Tag: hunting

South Texas Deer Hunt – Just But a Moment

The deer corn popped out of the truck-mounted feeder looking like small fireworks as the headlamp reflected on the moving corn, creating the illusion of tiny tracer fire piercing the pre-dawn darkness over the empty field. By light, the field would host deer, javelina and maybe a hog.

The truck turned back onto the sendero and mud smacked in the wheel wells. The persistent drizzle caused the endless arrays of prickly pear to glisten. The only creatures moving out of the brush at this moment were little rabbits. That would change.

The truck moved on, shunting from one sendero to another, pausing at a gate, crossing a power line right of way and pressing down another road. Upon arrival, the truck was parked out of sight from the crossing. Up in the blind, the hunter and guide got situated to wait. Go ahead and chamber a round now.

First, three does. A few javelina. The big cream-colored, black polka-dotted wild boar returned from the day before. A 10-point buck showed up. Young bucks followed.

South Texas sendero with does

The people waited for a candidate for a guide’s choice. This category is a notch down from a management buck, which is a tier down from a trophy buck. In Texas, landowners, such as ranches, can apply to participate in a state-run wildlife management program. These hunts are handled differently than regular hunts in which hunters use the tags on their hunting licenses to document what they harvest. The management hunts are documented separately under the managed lands deer program.

At this particular South Texas ranch, which has cattle as well as oil and gas, the deer hunts are split into categories and priced accordingly (see guide’s choice, management and trophy above). Ultimately, the objective is to maintain a healthy population of deer with a range of ages and the right proportion among gender. At this ranch, they do not want to harvest bucks under the age of five-and-a-half to give the population a chance to flourish. The first time I hunted this place, the guide’s choice I took turned out to be an eight-and-a-half-year-old buck. The wildlife biologist noted that beyond that, it’s hard to tell because the teeth get too worn down to gauge anymore. He added that it was me, the hunter, or the coyotes that was going to get him and better me than the coyotes.

The day before harvesting this particular buck, we spotted him while scouting a third hunt location. He took off into the brush, but the guide got a good look at him and deemed he qualified as a guide’s choice. This morning, after a couple of hours of hunting, this particular buck came into the field. He took note of a 10-point we’d seen the afternoon before and moved in to attempt to nudge it away. As he walked out, I prepared to shoot.

For a moment, I might have had the shot and got ready, but he leapt into the pen surrounding a feeder, leaving a hog-wire fence between me and himself. (A bullet could hit the wire and miss the deer). He noshed for a good long while and popped back out. I prepared to shoot and then the big white hog disturbed him. Back into the brush he slipped.

We waited with the hope he’d come back out. Eventually, he did, apparently to address the 10-point buck again. He walked out and toward me in the blind, head on. He moved swiftly and certainly. He turned as he progressed after the other buck. He was closing in and I was going to lose my angle. I had to adjust on the fly. Bear in mind, that when we practice at the range, the target is stationary. Hunting is not like that.

The moment came. I had a clean shot in my scope. I took the shot and, mortally injured, he turned for a moment into the road and then into the brush, his antlers visible and after a few seconds, he was down. We waited 20 minutes to go in to get him. I paused with him, said thanks for the chance, the success and the meat.

Sage Leopard hunter with white-tailed buck

At check in, he was scored at 126 B&C (Boone and Crockett scale). It was determined, again, by examining how worn down his teeth were, that he was about six-and-a-half years old. The guide removed lymph nodes and packed them in a plastic bag to ship to Texas Parks and Wildlife for them to check for Chronic Wasting Disease. CWD has been detected on a limited basis, fortunately, in other parts of the state, but it’s important to collect data.

These deer live wild on a beautiful ranch with low fences and look very healthy. We are very much looking forward to eating the venison. The ground meat can be used in a variety of recipes – basically anything you’d use ground beef with and can enjoy without all the fat from beef. Venison is lean and delicious. Personally, I love making meatballs with venison (with extra egg whites to bind them).

The backstrap is amazing grilled with a rub of olive oil, salt and pepper. Or, you can cook it in an iron skillet with butter and herbs. There’s nothing quite like toasting your partner with a glass of Pinot Noir and biting into venison you hunted. You know where it came from and, therefore, why it tastes so, so good. If you have the opportunity to hunt, take it.

