonable, when in fact, they not only oppose all hunting, but all consumption of animal flesh? I don't hunt with hounds, but nor do I look to people who oppose hunting for guidance on hunting sportsmanship.

Two fun facts before I close:

1) Hank and I are eating bear tonight - and this was planned well before we saw the editorial - but I think I'll have seconds now, just because.

2) I will give the LA Times credit: Last time they covered this topic (which I wrote about here), it was with an incredibly biased "news" story. This time, at least, the opinion is showing up in the proper section - the opinion section. That's where newspapers are supposed to take positions. It just so happens that I don't think this position was well-reasoned.

Speaking of HSUS: Gwyn Zetah-Meitin used to be a member of the HSUS, and she loathed hunting. The night she met Patrick Meitin, she made it clear she hated hunters.

"She listed the usual indictments against slobs who spotlight and kill animals out of season, are interested in antlers only as collection pieces, shoot roadside signs and toss beer cans from vehicle windows," Meitin writes.

"I smiled and offered my stock reply. 'We're in agreement then,' I said, pausing for her look of confusion. 'I hate them too. But of course, you're not talking about hunters. You're talking about jerks who happen to own firearms.'"

You can already figure out one part of the story by the way the woman's last name closely resembles his now. You can figure out another part when you see the title of the piece: "My Wife, The Bowhunter."

It's a long piece (said the pot, calling the kettle black), but well worth the read as it culminates in her first - you got it! - black bear kill. What she says about that kill at the end is something pretty much every hunter will be familiar with, but something the folks at, say, the L.A. Times would do well to read.

I really wanted to leave a congratulatory comment on the story, but the Petersen's doesn't seem to have a comment function at all. Hopefully the folks there will see my praise for the story here.

Why I'm glad I don't use my Capital One card anymore: Capital One loves to tout the fact that cardholders can design their own card, but when New Jersey cardholder Lou Hinger tried to upload a photo of her husband posing with a deer he'd killed, CapOne said it was "unacceptable."

The problem? “Sorry, we were unable to approve the image you submitted. We will not approve any images that contain the following: Violence, hatred, or cruelty to humans or animals, profanity obscenities or any type of death imagery.”

So, hey, farmers, don't you dare upload pictures of the cows you plan to slaughter. And foodies, whatever you do, DO NOT UPLOAD PHOTOS OF JUICY STEAKS! You sick, animal-hating bastards.

You can read the whole story at, but - spoiler alert! - the good news at the end is that if you have an NRA card, you can customize it with your hero shots.

Shameless self-promotion: Hank's upcoming book, Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast, got a glowing mention in the New York Times last week.

I love the New York Times. The newspaper has shown incredible openness to hunting, and appears to get the fact that a lot of people hunt for a lot of good reasons.

The book comes out May 24, but you can pre-order it here.

Hint, hint.

Gratuitously funny video ending: I don't have time to cruise YouTube, but my students always turn me on to the best stuff. Like a baby penguin being tickled:

Have a good weekend, everyone!

© Holly A. Heyser 2011

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Adventures in Easter Sunday turkey hunting

When your turkey hunting buddy calls you up and tells you he has a good feeling about tomorrow's hunt, you can believe one of two things: Either it's going to be epic, or he just cursed the hunt by expressing optimism out loud.

When Evan called me last night, I went with the former. Our last turkey hunt two weeks earlier had been a total bust, but we'd expected it. The scouting reports had been grim.

This time, though, Evan had two spots where there had been confirmed turkey activity. Lots of it.

"And one place is pretty close to the road, so the turkeys will think they're safe," Evan said. "But they're not."

Heh heh heh.

"I'm in!" I said, and I set my alarm for 3:45 a.m.

We met at 5:15 a.m. in a gym parking lot and headed to our spot. He hadn't been there before, but his brother had told him what we needed to know: You go uphill from the house, and there are two big bull pines that the turkeys roost in. Then there's pretty much one area they fly down to. Bam!

When we got out of the truck and headed up the hill past the dim shadow of a lone sheep in his little green pasture, one thing quickly became clear: There were way more than two big bull pines.


