Tag Archives: Bird

Sea Robins and Boneless Chicken

Eastern Sea Robin [Image: www.danasrig.top]

Eastern Sea Robin [Image: www.danasrig.top/]

The boneless chicken breast, a formless glob of translucent meat usually found under a window of cellophane, is a terrifying thing. It is the perfect representation of the American palate: Cheap, industrial, and nearly flavorless.

The meat’s formlessness leaves you unaware and unconcerned that it was once part of an animal, a small flightless bird that lived its entire life in a small cage without much natural light. It is completely lacking in anatomical markers beyond the word “breast.” You trust that it is a breast and not something else. Whatever it is, it seems to come from a limitless supply because it’s always there when you want it.

The boneless breast cannot be used creatively because creativity works though limitation and obstacle. With boneless meat the obstacles are already overcome. Being perfectly bland, it can accommodate a limitless variety of spices and condiments. It lacks the very things—blood, bone, marrow, skin, and fat—that would give it flavor and texture through the transformative act of cooking. The boneless breast is a ready-made object that is used in conjunction with other ready-made additives to become a meal. It is everything that is wrong about the industrial food apparatus.

A sea robin is the exact opposite. Being nearly all bone and covered in mildly poisonous spines, this ugly northeastern trash fish is the palatal antichrist to boneless chicken. In New England, it’s considered an overabundant nuisance fish that poaches bait meant for stripers. In fact, the robin is considered so unworthy a fish that fishermen refuse to acknowledge them in their catch. A Long Islander who catches 10 sea robins and one bluefish will tell you he didn’t get into the striper.

When my fishing buddy reeled in a huge robin, I plucked it out of the surf in excitement and got a half-inch spine lodged in my thumb. The wound hurt, but I was proud of it.  We were no doubt the only Long Island fishermen that day happily leaving the surf with a bucket of robins.

The first time I had sea robin was on a party boat out of Sheepshead Bay. It was fried and served on white bread with spicy mayonnaise and tomato. It was delicious. I couldn’t believe that this was the ugly red fish with the oversized head and bat wings that everybody scoffed at. When the captain decided to move the boat from our current location because we were hooking too many robins, my friend and I looked at each other in mild disappointment.

There are two paths available to us going forward this century: The sea robin and the boneless chicken breast. The path of the sea robin is about embracing what it is ugly, precarious, labor-intensive, and near; the path of the boneless breast embraces what is cheap, easy, and removed from the reality of our food practices. The robin, like any freshly caught fish, reminds you of the pleasure of standing on the beach and casting into the surf. Eating boneless chicken is a completely forgettable experience unless you get salmonella. The path of the sea robin is sustainable and forces us to partake in death and manage waste; the path of boneless chicken breasts leads to oblivion.

A Woman Named Barb and the Greatest Hunt Ever Filmed

The two-part “MeatEater” episode “Unconventional: Alaska Sooty Grouse” is a masterpiece of outdoor television and a heck of a hunt. For those who are unfamiliar, Steven Rinella’s “MeatEater ” is a unique and thought-provoking example of a genre that is routinely neither. The first part documents Rinella’s failure to locate (and growing obsession with) a highly vocal yet elusive sooty grouse. The second installment introduces a soft-spoken local hunter by the name of Barbara Gabier who, almost magically it seems, puts Rinella onto a grouse in less than an hour.

MeatEater "Alaska Sooty Grouse" episodes.

[Image: https://plus.google.com/+MeatEaterTV/videos]

What the episode dramatizes so well is the hunter’s frustration and near-refusal to come to terms with failure. Rinella, a very accomplished hunter, threw the book at a bird that was most likely 40 feet over his head half the time. But rather than pursue the bird on his own until the very end, Rinella enlists Barb who essentially offers a change of perspective. She puts Rinella out of his own head and into hers, which happens to contain a lot grouse hunting knowledge. What follows is a kind of romance between hunters in which Rinella is brought up to speed on sooty grouse hunting, something he wasn’t capable of on his own in the time given to him.

Knowledge has its limits, and to overcome them, we often have to look beyond ourselves. If anything, hunting is a humbling experience; it’s even more so when you don’t have a buddy or mentor to show you the ropes. This is why young hunters hunt with older hunters. It’s an old lesson, but in “Unconventional: Alaska Sooty Grouse,” it unfolds like a short story in which an enigma is presented and then resolved in a sideways or unexpected fashion.

