Tag Archive | "birdhunting"

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Shot Show 2010 Recap

Posted on 28 January 2010 by Cork Graham

It has been 12 years since I last attended ShotShow. It was big enough then, this year its size, along with the new digs where it was held, were almost insurmountable! Still, it was good to see old friends and new.


There was so much there, I didn’t even get to the first floor! On an introspective level, I noticed that in the time that I was away, there was a stark increase in the percentage of tactical to traditional hunting equipment. In my search I found those highlights that can be used not only in straight tactical events, but in hunting, too:


Visiting our friends at Nightforce Optics, Brian Gearhart gave us a talk through on the new Velocity Reticle.


A stop at TAPCO gave us an opportunity to talk with Kevin Miller about aftermarket products to make your Ruger 10/22 rifle that much more comfortable to shoot.


Jim Gianladis offered a great walk through on the new products coming out in the next two months from Caldwell, Tipton under the Battenfeld Technologies, Inc. umbrella.

Ed Schoppman talks about EOTech, Inc’s holographic sight system that really takes your  CQB (Close Quarter Battle) turkey hunt to a faster and much more accurate sight picture.

Last, but definitely not least is clothing, which when you pick the wrong type can get you killed in the field. Here’s Blackhawk!’s innovative 3-Layer system.


1. Sighting in with Nightforce Optics

2. Small game hunting with .22 cal pellet guns

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Where There be Ducks, There be Billy G!

Posted on 23 January 2010 by Cork Graham

Duckmaster Billy Gianquinto hammering the mallard call at his ISE seminar in San Mateo
Duckmaster Billy Gianquinto hammering the mallard call at his ISE seminar in San Mateo

Imagine a 13-year-old in a new land, dreaming of doing what his father had done at his age. The teen arrived in the US after spending all his previous years in foreign countries and reading late-arriving Boy’s Life, Outdoor Life and Field & Streams, thinking that when he returned to the nation of his nationality, he’d get to experience what his father had been blessed with from the 1930s to the late 1940s.

How wrong was that kid!

California in the late 1970s was quickly on its way to becoming the most expensive state within which to reside. Land prices forced out family-run ranches and farms, forcing sales to foreign-owned corporations. In the process, a simple handshake and promise to leave each cattle gate as found (normally closed), perhaps a bit of the meat or fish from the day’s take to the landowner, no longer led to an automatic permission to hunt privately-owned land, i.e. most often the best land to hunt and fish in the United States.

No, no, no. Instead, large club were formed to purchase hunting and fishing rights at thousands of dollars, something a young teen couldn’t even imagine of paying then. The only options were to hunt public national forests for deer, and bear, (pigs focus on free eats and safety on private land, so were never really an option unless you had access), and the waterfowl refuges.

If my parents hadn’t stepped in to get a family membership with the now long gone American Sportsman’s Club (most of the properties went under the Golden Ram and Wilderness Unlimited domain), I probably would have spent years on public land getting skunked like so many neophyte hunters experience on public land. What was more important wasn’t the access to private land, but the education available from the much more experienced hunters and anglers on the membership roles, and, too, the hunting seminars.

Billy Gianquinto conducted one of them. This is the man in 1977, who taught me to how to get ducks!

There are some people in life that you meet who just have that charismatic quality about them that makes an impression on you. When it comes to duck hunting, the one who made the best impression on me was Billy Gianquinto.

The next time I met Gianquinto after that instruction in 1977, was right after I had returned from hiding out and healing in Alaska to find that my old friend, Mark Eveslage, a cameraman well decorated with awards like the Emmy and just last year the Edward R. Murrow, was working on a new show, called the Charlie West’s Outdoor Gazette TV show. Better known for ducks, Gianquinto was their hunting host, and went off well with his own Billy and Buck waterfowl hunting show that I would enjoy regularly during the 1990s.

Nowadays, Gianquinto and I both write and host for e4outdoors.com. And all this time, he never knew that I was one of those kids he taught way back, until just a few weeks ago.

…That’s Billy Gianquinto’s gift: working with and teaching young hunters how to get their ducks—making sure the hunting line doesn’t die out with each succeeding generation. In all honesty, with all the “master” duck hunters I’ve interviewed and hunted with, my knowledge of duck hunting always ends up coming back to the tried and true teachings of Billy G.

From him, I learned how to call pintails and whistle widgeon and teal. With his knowledge I got my mallards. Though he no longer teaches it, because he can’t reach those notes anymore; I can still call in honkers with my voice. And when steel shot first came in, he taught me to “open up that choke!”

