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Hunting in the Land of Ishi

Posted on 31 August 2016 by Cork Graham

Early morning set up in the canyons of Ishi Country.

Early morning set up in the canyons of Ishi Country for Cork Graham and his guide.

Ishi, the last of California’s Yahi tribe, had hunted these hills and canyons. While he carried only a few arrows and a hand-made bow, I shouldered my Montana Rifle Company X2 chambered in .338-06. My hope was that the famously large mule deer/blacktailed crossbred deer had migrated out of the high country onto this ranch. Philip Massaro of Massaro Ballistic Laboratories had especially loaded custom rounds for me to using a variety of non-lead bullets from Barnes—TTSX and TSX and EBR—I sorely planned to connect with a mulie/blacktail cross using one of those bullets.

A guest of Harry and Rocque Merlo, of MERLO VINEYARDS and MERLO WATERFOWL, two cousins who had done well making their love of hunting, farming and wine a successful career, I had heard about these big deer that had almost reached mythical status due to how they hid so well up in the Sierras of Northern California, only driven down onto the ranch by snow. But, while I was having a full season of rain back in Alaska, California was deep into a fourth year of major drought.

We had stretched it as far as we could, by having me fly into California on my way home from a fact-finding mission to the Baltics. This put me there just in time for the last week of the coveted G-1 deer season. But, my luck was just not turning. So, when I was sitting on a bluff overlooking a canyon on my hosts’ ranch, and noticed a “bush” move in the early morning light below us, I had hoped it was a buck.

A quick glance through my 8X56 HD-R Geovids and it was clear I was instead looking at very big black bear. A gorgeous cinnamon phase American black bear, it moved with that swing and roll that the bear who owns the woods carries himself.

He was the kind of bear wildlife manager like hunters to remove as these bears love to eat deer. And, with the new prohibition of the use of bear hounds, the California’s wildlife conservation department had lost another effective tool in keeping a major predator’s numbers in check.

In whispers, I told my guide. The range was 280 yards. This was an easy downhill shot for someone who practices out to 1,000 yards and efficiently and consistently takes his big-game out to 400 yards. Taking a few deeps breaths I setup best as I could in a seated position, which, with rifle locked into my hands by twist into the military leather sling, was solid.

Two deep breaths to settle the crosshairs of my ER5 on his chest as he angled away, and it was clear, through the 2-10X50 magnified to the maximum setting, how big this bear really was. He was an easy 350 pounds, if not 375! I began moving my finger back on the trigger. Trigger pull set for three pounds, and crisp, it didn’t travel far before the Barnes 185 gr. TTSX was on its way. A millisecond later, the bear reacted as if shot in the heart, a conclusion the guide also came to, exclaiming on the video shot on his iPhone of how good the shot was.

It was a good shot…but why did the bear keep moving downhill? Based on the reaction and the sounds of its thrashing as it moved downhill, it should have seemed more like a roll, and then should have ended short thereafter. Instead, the crashing and snapping of brush continued for a little longer than I would have expected or felt comfortable with. It left me with an uneasy feeling as we waited for the guide’s buddies to come help us pack out all that great tasting meat.

All was quiet when we finally arrived at where the bear had been standing when the bullet hit him. All the sign was there: the blood from the hit, even a large pile of scat where he had stopped for a second to relieve himself, just before I hit him. Inspection revealed that he had fed well on manzanita berries and acorns: the tastiest bears in California, other than those feeding on black berries, are those fattened on manzanita berries and dropped acorns.

Alas, we searched almost half the day, following what was at first good blood sign, then meager, neither of it having the good signs of a lung, or liver shot: no frothy bright red blood, no rib bone chips, not even any sign of a horrible gut shot, such as digestive track contents.

Blood spatter on the brush limbs....

Blood spatter on the brush limbs…

When the trail started back uphill after 150 yards in the opposite direction, I was completely disheartened and beside myself. I’ve always made sure to make as efficient a kill as possible: less suffering for the animal, better taste of the meat, and less chance of waste.

This bear was hit, but evidently not mortally wounded. He would be back here again next year.

No hunter likes to wound an animal. We do our best to make sure our shooting skills are beyond exceptional. We match out gear to the job at hand. But, even when the best laid plans are put into action, we are only left to variables that just can’t be explained…and are no less distressing.

About the Boots

The LOWA Hunter GTX Evo Extreme

The LOWA Hunter GTX Evo Extreme

There have been two pairs of boots that I’ve been able to take right out of the box, and head into the hills with. A pair of Danner boots I received in 1994, while I was the outdoors columnist for THE TIMES of San Mateo County; and this pair of LOWA GTX Evo Extremes. This hunt was my first trip out with the Lowa GTX Evo Exreme.

