Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Realities of Hunting

Hunting. It's such a charged word in this day and age, that it's hard to explain to people who have been told what hunting means by people who have an agenda of some sort. If you hunt, chances are you know what I'm talking about. But if you don't hunt, you may have gotten your information from sources that are emotionally charged and not necessarily informed. So if you're interested in actually learning what hunting is about by someone who actually loves nature, loves animals, but also loves to hunt ethically, you're in for a frank discussion of what hunting is, and more importantly, what hunting isn't.

What Hunting Actually Is

It's hard to discuss hunting without understanding what exactly is hunting. You may have been told that hunting is full of redneck, fat, middle-aged men who drink beer and shoot up signs. Or maybe you've been told that hunting is done to simple get some antlers or a mount for one's living room. Those statements are about as cliché as they come, and I won't lie to you and tell you that they don't happen. But more often than not, hunting is about a connection with the nature and the past.

When I say that hunting is about a connection to nature and the past, I'm talking about traditions. Chances are those who hunt were taught by their parents or an older relative. They in turn, were probably taught by their parents, and so on. It's a connection to our past in a personal way. Yes, there is the thrill of the chase and looking for critters, but given that hunting isn't easy, there certainly more and easier ways to get your adrenaline fix. Being out in nature is a huge part of hunting. And while anyone can go for a walk in the wilderness and appreciate wildlife, it takes a certain amount of skill to search for and stalk a deer or elk.

It is also about food. There are a fair number of hunters who do get the majority of their meat from hunting still. Rather than be on food stamps or show up at food banks, they hunt to provide nutrition to their families. There are other hunters who prefer the taste of game meat over beef, chicken, pork, or any other domesticated food. Then there are those who have figured out that hunting when done properly is sustainable, and choose that lifestyle over going to the grocery store and picking out a package of meat.

Ethical Hunters Are Conservationists

Many hunters are conservationists. They want enough wildlife and enough wild areas to exist so that there is a healthy population to hunt. They want to see deer and elk and moose and whatever else because they respect the animals. And they understand that in order to keep hunting, the animal must be around in healthy numbers. What's more, hunting tags pay for conservation. The studies on elk, deer, wolves, and even non-game animals get their money from hunting licenses and hunting fees.

Trophy Hunting in the United States

Before I go into what hunting is any further, I need to address the aspect trophy hunting. You may think you know what trophy hunting is, but what it actually is, if it's done legally, isn't as bad as you think it is. In most states, and I would guess that in all of the United States, it's illegal to waste game meat. That means that there are some pretty hefty fines associated with killing an animal for its horns or antlers, or whatever, and leaving the carcass to rot. That is not hunting. Let me repeat: THAT IS NOT HUNTING.

That is what we call poaching. It is the illegal take of game or leaving the animal to rot. Those people who are trophy hunters in the United States must take the meat or donate it to a food bank or other charity where people can enjoy the meat. So, if someone is going after a big buck or a big bull, they have to use the meat somehow. It's not enough for them to have a head or antlers stuck on a wall somewhere. These people generally look for big animals — usually male — and yeah, there's a certain amount of bragging rights that goes along with that. For one thing, those older male deer or elk are cagey.  They don't get the big set of antlers because they were foolish and visited people. They get it by being wily and sneaky. Which means as a hunter, if the take is legal, they have to call the animal in or sneak up on it, or sit for however many hours or days in a cold tree stand and wait for the critter to show up, assuming it does.

If someone is hunting for a trophy animal legally, I don't have a problem with it provided that the animal is legal and they eat the meat or donate to the food bank. Those so-called trophy hunters pass on the deer and elk I'm willing to shoot because it is my food. Would I purposely look for a deer or elk with a big rack?  No.  I'll shoot whatever is legal. Would I turn down a trophy buck or bull if it showed up?  Of course not, but that isn't my criteria for hunting. The rack is only a bonus and not my goal.

It's Not Easy

One of the myths that non-hunters seem to have is the overall ease hunters have when it comes to locating game and shooting it. Unless you're going for a game damage hunt, finding the critters can be problematic. I can't tell you how many times back when I didn't hunt but I mushed sled dogs that I saw hunters who were constantly looking for animals and declared that there were none in the area. But the next day, there were tracks all over the place, and in some instances, my sled team and I ran into herds of elk and even antelope. We even helped a lost hunter find his buddies. He was exhausted from walking around and looking for animals he couldn't find. These animals play a constant game of hide and seek. Even if you know the area, even if you've tracked the animals in the off season, even if you think you know what you're doing, there's no guarantee.  If you want a guarantee on getting supper, go to the grocery store.

