2.24.2014

A Huntress and Her Harvest

I’ll be the first to tell you that cooking wild game can be pretty daunting for a new hunter. There’s no label on the back of a package to tell you the ideal cooking method, no sauce packet included on the side, and there’s certainly no going to the store to buy more if you mess up.

I didn’t grow up hunting and eating wild game, so when it came time for me to begin cooking my harvests, I had no experience to go off. In fact, prior to becoming a hunter, the closest I probably ever came to “preparing” anything “wild” was smearing a spoonful of duck liver pâté onto a Triscuit (and it was probably a farm-raised duck, at that).

Trying my luck at bagging a pheasant during an afternoon hunt.
Prior to my huntress days, I used to be a Tyson/Butterball/Jennie-O type of gal, looking at meat as nothing more than a package and a price tag. It never really sunk-in with me that these were once living, breathing animals with eyes and ears and heartbeats and breaths. Like many others, I didn’t want to face that so-called “reality.” But now that I’m a hunter, and have experienced what it means to harvest my own food, from start to finish, I realize that a package of boneless, skinless, chicken breast tenderloins isn’t “reality” at all. In fact it’s like cruising through the meat-eating world from the backseat of a Honda Civic hatchback when you could be experiencing it through the driver’s seat of a decked-out Maserati. Okay, maybe not a Maserati, but there’s definitely something to be said for plucking a bird out of the sky first thing in the morning to plucking its feathers that night. It’s a type of connection to nature you can only get by hopping in the driver’s seat and experiencing it for yourself.

My latest hunting adventure led me to the wonderful meat that is pheasant. I had never cooked pheasant prior to this point, but I hopped in the driver’s seat and drove it like I stole it. After all, cooking wild game should be just as much part of the adventure as the hunt itself. And I’ve learned that if you try cooking game a certain way and you hit a dead end, you can always hit reverse and try again. If you find a good recipe that works for you, mark that baby on your GPS and keep moving forward.

Pheasant is a versatile white meat that can
be paired with savory and sweet flavors.
So here’s an Accidental Huntress’ take on Easy-Peasy Pheasant Stroganoff

You’ll need:
2 lbs. pheasant meat, cubed
1- 12 ounces package egg noodles2 cups beef broth
1 cup sour cream
6 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 onion, chopped
1/4 cup butter
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper to taste


Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Submerge egg noodles in boiling water until cooked (about 8 minutes). Drain and set aside.

In a large skillet, combine two tablespoons butter, mushrooms
and onions over medium heat. Cook until mushrooms and onions are soft. Remove from pan.

Next, take your remaining butter and pheasant meat and cook until browned. Pour in beef broth and add flour, mixing as you add. Sauce will become slightly thickened.

Now add back in cooked mushrooms and onions, followed by the sour cream. Season with salt and pepper and then continue cooking until sauce is hot, but not boiling.

Ladle sauce over egg noodles and enjoy!

-Accidental Huntress

11.12.2013

Tick, Tock, Teal Season: It's a "Wading" Game


There’s nothing graceful about me when I hunt teal. In fact, my last teal hunt was a comedy of errors; between tripping and filling my waders with marsh water and getting my shotgun caught in weeds mid-mount, I’m sure I kept my fellow hunters entertained. I’ve even become such a professional at thrusting my gun in the air in anticipation of a dunking, that I could probably get a second job as a stuntwoman. My only redeeming quality as a duck hunter is that when I play my cards right and focus, I can usually hit my target, and with one shot at that. I might have a sore shoulder from an improper gun mount, but you can bet there will be a dead bird in the marsh.

Like with most types of hunting, duck hunting has a learning curve, and there are definitely some areas I still struggle with. My Achilles heel has been learning to wade in sticky marsh mud. Teal are fast, fast ducks and the last thing you want coming between you and that quacker when it’s shooting time is immobility. If your feet are planted, nay, cemented, in mud and you can’t easily swing your shotgun along the bird’s flight path, the probability of you hitting your target goes down exponentially. Teal don’t stick around for you to free your trunks and catch up.
My first ever Teal limit: five blue-winged, one green-winged.