The Sage Leopard, thesageleopard@gmail.com

Crossing Paths in the Arizona Desert: A Hunter’s View of the Mexican Border

We went to the desert in Arizona to learn something about ourselves while other people were running for their lives across the Mexico-U.S. border. Running from what exactly in their home lands I don’t know, but I suspect it’s something extremely difficult I’ve never experienced.Valley near U.S.-Mexico border in Coronado National Memorial Nowadays, many border crossers may be presenting themselves for asylum, as discussed in recent news reports, but our impression at the time of our visit five years ago was that the people crossing the mountains and canyons where we spent a week camping were seeking to elude capture. We saw the expected Border Patrol SUVs and vans, but also helicopters and a U.S. Air Force plane, the latter of which buzzed me one late afternoon as I sat reading by a campfire I had just built. I don’t recall what book I was reading, but I guess the personnel on the aircraft were close enough to see the title given I saw their faces in the cockpit.USAF plane near U.S.-Mexico border We took the trip to celebrate my man’s 50th birthday with a deer hunt. Specifically, coues whitetail deer, also known as gray ghosts. This species and terrain in the Huachuca Mountains were completely new to us and we went with an outfitter who had donated the hunt to a Houston conservation group’s annual fundraiser. B. won the hunt in an exciting live auction. We had no idea what we were getting into.Casino Rural, Arizona On the way to our hunting camp deep in the Coronado National Memorial (named for the Coronado Expedition of 1540, a Spanish-led northward migration through the area), we dropped south of Tucson on a highway before getting on old roads. The further south we went, the more frequently we saw Border Patrol vehicles. We arrived a tiny outpost with a convenience store and a bar named Casino Rural. From there, we headed into the Coronado national park, which is a desert landscape with zillions of Saguaro and Ocotillo cacti. Mountains in southern Arizona, on the Mexican borderThe colors of the rocks, plants and sky come into view in stunning combinations, especially when you are ensconced on a mountaintop before dawn and watch the gradations of sunrise light up the landscape. From one such perch, it was a ways down to the valleys below and there was another mountain mirroring us. Atop that, we could see the Mexican border delineated with a barbed wire fence, which appeared meant to keep cattle in at ranches on the Mexico side. In recalling this last night, B. told his parents how the hunting guides told him they previously had seen a sniper on the Mexico side of that particular mountain. His role was to control who got to go across the border into the U.S. The guides also related how they once found a skull and some clothing of a young girl. The authorities came to the scene and her identification was found in the clothing.Border Patrol in Arizona near the Mexico border We saw indications of these foot travelers, such as abandoned coats and sleeping rolls, water bottle stations, empty water bottles marked for women and empty food cans. We saw these in box canyons and trails coming right through the border. (We walked up to the border on one hunt.) By contrast, we arrived in the desert via a pickup truck loaded with water, food, weather-wise clothing, snake boots, sunblock, toiletries and sundry gear. You must hydrate continually, so we overpacked water. Even with all this stuff, we considered ourselves to be roughing it. As for the other visitors, whoever dropped their coats must have regretted it as the extreme desert heat of the day quickly turns to very cold nights. Desert at nightOne night, in a huge tent with a wood-burning stove and chimney, I dreamt I heard men come into our camp. They were opening up the coolers and taking drinks. When we got up to go hunting, I told my guide about the dream and he said it was real life. He had been watching them from his camper. As long as they didn’t present danger, it was best to not confront them and let them go on their way. We didn’t discuss politics or policy when sitting around the campfire, but agreed the status quo of illegal immigrants endangering their lives with coyotes (the smugglers, not the animals) and rugged, rough conditions is terrible. As for “the wall,” it makes little sense to build a monolithic physical wall across the entire length of the border. There are environmental considerations, such as the movement of ocelots, deer and other creatures who should not be limited to one side or the other. Then there is the ginormous cost when other security measures can be used. Work eligibility should also be enforced. And, imagine if Congress ever managed to enact immigration reforms? (I thought George W. Bush was right when he was pushing for reforms after September 11.) Perhaps we need more seasonal work visas. We might even have a better idea of what is working, what won’t work and what is needed if Congress even deigned to hold some hearings on the subject.Dawn in the desert I am not aiming to solve the immigration policy mess with this blog. I just wanted to begin to describe the incredibly brutal landscape some of these people are crossing to get in and, moreover, to recognize that they are people. People with struggles and people with ambitions. Reinforcing the border is a good idea, but a massive wall is overkill. We also need more immigration judges to decide whether to grant asylum and handle the other cases. The Sage Leopard in ArizonaMost of all, right now, we need to recognize the dignity of people and not treat them inhumanely (if even they broke the law, separating young children from parents is cruel and unusual punishment imposed on little kids). Please remember, we have our dignity to maintain too. The Sage Leopard