My husband and I have spent literally weeks looking for animals without success in the same areas where we know there are animals. Sometimes they're regular, such as the deer in one area, but given that we only hold certain tags, we can't just shoot anything that shows up. There are regulations for what kinds of deer you can take, length of antler, how many brow tines, etc. And even if you get that dialed in, there's no guarantee that you will shoot the animal. Most deer and certainly no elk I know of, (with the exception of habituated wildlife), want humans nearby or even within several hundred yards.  The last deer I shot was about 200 yards away.  That's two football stadiums in distance. And I got a heart shot, luckily.  I missed the first shot but managed to get a deer on the second shot. Shooting at distance isn't easy. Your target looks less like a deer through the scope and more like a marble-sized version of the critter. And then, there's things like bullet drop (ballistics), wind (OMG), and other variables.

Now, when you consider that either you have to sneak up on the critter to get a 50 to 100 yard shot or face the daunting prospect of shooting 200, 300, 400, or more yards, it gives you an appreciation just how tough it is. The Montana FWP has check stations and the average success rate of hunters is about 7 to 8 percent through those stations. Probably when all is said and done maybe 15 percent of the tags are filled, would be my guess. That includes tags that we fill every year.

In Colorado, hunting was a nightmare. You literally had a week to fill your tag.  That meant you spent a boatload of money for the privilege of maybe bringing back a deer or elk.   If you were lucky. The times I went with my husband, we came home without meat.  Yep, sucked.

Montana gives you about five weeks to find your animals and hopefully get your tags filled during general rifle season. It's better, but it's no guarantee.

The Short Life of a Game Animal

Deer live an average of two to three years in the wild. Maybe if they're lucky and get really good avoiding predators, cars, starvation, diseases, and hunters, they're looking at maybe eight to ten. Elk probably go 10 to 13 in the wild tops. Antelope are lucky to see their eighth year.

These are natural prey animals. That means that someone has to eat them or they die from environmental stresses such as disease and starvation. In order to provide enough food for predators, including humans, they have to produce enough offspring to keep their species alive, which they do, admirably. Their lives are filled with uncertainty due to the vagaries of the environment and pressure from predators.


Speaking of predators, we found a deer that had been killed by coyotes on our properties.  She had been taken down and had been partially eaten from the rear first, starting at her anus. The coyotes had left the poor girl to struggle and eventually die with her intestines hanging out while they merrily ate her alive. Now, tell me that a bullet isn't more humane?

This is not uncommon. Predators don't kill cleanly and they aren't particularly humane when it comes to killing their food. Humans seem to have that sensibility.

Disease and Starvation

It's not unusual to see herds stricken with disease.  When there are too many prey animals for the carrying capacity or when the environment hands them a drought and poor forage, it wears on the critters and inevitably disease takes hold.  Or if there is a drought like the one we're going through, it's common for herds to starve in the winter. Both my husband and I obtained game damaged licenses through FWP to hunt some of the deer that were destroying the alfalfa fields where the rancher's cattle were wintering. We counted some 50+ deer in the one field. If they had food outside of the rancher's fields, they probably would've gone there. The deer I shot had no winter fat to speak of and the sheer numbers meant that she and perhaps other deer would starve because of the scarcity of food.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Antelope Tenderloin -- Recipe

After butchering our antelope, I had the tenderloins ready to go. The tenderloins are arguably the best cut of the animal (I say "arguably" because I've had backstrap that has come close.) The sooner you eat them, the better, or maybe it just feels that way because you're ready for a reward for good food. 

This recipe works on just about any game meat, but the antelope made it taste like heaven. Note that the nutmeg is a must. I discovered this "secret" when reading older recipe books that talked about cooking game. There's something about nutmeg that improves the flavor. They also recommend mace, which I would use as well, if the nutmeg wasn't so damn good.

Antelope Tenderloins

  • 2 Antelope tenderloins
  • 1 lb bacon (get the good stuff)
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp pepper (optional)
  1. Slice antelope tenderloins into 1 inch thick slices.
  2. Mix spices together and sprinkle on antelope until all sides are covered.
  3. Take a slice of bacon and wrap it around each antelope piece. Secure with toothpicks.
  4. Take extra bacon (if there are any) and put in frying pan. Cook on medium heat.
  5. Add antelope tenderloins to the bacon. Cook and be sure to turn over and cook each side.
  6. Put a lid on the frying pan and let cook until the meat is done to your liking and the bacon is done. If necessary, turn down the heat to prevent burning.
That's it.  Really.  Simple but oh so good.  Even cheap bacon works in a pinch but you may be using less salt because they really load up cheap bacon with salt.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Success at getting an Antelope

Well we went hunting again for the third day since opening season. The first two days we saw mule deer (not hunt-able in the unit we were in), a pair of bobcats hunting rabbit (way cool),  and a huge beaver by his pond.

We hunt for food, not trophies, so if the critter has horns or antlers, it's just a bonus and not something we strive for.