What Happened to the Ruffed Grouse?

Image: fineartamerica.com

Image: fineartamerica.com/

By Jack Kredell

I was strolling through the Dick’s Sporting Good parking lot after buying a box of eight-shot when the question popped into my head: Why aren’t there any grouse here? The question wasn’t why aren’t there grouse in Pennsylvania (there are, I presume, enough), but why aren’t there any in this parking lot right now? Lining the sidewalk were double rows of Japanese barberry, ample cover for a grouse to lay low in when not foraging the 25 perfectly groomed crab apple trees on the other side of the lot. If this isn’t ideal grouse habitat, then I don’t know what is.

That evening as I was coming home from a grouse hunt, I stopped at a friend’s farm to ask him why he thought there weren’t any grouse in town. At first he looked at me like I was crazy. Then he leaned in towards me, almost too close for comfort, and whispered, “Owls.”

“Owls?” I asked.

“And hawks,” he replied.

In a state where most people worry about the impact of coyotes and bobcats on small game, the notion that owls were behind the grouse’s decline was news to me. He then explained that the reason why grouse numbers were so high in states like Maine and Michigan was because they paid a bounty of 10 dollars per claw for large avian predators and 10 dollars per ear for quadruped predators.

“They pay per claw or per toe?”

“Per digit I believe,” said my farmer friend.

Though neither of us knew the exact number of toes an owl has, we agreed it represented a substantial monetary amount. He went on to explain that the explosion in the owl population was due to the great lemming crash of 2014, which pushed the snowy owl further south. The heavy snows of that year created a travel corridor for the snowy owl that, when combined with the weak snowfall of the following year, put Pennsylvania’s grouse in dire straits because it didn’t have any fresh powder to burrow into and avoid detection by the snowy owl (in addition to other predators). I was left wondering how anything could survive this vicious junta of predators.

But that wasn’t all. Lurking behind the snowy owls and red-tailed hawks were the Feds. The carnage went unchecked because federal restrictions made it impossible for us hunters to control the owl and raptor populations that were decimating our small game.

So the answer is that there are no grouse in the Dick’s Sporting Goods parking lot because of snowy owls.

Image: en.wikipedia.org

Image: en.wikipedia.org/

Bag a Wild Turkey for Thanksgiving

Image: www.realtree.com

Image: www.realtree.com

It might not get the love and attention of its springtime counterpart, but unless you’re a gobbler snob, the fall turkey season is just as good—if not better, given the fitting Thanksgiving overlap. Things like snowstorms and charging through a flock of turkeys like a fullback just don’t happen in the spring. With a little grit and some new tactics, every spring gobbler fanatic can make the successful transition to fall. Here are some tips and tactics to help you come up clutch with a wild bird on Thanksgiving.

Be a Location Scout

Image: bestturkeydecoy.com

Image: bestturkeydecoy.com

As with spring, the key to success is locating birds. But without thunderous gobbles to go by, visual scouting takes on a bigger role. If the area you hunt is mostly deciduous forest, look for the large swaths of disturbed leaf litter created by feeding flocks of birds. Deer will create patches of upturned litter as well, but you know you’re onto turkeys when it looks like somebody drove through the woods with a John Deere. If it’s wet and green, look for an open field where birds can feed on insects.

Booze Cruise

Image: en.wikipedia.org

Image: en.wikipedia.org

For this particular mission, you will be unarmed because firearms and alcohol do not mix. Your mission? Locate the roost. Now that it’s fall, you have the distinct advantage of being able to see through the trees. Brew yourself a hot toddy with Wild Turkey (obviously), and then find a hill or ridgetop with a good view and wait for the birds to tuck themselves in. Hopefully you still remember the location of the roost the next morning. If not, just look for the tree with all the turkey fertilizer underneath it.