Gun Control and Market Forces: A View from the Field

The Parkland, Florida, shooting may mark a pivot point in the national discussion about guns. While the NRA is standing firm against gun control, there is something beyond the reach of legislators and lobbyists: market forces.

We’ve seen several companies, notably Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart among them, announce they would raise the minimum buying age at their stores to 21. Dick’s also said it would no longer sell semi-automatic rifles. The company disclosed that the Parkland shooter did buy a gun from Dick’s, but that weapon was not used in the mass shooting. Still, Dick’s was moved to act because it had come close to being a part of that story and it never wants to be part of such a story.

The reactions to Parkland have been swift, including a curious one by President Trump, who said he wanted to take guns away from people who may present a threat and get to due process later. That definitely threw my head back. After years of hearing that Democrats want to take away people’s guns, it was incredibly ironic to hear a Republican president suggest it. But, subsequently, Trump said he had a “great meeting” with the NRA and the NRA said the president remained committed to due process. What a relief the president wants to maintain the rule of law.

Anyhow, a lot looks to be changing under current law. If some retailers pull away from gun sales, others will remain in the market to meet demand, to be sure. Academy Sports + Outdoors, which supports legislation to broaden background checks, is not changing its gun sales business model.

But gun sales are down across the board, leading to the bankruptcy of Remington. Also, when Camping World acquired Gander Mtn., the Camping World CEO blamed Gander’s retail demise in part on a bad bet on gun sales.

Will actions by Dick’s and Walmart reduce the risk of mass shootings? Probably not. But it does protect their reputation if such a shooter did not acquire a weapon from them, or at least that’s the thinking.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have shopped for guns at many big box sporting goods stores and purchased from Gander and Academy. Their sales staff are knowledgeable, helpful and, of course, compliant with the law. I’ll never forget the time I returned to Gander to discuss a rifle I had looked at before. A gentleman was waiting on me and asking me questions about my skill level and my intended uses. I told him I needed to be sited in for my next deer hunt at 300 yards, so I would need some time – about six weeks – to practice at the range before the trip. We had a detailed discussion about the different kinds of hunts and locations where I am likely to be. Then, a rude man rushed up and interrupted us.

The jerk addressed the salesman as if I was invisible. The salesman noted he was with a customer and the man should take a number. He kept talking. He kept coming back and insisting he wanted to buy a handgun. I don’t know if my salesman signaled the others, but no one would wait on this guy. He left in a huff. The salesman shook his head and said, “I will never sell a gun to anyone in a rush.”

This does not resolve all the questions surrounding how to prevent mass shootings. Some staunch supporters of the Second Amendment do not want any new restrictions. I would argue that defeatist inaction is not an option. The definition of insanity is keeping the status quo and expecting different results.

Do I want restrictions that would keep me from obtaining guns? No. I hunt and like the option of self-defense. As noted in a previous blog, while stranded in a flooded neighborhood after Hurricane Harvey, we had armed men come to our house in the middle of the night. There was no incident, thank goodness, but in such a situation, you should be able to defend yourself in your own home.

As for the AR-15 – notorious to some, appreciated by others – I haven’t shot one yet. I did occur to me on a hog hunt last year that it would have been an appropriate tool for responding to a horde of hogs in the woods and tall grass. That said, if I could not obtain one, I’d get over that idea.

But would I mind if I had to wait a few days or longer to obtain another weapon? No. Do I think my Second Amendment rights would be abridged? No.

