Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Spring Chicken

I've been back in Ontario for 9 months. Having never hunted in the province it's been a learning curve, more so me getting over my general disgust and annoyance with the amount of private land in the region. I left my deer tag unfilled and fled west this past fall - see D. Raab's post - so it was time to regroup and go for a spring turkey.

Turkey were largely extirpated in the province (early 1900s) but thanks to a reintroduction project in the 1980s more then 70,000 now inhabit the landscape. Canadian Geographic wrote a little blurb if you're interested. While they're not as prolific as deer across the southern Alberta fall landscape, you see them, everywhere.

Disclaimer: I can not take any credit for this hunt and need to introduce Cole - former student, northern Canadian fishing guide, and all around good dude who grew up in the area and has bagged his fair share of birds. He'll be be drinking for free at the Shafong residence for the next little while. This was the setup Cole had put together: a cozy blind next to a cornfield some 400 meters from the road.

This field also happens to be 10 minutes from campus and we planned an opening day hunt. I had an exam to proctor and Cole had a Cuba trip to pack for so time was a luxury we did not have. We arrived 1 hour before legal shooting light, short on sleep and high on caffeine.

With a couple hours to kill in the blind we swapped stories.  With hunting tales we all tend to exaggerate, and Cole had some epic stories about his old man that normally I would question BUT it turns out his dad was a Canadian Olympian - for shooting! I was in good hands. Noteworthy - his old man also texted us right at shooting light with a photo of the Tom he just took.

As the sun rose I got my first view of this classic southern Ontario setting. There was a nice adjacent wooded area where the turkeys were roosting and loving life.  We had two decoys set up and the trail camera had birds coming in around 7:30.

Like clockwork a lone hen showed up at 7:30. This was a game changer as: i) morale was waining, and ii) we both had to piss and were contemplating getting out of the blind. Hens make or break hunts they say, and this one in retrospect saved us as we would have almost certainly spooked the males had we got up for a bathroom break. 

The female hung out for twenty minutes, at times coming within 10 yards of the blind. Nothing beats a live decoy they say, so we were happy to have her around. The rest happened pretty quick. The hen, doing her thing (which was eating) had moved just out of sight and further into the field. Cole then spotted two males across the field - at this point little black dots - b-lining it for our decoys, the hen, or something in between. This for me was the most interesting part of turkey hunting as a fair bit of time passes while you wait for the birds to arrive and you have this ebb and flow of adrenaline and anxiety. They chose our decoys over the hen, and at 18 yards Cole gave me the all clear. And I bagged my first turkey, simple as that. 

It's a pretty exciting hunt that I hope to replicate. Calling will take some practice but the biggest trick in this area is land access.  That's something Dustin, Joe and I will work on when they move here.  

Of course an SS&S post wouldn't be anything without the classic trophy shot, the second one I did not know was a thing but I'm excited to see how it turns out.

Also not to be outdone by his oldman - Cole landed this bruiser in the afternoon. 

The classic dead bird lansdcape shot to end the post:

Monday, 2 January 2017

Venison wellington

Over the past few years I have made this dish a couple of times but never took any pictures. It is, in my opinion, the best thing you can do with a backstrap roast.

Make duxelles
Shallots, garlic, mushrooms, thyme



Make puff pastry



Duxelles, prosciutto, seared backstrap roast, dijon mustard



Put on a tray and cook

Make brandy-cream sauce

Take out of the oven

Cut and eat

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Walleye weekend

Moving back to Canada, in particular Ontario, means a complete re-orientation of my fishing. Almost a 180, but not quite: see Dustin's 2011 post.

Enter walleye and the 250,000 lakes situated throughout Ontario. The first week of November I set out to Point-aux-Baril to catch the walleye migrating from Georgian Bay to the inland rivers. I'm a bit curious about this movement behaviour - Dustin / Oliver can you verify this is indeed a seasonal migration?