That's when I spied the antelope, which were supposedly not in this particular area. My husband had drawn a very rare antelope tag for this unit (one of five for either sex; there were also five tags issued for does/fawns).  Antelope season for rifle starts two weeks earlier than deer and elk and runs four  weeks.  We had seen some antelope on a ranch we had permission to hunt on, but due to distance and other limiting factors, we didn't get one.  So, my husband stalked them and managed to get about 200 yards or so away. That's exceedingly tough. Antelope can see threats four miles away and have eyesight that ranges nearly 300 degrees. The wind was awful, gusting at 35 mph or so.  Even so, he managed to get a shot in before they bolted.

Where Did They Go?

When antelope bolt, there's no way you can hit them unless you're exceedingly good or exceedingly lucky.  Preferably both. These guys can hit 60 mph for short sprints and up to 40 for long ones. They took off and we couldn't find any blood where the shot happened.  So, we presumed a miss.  Suddenly a raven appeared and started looking, suggesting that maybe my husband hit something, but after looking for a while, we went on to look for more animals.  More on this later.

Waiting for Us

We drove away and went to look for deer and elk because the antelope were gone. I saw a big muley buck skylined some 400 yards away, but again because he wasn't legal for us to take in that area, we had to pass on him.  We decided to drive back down as it was getting toward the end of legal light and that's when we saw the antelope buck by the fence. It had been about an hour since we had given up looking for him

The buck was a big buck and he had moved to the fence line much closer to the road than where my husband had taken a shot at him earlier. The guy was standing wrong and we soon realized it was because he had a bullet wound. The herd had left him and he had traveled in the opposite direction: toward us. My husband got out of the car and got far enough from the road to shoot the antelope legally and finish the job. Like goats, antelope take forever to die. My husband actually hit the antelope in the heart and it ran and needed another two shots. The wind had been so fierce that even accounting for wind had caused the bullet to move more than two feet and hit him in the flank.

Always Listen to the Raven

The buck was about the size of a good sized whitetail doe. We did a quick quartering tonight and I'll be butchering the buck tomorrow. Despite all the hits, we have plenty of good meat available.

We thanked him for the food and apologized for giving up on him when he had no blood to track.  We have learned to always listen to the ravens.

Current Tally for Hunting

Thanks to the game damage hunts and now this successful hunt, we have two whitetail does and an antelope buck for our meals. We also have four blue grouse we got while hunting birds.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Getting Ready for Winter: Preserving Food, Part 1

I’m really not a fan of summer. Summer in Western Montana means long hot days without rain, wildfires, and the inevitable smoke. So, everything is drought-stressed, including me and my critters. Even so, there are some bright spots to the summer — that is the potential to get apples, plums, pears, and elderberries for free or darn near free either from wild trees or from people who just don’t want bears in their yards, eating their windfall fruit.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Honey of a Mess

 The mead is working
Boy did I screw up - or did I? I started my first batch of mead after all these years back in October-November. You all may remember my post about the mead. Well, I had trouble with getting the damn thing to start. I tried adding more yeast, I tried energizer, I tried damn near everything...and no bubbles out the airlock.


Sunday, January 18, 2015

Welcome Wingnut

Early this morning, Blaze delivered her kid. I was pretty sure she would deliver some time in the wee hours of the morning. She had showed all the signs of imminent labor, including discharge. So I wasn't surprised when I saw Blaze with her kid at about 3 o'clock in the morning. The doeling was wet and shivering in the cold.

Getting Her Warmed Up

It was around freezing, which isn't that cold around here, but it can be deadly for newborn kid. I had put towels in the barn for the just the purpose of getting a kid dried off in the expectation of Blaze's kidding, but they just weren't enough. So the little doeling got a ride on the ATV to the house. I used up about five towels to get the little shivering thing dry and put a space heater on her for a while so she could warm up.

I was take a risk doing this. There's a chance that the mother will reject the kid after I take the kid away even for short while. But, there's a bigger chance of the kid dying of hypothermia, which kind of trumps everything.

The doeling was so cold that she would barely suck my finger. So, I took her away from mom, while hearing Blaze's protests. When I got the little doeling back to mom, she had a strong sucking response and she was ready to nurse.

Trying to Figure It Out

Newborn kids have the instinctive need to nurse, but they're not particularly equipped with roadmap. As a result, the little doeling was trying to nurse anywhere but the udder. What's more, they don't necessarily want you to show them where it is. So after much struggles, I managed to get her to drink a bit. I then left mom with the kid and went back to the house. By the time I got inside, it was 6 o'clock. I stumbled to bed, knowing at least the doeling was in good hands (hooves?) with her mother.

Her Name

Unlike my other Lamancha crosses, the little doeling has these huge helicopter ears. Her mother, Blaze, is a Boer cross, and has the drop ears of a Boer. Lamancha goats are often called "earless." They actually do have ears, but they're just very tiny. This girl is bucking the trend of my herd as every baby goat this year was born with Lamancha ears.

My husband came in from feeding the critters in the barn and told me that her name is "Wingnut." Her ears are so big that I had a hard time arguing against the name. I'll be taking pictures of little Wingnut and put them on the blog soon. She is, adorable, of course.