Not all who Wander are Lost

Image: picssr.com

Image: picssr.com

Calling in lost birds is one of the easiest ways to fill a tag in the fall. Lost hens and jakes will make singular, sad yelps until they’re right on your doorstep. Answer back with the same type of yelp until the bird is in range. Bad weather? Great! Snowstorms will work in your favor as young turkeys routinely get lost during the season’s first big snow. Humans also get lost during snowstorms, so bring your compass or some more recent technology to avoid having to tell the story at Thanksgiving.

The Bum Rush

Image: www.citypages.com

Image: www.citypages.com

By far the most exciting thing to happen in the fall is locating a flock of turkeys and running at them. Please, please—unload or leave your gun behind before doing this. The purpose of this time-honored tactic is to break up the flock in order to call them back in using your locator yelps and kee-kee runs. For this to work, you really need to give the birds the fright of their lives and get them going in all directions. Once you’ve done that, trade in your wolf mask for a mother turkeys, and let the games begin.

Mr. Clutch

Lakers legend Jerry West was Mr. Clutch because he hit big shots. You know what would be just as cool as Mr. Clutch under pressure? You showing up 15 minutes late to Thanksgiving dinner with a wild turkey under your arm and saying: “You can eat that Butterball if you like, but I’m gonna eat like a pilgrim.”

Thou Art That: A Turkey Hunt

By Jack Kredell

On October 28th, 2011, an unusual convergence of meteorological events produced record snowfall across much of the Mid-Atlantic and New England. Dubbed the Halloween nor’easter, the untimely storm was responsible for 39 deaths, widespread power outages and several billion dollars in damage. It also coincided with the opening day, October 29th, of the 2011 Pennsylvania fall turkey season.

It was also the occasion of a realization, born of tramping boots and frozen tangled laces, that when you enter the woods to hunt, you are hunting yourself. Experience, for the most part, is self-limiting; the measure of your experience will define, broadly, the range of possibilities and potentialities available to it. A novice hunter will likewise take a novice animal, and a master, not without a little luck, will take a master animal.

Mt. Nittany Under a Heavy Snow [image: Jack Kredell]

Mt. Nittany Under a Heavy Snow [image: Jack Kredell]

By noon the snow had turned into the gentle parachuting kind so I decided pack my things and head for Mt. Nittany, a 2,077-foot lobe of a mountain in the Ridge and Valley province of the Pennsylvania Appalachians. The woods on top are woods I know, it’s where I taught myself to hunt, but on that day they were unrecognizable. The trails were choked with snow, in many places a knee deep, with only a meandering treelessness giving indication of a trail’s passage. I headed for a stand of older oaks on the southeastern slope where the acorn crop was good and I had seen turkeys before. I sat under a large oak and began calling.

Hours passed in silence. I was shivering and it was getting dark. Snowflakes the size of packing peanuts were beginning to land on and dampen the chalk-lined edges of my box call rendering it all but useless. Turkeys would hear my wheezing turkey and think not to bother. I gave up. It was worth it if only to see the woods in so deep a snow. After walking a mile in the direction of the trailhead I noticed something was off. The landscape didn’t look like it was supposed to. I had gone the wrong way.

It wasn’t the dangerous kind of lost. Just the frustrating kind-the kind that bruises your feet and ego. I didn’t feel like I could walk two more snowy miles at that moment so I decided to sit and call. I dried the edge of my call and ran through a series of sharp cuts and clucks. Then came an answer. It was the faintest yelp but I heard it. It was for me.

I began to imitate every sound I heard. The sound got closer and closer until I saw the dark body bobbing its way towards me through the snow. When it got to 20 yards I squeezed the trigger. I barely registered the shot. The bird lay on its back kicking and flapping. I ran down to it, and kneeling, broke its neck.

A Jake Shoots a Jake: [Image: Jack Kredell]

A Jake Shoots a Jake: [Image: Jack Kredell]

I decided to slide down the mountain on my ass while clutching the turkey in my lap. I was so elated I barely noticed when it dumped me in somebody’s backyard with a dead bird in one hand and a shotgun in the other. I walked home along the highway with the bird dangling over my shoulder like it was something I did all the time.

I told an older hunter that I got a turkey during the storm. He said sometimes turkeys get lost in snowstorms.

Suggested Gear List:

  • Lowa Khumbu II GTX Backpacking Boot
  • Mammut Xeron Flip 22 Backpack
  • Brunton Eterna Compact Binocular

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