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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.

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Julia Child’s “Ours Bourguignon” (Bear Bourguignon)

Posted on 02 August 2010 by Cork Graham

In 1943, while working for the OSS in London, Julia McWilliams was introduced, by her boss “Wild Bill” Donovan, to James Corbett, a spitfire pilot in the RCAF. It would become a longtime friendship lasting until her death in 2004. When they went out to dinner, Corbett frequently regaled her with tales of his home near Calgary, and the big elk, moose and deer that were in the woods near his home. Most of all, he recommended she come out and enjoy the wilds of Canada.

Eighteen years had passed and McWilliams finally accepted Corbett’s invitation. By this time they had both married, and McWilliams was now arriving at Calgary Airport with her husband Paul Child. For dinner that night, Corbett’s wife Michelle, a French-Canadian native of Quebec prepared a spin on her family’s favorite dish, using the black bear James Corbett had taken only a few days before. It reminded Julia Child of Boeuf Bourguignon she had just perfected while finishing the compilation of her soon to be released Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

…Ah, if only it happened like this!

Quite an adventurous lady—Julia was actually hoping to jump into WWII France with OSS agents, but instead was made a top researcher directly under “The Father of Central Intelligence” General Donovan—I’m sure Child would have much enjoyed this spin on what would become her boeuf bourguignon. There was a Colonel James “Jim” Corbett, but he was more famous for wildlife conservation and hunting man-eating tigers for the Raj and the British Colonial Government in India (his first tiger had 436 confirmed kills through his belly before Corbett got him): he also was neither a pilot, nor a Canadian, and though quite a writer in his own right (check out Man-Eaters of Kumaon) I don’t think he ever met Julia, and died just six years before the release of the book that would open a whole new career to her.

These were the just mental machinations of a writer working on his first novel, delirious under the flu (though not as badly as when I’ve had malaria and the relapses…but that’s another story), and a heartily enjoyed bowl of Ours Bourguignon. I think it blows away any bourguignon made with common beef.

This dish was instigated by my running across our family’s 1970 copy of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, that Child co-authored with Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck, and my French-Basque hunting buddy Arnaud Bidondo giving me a pound of stew meat from a nice brown-phase, 6-foot black bear he got last year.

When I went through Child’s boeuf bourguignon recipe, though, I noticed she really only mentions thyme and a bay leaf as spice other than black pepper. Also, there’s only salt bacon. I wondered what would happen if you used Herbs de Provence. Standardized in the 1970s as a dried herb mixture from Provence (savory, thyme, basil, fennel) it also incorporated for American tastes, lavender. As my colleague, Hank Shaw says, brandy goes well with lavender, and after having tried it with so many other recipes, I can honestly say that just about everything goes well with lavender, especially sweet meats, of which bear can be, and especially so in California, where many bear taken by hunters without hounds are during the early part of the season, when the black bears have been fattening up on blackberries and mazanita berries.

As my friend Bidondo says, “many like to grill the bear meat, which is okay with the smaller bear, but when they are this big, much better in a stew!”

I wanted something that didn’t take as long to make as the original recipe, and would be simply amazing…So here’s my rendition of Julia Child’s Boeuf Á La Bourguignon, with ours replacing boeuf—Bon Apetit!

NOTE: Unlike venison, remember to cook all bear meat through, like pork, because of the possibility of trichinosis.

Nothing wilder than, and as robust as black bear meat!

 

Ours Bourguignon/Ours Á La Bourguignon

Ingredients :

1-2 lbs of bear stew meat

1 tbsp olive oil

1 chopped carrot

1 chopped onion

1 tbsp flour

1 tsp salt

1 tsp Herbs de Provence

1 bay leaf

3 cups of red wine ( Don’t cook with wine you wouldn’t drink: I used Francis Ford Coppola’s 2005 Claret [Cabernet Sauvignon])

1 can of Campbell’s beef consommé

1 tbsp of tomato paste

¼ lb of applewood smoked sliced bacon

18-24 small white onions

1 lb of fresh mushrooms sautéed in butter

1 tbsp chopped parsley

¼ cup of butter.

Render that bacon fat

 

Steps :

  1. Take a cassoulet or clay pot ( I prefer to use a large Vietnamese/Chinese clay pot that go for only $9 in San Francisco’s Chinatown—just before using make sure you soak it in cold water for at least 45 minutes, else it’ll crack, especially if using it for the first time).
  2. Cut the bacon strips into tiny squares, and fry them in the olive oil clay pot.
  3. Render out all the bacon fat, setting aside the brown bacon bits.
  4. Brown the bear stew meat, frying only a few pieces at a time to make sure they brown instead of cook, setting browned bear meat with the brown bacon bits.
  5. With all the bear meat browned, sprinkle the flour, salt and black pepper on top and toss the meat and bacon to make sure they’re all lightly coated.
  6. Toss the chopped onions and carrots into the claypot and sweat them until the onions are almost translucent.
  7. Pour in the 3 cups of red wine and scrape off as much of the brown goodness that has stuck the bottom of the clay pot.
  8. Add the can of beef consommé and dissolve the tbsp of tomato paste in the pot; then add the browned bear meat, bacon bits, and the spices and give a good stir.
  9. Here’s where you a lot of leeway with a claypot. You can either put it in the oven at 325-degrees Fahrenheit. NOTE: DO NOT preheat an oven for a clay pot—you’ll crack the pot! Just insert the clay pot and turn the heat on the desired degree.
  10. Or, do as I did. Put it on the stove on high heat and get the bourguignon boiling, then back off to medium heat and cover to simmer for the next 3-4 hours: until the bear meat is fork-tender.
  11. In the last 45 minutes, pour in the small white onions.
  12. During the last 15 minutes add the butter-fried mushrooms, giving a slow stir.

Clay pots are a chef’s Swiss Army knife

 

Serving suggestions:

Bear Bourguignon is really that good!


Display the clay pot at the center of the table, on a wood or cloth pot holder (never a cold stone, else the immediate temperature shift will crack the clay pot). Remove the bay leaf and throw it away.

Serve over mash potatoes,  wide, flat egg noodles, or with a side of small peeled potatoes. If you do serve with noodles, use only butter on the noodles. I tried coating the egg noodles with olive oil and it really overpowered the delicious flavor of the ours bourguignon.

Sprinkle chopped parsley lightly on the side and ours bourguignon.

Note for the Conservation Minded:

With how many more black bears there are in California than legal bucks (largely due to an overpopulation of major predators like bears and mountain lions, but more because of the counterproductive moratorium on hunting the heavily overpopulated California puma), it behooves every hunter to get a black bear tag to hunt in open areas. This is  especially so with how much opportunity there is these days, with new open areas in the Southern/Santa Barbara County section of Los Padres National Forest. Guess the millionaire residents in Santa Barbara have finally gotten fed up with black bears jumping in their mansion pools and munching on their fruit trees.

And because those bears have been getting enormous on avocados, you’ll get that much more meat for the freezer! Hopefully with this recipe you’ll learn that even a big old black bear can be just as tasty and tender as a smaller one: You just have to cook it right…

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