With an initial knowledge of hunting built through reading and rereading classics like Hunting the Lawless and The Outlaw Gunner, and formed by great writers, many long dead, like Nash Buckingham, Ed Neal, and Walt Christensen, Billy G’s hunting history reaches back to when he was eight years old and saw a film starring matinee idol Errol Flynn, called “Robin Hood”. With a full costume like his favorite character and a bow, he ventured by bicycle to Golden Gate Park for the squirrels and pygmy rabbits hiding in the trees and brush. Soon, he went on a “real” hunt, a duck hunt with a boss at the Boy Scout camp he worked at during his youth.

The article on that life forming event, shows exactly that mad, yet endearing, quality that duck hunters have over other hunters: who else actively anticipates the worst weather of winter and fall, and talks to themselves all the rest of the year with a duck call in their hands, and spends untold amounts of cash on the latest piece of waterfowl hunting equipment, and risks divorce just to get into a blind when the birds are in?

Personally, my own waterfowl madness started with a friend from high school in Belmont, who pestered me to join him in the sucking San Francisco Bay mud flats and islands off Redwood Shores, right after I learned to call from Billy G. I can really relate to Billy G’s conversion to duckhood—with all its pain and self-questioning. There’s just something about seeing a bright greenhead cupped and floating down into your dekes, or my favorite, as I’m at heart a goose hunter, flagging a distant flock of Canada geese that break off the main flock and almost land on your head as you lay on your back in a dry barley or wheat field, waiting to make a clean headshot.

And that doesn’t even call up memories of great meals prepared with the waterfowl taken over grain and green pastures that make me think of mallard and honkers as “filet mignon the wing.”

If you’d like to be converted to sitting in bad weather (though that can be a myth, too: many a mallard has fallen to guns on blue birds skies), and learn the tricks and tips that keep you from coming home cold and skunked, check out Billy G’s seminars at ISE Sacramento this weekend, and check out his website full of useful information and articles. And if you want to get a pintail whistle that will actually pull ducks away from others calling (it’s made of metal which is why it’s so loud), I can’t say enough good things about Billy G’s pintail whistle!


The days of having a relative teach you how to hunt and fish are sadly going the way of the California condor. Thankfully, there are still shows in California and around the country that provide that education by experienced professionals. Waterfowl, big-game, trout, salmon, steelhead, and most of the equipment you need to actually go out and do it with are available for purchase and or trying out at shows like the International Sportsmen’s Show—no, the traditional name doesn’t just mean for men, as the quickest increasing population of hunters are women!

While chatting at our mutual friend, Michael Riddle’s Native Hunt booth; black cowboy hat-wearing, fellow pig fanatic of The Hog Blog, Phillip Loughlin, shared the same hope that these shows will keep the hunter’s torch blazing and lighting the way for new hunters to get hte right information and a solid opportunity to hunt private lands locked off from the public.

The Hog Blog's Phillip Loughlin, Michael Riddle and the Native Hunt Team

The Hog Blog's Phillip Loughlin, Michael Riddle and the Native Hunt Team

Every year I wait to see what’s new and interesting and to see what new guiding operations are out there to provide the best bang for your buck experience: I’m always for a newbie hunter or angler signing up with a guide or outfitter for their first time, especially in an area that you might want to try on your own-why in the world would you want to spend more money reinventing the wheel, when overall, you can pay much less for a trip with a guide that takes care of all that time lost on trial and errors, so that you can be in the field as someone who is an important component of wildlife management and conservation?

While the San Mateo ISE show is a week over, Sacramento is still raging well: where else can you get the opportunity to meet in person outfitters that can make your dream of hunting or fishing in lands of wonders, like New Zealand, Alaska and Africa?


  1. Shot Show 2010 Recap
  2. Sighting in with Nightforce Optics

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Pheasants: Hang ’em High!

Posted on 31 December 2009 by Cork Graham

What a horrible reputation the ringnecked pheasant has: tough, wiry, tasteless, dry. If only those who had shot and cooked that prize bird (pheasants in days of old were only available in Europe to the conquering Romans who brought it from Asia and their descendants who became the rulers of Europe west of the Rhine), had properly applied aging.

Good game bird cooking all starts in the field, and carries through in the days before a bird is either cooked or put in the freezer for a later date. How long, was the question I put to my new hunting friend and writer, Hank Shaw of Hunter Angler Gardener Cook.

Hank Shaw and Cork Graham along with Ziggy after a successful pheasant opener.

Hank Shaw and Cork Graham along with Ziggy after a successful pheasant opener.

 His suggestion was three to four days for a bird club pheasant, that’s basically a chicken that has been getting fast and sassy on a remote feeding system with poultry feed, as was available to us on our first hunt together at the Stockton Sportmen’s Club.

For a wild bird, Shaw’s suggestion was seven days. This is often the recommendation used in Europe, especially the UK. Whether you talk to culinary expert Hank Shaw, or one of those cooking writers we both admire, like British writer Clarissa Dickson Wright, you can’t go wrong with aging your bird–whether two days, three days or until the head separates from the body.