We crossed a few barbed-wire fences, tucked in under some oak trees at the edge of the clearing and set up, me with my shotgun propped on my knee and my head hidden deep under a hood like I was an Ewok or something, and Evan with the box call in his lap.

Within a few minutes, we were rewarded with gobbling. Lots of it. It wasn't coming from the tree we expected, but no worries! We seemed to be well within fly-down range.

Evan hit the call and we got more gobbling. Awesome! I aimed my muzzle in the direction they seemed most likely to come from, and scanned the rest of the opening without moving my head.

When the birds started flying down, they did not fly toward us. But no worries! Evan hit the call, and the gobbling edged back in our direction.

Then it stopped. Then ... Surprise! The gobbling began moving away. Farther and farther away.


My hands were going to sleep and my legs were cramping. I was trying to hold still, but I began to squirm. I stretched discretely, taking note of how close I'd come to sitting down in poison oak. Awesome.

Finally Evan got up and motioned his plan - he was going to stalk the birds. I'd sit tight.

Which I did, for about five minutes.

But when it became clear the gobbling was moving even farther away, I decided to get up and follow him. There was little danger of being busted; we could hear exactly where they'd gone, and it wasn't close by.

So I began to walk. I caught a glimpse of Evan under a tree, and when I moved to take a step toward him, I saw a head behind a fence line, maybe 15 yards downhill from me.

I froze. The turkey froze. All I could see was the head, so I waited for it to move again, hoping it would hit a break in the grass that would show me what I needed to know: Beard? Pull the trigger. No beard? Stand down.

The bird started walking again, head bobbing back and forth as it moved right-to-left along the fence line. Every time it went behind an obstruction, I'd move in for better position, but when it would emerge, I still couldn't see the bird's chest.

Then Evan hit the call under the tree to my right. The bird stopped, turned around, and bobbed back to the right. Still behind the fence line. Still obscured below the neck.

It dipped down behind a tree, and I began moving toward Evan again.

But then it popped back into view. I froze. It bobbed to the left. Evan called. It went back to the right. It dropped out of view. I moved. It reappeared.

Oh, good Lord!!! We went through that drill easily half a dozen times before it disappeared for good.

I caught up to Evan and he confirmed what I'd guessed: It had been a hen. She had entertained the hell out of us, for sure, but she wasn't what we were looking for. So Evan set out again, heading the direction of the gobbling.

I followed at a distance, and before long I heard it:


He found them!


Hmmmm. One shot? Good. Three shots? Not good. When I finally caught up with him, he did not have a dead bird in his hand.

"I was out in the open and they came up over the hill and busted me," he said. It was a long shot, but he said he'd figured it would be the best he'd get.

We separated and did a quick search to make sure he hadn't wounded the bird, then headed back to his truck. Maybe we'd get lucky at his second spot.

We pulled out of the driveway and headed down the road, and literally within about 50 yards, we were confronted with this:

Are you kidding me???

Evan stopped the truck and we watched five jakes saunter across the road, their tiny little beards sticking out just enough to say, "We're legal!" Then they ambled up the hill in no particular hurry. We just shook our heads.

Oh, so that's how it's gonna be, huh?


The answer was, "Yes." The next spot was a bust too.

Oh well.

We compared calendars. Maybe we could get out one more time before gun season ends a week from today. And this time, we have a detailed plan. We know exactly what we're going to do.

We're optimistic.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Women's hunting and shooting events

If you're a woman who wants to try out shooting or hunting, or if you know a woman who'd like to give it a try, break out your calendar, because the event season is upon us.

Below are some great opportunities coming up in Northern California, and if you don't live in NorCal, I've got two good places for you to start a search for something closer to home: 1) Check out the NRA's Women on Target Instructional Shooting Clinics. 2) Check out Becoming an Outdoors Woman. Both programs are highly regarded.