Although I won’t disclose how many boxes of shells I went through as I rounded the learning curve, I got my first-ever limit of teal this year, and with the daily possession limit now six birds, it couldn’t have happened during a better season. Once I got over the excitement of being able to fill every loop on my duck tote for the first time, I sat back and reflected on all of the events that led up to that amazing moment and what I would remember most. This is what came to mind:
  • Waders filled with water, but a gun held in the air staying bone-dry
  • A sore shoulder from a hurried gun mount, but a dead bird in the distance
  • An onset of A.D.D. as “wads” and “jags” of teal appear every where you look, but it’s the most relaxed you’ve been in months
  • A mouthful of mosquitoes and midges for breakfast, but the prettiest sunrise you’ve ever seen
  • Cursing missed opportunities and praying for another group of ducks to come in
  • The passing on of old traditions and appreciating new technology
  • Friendly competition, but teamwork first
  • One dream fulfilled, and a new standard set
  • Teal hunting at its best, and a huntress who’s getting better

By hunt’s end I was tired, wet, muddy and bloody, but I couldn’t have been more proud. And although limiting on teal won’t make me more graceful, I would like to think there is a lot to be said for someone who “falls down seven times, and stands up eight,” especially in mud.

-Accidental Huntress

9.06.2013

Bright-eyed and Bare-knuckled


It’s not often I blindly stick my hand into a dark crevice, hoping to feel something bite me, but a girl will do silly things for a catfish. I don’t know if it’s the whiskers or the shear girth of cats that get me, but whatever it is brought me to an undisclosed (but legal) location in Kansas to try my luck at noodling.

Let me just preface this column with the fact that I have a newfound, unadulterated respect for noodlers. Noodling is an all-that-is-man (or woman), true-blue, no-bathroom-breaks, get-your-head-straight form of fishing. So why did I try it? The same reason any teenage boy did anything, ever – it sounded like a good idea at the time.

My preparations for the morning’s festivities were just like any other day. I got some food in my belly, put on some comfy clothes, swiped on some mascara and threw on a ball cap. I should have been shaking in my boots, gloving up, saying prayers to Saints that probably don’t even exist yet, because naïve little me was heading hand-first into the murky, mysterious world that is hand fishing.

Unfamiliar and inexperienced, I intelligently tagged along with a very patient and fearless guide, Toby. Now Toby, who has been noodling many, many times, was kind enough to give me some pointers on the way out to the location, which we will not name.
      
Rule 1: If you feel an air pocket at any point in time, immediately remove your hand. (Unbeknownst to me, apparently creatures that we don’t want biting our hands, such as beavers, like to inhabit areas that give them some breathing room. Who knew?)


Rule 2: Cover all your bases. When these catfish perceive something as a threat, they will try and find the nearest possible exit as quickly as possible. For this very reason, a noodler must block all the available escape routes.
          

Rule 3: When the fish takes a bite (and it will)- DON’T LET GO. Your first instinct will be to pull your arm back, removing yourself from the uncomfortable situation. In this particular instance, a noodler must do the exact opposite of what his or her brain tells them to and maintain a firm grip. 

This channel catfish was fished out from underneath a rock while guarding a nest
of eggs. Since flathead catfish are the only legal species during the handfishing
season, this fish was released back to it’s den shortly after the photo was taken.

Now I’m no expert, but I think there is one small thing that Toby left out of his “crash course” in noodling – I think to be a noodler, you have to be just a little bit “off your rocker.” Some might say I’m crazy for trying it, but for those that know me, it would have been crazy for me not to. And although no behemoths were fished out that day, this won’t be the last time I stick my hand in the den of the almighty catfish. The feeling of that silky spot on the ground that’s been worn smooth from nesting, the echoing boom a fish sounds as it defensively slams up against a rock, and the hospitality of my guide Toby are just a few of the memories I’ll take with me… along with all ten of my fish sticks.