Even a Republican congressman from Florida has now called for enhanced background checks and other measures to keep guns away from dangerous people. That kind of approach and the market forces may curb some of the danger.

Have I ever been afraid of another gun owner? Yes. Besides the men on our porch after the hurricane, one time I was at a range and a couple next to me came in with an AR-15, which frankly is a little loud for an indoor range. The real problem was neither the man or the woman seem to have any experience handling a rifle of any kind. They were not holding it properly and the kickback against their chests must have been awful. I was really worried one of them would accidentally shoot us, so I gave my boyfriend hand signals that we must leave immediately. These were not responsible gun owners.

The other thing that concerns me is the danger of an active shooter with such a gun. A lot of these shooters have had red flags all around them. We need to study what they have in common and how that could help identify dangers before they are realized. What’s potentially helpful about the Parkland shooting is the suspect is alive. Maybe he has something to tell the rest of us about how to keep this from happening again and again.


What you may have noticed here is there are no pictures of guns associated with this blog. Why? Because I generally find it inappropriate. Granted, I once posted a picture to Facebook of myself in the field with a buck I harvested and the rifle was in the picture. I got some negative feedback, but from people who eat meat, so I shrugged that off. I also once posted a picture of me and The Sage Leopard (pictured above on a regular walk) while in the field during a dove hunt. My shotgun was in the picture. To clarify, I am not suggesting people hide how guns are part of their normal life. But I do have concerns about anyone posing in selfies with guns just to look tough or intimidating.


In Search of the Unexpected: Javelina Hunting in South Texas

I’ve seen javelina on hunts in Texas and Arizona, but had not yet been on a dedicated javelina hunt. I had no idea what to expect.

I knew what the hunt would likely be like: gear up and sit quietly. Maybe stalk, quietly. What I didn’t know was what the meat would taste like if we were to harvest any. You can tell just by looking at javelina that the meat will be very, very lean.

Contrary to popular opinion, the javelina is not a wild hog. It’s in the peccary family. They are pretty wild looking. It’s the kind of animal that looks prehistoric and kinda bizarre in the way an alligator is amazing to gaze upon.

In Texas, there is no hunting limit on wild hogs because that is an invasive species. By contrast, the javelina is supposed to be here and hunting them is regulated. We were on a Texas Parks and Wildlife management hunt and each hunter was allowed to only take one javelina.

We were encouraged to take as many hogs and coyotes though. The coyotes eat the deer on this wildlife management area and the hogs are destructive to the environment. We did not see any hogs but heard a lot of coyotes.

The hunt was fielded by a drawing and Byron and I were among those picked. They also had a lot of standby hunters hoping to be drawn the first morning of a three-day hunt. I actually had the honor of drawing a select few from those names in a bucket.

Ultimately, there were about 40 hunters on a wildlife management area covering 15,000 acres. Byron estimates our compartment was more than 600 acres. To get around, we drove the truck over dirt roads and senderos (dirt paths). Some of the roads were pretty treacherous and as Byron maneuvered his big pickup over and through giant holes, he joked he sure wished he had a BMW. Seriously, we are not car people. I need a vehicle my dogs can jump into and I don’t worry about floods or mud.

The first afternoon we made our way around our compartment, finding old deer blinds to use and corning some of the roads and senderos. We used deer corn, which javelina like to eat.

The next morning, we set out before dawn. Legal shooting time is a half hour before sunrise. I climbed up into a blind I checked out the day before, above the road we corned. After dawn, I heard hoof steps, but it was a young buck. No javelinas showed.

I moved to another location for the afternoon and sat quietly. This may be my favorite part of hunting. Just sitting. Listening. Bird watching. I bring a journal and take notes about the nature around me. I may jot down notes for a novel I am working on. I breathe deep and let go of things that don’t really matter.

I just sit. It’s wonderful. It’s something I reflect on over and over when I am busy in regular life. It’s these small moments I can go back to in my mind and regain perspective. It is so quiet you notice everything.

It’s also hard to not notice the sound of a four-legged creature coming through brush. The stride sounded shorter than a deer. It was a javelina, I was sure. He emerged onto the sendero. I was shocked.