There was a lot of thought put into the GTX Evo Extreme. It starts with the design and how it hugs the foot and ankle. There’s major support. As a result of the materials used, I was able to wear one pair of socks, instead of the normal two, in order to keep the blisters down.

As for durability, that comes through in the use of quality of the materials: Nubuck leather, stitching, glue, rubber. Their warranty is phenomenal.

What I found was that the boot held to the lower leg and foot, at the same time offering enough slippage to let the foot move enough to not require two sox in order to keep the feet from blistering. Most materials inside boots hold the sock so tightly that the only thing to give is your skin.

Within first six hours of hunting, I was chasing that bear up and down a variety of terrain on that steep hillside that often crumbled away. This was a great opportunity to challenge the quality and efficiency of material and design for the GTX.

The Vibram Masai sole, that has a self-cleaning mountaineering tread, grabbed slipper dry grass, and offered solid purchase on rocks. Not once did I feel overwhelmed or intimidated by the potential of falling or sliding into danger. Confidence in footwear goes much further than just comfort.

One of the hardest ideas to deliver in production is a boot that is as once offering solid support, but enough suppleness to offer mobility, resulting in stealth. Moving through the young buckeyes, live oak, and madrone that cover the sides of canyons in the foothills of Northern California was made that much easier due to the design and fabrication of the GTX Evo Extreme.

Part of the reason for the comfort and stability is the C4 tongue that has a metal stud to whip the laces around and hold in position. Very few boots have this and after experiencing the stability due to the stud holding the tongue from slipping right or left, I feel it a necessity for a hunting boot.

Not every boot is appropriate for every terrain, but the GTX Evo Extreme is best suited for alpine and sub-alpine environments. It can also be used in boreal and mountainous deserts. Attention to average temperatures down to cold is what works with this boot. Waterproof and breathable due to GoreTex, and filled with 200 grams of Permaloft, I consider it a great boot, whether you’re going after blacktails in the mountains and foothills of the Lower 48, or hunting sheep, and goats in the rocky shale of Alaska, in temperatures from below freezing to 80 degrees.

Stay tuned for an upcoming article on the Mountain Expert GTX Evo, and factory visit to the LOWA factory in Germany.

lowahuntergtxevofactory

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Bear and Venison Bun Cha Hanoi on the Red Boat

Posted on 16 August 2011 by Cork Graham

  

 When I first read about Red Boat on Ravenous Couples website, I was intrigued. I remembered fondly from my childhood in Saigon the pure fish sauce (nuoc mam) that was exported from the island of Phu Quoc to Saigon. My Saigonese friends would always laud it as the best. But, over the years, and only offered the same best option as everyone else outside of Vietnam, Three Crabs fish sauce, I forgot what made real nuoc mam so special.

That was until I exchanged emails with the owner of Red Boat Fish Sauce and learned we were only separated by the San Francisco Bay. When he offered to drop off some samples in person, I responded with an offer of lunch and a recipe adaptation I’d been playing around in mind with ever since I tried it at the restaurant owned by a friend who had escaped from Hanoi in the early 1980s. Called Loi’s, and now run by his sister, it’s still on Irving Street in San Francisco—serves the best North Vietnamese street cuisine in the city.

So, Red Boat owner, Cuong Pham and his director of sales and marketing, Robert Bergstrom, joined me for my experiment with bear and deer meat. First, though, I had to make a comparison. Before opening the bottle, we read the ingredients label: Red Boat has only salt and anchovy extract; Three Crab has anchovy extract, water, salt, fructose, and hydrolyzed vegetable protein. Red Boat is the real deal!

 Then, I poured into a small tasting bowl. It’s viscosity was impressive. Most nuoc mam pours out like water. Red Boat leaves the bottle like maple syrup.

 But, it was the taste test that sold me: Three Crab is salty coming in and going past the tongue. Red Boat starts salty, but finishes sweet. It has a savoriness that reminds me of why for some back in the Vietnam nuoc mam makes a complete meal by being spooned over a small bowl of rice.

 Filling a clay pot with the grilled black bear meatballs and marinated venison slices, I mixed up a batch of nuoc mam cham, the dipping sauce that you’re normally offered with Vietnamese cha gio (deep fried imperial rolls). And then that’s when I knew, beyond the shadow of doubt: Red Boat is THE BEST nuoc mam you can find in the United States!

 Here’s the recipe for you to find out yourself:

 There are three parts to Bun Cha. First is the ground meat, then the grilled whole meat, and then the vegetables that make such an aromatic and healthy meal.

 It may look pretty involved, but once you have the veggies and meats all set up, the grilling and nuoc mam cham steeping is pretty quick and easy.