-Accidental Huntress

5.31.2013

Clues and "Number Twos" (Part 2)


Part II: TRACKS

Now that we’ve skated through the scat section, it’s time to talk about animal tracks. Just like how scat can tell us a lot about a particular animal, tracks can tell us even more – like what the animals habitat might be, what their daily routines are, what they were doing when the track was made, etc.

Luckily, when it comes to tracking, there are certain “knowns.” For example, when an animal leaves tracks that exhibit webbing in their feet, we can probably safely say they inhabit wet areas. If tracks tend to overlap one another, or are found on a worn or weathered trail, that probably means it is a path that the animal frequents, or that the animal runs in a group or pack. Tracks can sometimes even tell us the behavior of an animal when the tracks were made, for instance, tracks that are found in close proximity of one another probably mean the animal was walking slowly, possibly even stalking something. Tracks with footprints made further apart and dig deeply into soft earth might indicate the animal was sprinting either from or to something.

Below are a few questions you might ask yourself when trying to decipher wildlife tracks (other than “what the heck am I doing out here and what was that noise?”).

1) Are there two or four feet?
2) How large are the tracks?
3) How far apart are the tracks?
4) Do the tracks show claws? Are they webbed?
5) What type of habitat was the track found in? Is this consistent with the habitat of the presumed animal?

Just as scat greatly varies within a given species, so can tracks. For instance, males often produce larger tracks than females, the age of the animal can account for a large variance in the size of tracks, and although rare, genetic mutations such as an extra toe can also serve as a cause for misidentification. There are other factors that a tracker needs to keep in mind, as well, such as the type of surface the track was found on and the slope or angle of the ground. Even soft soil, snow, and sand can exaggerate the size of a track due to the surface’s fluidity. Now I didn’t go to school for engineering or physics, so I’m sticking to the common-sense, poor man’s version of “tracking for dummies” if you know what I mean.

Like riding a bike for the first time, tracking is one of those activities best learned by doing, so let’s “dig” in and git ‘r done! In the following pictures, I’ll go through five different tracks and explain why I came to the conclusion I did.


Clues and "Number Twos" (Part 1)


Since my April blog post fell by the wayside, it’s only fair that I post something doubly-amazing for the month of May, so here it is: a two-part feature on the uuber-glamorous topic of scat and tracks. That’s right, I’m talking about the clues and “number twos” that wildlife leave behind.

Part I: SCAT

Most people shutter at the sight of poop. It’s not often something that warrants a double-take – unless you are like me and look at it like a mystery, dissecting the clue-filled lumps to find out “who done it?”

Now I’m no professional dung-detective, but through observation, I’ve learned that one of the most important things you can gather from examining an animal’s scat is what their diet consists of. This is important because 1) it can help you narrow down the species of animal based on what it eats, and 2) if you can find their food source(s), then you probably can find them. In fact, I’ve learned that sometimes you can even differentiate the gender of a species based on its scat. For instance, scat from a female turkey will tend to be more popcorn-like, while scat from a male turkey is more likely to resemble the letter “J,” or my favorite: a cheese curl!

To lay down some ground work, here are some basics to keep in mind:
1) An animal’s diet can be categorized into one of three categories: carnivorous, herbivorous, and omnivorous. This is important to know as it can quickly help narrow down your list of potential animals by process of elimination. For example, deer scat will never contain bones or feathers since deer are herbivores and only eat plants.
2) Moist foods are going to produce slimmer scats, while more fibrous foods are going to produce larger scats.
3) When examining scat, it’s best to consider the total quantity of scat in addition to the individual pieces. Although individual pieces of scat may resemble a certain species, the total quantity may serve as the deciding factor in differentiating between species. Smaller animal – smaller scat.
4) Scat varies. By that I mean, think of how much your own number twos vary – animals are no different. Fortunately, animals are creatures of habit, so a consistent diet tends to produce a consistent scat.

