Tag Archive | "blacktail deer"

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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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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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Bun Thit Nai Nuong Xa (Vietnamese Lemon Grass BBQ Venison Noodle Salad) [Recipe]

Posted on 04 December 2010 by Cork Graham

Vietnam holds my first memories, some of them horrific: the bloodiest days of 1968’s “Little Tet” Offensive in May, marked in my mind by a US Army chopper firing rockets into a Vietcong machine gun post in a Saigon highrise; waking up in the public recovery room at the US Army’s hospital at Tan Son Nhut, among Vietnamese civilians wounded in the war…all well recorded in my 2004 Amazon Topseller memoir.

Other memories as the son of an American expat businessman, weren’t so traumatic and actually quite pleasant: skiing up and down the Saigon River to the Club Nautique (no, the Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction wasn’t playing on the transistor radio) , trips to Dalat and Vung Tau, and my first taste of grilled venison noodle salad, otherwise known as Bun Thit Nuong Xa, thit nai being the venison (“meat deer” syntax) and xa the lemongrass that I think makes any wild game that much better.

The restaurant was in Saigon and I think we started going there in 1970 and continued as patrons until our leaving in 1972. Owned by a Frenchman and his Vietnamese wife, and dimly lit for romance it had a décor that would have made Graham Greene envious, but it was the food that made it one of the better-known restaurants in Saigon.

Bun Thit Nai Nuong Xa was only one of what were several courses required of business dinners designed for schmoozing clients, and especially bringing the family as family is very important in Asia. Company wining and dining budgets sure helped keep a family of four fed in those days. All I cared about though, as a boy of seven and then eight, was that big bowl of rice noodles topped by a mound of venison darkened by fire and sweet to the taste.

Over the years since I started deer hunting, I’ve played with the idea of putting it together as I remembered. Often, though, I’d just make a venison chili, marinated steaks, or an oven roast. As I’ve matured in my tastes and trained myself to recognize the different spices that make up dishes, I finally asked myself, what was it about that dish, aside from great tasting venison (probably a muntjac deer hunted by some Degar hunter in the Central Highlands, or a market hunter on one of the rubber plantations)?

When I shot such an amazingly tender mule deer up near Alturas, CA with the great assistance of newfound friends this last deer season, I suddenly got a bug to expand more than the normal repertoire of venison meals. For a meal with such a variety of aromatics and flavor, Bun Thit Nai Nuoung Xa turns out to be a very easy dish to prepare.

In California, it’s pretty easy to keep a stand of lemongrass growing all year in the Bay Area and Southern California; in a mini greenhouse, everywhere else, all year long. Makes a great tea with or without sugar and shows up in a majority of Vietnamese, Cambodian and Thai dishes, making it a worthwhile addition to anyone’s yard or window herb garden.

Finally, I said yesterday would be the day I made Bun Thit Nai Nuong Xa…and when I was done, I wondered why it too me so long: like my ours bourguignon that tastes better than beef bourguignion, Bun Thit Nai Nuong Xa tastes better than Bun Thit Nuong, i.e. the normal restaurant variety made with farmed pork…or the chicken and beef varieties for that matter.

…Yes, it’s that good!

Now you can purchase venison from ranches, but as far as I’m concerned farmed-raised deer is just a very lean beefsteak that used to have antlers instead of steer horns. Farm-raised means drugs, if even the lightest amount of antibiotics, and worst, fed a regulated diet of pellets and feed that comes in bags for improved muscle growth for weight at the market…all thanks to the USDA: we wonder why there’s obesity in the US?

If you want to get true organic venison, one that has been feeding on a variety of naturally occurring flora, living life in the wilds, absorbing all that made us that more connected to the healing qualities of the Earth, you’re going to have to get your venison with a gun or bow, or have a friend willing to share…

In just about every country outside the US, you can pay someone to shoot your venison…but why cut yourself out of the cycle of life equation that brings you that much closer to appreciating what you’re eating…or should be eating?

And while I’d never hunt muntjac in Asia as they’re definitely endangered there, I’d sure hunt them in Ireland and the UK where increasing numbers run the risk of a detrimental effect on native species of deer…as for New Zealand, with its low human population and major red deer populations hunting’s a given.

Now there are a lot of Vietnamese BBQ meat noodle salad recipes out there, but I’ve been enjoying reading the Vietnamese recipes published by the Ravenous Couple. Many of their recipes bring me back to the ones my mom learned from her Saigonese friends. Of course, as with all the recipes designed for meat from farm animals, I had to modify for wild game…

I wanted the venison to stand out, which means I had to remove some ingredients in the salad, and add to, and modify the marinade to deal with the dryness of venison—you’d be amazed at what good molasses can do!