 Nuoc Mam Cham

 2 Cups water

½ Cup rice vinegar

½ Cup sugar

10 TBS fish sauce

2 small fresh chili peppers, chopped

  1.  Bring the water with the vinegar up to boiling, then turn off the heat
  2.  Pour in the sugar to dissolve
  3.  Add the fish sauce and chopped fresh chilis
  4.  Normally, you let this cool, but for Bun Cha, pour over the meat warm.

 Cha Thit Gấu (Ground Bear Sausage)

 

1/2 lbs. ground bear meat

4 cloves of minced garlic

1 TBS sugar

1 TSP salt

1 TSP black pepper

1 TSP white pepper

1 TSP coconut caramel sauce, or molasses

1 egg beaten

  1. Mix all ingredients thoroughly
  2. Place in a non-reactive/non-metal container, covered, for at least an hour, or preferably overnight
  3. Form them into handball-sized meatballs and place a number of them on a skewer for easier manipulation on the grill
  4. Grill over a high heat coals, starting your cooking before the venison
  5. As bear meat is like wild pork in terms of parasites such as trichinosis, it’s important to cook the bear through. That’s doesn’t meant dry, but to an internal meat temperature of 160 degree Fahrenheit.

  

  • Bear meatballs on a stick ready for the grill

Thit Nai (Venison component)

1 lb venison roast, thinly sliced about 1/4 inch or so (not too thin that it’ll dry out during grilling)

1/8 Cup  minced Lemongrass. If you live in temperate zone like California, worth growing in the backyard for a number of great recipes and teas, and it’s a natural mosquito repellent)

2 TBS sugar

1 TBS fish sauce

1 TSP ground pepper

2 Cloves garlic, minced

1 shallot, minced.

1 TSP soy sauce

1 TBS molasses

  1. Mix everything but the venison
  2. Place the venison strips in a non-metal/ non-reactive container and cover
  3. Let the meat sit in marinade for at least an hour—I like to leave it overnight.
  4. Lay the meat strips in a fish or veggie-grilling basket to keep them from fall into the fir
  5. Grill the meat for four to five minutes on each side, to a brown or black on the outside and slight pink inside.

 

The Veggies and Rice Noodles

 1 Cucumber

1 Bunch of Cilantro

1 Bunch of Thai basil leaves

1 Bunch of fresh mint leaves

1 Head of lettuce

2 Cups of pickled daikon and carrots in a seperate bowl for serving

 

Pickled Daikon and Carrots  (Do Chua) recipe:

1/2 lb. carrots -shredded in food processor, sliced in thin rounds or thin match-like strips.

1/2 lb. daikon radish – cut same as carrots.

3 cups warm water

3 Tablespoons distilled or rice vinegar

2-3 tablespoons sugar, depending on how sweet you want your pickles

2 tablespoons salt

  1.  Mixed the brine and heat for total saturation, and then after cooling, pour it into non-reactive container, like a ceramic pickling jar
  2. Shred the carrots and daikon into two to three-inch long thin strips
  3. Place the carrots and daikon in the brine, and let pickle for at least an hour before using. It can last for up to five months in the refrigerator.

 

Bun Cha Serving Steps:

  1. On a large serving dish, please a heaping mound of rice noodle. I use pretty much one full package of rice stick that I quickly dip into a hot pot of water, using a basket ladle. Only about a minute at the most to soften the noodles, and making sure to lift and drop to get most of the excess boiled water out
  2. As it continues to hydrate and become opaque white, lift and separate the bundle to give the noodles loft as they cool
  3. Once they’re just warm and not hot, you can begin an arrangement around the rice noodles of sliced cucumber, whole lettuce leaves and sprigs of mint or basil and sweet basil
  4. On another plate lay a stack of Bun Cha (cirular rice paper). It’s served with a bowl of warm water for diners to wet the Bun Cha to soften it enough to make a the roll 
  5. Once everything but the meat is ready, and placed at the dining table, begin the cooking process for the two meats on the grill 
  6. After the meat is cooked, place it in a pot, sliding the meatballs off the skewers. My preference is a traditional Asian claypot as it keeps the meat warm 
  7. Warm up the nuoc mam cham, and pour over the barbecued meatLet the meat sit in the sauce for fifteen minutes, then serve.

 How to eat Bun Cha:

  1. Take a bowl and place a softened piece of rice paper in the middle
  2. Grab pieces of cucumber, cilantro, lettuce, basil leaf and place them in line up the middle of the rice paper
  3. Place a thumb-thick collection of noodle strands on the line of veggies
  4. Using your chopsticks, collect a piece of venison and half or quarter of one of the meatballs and place along the line of noodles and vegetables
  5. Top with a few strands of the Do Chua
  6. Spoon some nuoc mam cham down the line
  7. Roll up the rice paper and eat like a Vietnamese burrito

 

Bon Appetit!