With that in mind, listed below are common examples of scats left by various animals:
Rabbits and relatives: spheres
Rodents/shrews/deer and relatives: elongated spheres
Raccoons/coyotes and relatives: long, thick cords
Weasels/mink and relatives: cords (often folded)
Birds, reptiles, and amphibians: long, thin cords (often with nitrogenous deposits; can sometimes be a shapeless, semi-liquid excretion)

In the following pictures, I’ll go through five different types of scat and explain why I came to the conclusion I did. Now, let’s get this fecal-fiesta started!


3.08.2013

Snag ‘em, Tag ‘em and Bag ‘em


March is a month that’s full of fun events– St. Patrick’s Day, March Madness, Easter– but the one event that I can never get enough of is paddlefish snagging season.

Before I was introduced to paddlefish snagging, the only type of snags I was familiar with were the kind that took place on my pantyhose.

It was spring break of my junior year in college and my friends and I were heading to the river. During our drive, my friends tried to explain the snagging process.

“What do you mean you don’t use bait? You just drag your hook across the water and catch a fish?” I said. Per usual, my naivety brought about hearty laughs throughout the car, but I was so curious, I didn’t mind.

At the time, I was living on a Top-Ramen-soup-every-night kind of budget, so I borrowed a pole from my boyfriend­. As our group set up along the river, I must have looked like an adolescent boy at his first school dance, awkwardly trying to mimic everyone else’s movements while trying not to bring too much attention to myself. After a few deep breaths, I whipped the pole back and cast my line. “Where did it go?” I said. By the look of bewilderment on my boyfriend’s face, I knew it could have only gone one place– in a tree. Luckily, the angler next to me was in a charitable mood and helped free my hook loose of the limbs. Now, I was more determined than ever.

My first paddlefish.
What seemed like a million casts later, I had finally snagged one! My boyfriend quickly yelled “FISH ON!” Inexperienced, I let the fish take line, and I began running with it. As fellow anglers alongside the shore tried to hurriedly reel in their lines, I was busting through the crowd like a groupie at a rock concert who just got sight of the lead guitarist. I was not about to let that fish go, not after all of my hard work. Once hooked, this fish put up a good fight, but obviously it didn’t know I was a Taurus and stubborn was my middle name, too. A few huffs and puffs later, I finally held my prized fish and just as it was hooked, so was I.

If there is one motto I live by in the outdoors, it’s “never harvest anything you don’t plan on eating.” Since my freezer was now packed full with 10 pounds of this fish, I knew I needed a recipe for cooking it that I wouldn’t grow tired of after a few meals. Grilled fish was tasty, and baked with lemon  is even better, but I wanted something with a little more pizzazz. Tapping back to my California roots, one thing came to mind: fish tacos.

Just as snagging became one of our yearly traditions, so did my feasts of paddlefish tacos. Time-consuming, but tasty, my recipe for Paddlefish Tacos is sure to make even the pickiest of eaters ask for seconds. For a copy of the recipe, visit the “recipes” tab at the top of the page.

For information on the Kansas paddlefish snagging season, including snagging locations, and how to obtain a permit, click here.

Till next time­– peace, love and paddlefish.

-Accidental Huntress

2.08.2013

Goodbye flip-flops, hello muck boots!


When you’re a senior in college, everyone always asks you “what are you going to do after you graduate?” My answer was always the same: “I don’t know, but something with the outdoors.” Most of my fellow classmates had dreams of being in a corporate position or moving to a big city, but I just wanted a job where wildlife and nature meant as much to my coworkers as it does to me. I also wanted to follow my mom’s advice, who said that if you have to go to work everyday, you might as well do something you love. I love wildlife, so when I was offered a position with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, it was a no-brainer. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me take you to the beginning.

Growing up in California, I could always be seen in a tank-top and a pair of flip-flops. The daily weather forecast was always the same­ ­– sunny – and I liked it that way. After all, rain wasn’t conducive to cute hair-do’s and snow meant having to cover up my hard-earned tan.
Fishing with Grandpa.