And if you're just looking to complete your hunter education course, there are plenty of resources: The International Hunter Education Association details the requirements throughout the U.S. and Canada. The California Department of Fish and Game has a page with extensive information, including advanced hunter education and how to become an instructor, and California Hunter Safety Course is a DFG-approved private provider of an online course. Just keep in mind that while you can begin study online at your convenience, you will be required to attend a class and take a written exam to receive your hunter education certificate.


Women's Shooting Clinic, Jackson: This day-long event offered by the True Sportsman Club features gun-safety workshops and training with handguns, rifles and shotguns. I've been to this one before, and it's excellent for beginners - a great introduction for a woman new to firearms - but also fun if you just enjoy shooting with other women.

It runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, May 15. Cost is $25, which includes breakfast snacks, gourmet lunch, ear and eye protection, ammunition and targets. Pre-registration is required, and you can register by calling Kathleen Lynch at 209-267-0385, or email her at (Click here to read about the clinic I attended a few years ago.)


NRA Women on Target Instructional Shooting Clinic, Lincoln: The NRA puts on high-quality programs, so this clinic, which will focus on shotgun shooting, is sure to be good.

The event will be held at the Coon Creek Trap & Skeet Club on June 18. Cost is $85, and take note: Preregistration deadline is May 18. For information, contact Patricia McLelland-Merydith by calling 530-852-9719 or emailing


Cal Waterfowl Women's Hunter Camp, Solano County: This is one of those amazing opportunities where women can complete their hunter education, get shooting instruction and practice and go on their first hunt (a pheasant hunt), all in one weekend. I've been to this one twice and have made some good friends there - I highly recommend it. (Click here to read what I wrote about last year's event.)

The camp (it's really a day camp - no accommodations provided) will be held on Saturday Sept. 24 and Sunday Sept. 25 at the Birds Landing Hunting Preserve. Cost is $200, which covers lunches, hunting license and upland game bird stamp, targets, shells and loaner guns for those who don't have their own. Participants are required to do 4-6 hours of self-study in advance of the camp. For information, call 916-275-0961, or click here for information.


Cal Waterfowl Mother/Daughter Hunter Camp, Sutter County: What a cool idea! I haven't done this one before, but if Cal Waterfowl's doing it, you know it's going to be good - they're total pros. This camp includes hunter education, shooting and other hands-on activities.

The event will be held Friday Oct. 7 through Sunday Oct. 9 at Montna Farms in Sutter County. Cost is $150 apiece, which covers overnight lodging, meals, targets, shells and loaner guns for those who need them. For information, call 916-275-0961.


Women's Duck Hunting Weekend, Red Bluff: Designed for women 21 and older who already have a hunting license, this three-day event sponsored by Delta Waterfowl starts with a wine and gourmet duck reception, duck cooking demos, shooting coaching and practice and waterfowl ID instruction at Red Bank Outfitters, and it culminates with participants going on mentored hunts at private clubs throughout the Sacramento Valley.

The event runs Friday, Nov. 11 through Sunday Nov. 13. Cost is $175, and accommodations are included. Signups are limited to 25 participants. I'll update here and write another post when signups begin. (And I will know, because I'm one of the organizers.)

Ladies, there are lots of opportunities to get started, so let's make this the year it happens for you.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011

Monday, April 18, 2011

Nature, struggle and the irrational impulse to take sides

Something was different at Lake Natoma on Sunday.

It wasn't just that the grass had gotten a lot taller, though that certainly had a huge effect on my weekly hike. The wild oats were up to my waist in places, and I could hear from the way they rustled in the wind that they had already started to dry out - a first step toward painting the hillsides gold for the summer.

I was more than a little bit nervous as I tried to find my deer trails in this stuff - it's plenty warm enough for rattlesnakes to be a concern. So I abandoned all attempts at stealth and made as much noise as possible to avoid catching one by surprise. I hear that never ends well.

The funny thing was that despite making all kinds of noise, I kept catching game by surprise.

When I rounded a corner at the top of one hill, there were two toms with enormous, ground-scraping beards about 20 yards ahead. They boogied into the grass and down the hill, their blood-red heads bobbing through the grass so obviously that I could have killed them both easily, had I been able to carry a shotgun.

