Monthly Archives: January 2013

Going Out to Dinner

The trail I had been hiking down for the last 45 minutes was covered in roots, different types of vegetation, rocks and was criss-crossed with long spiky vines from the wild blackberry bushes that are so very prevalent in this area. I was nervous, and I was trying to hold my anxiety at bay. I wasn’t alone in this hike, but it was still 2 hours until sunrise.

We were hiking in the dark with no flashlight. Only the light of the sliver of moon guided our path. I don’t like the dark very much when I’m out in the woods. My imagination goes a bit crazy with thoughts of crazy people on the prowl, the hunter becoming the hunted. Thoughts of the mythical Bigfoot finding me in the dark and tearing me limb from limb haunt my imaginative pondering while roaming the woods in the dark. I was anxious.

“Crack!!” It was heard throughout the area. I had stepped on an old rotted oak tree branch that had fallen across the trail. “Shhhh”, my mentor scolded. “We’re entering into the area that we are going to hunt. Keep quiet.” We proceeded on, my mentor Chris, leading the way into the tangled woods, off the trail, to places only he knows about. “I call this the rats nest, because you can’t get through it, but the deer can. The stand I set up for you is right down there. Just follow the path I laid out for you and when you come to a stick blocking the path turn left. Walk three hundred yards and look up. You should see the stand.” Seriously? I should be able to see it? There’s no other markers than just a stick? I have to do this in the dark? By myself? The thoughts and questions were racing through my anxious mind. “Where are you going to be?” I asked him. “Over there to the east of here about 1 mile down the ridge line.” He said with his woodsman confidence that just seems to always shine through.

Chris is a quiet man. He is a confident man who has taken many deer and turkeys from the woods to feed his family with. He is an expert outdoorsman. Confident and skilled in the ways of tracking, knowing where the game will be and when it will be there. He knows about plants, which ones are good to eat and which ones you should avoid. He’s an excellent marksman, both with the shotgun as well as the rifle and bow. He’s tall with short blond hair, has a strong physique and tan skin from being out in the woods so much. He often looked at me in a manor that spoke of a quiet wisdom. Like he knew something about me that I didn’t. I respected this man right away and knew him to be honorable.

Chris is the person who taught me how to hunt. He taught me everything that was necessary to enter into the woods and come out with game. He welcomed my wife and I into his home and made us a part of his family. He is married to a wonderful woman named Mary Jo and they have two wonderful children Cory and Eric. He showed me the ways of the woods, the ebb and flow of nature surrounding us. He taught me, and showed me that every part of the natural world has a pattern of living and dying. In order to sustain itself it must be controlled. And that control process is through the food chain. Killing, gathering, eating of plant and animals. All things will die. This is the man who left me alone in the big oak woods at night. Did he know that I was afraid to be by myself in the woods in the dark? Probably. I never informed him of that personal flaw in character, but he probably knew the same he knows that deer have entered the back bean field when that bean field is acres away from his house. I’m sure he was making me find the stand in the dark by myself, either to help me get over my fear, or just for a good laugh to himself. He’s entertained by such things.

“A mile away. Okay sounds good. Which way’s east?” I thought to myself. I was looking in the direction of my stand and I turned to ask him, but he had simply and silently slipped off into the night, disappearing into the dark oak woods which were almost home to him. I suddenly felt very alone. Almost helpless and frozen in time and space. “Get it together man and let’s find that stand before Bigfoot finds you.” I said to myself. And off I went. Down in the direction he showed me. There were a hundred if not thousands of sticks crossing the path but I happened to see an impression in the ground next one stick in particular. A track! A test! Did Chris make this impression to test me on my tracking ability? Who knows? I turned left and walked three hundred yards. It took me all of 30 minutes from that point to find my stand. It was silhouetted to the sky about 20 feet up a tree. I climbed up, attached my harness to the tree, pulled up my compound bow, settled in and waited for the sun to rise.