We were not the only ones there to fish:

Fishing walleye is surprisingly technical. While the basic set up is a jig + worm / minnow, it always takes me a full day to re-develop my walleye senses. Walleye don't "hit" the bait most times, rather they suck it in and you simply have to feel for the added weight. While I was still building up my walleye mojo, my party promptly limited out and donated a few so I could reach my five within the slot. This led to our daily assembly line:

Andy (left) has probably filleted >5,000 walleye in his lifetime. Alan (right) is not far behind.
Lunch, dinner, freezer
Supporting Ontario's wildlife
On a personal note it's been pretty amazing to be back in Ontario and embark on these expeditions again with some of my closest friends. Days on the boat are filled with me rambling and talking shit to Andy and Alan, all of us laughing the whole time. I can not stop talking when I'm on a boat fishing.

Another apparent 180 that happens in your 30s is our dads become the ones that drink the most. I got through 8 beers in two nights while Andy's father-in-law almost caught on fire (*we were all 10 feet back at this point).

Here was the big fish from the weekend and some mushrooms I got into: stay tuned for a for a mushroom cream sauce connected to D's recent post.

It was an all male fishing party, and we only caught male walleye.
Apparently the females come in later - D / O?
Black trumpets - I was VERY stoked to find these guys

Georgian Bay bonding
An evening on the island

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Deer vs. Sleep in Pincher Creek

Late November. This can't serve as the definitive account of American Thanksgiving in Southern Alberta, but it is mine. 

It had been far too long since I attended a bourbon-soaked gathering of the U of A crew. The freezer had finally emptied of moose - save for an intact sirloin that I am inexplicably hoarding - and I had never hunted the storied land of Tigmore.  

Fact: it is illegal to fly YUL -> YYC with an empty cooler.

The Shafongs landed late, so the trip south from Calgary was made under the cover of darkness. 

Cabin arrival, 4am. 
Wake-up call, 7:30am. 

(A sleep-debt that would go unpaid for the remainder of the weekend)

Details from the first morning are a bit hazy because so was I. Those that had a full night’s sleep were already out and spotting deer, and Aaron had a tag to fill. Up to the house. Rifle. Ammunition. Vague directions. Feeling a bit worse for wear, but the beauty of the scene started to sink in. They have a good thing going down there.

Pretty much

Across the field just opposite the house we see the blaze orange of some combination of Jesse, Tom, Tyler, and Jess. They make for a distant field, and disappear. We make for the ridge. As we are half way up the slope we spot a few does, spooked, running our direction. We wait, hunker down. Maybe they'll come right for us. 

But they don't - they turn around and return to the field below. So we move that way, staying low. The deer slow down to a walking pace. 

"How far do you think they are" 
"Maybe 200 yards"
"Wait but what about those deer right in front of us, 150 yards closer?"

So at 8:22am - about 20 minutes after starting his Alberta hunt - Aaron takes a doe. 

"I stand on the wings and pull the legs, right?"
The gutless method. And Rebekkah's initiation to the ways of the west.
It is worth mentioning here that immediately before Aaron's shot we hear one from the next field over. Then another from somewhere up the ridge. Turns out those were Jesse and Tyler. We met up for some quartering.

We then moved on to the festive portion of the weekend. 

I eventually got my deer. But it was a real process, and one that involved me questioning everything from the bullet weight, to my vision, to my ability to estimate distance. 

Spoiler alert: I missed this shot

"... in conclusion I am pretty sure it was the cross-wind, bullet weight, scope-sighting, and divine intervention"

In the following days we found a rhythm of waking, walking, whiskey, and eating until we felt disgusting.

Now I'm just going out on a bunch of photos. 

Jesse contemplates going special forces into a bear den.

I call this filter "turkey steam"
Met up with this psych-jazzercise trio, out taking album cover photos. 
Missed these things - I

Missed these things - II

Missed these things - III

Thanks for having me back.