He moved along and I took deep breaths. I slowly raised my rifle. Slowly. Watching him through the scope, I waited to see if he would move into a broadside position. The moment came to pass. I saw I had a clean shot and took it. He dropped. I lowered the rifle and breathed.

This is a stunning moment to collect. You have taken a life to harvest the meat. Again, this was an unknown to me. I wanted to be fully thankful and appreciative of the harvest. My phone vibrated. My boyfriend texted to check if the report he heard was from my rifle. I affirmed. He said he would head my way.

I waited 20 minutes. We met and moved to the javelina. It was time to field dress it. I asked Byron for a moment and rested my hand on the javelina’s torso and cheek. My man said a prayer of thanksgiving. Hunters do not take hunting lightly. For starters, there are plenty of hunts where you do not get anything. That’s why it’s called hunting. Moreover, we eat the meat. I love cooking with venison. I was very nervous about javelina. When we dressed it, I could tell this was a very healthy, lean animal.

We placed it in the truckbed and brought him to the check station. I reported where exactly I took it and a wildlife manager weighed it and checked its teeth to gauge the age. Three years old. We placed it in a meat locker and went back out for a few hours.

Byron too harvested a javelina from the same area. We sat together in silence after I had spotted them and radioed Byron to rejoin me. I had been wondering if a coyote was going to show up to take what we had left of the javelina. I was somewhat surprised to see more javelina. Byron and I sat there a good while when they came along again.

When we returned to the check station, we joined other hunters who were also cleaning their meat. I asked them how they liked to cook it. Chorizo. Sausage. Another guy likes to wrap in foil with veggies and roast it over a fire. Byron took great care in icing down and re-icing the meat. He then was diligent in trimming any fat. He packed the back strap and tenderloin in kitchen shrink wrap (Food Saver). We also used a meat grinder and sealed up that meat as well.

The first thing I made was spaghetti with tomato and ground javelina sauce.

Javelina browning with parsley and spices.

To start the tomatoes, I sautéed diced garlic and onion in olive oil and added dried oregano and parsley. Once the garlic turned gold, I added a big can of plum tomatoes. Salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then turn to low to simmer for at least a half hour. In a separate pan, I browned the javelina in olive oil with fresh parsley. Again, salt and pepper to taste. Once it was cooked, it was time to confront the unknown. I took a fork and picked up a piece. The taste? Good. Very nice. Nothing overpowering. Lean. Perfect for sauces. I think it will be great in chili too. That’s next!

The Sage Leopard

The Forest Speaks, A Tall Tale

Fishermen might tell whoppers, but hunters always tell the truth.

Last weekend my boyfriend and I went on javelina hunt on the Chap. That’s short for Chaparral Wildlife Management Area, south of Cotulla, Texas. We had driven our covered wagon there and brought our personal chef Cookie.

We set up camp with other hunters and I impressed all the guys by starting a fire by using my eyeglasses as a magnifying glass to capture the sun’s rays. Everyone started swapping tips on hunting and cooking with game. As evening settled in, one guy pulled out his phone to show us an app with electronic coyote calls.

He placed it on a piece of firewood and let ‘er rip. Sure enough, a pack of coyotes circled the fire. The big daddy coyote swooped in, snatched the phone in its mouth and confidently trotted off.

The man howled and whipped out a handgun. He shot at the coyote and the beast dropped the phone. We were impressed it wasn’t damaged except for teeth marks in the case. That was enough excitement for one night and we drifted off to sleep. I had the strangest dreams in which the trees seemed to have voices.

The scratching of an armadillo on the tent awoke me and I geared up. I reached the deer blind before dawn and climbed the ladder to await javelina. Soon enough, I heard hoof steps.

A young buck with little antlers was eating the corn I had left out the afternoon before for the javelinas. Then, I could have sworn I heard a whisper in a male voice: “Be careful.” I looked down the sendero in the opposite direction and saw a majestic old buck with a huge rack of antlers. Was it his voice that spoke? I shook my head and saw him slip into the brush, like a ghost.

That afternoon, I switched blinds. This one was a so-called tower blind, essentially comprised of two plastic molded chairs perched up on a small platform with little ladders. The seating arrangement was nestled between thick brush and abutting this area’s sendero. It wasn’t long, surprisingly enough, before a javelina emerged up the path. I took aim, but couldn’t get off a shot. I could have sworn I heard that voice again while I draw a bead on the javelina. “Be careful.”