A hundred yards beyond that, I startled a hen turkey, though she was further ahead than the boys, and she hightailed it out of my range pretty quickly. Fifty yards beyond that, I startled a dove that sat on a well-worn path just a few feet in front of me - how could he have let me get so close?

And so it continued. This was obviously the day we should have gone turkey hunting with our friend Evan, not last weekend. Something was definitely in the air.

For the final stretch of my hike, I connected to a well-traveled asphalt bike path and I hadn't gone more than 100 yards when a shape under an oak tree caught my eye. A turkey shape. Ten yards away.

I stopped and stared. It was definitely a hen turkey. Her wings drooped a bit and her eyes were closed.


Then she took a step, very slowly, eyes barely open. Then another.

Something wasn't right. To test my theory, I stepped off the bike path into the shade of the oak, maybe seven yards from her now. She didn't move. I sat back on my heels and watched.

Something was really wrong - there's no way a hen turkey would let me get this close. She looked like she had been poisoned. Who would poison a turkey? I didn't think turkeys would even eat the kinds of poisons that people leave out for mammalian vermin.

I watched some more.

That's when I heard the sound to my right. I instantly had a pretty good idea what it was. Most sounds come from a single point, so when you hear a sound that comes from many points along a line all at once, what you have is a snake in the grass.

I looked away from the turkey and quickly zeroed in on a part of the body slithering past me - away from the turkey, toward a pile of branches next to the bike path, almost close enough to touch.

Body: Not huge.

Head or tail? Saw the head first, its tongue flicking rapidly.

I was pretty sure I recognized it, but I'd need to see the tail to confirm. Wait, wait, wait ...

Yup, rattler. Not the biggest I've ever seen, but I counted five or so beads on the rattle, so it was pretty mature. And did I mention how close it was? Yeah, close enough that it could've struck before I knew what happened if I had provoked it, intentionally or unintentionally.

So I just sat there and watched.

And then I wondered: Was it fleeing the scene of the crime?

I can't imagine a 5-year-old rattler choosing a turkey for a meal. But here I had a turkey that looked like a victim of poison, and a poisonous snake slithering from the scene.

And it upset me. Watching that hen was like watching an animal I've just shot: I put myself in her head, fighting the losing battle. "Sweetie, you are doomed," I thought, sadly.

Then I wondered whether she'd laid eggs yet. I'd come across lots of empty shells during my hike, so I knew birds of some sort were hatching (or being stolen and eaten). If she had laid eggs already, would this rattlesnake have cost her her whole family's life?

That got my maternal instincts going. "Protect babies, at all costs." That's serious genetic coding right there. Not that it did anyone any good.

It was easy to see, in that moment, how non-hunters view us and what we do. I knew, rationally, that if in fact that rattlesnake had bitten this turkey, that it was just how life works. We all feed off of each other. We all cause pain.

But no amount of logic was going to keep me from taking sides, because one animal in front of me was suffering, and the other was not. Despite the fact that if I had encountered this hen in the fall in a place where I could hunt, I might be celebrating having killed her instead of mourning the end of her life.

I don't know that there's any grand message to take away from this. It is what it is.

Perhaps it's just a simple reminder that, to many people, even to those who intellectually understand and accept what we do, we hunters are the snakes in nature's life-and-death struggle.

Does it mean we shouldn't continue playing a role that we have played for hundreds of millenia? Nope. We are what we are.

I guess it just means we shouldn't be surprised by how others see us.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Cazadora's Top Tweets: Crap in the gene pool, a dead little stallion and dolphins cuddling a cat

Tweetweek in review:

A dumb ad: How about a nice big raspberry for Dodge for its really stupid ad on YouTube for the 2011 Ram Outdoorsman?

What's wrong with it?

It features a guy who's camping out under the stars. He's trying to sleep, but some crickety thing keeps chirping, keeping him awake. So he gets up, grabs a compound bow from the handy storage compartment in his truck, and shoots the chirping thing.

When he returns to his sleeping bag to enjoy the peace, a frog starts croaking, and the ad leaves us to believe he's going to get up and kill that, too. Get it? Bother a hunter and he will hunt you down and kill you.