Bun cha ready for rolling and eating

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THE GAME COOKBOOK by Clarissa Dickson Wright & Johnny Scott [Book Review]

Posted on 22 December 2010 by Cork Graham

 

If you remember the British cooking series, Two Fat Ladies, of PBS and BBC fame, you’ll immediately recognize Clarissa Dickson Wright as the taller of the two, not the proud chainsmoker who passed away from lung cancer in 1999.  Dickson Wright is the co-author of The Game Cookbook with Scottish farmer and outdoorsman, Johnny Scott.

A gorgeously illustrated review copy sent to us by the publisher, The Game Cookbook takes standard table game and puts a variation on it that brings out the best qualities through innovative experimentation, with classic recipes and those that seem to have been magically created by neighbors on the other side of the authors’ hedge.

Included are recipes that are very traditional in the UK and Europe. Others reach to the Middle East and South Asia, modified from recipes based in preparing more traditional farm-raised meats. Well-read and always willing to tell a story, Dickson Wright colors the recipes with asides of family histories and remembrances of foreign travel and meals had with friends.

You’ll find that it’s very much a UK book with such references as “wapiti”, which those of us in the US and Canada recognize as elk: what they call elk in Europe and the UK, we call moose in North America.

The artwork gracing the pages is a mix of old paintings, of hunting and fishing in North America and Europe, even movie stills (James Mason looks quite dashing with a side-by-side), and then photos of completed dishes just as beautiful as the sketches and historical art. Together they bring to the reader the old and new of game and fish cuisine, along with anecdotes that can prepare the neophyte hunter or angler for their first hunting or fishing experience.

At the end of the book is a listing of hunting and fishing organizations in the UK and US, along with a collection of wildlife agencies in the United States. For those who might not be personally able to collect their own main component of a game or fish dish, a listing of game suppliers offering meat farm-raised animals (unlike in Europe, where wild game and fish are sold in many shops, the selling of true wild game in the US has been illegal for years) provides an option.


One of the topics that I keyed in on, because it puts so much fear in the new game chef, is aging. In the US of late, as the tradition of hunting has skipped one, two or even three generations, the result of more Americans moving into urban areas in pursuit of employment, the art of aging has been forgotten. If you read some of the forums on the Internet, there’s such an intimidation toward aging and meat contamination that it can sometimes be humorous, sometimes sad…. What would people do if suddenly our refrigerators no longer worked and we were suddenly dumped into a kitchen life experience most families had up until the end of the early part of the last century?

Aging was a heavily practiced technique for stretching the day’s take, improving flavor and tenderizing a tough old bird, or side of venison. It all has to do with air temperature and humidity: cool and moist tops the list, and extends the aging time. The author goes through the aging process for just about every meat type taken, from grouse, to pheasant to venison.

There are also recipes for those that might not be specifically sought in the US and Canada, but are looked forward to in Europe and the UK, such as carp. There are recipes for grouse, pheasant, elk, moose, antelope, caribou, wild boar, partridge (chukar), quail, dove, American woodcock, snipe, hare (jackrabbit), cottontail, salmon trout, sea trout, zander (yellow perch), pike and of course goose.

At the back just before the meat supplier’s list, is a collection of recipes for compotes, sauces and stocks bringing out the best flavors of the dish.

When it came to testing a recipe, I decided it was time to use one of the many pheasants that Ziggy had pointed out for me last year—the dish quick to prepare and a rich, creamy mix of flavors!

PHEASANT WITH NOODLES AND HORSERADISH CREAM

A bit sweet. A bit tangy. All delicious!

 

Ingredients: 

  • 1/3 cup (3/4 stick) butter
  • 4 pheasant breasts
  • 4 shallots, chopped (if unavailable, use 4 tablespoons of chopped mild onions)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 tbsp bottled horseradish, or 1 tbsp strong fresh horseradish, grated.
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 packet black or green Italian noodles or make your own chestnut noodles (enough for 4 people)
  • small bunch of parsley, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

Steps: 

  1. Heat the butter in a heavy frying pan for which you have lid
  2. Sauté the pheasant breasts until they are sealed
  3. Remove them and sauté the shallots and the garlic until the shallots are pale gold
  4. Remove and discard the garlic clove
  5. Stir the horseradish into the shallots
  6. Add a tbsp, or so, of water and the lemon juice
  7. Return the breasts to the pan, add the cream, and cover
  8. Cook gently for 15-20 minutes, until the breasts are cooked
  9. If the sauce is too wet, remove the breasts and zap up the heat to reduce
  10. If it’s too dry, add a little more cream or some dry white white wine
  11. Cook the noodles according the package instructions and drain
  12. Serve the noodles with the pheasant
  13. Sprinkle the chopped parsley on top.

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