Duck Hunting, A Driving Rain, and a Lil’ Disappointment

On a duck hunt, a cold, driving rain can make me wonder if I’m truly a hunter. My commitment is strong enough to get me out in the dark to set up and wait, but can be called into introspective question when my hands become so frigid that they are rendered useless.

It’s sort of like doubting your commitment to Christianity when you feel you cannot forgive Osama bin Laden. You have to keep trying. And, similar to a person of faith seeking to become what they pray, a hunter must stay. Or, in my case, bail when your fingers won’t shoot.

Pond with plants and algae in a duck habitat on public land.
Duck habitat before the rains

My boyfriend must be warmer-blooded person because he stayed out in the rain by himself for another half hour, at least. By the time he returned to the truck, he looked shocked by the cold. While we were wearing appropriate clothing, including neoprene waders and Frogg Toggs, there’s nothing like a 47-degree soaking to dampen your enthusiasm. Honestly, if I’d been in a blind, I think I might have enjoyed it. (More on that later.)

Instead, after more than a couple of hours, I ended up sitting in the truck watching an Alton Brown video of his visit to the Garden & Gun office kitchen. How did this happen? The road to hell was paved with good intentions. Yesterday afternoon, we scoped out or location and found what appeared to be the perfect spot to set up a blind. We used garden stakes and camo tarp and wrap. We took of some brush and set it up in front. When we got back to our hotel, the rain began.

Duck blind set up for a hunt in Texas.
Setting up the blind the day before the hunt

In the morning, we were excited despite the rain. We got back to our spot and hoofed through muck down the dirt levee until we reached the blind. We nestled under our blind. A wind kicked up and the ducks started flying in. So exciting! So very exciting until the wind kicked up the tarp, a.k.a., poncho above our heads. The poncho began wildly and loudly flapping, and spooking the ducks. Now, we desperately yanked down our blind and split up to stand in the reeds.

I could not see. I moved back and sat on the ground behind the reeds. The rain was pelting my face. I tried to find the happy medium between shielding my face and being able to see. Maintaining any semblance of peripheral vision was a challenge. If I looked up, the rain poured over my glasses.

This is when idiomatic expressions and their etymologies come to mind. Something blew our cover? Yes, our actual blind blew its own cover. Sitting duck? The one that came closest to me had landed and sat on the water a moment — until it realized it had joined a decoys party.

When we gave up, I held the gate open for Byron to pull through with the truck and two other trucks were coming through. One tailgate was full of ducks. I felt stupid. We gathered to compare notes and the successful party harvested a total of 11. I told another hunter about our fatal error with the flapping blind. He commented that they weren’t really flying today, which was a polite way of consoling a loser. The man with the tailgate full of birds remarked, “you’re a hell of a woman to be out here.”

Rainy marsh pond during a duck hunt.
View from my seat on the edge of the pond in the rain.

I don’t normally play the woman card, but I gotta wonder if I man would be too macho to write a blog admitting he got to cold too keep hunting. It may not be a gender thing, but I am a creature who loves comfort. I’m the type who likes to get into jammies around 8 p.m., wrap up in a fleece blanket and curl up on the couch with the dogs. They love being outdoors too and know when it’s time to come in to cuddle.

As for our next hunt, tomorrow morning, we are going to get out even earlier before they start flying and hope it is raining a little less.

The Sage Leopard

Field to Table II: Everyday Venison Cooking

If the idea of cooking with venison makes you want to run for the hills, then you may be thinking of something other than the way I cook with this lean, delicious and versatile meat. Only once did I regret a venison preparation and it was because I used seasoning purchased in an outdoors store.

Pasta with ground venison, tomatoes and sautéed eggplant
Pasta with ground venison, tomatoes and sautéed eggplant

It certainly sounded appealing with fennel and orange, but whew, something else in that seasoning mix overpowered my meat. The only way I can describe it is it seemed like a lumberjack time traveled from the 1950s to sneak into my kitchen and give my meal a manly musk. In other words, don’t use someone else’s spice rub. I like to cook venison in Italian food (more on this below), in Asian dishes and by itself with a little olive or sesame oil and salt and pepper. It can also be marinated in buttermilk before cooking. Here is what I love about venison:

  • It tastes better than beef
  • It’s leaner than beef
  • It’s great in recipes that call for beef
  • I hunt it and therefore know where the meat came from, where it lived, what it ate and that it does not have any hormones or anything else suspect injected into it
  • Vacuum-packed venison keeps well in the freezer for a long time

My boyfriend introduced me to venison as a staple. I had no exposure to hunting before we started dating and now view it as an important perennial activity to stock our freezer. I’ve added venison chili and venison meatballs to my regular cooking repertoire. Plus, having a stash of meat gives me the freedom to experiment. When we take the deer meat into the processor, we order a mix of steaks, ground venison, tenderized meat and a variety of sausages. Well, the Hatch chile sausage was out of this world hot and I wanted to figure out a way to cool it down.

Sausage balls
Sausage balls

I thought I could make sausage balls by removing the Hatch chile meat mixture from the casings and folding in sour cream, egg and breadcrumbs. I started cooking the sausage balls and all seemed to be going well. But, even as I gently turned them, the sour cream I used to counter the spicy heat of the chiles made the sausage balls too soft and we ended up with what we called “Happy Accident Hash.”

Happy Accident Hash served with veggies and refried beans
Happy Accident Hash served with veggies and refried beans

I think I’ll make that again because it turned out to be delicious! Usually, I make meatballs with just plain ground venison mixed with egg, parsley and breadcrumbs, which are then browned before cooking through in homemade tomato sauce. To depart from that regular recipe, I recently opted to brown the ground meat in a pan where I had first sautéed eggplant. While letting the eggplant and meat drain on paper towels, I then cooked canned tomatoes in the pan and brought everything together to serve over spaghetti with freshly grated cheese. Here is a third and very simple example of a venison meal that came together very easily with the following steps:

  • Defrost venison steak
  • Prepare macaroni and cheese casserole with canned veggies
  • Chop and sauté red cabbage
These notes were taken from an old copy at my grandmother's home back in the '90s
This recipe from Southern Living was jotted down from an old copy at my grandmother’s home back in the ’90s.

My boyfriend seasoned the meat with sesame oil, salt and pepper. I had made a standby cheese casserole from an old Southern Living recipe (it’s called Jack in the Macaroni Bake from 1994, which I have hand-written out but cannot find online) and also sautéed the chopped cabbage in sesame oil.

Venison steaks with red cabbage and mac-n-cheese
Venison steaks with red cabbage and mac-n-cheese

I finished off the cabbage with liberal splashes of malt vinegar. Next thing you know, we were enjoying delicious steaks, veggies and comfort food casserole. I cannot think of an easier way to cook meat and the most satisfying thing is knowing where it came from. This is the beauty of field to table cooking.

 

Cheers, The Sage Leopard