This is not the worst image of hunters I've ever seen. I just hate it when people on "our side" project an image of hunters that makes us look like a bunch of 7-year-old boys who can't stop ourselves from shooting everything that moves. It's just not helpful.

Thanks to Peebs for bringing this one to my attention.

Please remove this person from the gene pool: Some moron videoed himself on a snowmobile chasing a moose. The moose runs and runs and runs and finally stops and nearly head-butts the idiot.

Almost all of the comments on the video are pretty caustic - deservedly so.

I don't own a snowmobile or an ATV and I doubt that I ever will, so I don't take personal umbrage at what this idjit has done to besmirch the reputation of snowmobilers.

I just think he's a jerk, and I hope he never procreates.

Thanks to Chas Clifton at the Southern Rockies Nature Blog for bringing this one to my attention.

Wolf-dog hybrids kill miniature stallion: Apparently, there are a bunch of wolf-dog hybrids running around Riverside County, and one of them killed and ate a miniature horse, maybe 30 inches high at the shoulders, right in front of a rancher.

See the problem here? The fearlessness of a domestic animal, the instincts of a wild one? Hide your kids, folks.

Of course, that fearlessness turned out to be a problem for one of the wolf-dogs, because one of the ranch hands promptly shot it. But a second wolf-dog got away after taking a few rounds himself.

According to the Riverside Press-Enterprise story, "Wolf-dog hybrids are dogs that have been bred with wolves or wolf mixes. Detractors describe them as being wild and unpredictable, but supporters say they are good around people."

Thanks to @alquackenbush at the SoCal Bowhunter for Tweeting this one first.

Good news: A win against HSUS! A federal judge rejected a lawsuit by the Humane Society of the United States that attempted to end hunting at more than 50 national wildlife refuges, according to a story in Ammoland.

If you're like me and like more than one source for your news, you'll find there wasn't much written about Wednesday's decision. The only other substantive piece I could find was this story by the Courthouse News Service.

Something to make you go "Awwwwwww!" You know how I love my kitties, so I couldn't resist this sweet little video of a cat engaging tenderly with some dolphins.

It's a really touching video, and I wasn't surprised to see the following comment on the YouTube page: "I believe Heaven is just what I saw, all the creatures getting along."

Apparently this person wasn't aware that dolphins - like humans - can be cute one moment, then hungry for meat the next:

Ah, life in all its glory!

© Holly A. Heyser 2011

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Archery: What was I thinking???

Apparently, the archery gods have a sense of humor, and I am a worthy target for them.

When I got my bow five weeks ago, I had a beautiful goal: Unlike hunting with a gun, which I began after literally one shooting lesson - one day at skeet - I was going to do archery right. I was going to take my time and try to get really good at it before I unleashed myself on the wildlife of Northern California.

Noble, eh? I would've told you it was totally freakin' brilliant, if you'd asked me.

Only problem is I forgot one thing: At least when I started duck hunting, I actually took a shooting lesson.

Mind you, I didn't go into archery blind: I got some basic starting advice from the guy who sold me the bow at Wilderness Archery, looked up some beginning archery instructions with diagrams and got to work in my back yard, paying utmost attention to form.

Me, paying utmost attention to form.

But deep down I knew I was probably developing bad habits.

So the last time I went to the shop to get sights (wow, huge help!), I inquired about lessons and signed up on the spot. And today was the big day.

The good news is that I long ago shed my juvenile dream of being declared a prodigy on occasions like this. (I blame Shirley Temple movies for this former affliction. That's all I can say.)

But as my instructor, Tex, watched me take a shot, and then another, and then another - all while being shown up by an 11-year-old with a compound bow in the next lane - I knew it was coming. Yes, I was going to stop everything, drop everything and go back to zero.

I had hoped - modestly, I thought - that there might be perhaps one thing I was doing right. And maybe there was. I think he said something complimentary about me standing nice and straight. But pretty much everything else required a lot of correction.

In fact, as soon as the 11-year-old left and it was just me and Tex, we moved waaaaaaay down the lane, so I was standing about five feet from the target.