There are many things that goes through a person’s head as they sit in a tree in the big woods for eight hours straight. All my senses become heightened. I can hear more sounds than normal. The chirp of a pissed off squirrel. The calls of nearby cattle. The grunt of a mature buck looking for a mate. The wind moving through the trees. I start to pick out different colors. What colors belong? Which ones don’t? The concentration it takes to listen, spot, and feel to find game is enormous. It’s enormously taxing and it’s enormously relaxing as well.

There are many ways in which a person can hunt deer. This is what we were obviously doing. Hunting deer. There is the spot and stalk method, where you spot the game with your binoculars before they see or smell you then stalk in to where the game is located to try and get a shot. There is the road hunting method, which I don’t particularly like. There is the ground blind method, where one sits in a camouflaged tent or fort on the edge of a field and waits for the deer to walk by. And then there is the tree stand method, where you choose very carefully the tree in which you want your stand to be situated. In this style of hunting you want to take into consideration wind direction, deer trail location relative to the tree, tree rubs, scrape locations, bedding areas, feeding areas, and how you are going to get into and out of the area without being noticed by the resident deer. A lot of thought and planning and strategy went into Chris’s placement of this stand, and I admired that. I trusted his knowledge and experience.

The light from the sun was starting reveal my surroundings to me. I was on an oak ridge situated on a rather large bench where two ridges joined together, and there was deer sign everywhere. My breath quickened and my senses started to become alert. I heard what sounded like a squirrel moving through the oak leaves covering the ground. A little flick, a twitch of deer ear amidst the bracken of the “Rats Nest” clued me in to the fact that it was a deer and not a squirrel moving those leaves. My heart started racing and my breath quickened. I grabbed my bow, knocked an arrow, and waited for the deer to reveal itself fully. “Please be a buck, please be a buck.” I prayed hoping that it would be a deer that I could shoot and bring home to my family. The tag I had from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources was for an antlered deer only. The deer that stepped out from the entangled slope of madness was a doe. An antler-less deer. A deer that I could not legally shoot. I relaxed, as deer after deer after deer came out from the entanglement and walked pass my stand. All does. I didn’t get a shot at any bucks that day, nor for the rest of the time I was hunting, but I did get to experience and admire God’s work and creative hand in those beautiful animals.

“Mmmhmmm.” Chris cleared his throat at the base of my tree. How he got there without me knowing was beyond me, but spoke volumes of his mastery of the outdoors. “Let’s go get some supper. Did you see anything?” he asked, “Ya,” I replied “A whole lot of does.”

Hunting for me isn’t just about killing an animal for food and nourishment for my family. It’s about the experience. It’s about the memories and friendships that are built. It’s about connecting to a deeper part of myself that needs to be able to provide good, wholesome food sources of protein and vegetables for my family. Humanity has lost some of its natural ability to hunt and gather food. It doesn’t really surprise me at all when all you have to do is go to your local market and buy all the meat, veggies and processed foods that you want when you want it. I see a huge disconnect between people and the food they eat. Most folks don’t know where it comes from. They would rather someone else do the killing than to have to do it themselves. Yet many people argue about how unethical hunting and killing animals is. Our society is used to having things just given to us. They don’t want to know where their beef comes from. They don’t want to know that the steak they’re eating was frolicking around a pasture content with life a few days earlier. My hope is that we can bridge that disconnect by educating and by practicing good hunting ethics.

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Providing

It wasn’t until I was 24 years old, and an intern pastor in Osseo Wisconsin that I began to truly understand what it means to harvest your own food, to provide for your family, friends and to have a healthy reverence for nature and the outdoors. I learned quickly the benefits and emotional struggle that comes from being a hunter/gatherer in this day and age where all one has to do to get protein is to go to the grocery store and buy a rump roast.

There is a surreal sense of limbo for me when I am out in the field. I experience a unique transformation from husband, dad, pastor, friend, to provider. It’s a strange and amazing transformation of role. To go from spiritual caregiver to provider at first had it’s emotional struggles, but I realized that providing food in the form of unadulterated protein and organic flora for my family and friends to share not only saved me some money, but it also gave me a great sense of accomplishment. The role of provider is one that I now wear proudly.