The javelina moved forward out of view. It spooked me and I radioed my boyfriend to join me. I told him I spotted what we were looking for and went back to a crossroads of senderos to wait for his truck. We walked back and I showed him the pond where I suspected the javelina were watering.

We walked up to the tower blind and got situated. Eventually, three javelina showed up, weaving in and out of the brush and sendero like someone laying a latticework pie crust. Two emerged and started coming our way. It was laborious to watch them slowly making their way along the corn trail. Again, I could have sworn I heard something strange in the wind. Then, a fluttering and rustling as a green jay settled in a branch of a mesquite tree behind me.

The javelinas don’t have great vision and they didn’t notice us up off the ground in the chairs. Soon enough, they were walking right toward us. Then right in front of us under our boots. I could not believe it. We barely breathed. Then, they moved along passed us. Byron slowly drew his rifle up to his left shoulder and I drew in a breath.

He took aim and I saw his left finger slide onto the trigger. Suddenly, a voice screamed out. I couldn’t believe it. I recognized that voice as the same with the be careful warning. It was the green jay screaming, “Look out! Look out! Look out!”

I wrote this after a real javelina hunt for a Tall Tales Contest in my Toastmasters International club. I hope you enjoyed it!

The Sage Leopard

A Buck Named Byron: How to Prepare for the Hunt

Every hunt is different, which is why it is so exciting. One constant is the stillness of the woods or field. This morning, I was propped up against a tree looking over a glen with about a 160-degree view of fall leaves.

A little birdie climbed a nearby tree and I tried to make out his coloring as he climbed bark in shadows. I heard squirrels tromping through leaves as they foraged for acorns. I sat there almost long enough to solve the world’s problems. Checking the time, it happened to be three minutes before the appointed time Byron and I planned to rendezvous at the fork in the trails. Arriving there, I stood awhile listening to a very light wind. I decided to walk into the clearing about 40 yards up the leaf-carpeted road.Tree-lined sandy creek in the shaded woods during autumn.

Once I entered the space, crows circled above cawing like crazy. Were they talking about me or some other being in the woods? I figured Byron would be along soon and I was ready to go. My mind had left the hunt. My rifle was slung on my left shoulder (I shoot lefty) and I held my backpack and seat in my right hand. I was standing in the road, clearing on either side, admiring the flora like a dork. I had assumed the physical stance of a commuter waiting on a train platform.

The Chocolate Buck

A sound directed my attention to the road, and down the hill I saw the swish of a tree branch moving. I heard the familiar sound of a person walking on leaves, as I was expecting Byron. I redirected my attention at the clearing and some thoughts I’ve since forgotten. My peripheral vision detected a figure and I turned to ask Byron, “Did you see anything?” Instead, it was a buck. A huge buck about 25 yards away, if even that far. His eyes were cast on what he was noshing. I was stunned. His coat was a deep lustrous dark chocolate brown. He was so big that for a millisecond, I wondered how a mule deer was in Georgia. But his face was clearly that of a white-tailed deer.

The dark color of the coat was just outstanding. I wondered how I could get a shot in this seemingly infeasible situation: he was straight on, not broadside; he could hear me breathing if I had actually breathed; I was standing straight up right in front of him; I was holding items in one hand and the rifle was not on him. I decided to try kneeling down. My knee bent slightly and he immediately raised his eyes to mine. There was a flicker of surprise and then a long stare. Eye to eye we were locked. I wondered if he would move and then in a flash, he turned tail and let out a woot. His breath was visible with his alert sound and he was gone.Autumn leaves in the woods.

The point of this story is simple. Always be prepared and keep your mind on the hunt. And always be thankful for what you get to see.

Happy Thanksgiving,

The Sage Leopard

Venison Steaks, the Real Organic Meat


Venison steaks (top plate) accompanied by drunken mushrooms, baked potatoes, grilled veggies and tomatoes.