Fingers tucked.

Hand at proper angle.

Elbow out - just a bit.

Shoulder back - no
back, not up.

Fingers on bowstring - no, don't squeeze the arrow!


Finger touching corner of mouth.

Now, wipe that cake you're thinking about eating off the side of your mouth.

Or elbow the person with bad breath behind you. Whichever mental image works best.


OK, do it with your eyes closed.

Strangely enough, that eyes-closed thing was good. Got me thinking about all those body parts and where they needed to be, with no silly target distracting me.

And at the risk of sounding immodest, I have to say I shot AWESOME groups at five feet with my eyes closed. Like seriously, if I could get an elk to stand five feet from me while I'm blindfolded, that mofo is dead.

Now I just need to figure out where I can shoot with my eyes closed around our property for the next few weeks, because the kind of shooting I've been doing is off limits to me for a while. Oh, the mere thought of it fills me with mirth!

Don't get me wrong: Tex was awesome. I just hate being outwitted by my own cleverness.

Oh well. Onward!

©Holly A. Heyser 2011

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Turkey hunting: The great escape from prison

Seventy-one days.

That's how long it had been since I'd gone hunting when Hank and I joined our friend Evan to go turkey hunting Sunday in the emerald hills of Amador County.

Evan had warned Hank that turkey sightings had been minimal at the oak-studded cattle ranches where he had permission to hunt. "I don't care," I told Hank. "I just want to go for a walk with a gun in my hand and know that if I see legal game, I can shoot at it."

That sounds way more bloodthirsty than it was.

I've just been feeling really hemmed-in by my city life. I mean, I love my weekly hikes at the lake. If I stick to the deer trails, I can avoid humans for most of the trek, and as a result, I tend to see a lot of wildlife. Very good for the soul.

More importantly, I'm getting to know that place. I know exactly where the fat jack rabbit will bolt at my approach, and what cover he'll run to. I know where the small herd of deer lives, shrinking by the week as its members get smashed by cars on the nearby busy street and left to bloat in the sun. I know where the hawk will fly, screeching, low over the tree line as I cross a normally-dry creek bed, now swollen with water that oozes from the hillside, soaked by the incredible rainfall we've had this year. I know where I'll see turkeys, and why - a homeowner adjacent to the park dumps seed to attract wildlife.

But of course, I can't hunt there.

Evan seemed as frustrated by city life on Sunday as I've been. He was born and raised in Amador County, but now spends most of his waking hours stuck in an office an hour away at the Capitol. For the first time since I met him, I heard him speak with bitter envy about the people who've made their life back home in the hills: They can finish work for the day and spend all their free time scouting for game, and just get up and go hunting, practically right out their back door, when the weekend comes.

Evan's career success - he's really good at what he does - doesn't allow him the same luxury. It strikes me as a prison, of a sort.

My prison is a different one. My job affords me plenty of freedom - I have almost complete autonomy, I love my students, and I get summers off. My prison is a house in the city - normally an excellent investment, but now worth about $100,000 less than we owe on it. Good lord, how will we ever move out to the country? How will I ever live in a place where I can get to know the land intimately, and hunt on it?

The turkey hunting was wretched on Sunday. I think we saw a grand total of four turkeys, none of them in range, and the sightings - and soundings - stopped not long after sunrise. But we kept jumping from ranch to ranch anyway, stalking absolutely nothing under the watchful eye of hundreds of cows.

"Wanna try another place?" Evan would ask.

I'd think about what I could be doing if I were at home: cleaning the house, weed-whacking the yard, working on a project. Then I'd weigh that against what we were doing: soaking up the spring sunshine, walking all over creation, pursuing food without the comfortable guarantees of the supermarket. This is how we're supposed to live.

"Yeah, let's do it."

© Holly A. Heyser 2011

Monday, April 4, 2011

Cazadora's Top Tweets: bald eaglets, bikinis, turkeys, ethics and Darth Vader

When I first started this blog, I used to write a lot more about interesting hunting- and nature-related stuff I found on the web, but once I started a Twitter account, I shifted a lot of those tidbits to the Twitterverse.