Here is the recipe and please remember to comeback to make a comment below once you’ve finished enjoying your home cooked Bun Thit Nai Nuoung Xa–like traditional publications, it costs money to bring these articles FREE to YOU, paid for and supported by advertisers…part of which is attracted by rankings on Google, which is added to by the number of comments…You clicking on advertising links and making sure to make a comment on something you enjoyed means we’re able to keep bringing you useful information..and if you have a blog, too, the link to your blog through your comment brings your ranking up, too: win-win–Thank you and bon apetit!

If you’ve not got a local Asian foods market, you might find these ingredients and other things at Amazon worth ordering:

Bun Thit Nai Nuong Xa (BBQ Venison Noodle Salad)  [Recipe]

Serves four

Perfect Thit Nai cuts

Ingredients

  • 1-2 lbs of moose, blacktail, whitetail, mule deer or elk sliced ¼-inch thick and large enough so they won’t fall through a fish BBQ grill
  • 1 Cucumber cut in half, or quartered and then julienned
  • A bunch each of fresh mint, Thai basil, and cilantro some rolled and sliced, some leaves left whole for the chopped salad
  • One package of rice vermicelli
  • 2 green scallion minced
  • 1 tbs peanut oil
  • 3 tbs fresh peanuts coarsely ground then roasted.

Marinade

  • 1/4 cup minced Lemongrass (Xa) stalk [Cut the stalk an inch from the ground and trim off the green leaves to boil in water for a great tea]
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar—you can use refined sugar, but I think the added molasses adds something special.
  • 2 tbs fish sauce (Nuoc Mam—“water fish”)
  • 1 tsp ground pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (use more according to taste)
  • 2-3 shallots, minced, or a tbs of thinly sliced red onions
  • 1 tbs sesame oil
  • 2 tbs soy sauce
  • 1-2 tbs of molasses

 

Nuoc Mam Cham (This is the sweet delicious dipping sauce you get served with Chai Gios [Imperial Rolls])

  •   ½ cup Nuoc Mam (Fish Sauce)
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 2 tbs brown sugar
  • 2-3 tbs white vinegar
  • 1 tsp fresh lime juice
  • 1 Thai bird chili finely chopped

NOTE: Personally, I never started adding the vinegar until a friend of mine who escaped Hanoi on  a refugee boat, and started the best Hanoi-style noodle shop in San Francisco, called Loi’s—and after  a long hiatus started Cheramoya in Burlingame—turned me onto his use of vinegar.

And even this recipe I just mess around with above for my own tastes everytime I cook…

Everyone…and I mean EVERYONE has his or her own family take on this sauce in Vietnam. I’ve had it salty. I have had it bitter…and I’ve had it so sickeningly sweet I should have poured it on a strawberry sundae—you have my permission to experiment! 😉

Steps

  1. Mix the marinade to taste. Remember, everyone has different tastebuds and cultural tastes. Myself, I start with the recipe I’ve put together and add and subtract at each cooking session to make sure the marinade tastes exactly the way I like it.
  2. Immerse and stir the venison in the marinade. Cover and set in the refrigerator for at least an hour. I like to let it set for 2-3 hours to really get that marinade to the core.
  3. Start up the grill. I prefer to use a small Weber–and use charcoal…gas sucks. If you use a large one, you have to fill it up with a lot of charcoal. With a small Weber, I get high heat without wasting a bunch of charcoal—you want that meat right down there, almost touching the coals to really sear and get the molasses to crust over. Crusting helps keep the normally dry venison moist.
  4. Place the meat in a fish and vegetable basket grill and place on the grill.
  5. Cook the meat on one side for 2-3 minutes (we’re talking high heat here) until browning and slight blacking of tips…all that caramelizing for great taste!
  6. Remove the venison from the fire. Might be sticking, so let it cool on the grill so that it’s not falling to pieces as you remove it from the basket grill.
  7. While the meats resting, roast the ground peanuts in a dry frying pan to brown them slightly and bring out their flavor, then set aside.
  8. Heat up the peanut oil, or cottonseed oil can work, and fry the minced scallions until slightly sweated and then place on a paper towel to remove some of the oil and set aside.
  9. Boil the package of rice vermicelli, drain and set aside—if you want your noodles cold, then I suggest doing this first, or while the meat is marinating.
  10. In a soup bowl (if you have an actual Pho bowl of china, so much the better), place some of the chopped salad, then a layer of the rice vermicelli.
  11. Slice the cooked venison into large bite sizes easily picked up by chopsticks and place on top.
  12. Top with a light sprinkling of the prepared scallions and peanuts
  13. Serve with chopsticks and small bowl of the nuoc mam cham for your guests to dip the venison, or just pour over the whole dish and mix.

Enjoy!

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