When I was younger, my grandpa would take my brother and me fishing at Big Bear Lake in the mountains west of Los Angeles. The two-hour drive up the mountain gave me plenty of time to work in a nap and fuel up on a box of Fruity Pebbles. Upon arrival, we would unload our poles and get to work. Rainbow trout was our favorite catch, although it was usually grandpa doing the catching. I vividly remember the first time I saw him de-scale a trout with an old Swiss army knife he always carried. What a sight! I remember how much it grossed me out as a little girl, but these days I cherish that memory.

When my grandpa died, so did my passion for the outdoors, or so I thought. It just wasn’t the same without him. As I entered my teenage years, those memories were filed away, left to collect dust and make room for newer and “cooler” memories.

When I reached 14, my life flipped upside down. My mom remarried to a man from Kansas and it was just a matter of time before she visited his home state. I thought nothing of it at the time, but that trip was a turning point in all of our lives. When she came back to California, there was no changing her mind – we were moving to Kansas. I was devastated. Beaches, fields, beaches, fields – in my mind, there was no contest. How could anyone want to trade sand and surf for cows and hay? Unable to change my mom’s mind, I unwillingly packed my belongings and said my goodbyes. At 14 you don’t have much say in those matters, but looking back, perhaps that’s a good thing.

Two years went by in my new home state and before I knew it, I was a sophomore in high school. The transition was still rough, but I eventually made new friends and became more involved with school. The following year, I had my first boyfriend. I remember the first time he took me fishing on his family pond. It wasn’t a walk on the beach at sunset, but I decided to give it a whirl. It took me a while to tie on that first hook, but a few casts later, the skills Grandpa had taught me slowly came back. “This place isn’t so bad, after all,” I thought to myself. I finally found something that made Kansas feel like home. It took 12 years and 1,500 miles, but my childhood memories of fishing with Grandpa became timeless, and nothing would ever replace them again.
Fishing at a farm pond.

In time, that relationship ended, but my love for the outdoors continued to grow. At 18, I moved again, but this time by choice. It was my freshman year of college and Pittsburg State University was at the top of my list. On the weekends, my new-found friends and I would grab our fishing poles and drive to Bone Creek Lake. I loved fishing, but I wanted a new type of adventure. It wasn’t until my current boyfriend took me to the Neosho Wildlife Area that the hunting bug got the best of me. From mysterious tracks on the ground to rabbits hastily jumping through bushes, I couldn’t think of a more exciting place to be.

From that point on, I tagged along on any hunting trip I could. Deer, duck, turkey ­– it didn’t matter, I enjoyed it all. Before I knew it, it was out with flip-flops and in with Muck boots – and these days I like it that way.

When I lived in California, I thought there was no better place to live, but now that I’m in Kansas, I can’t imagine ever leaving. Whether I’m climbing into an ice-covered tree stand at 5 a.m., or admiring the stealthy movements of a coyote as it searches for food, I feel more at home in Kansas than I ever have before. It’s funny how things work out sometimes. Don’t get me wrong ­– I still enjoy my tank-tops and I refuse to refer to soda as “pop,” but a lot of things have changed, mostly for the better. Staying true to my city-girl roots though, I prefer hunting and fishing equipment that has the color pink on it somewhere (preferably in a prominent location).

Looking back, I realize that the days of fishing with grandpa were just the beginning of my outdoor adventures, most of which I’m glad to say are ahead of me. Although somewhat inexperienced, I’m not a stranger to the outdoors. I’ve had some great first hunts for doves, turkey, deer, pheasants and ducks, and I’ve caught some nice catfish and bass, too. In fact, I even snagged my first spoonbill last year! Regardless, there are still so many experiences that I’ve yet to enjoy. That’s why I’m making it my mission to explore all the wildlife and outdoor fun that Kansas has to offer, and I want to take reader’s on that journey with me.
           
This column is about learning to embrace the outdoors, whatever your zip code might be. It’s about poking fun at the silly things we do as beginner hunters, but most importantly, this column is about getting more women and girls to believe that they can turn “I wish I could” into “I just did.”

I may not have been raised a hunter, but don’t underestimate an Accidental Huntress.

-Nadia