Twitter, with its 140-character limit, seemed like a great place to share something that's interesting, but not necessarily worth a whole blog post. That's still true, but I've found increasingly that I've wanted to share some of these things with blog readers who aren't on Twitter (or don't stay glued to it every waking moment).

So, behold, my first installment of Cazadora's Top Tweets: a sampling of some of the stuff I've been tweeting about in the past week. Here we go:

Decorah Eagles: My foodie friend @CarolBlymire turned me on to this one, which has been utterly consuming: There's a webcam trained on a bald eagle nest in Decorah, Iowa, and you can tune in day or night to see what's happening. Two of the three eaglets have hatched so far, so it's not too late to try to catch the final blessed moment.

The live footage, courtesy of the Raptor Resource Project, has been utterly fascinating to watch: the partnership of the parent eagles (they tend the nest in shifts), their odd little way of rocking when settling down on eggs and/or eaglets, the way the stronger eaglet bullies the weaker one, and the incredible collection of dead animals piling up on the nest to keep the little ones (and the eagle on nest shift) well-fed.

If you love nature, you'll love this. And if the live action is slow when you tune in, scroll down and it'll take you to replays on YouTube. The replays could stand to be edited down a bit - I'm a cut-to-the-chase kind of viewer - but they do catch key moments.

A hunting television show we don't need? Steve Sarley, a columnist for the Northwest Herald in McHenry County, Illinois, tells us there's a new hunting TV show in the works: Bikini Buck Shot. It's about three Chicago city girls going out to the country and attempting to hunt.

Sarley planned to do an interview about it until he watched a video one of the participants had posted on Facebook. You should check out what he had to say about it, but the short version is it didn't seem terribly ... serious.

Of course, I could be wrong about this show - it could be an amazing way to get urbanites into hunting, which is something I'm actually quite interested in. But if that's the case, the word "Bikini" in the title really doesn't serve it well.

Yo producer, are you reading? If you can make a case for this show being serious, email me.

Mean old hunters: columnist Stacey Cole wrote a column this week about something that really bugged her, and the headline says it all: "Careless hunter left arrow in living turkey."

The arrow was sticking through the bird's chest, close to its neck (ow).

Cole, who says she's not anti-hunting, writes, "How a bow hunter could hit a turkey with such a direct body shot and then not follow the wounded game until it could be retrieved, is a bit beyond me. It certainly appeared to me that this was not the action of a hunter who was interested in a quick, clean, kill."

Sigh. It never ceases to amaze me that when people see a wounded animal, particularly one with an arrow stuck in it, they tend to assume that the hunter was mean, negligent or cruel.

Sadly, there is no comment function on that website (though, for some reason, the site lists Cole's address). If there were, I would happily point out that most hunters really want to kill what they shoot at, and when the animal doesn't die right away, they generally work really hard to get the animal and finish the job.

Unfortunately, most animals run faster than we do, and turkeys can actually fly away, which really makes it a challenge to give chase. Sheesh!

Field & Stream ethics column: Field & Stream announced Friday (yes, on April Fool's) that it's starting an ethics column. For real.

The editors are inviting readers to pose questions for the column to address, click here if you'd like to add to the pile.

Straight-up funny: Hank (@Hank_Shaw) turned me on to Darth Vader vs Hitler. Epic Rap Battles of History 2. Nothing to do with hunting or nature or food - it's just funny as hell. Be warned, though: There's a bit of inappropriate language, so if your kids' ears are pristine and you'd like to keep it that way, check this out after you've put them to bed for the evening.

Want to follow me on Twitter and get these updates as I tweet them? Go here, and if you already have a Twitter account, just click on the "Follow" button. If you don't have an account, it's easy to start one.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011

Friday, April 1, 2011

Guilty as charged: I love whole ducks, and there's a really good reason for that

I was accused the other day of being a snob because I am a proponent of using as much of the animals we kill as possible. This means, most importantly, that I don't breast out ducks.