Yes, in traditional British bird aging, pheasants used to hang until it became so rotten it fell to the ground.

When I first moved from combat journalism to outdoor writing, as the outdoors columnist for the last large family-owned newspaper in the San Francisco Bay Area, The Times of San Mateo in 1994 (It was eaten up the ANG /Denver-based MediaNews Group conglomerate in 1997 [renamed The San Mateo Times], along with the Oakland Tribune, Alameda Star and a number of other Bay Area papers [you’ll notice the columnists and writers are the same for all those papers]–All they wanted were the printers and real estate. Within a month, all journalists got their pink slips, if they weren’t already looking for more secure pastures…so much for honest local coverage; sadly, this is the way of The Press in the New Millenium: Thank God for the Internet!), I was invited to the Gabilan Valley Sportsmans Club to hunt pheasants for an article. My Chesapeake Bay retriever had his first chance at pheasants and we both had a phenomenal time.

As we were leaving, the owner recommended that we hang our birds. The suggestion was to hang them by the long tail feathers. Depending on how many days and the temperature, the pheasant would fall, indicating that it was ready to pluck and cook or put in the freezer.


Personally, I prefer to eviscerate all my game and fish within moments of the kill. It cools the game quickly, which in the Sunshine Land of California is a priority, and more importantly removes all the body fluids that begin seeping into the cavity.

Microscopically, body organs are actually very porous. It’s almost like a sieve. When the body is alive, those organ membranes are vibrant, contracting and expanding to hold or release fluids, as the body needs. When the body dies and the autonomic nervous system no longer controls those actions and fluids that taint meat like urine, stomach acid and bile, those fluids begin a slow release.

It’s the immediate killing, bleeding and gutting of the trout, that I’ve caught or taught others to catch and prepare for the table, that draws the compliments for their taste.

On the other hand, pheasants, along with waterfowl, can often be improved by leaving the innards in during the aging process. You simply hang them whole up in a cool, airy place. This is Hank Shaw’s preferred method.

Personally, I like to keep the innards and use them for a number of table offerings: gravy bits, pate, to name just a few. So, leaving my pheasants, ducks and waterfowl whole is not an option.

The problem is that birds can dry out in the process of them hanging with an empty body cavity. Shaw offered a remedy: stuff a paper towel in place of the organs. It worked fine.

So what’s my method for aging pheasants and ducks and geese for that matter? Simply pluck some feathers around the vent. With the bird on its back, make a small slit above the vent, parallel to the outstretched wings. Just under the point of the breast bone is perfect.

Reach in with two to three fingers and draw out the intestines, gizzard, heart, coagulated blood, etc. Wash off the heart, liver and gizzard.

The gizzard is my favorite for gravy, also quick grilling. After washing it off, slit it down the middle and remove the tough inner skin that is all calloused by months or years of grinding gravel to digest grain. Trim all that might be green from the gizzard fluids. Wash it again after you’ve removed all suggested: inner skins, gravel and grain.

Pay special attention to the gall bladder attached to the liver. It’s dark in color. The dark black or green comes from the bile inside. If that touches any meat or the livers, it’s ruined. Cut it away while making sure to not contaminate your fingers. With heart, trimed liver and gizzard, washed, put them in a Ziploc bag to place on ice. They’ll go in the freezer for another day.

Wash out the inside of the bird and wipe it out a couple times with paper towel. Then, place one or two paper towels in the empty cavity, doing your best to keep any outside materials like dirt, dust or feathers coming in along with the stuffed paper towels.

Shaw has created a nice regulated aging box out of his wine refrigerator. I like to just hang my birds by their feet from a nail in one of the rafters in the cool open area of my garage. Depending on the air temperature, I’ll hang my birds between one to three days.

Pheasants hanging in the garage.

Pheasants hanging in the garage.

I prefer my birds lightly aged as I’m doing it more for the tenderizing of the meat and helping the birds best retain its moisture while cooking, which I add to with a one day stay in a brining solution once I’m preparing to cook it.

I’ll check the birds everyday to make they’ve not gone over the edge. It’s really just a process of checking the smell. There’s the birdy smell that the pheasant has when it’s freshly killed. Once the bird begins a slight ripening, I’ll immediately pluck the bird, wash it off and then stick it in the refrigerator for at least one or two days. In a Ziploc they’ll last for up to 7 months with no problem.

If you want to keep them for up to a year and a half, sink them in water in a Ziploc and the ice will keep them from getting freezer burn and drying out, just like a wooly mammoth.

…Hank Shaw has been commissioned to write a book–so stay tuned!

Happy New Year!

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