We don’t need a label on our meat to tell us it’s organic. We know it is because we shopped at nature’s grocery. We took this meat in the field. Deer hunting isn’t easy, but it is rewarding, especially when it results in a freezer full of organic, lean meat. Venison is delicious, not “gamey,” if properly prepared. The first time I tasted it many years ago, the particular dish did taste gamey to me. But, it is really all a matter of preparation that begins in the field. A clean shot ensures the deer is humanely dispatched and there is no adrenaline rush that would impact the meat flavor. A clean shot is when the hunter is 100% certain the shot will be immediately effective. A responsible hunter doesn’t take the shot if he or she is not absolutely sure it is a clean shot. This is why it is called hunting, not taking. Hunting is not easy and requires a lot of preparation and patience. Some people take offense about hunting and yet buy meat at the supermarket. If you are going to eat meat, why not bring a healthy alternative into the mix.

Sliced tomatoes seasoned with salt, drizzled with olive oil and dressed with green onion.

Sliced tomatoes seasoned with salt, drizzled with olive oil and dressed with green onion.

It’s gotten to the point that I really don’t care for beef because my palate acclimated to the taste of venison. I think now this is what meat is supposed to taste like and love that is hasn’t had antibiotics or steroids or whatever else might be in other meats. The preparation of our venison is a simple process. After field dressing, the meat is placed in ice chests packed full of ice. Over the next couple of days, the ice water is drained and ice replenished until the ice water is virtually clear. This ensures most blood is drained and that is why our meat does not taste gamey. What we ate tonight were venison steak medallions and they were out of this world. My boyfriend seasoned them with a spice rub and butter before grilling them. Venison must be kept moist when grilling and butter or sesame oil both work great at sealing in the moisture. IMG_7469For the rest of the meal, I sliced tomatoes, including the first one from our patio tomato plant, sautéed mushrooms, and baked potatoes. I also deglazed the mushrooms with red wine. For the potatoes, I added onion dip seasoning to sour cream. Finally, I added some leftover grilled veggies. The meal was complete with the company of my boyfriend, who taught me to hunt.

The Sage Leopard

Field to Table: Venison Chili, Camping and Fireside Chats

If you told me 10 years ago that I would celebrate my birthday by going deer hunting in Texas, I would have laughed at you. In January 2006, a career change that was in the offing was not yet on my radar as the position I would ultimately transfer to in Houston was not yet posted. By July of that year, I moved to Texas and began to explore a bunch of new things. IMG_6049In 2009, I met my boyfriend and he ultimately introduced me to hunting. I had only tasted venison once before in Washington, D.C., and thought it was terrible. In retrospect, that meat was probably not properly prepared. The first time my boyfriend served me venison, I sliced off the tiniest piece, about 0.5 cm square and delicately took that bite. Surprise: it was good. Venison is a very lean protein and versatile as well. If you are finicky about meat and where you source it, then hunting is the best way to know exactly how it was harvested, cleaned and processed. Some people process their own venison, but we take ours to a trusted processor. As our hunt approached, our freezer reserve of meat was getting low, which provided extra motivation. IMG_6072We were drawn in a state wildlife management hunt, which specified gender and number of deer allowed to be taken. Ultimately, we went home with three does. Even if we had not succeeded in the hunt, we would have deemed it a good outing. We got to sit in the peace and quiet of the woods for hours at a time over three days. IMG_6047We set up camp next to a lake and were thankful for our propane heater as the temperature was in the 40s overnight. We realized our old non-stick skillet was rusting out so it was time to recycle it as the local scrapyard. We sat by a campfire each night, chatting with another hunter, who turned out to have a really interesting job and shared our love for dogs. We exchanged recipe ideas with a hunt volunteer. We counted our blessings and stored all our memories of this trip in our grateful minds before returning to Houston. Knowing we had replenished the venison vault, I took out the last two pounds of ground venison from last February’s hunt in Laredo and browned the meat. It was time to make chili. IMG_6096Lately, I have experimented with my own spice mix before adding tomatoes, but this time I returned to the most reliable and quite delicious Carol Shelby’s chili mix. Lest I start an argument over whether to include beans, I’ll leave that to your personal preference. We enjoyed the chili and sat around our patio firepit to recreate the warmth and happiness we took in at the campsite. In the morning, I walked the Sage Leopard on the bayou so he could pretend he was hunting too.IMG_6167