Not only does this position risk offending established hunters who grew up breasting out their ducks, I was told, but it risks alienating hunting newbies by holding them up to a standard that, basically, only the stupendous and amazing Hank could meet.

Well, Hank is a freak, and he'd be the first to admit that. He makes wild boar liver creme caramel, goose gizzard carpaccio and duck liver ravioli. And it's all good. I know, because I eat everything he cooks.

But, seriously, duck hunters, I don't expect you to cook like he does (though it would be nice if you ordered his upcoming book, Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast, which comes out in late May).

And I'm not going to start telling Yo' Mama jokes if your mama raised you to breast out your ducks.

I will, however, strongly encourage you to use more than just the breasts of the ducks you kill, because 1) there's a ton of tasty meat on the rest of the duck, and 2) you don't have to be a great chef to make it taste good.

Let's address Point 2 first. I do very little cooking in our house, because Hank is just way better at it. But I do roast my own whole ducks, because it's super easy.

The short version is that you salt the duck, brown it all over in a cast iron pan, pop it in a 450-degree oven, cook it until the breast meat hits 135 degrees, let it rest under a tent of foil for five minutes, then serve. (Here are the detailed duck roasting instructions.)

Though teal and ruddy ducks are single-serving critters, I can usually get at least two meals out of a medium-sized duck (wigeon, gadwall) and three out of a large duck (mallard, pintail).

This is where we get to Point 1.

The first meal is slicing off the breasts. I did this for lunch just this Thursday with a fat little wigeon I killed in December, and here's how much meat I got from the breasts:

So, that's what you would've gotten off this bird if you'd breasted him out. That scale reads 4 3/8 ounces. And yes, these were like crack cocaine - after I finished eating the breasts, I wanted to go eat the rest of the bird, bones and all.

But I was saving it for this blog post, so I threw the rest of the carcass into the fridge to chill overnight. Then this morning, I picked off all the meat, fat and skin that I could get - this would be a lunch I could take to take to work.

Now, this wigeon was particularly obese, so I got a lot of fat. But apparently Hank really wrecked his wings when he shot him, because this pato gordito came out of the package looking like Venus de Milo - no wing meat for me!

(I know duck wings seem pretty insubstantial and are a total pain in the ass to eat on the bone. But when you're picking the carcass, there's definitely enough meat on the wings to make them worth the effort.)

When it was all picked, I diced up the meat so I could throw it into a quick fried-rice concoction: Duck bits (no added fat needed), chili flakes, garlic, salt, rice.

Here's what I got:

Yep, that's 5 1/4 ounces.

Now, if you're concerned about all that Fatty McFat Wigeon's fat clogging my arteries, don't be - I saved the fat from the frying pan, and it was still liquid at room temperature this morning - a sign it's good-for-you fat. (And if you'd like to read my smug blog post on my latest cholesterol test, click here.)

Now, people like my buddy Charlie would need two of those wigeons to make a satisfying meal (though he'd really prefer if they were two pintails). That's not the point here. The point is that if you think there's not enough meat on a duck to make it worth eating more than the breasts, you might want to reconsider.

What if you hate plucking whole ducks? I sure understand that - plucking is a pain in the butt, and it's the last thing I want to do with my stupid arthritic hands after a day in a wet and windy marsh (I prefer wrapping them around a glass of bourbon).

There is an easier alternative: pluck the breasts and legs and take them out together, each breast attached to a leg. My friend Brent, who hunts up at Lower Klamath, processes his ducks like this, then marinates and grills them. They taste outstanding every time.

The upshot? You worked hard to bring those ducks home. You might as well get all the meat out of them that you can. It sure can't hurt to try, right?

UPDATE: Since writing this blog post, I've produced three videos on how to handle whole ducks:

How to Skin a Duck: For sea ducks or other ducks with off flavors. Removing the skin and fat removes the bad flavors.

How to Pluck a Duck: For all ducks that always taste good (where we live, that's generally pintail, greenwing teal, mallard and wigeon; spoonies and gadwalls can be iffy).

How to Gut a Duck: Part two of the process you begin with plucking.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011