Osseo is a very small town in Wisconsin, to become accepted into the community and culture is no easy feat. I was the new guy in town, everyone knew it, and to make things worse, in their eyes, I was from California. The land of movies, make believe, and in their words, “hippy surfers.” I did in fact surf, but I gently explained to them that I was not a hippy (whatever that means). I could see that I was going to have a hard time proving my worthiness. I felt like an explorer, facing a tribes rite of passage to gain acceptance. This is indeed what I had to experience before they would acknowledge me as one of their own. As in most rural areas, hunting is a culture, a way of life. The contrast between my upbringing in a city of plenty and this outdoor journey into manhood would awaken my soul.

If you have had any exposure to the Midwest, you know that to become a man, a boy has to kill a deer. The process that these 12 year old boys had to go through with their fathers looking over their shoulders, was nothing short of miraculous! Five weeks of hunter’s safety class where we were grilled constantly about hunting, fishing, trapping, shooting, safety, ethics, good shots vs. bad shots, tracking, trailing, this and that, that and this, all leading up to a final exam. To pass that exam was paramount to every 12 year old boy in that class and to their fathers. To not pass the test meant not getting their first deer and becoming man, and to possibly have to live up to the ridicule of their peers.

I had to kill a deer…..it was the only way for me to be inoculated into the community. It made me uneasy. Hesitant. I had never hurt an animal let alone take it’s life. This was difficult for me. Out of respect for the community and the culture of the town added to my personal journey, I took up the challenge. And like I handle all challenges, I did it with passion and intensity with the willingness to learn all that I could so that I could make the best possible shot to kill the deer as fast as possible.

I killed my first deer that November…It was an intense experience. It was one wrought with emotion. I was happy that I had been successfull and that I was able to provide for my family, yet I was sad that I had taken a life. I cried beside that 11 point white tail buck. I thanked him and I thanked God for the life that was given. For the meat it would provide. I respected the animal. It’s burned deeply into my psyche. I was granted acceptance from the community and was forever changed. I had been blooded. Marked with blood on my face that symbolized the fact that I had shot and killed my own food. That I was accepted. I was a man.

With every subsequent hunt I feel a twinge with strong memories of that day.

My wife and I ate that deer in it’s entirety over the next year. I tanned the hide for leather, and used the meat for food. From that experience I realized that the meat I buy in the store has been killed by a person. And while that is good and all, I decided that I wanted to be the one “harvesting” my food from then on.

Being a provider is now a part of my identity. I have two small boys and a wife that I pass these skills onto and provide for. Providing doesn’t mean only shooting animals, it also means identifying and foraging for wild plants that are healthy and nutritious. I find joy in being able to provide and in practicing those skills so I can be a better provider. I like the idea that all a person needs to survive and live a healthy life is all around us. We just need to open our eyes and find it all.

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Wild Game

When out in the wild for an extended amount of time it’s beneficial for one to have a basic knowledge of the wild game and edibles that surround you in any given terrain. Having food and water is necessary for life and for a healthy psyche in a survival situation. There was a time once when I basically lived off of stinging nettles, mushrooms, dandelions, watercress, wild carrot, and Sierra wild onions for about a week. Had I not known what to look for and what was available at the time, I would have gone hungry.

I read a quote once that said, “You can’t see what you don’t know.” I find this statement to be absolutely the truth. You have to do your homework and be prepared for any situation, including being able to find food and water, whenever you’re planning to go into the wild. You need to learn about plants and animals. Where they grow or roam. How you can find, gather or catch something in order to survive.

So, in this Wild Recipes section I will be posting links to recipes and identification standards for wild edibles. I hope you will enjoy this section and try some of the recipes that you’ll find here.

Here’s a link to a wonderful recipe for Fried Wild Rabbit. Enjoy.

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Photo by Holly Heyser

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