I haven’t had time to go hunting much this fall, so I don’t have a lot of meat in the freezer. But I do have frozen huckleberries, picked during a hiking trip this summer (and hoarded ever since). So I was able to share something wild on Thanksgiving, a huckleberry pie:
On a day that’s all about gratitude, it feels appropriate to serve food that was foraged on public land — a true reminder of something that all of us have to feel thankful for.
For the crust, I used this pie dough recipe, which has become my go-to. I improvised the filling, which was something like: 8 cups huckleberries, thawed; 1 cup sugar; juice from 1 lemon; 8 tablespoons corn starch. Just before baking, I brushed the top crust with a beaten egg and then sprinkled it with coarse sugar. The pie took about an hour to cook, at 425 degrees for the first 20 minutes and 375 for the remaining time.
Are you in the Washington, DC area? On Thursday, Nov. 1 at 7 pm, I’ll be speaking at Capital City Cheesecake in my hometown of Takoma Park, Maryland.
Or maybe you live right here in central Oregon? I’m doing two readings at Paulina Springs Books. On Friday, Nov. 9 at 6:30 pm I’ll be at the Sisters, Oregon location. And on Saturday, Nov. 10 at 6:30 pm I’ll be at the Redmond, Oregon location.
This is a guest post, written by my childhood friend and new hunter, Jesse Howe:
If you asked me 3 weeks ago if I am a hunter, the candid answer would have been no. If you had asked me 4 months ago it would have been a resounding no. Hunting is new to me, but every morning I venture out I learn something and become more entranced by its spell. I now completely comprehend why my brother’s former business partner postponed every fall semester from the University of Maryland, and took about 7 years to graduate in the process. Now I am fully entrenched; having bought my first ever gun 2 months ago (a Savage 30.06 in case you are wondering), completed my hunter safety course this past June, and bagged my first animal 2 weeks ago.
A pronghorn was my first kill; it is often labeled an antelope, which it is not. Some folks call it a speed goat, which paints a vivid and accurate portrait. That hunt certainly was not as challenging as hunting other big game in the Jackson, WY area, but I do feel it was valuable to peer through the scope for the first time, pull the trigger, and then have to deal with the aftermath. That butchering process took about 10 hours at the kitchen table, I hear it gets easier.
The past week I have been searching for a bull elk on the south side of ______ (in true hunter fashion my one and only treasured spot will die with me), accompanied by my roommate Ryan. I have been hunting this area as often as possible, and the hairs standing on the back of my neck 30 minutes before sunrise as a bull elk bugled from 2 ridges over is something I will always fondly remember. Tracking and putting him in the crosshairs, as well as pulling the trigger, has been a different story. It is easier said than done! Complicating things is our current weather model, hot and arid. It is so dry out there I may as well be stomping around while eating a bag of potato chips. Each morning I have ventured out, something memorable has happened. The first of October did not disappoint.
Ryan and I camped after a night hunt, and were out stalking shortly after 5am. It was an uneventful morning for me, although Ryan spooked a bull elk at 6:30 and had the great fortune to sit in the moonlight and observe as the bull gathered his harem and skedaddled. We had plans to reconvene at a meadow around 11am, so at nearly that hour I approached the rendezvous point after not seeing or hearing much of anything. I crossed a marsh (where my footsteps were nearly silent) and entering the forest again (where they were not). I stepped on a stick that hadn’t seen moisture in many weeks, the snap of which sounded an alarm loud enough to warn critters big and small. Something with thick, brown fur spooked in my field of vision at about 2 o’clock. This is by no means unforeseen, and I glanced over half expecting to see a doe mule deer or cow elk hightailing it out of there. Instead, I saw a grizzly bear rearing up and looking straight at me, then beginning her charge. I always have my bear spray handily located in my left front pocket and my 30.06 rifle on my right shoulder, but to say there was time for either is utterly laughable. There truly was no time to think, only to react, as the top speed of a grizzly is nearly 35mph. Simultaneously I jumped behind a small tree to my left, peeked back at her bearing down on me, and bellowed something to the effect of, ‘BEAR! GET OUT OF HERE!’ Those words I am not sure of precisely, although I do know it began with ‘bear’, and perhaps ended with gibberish. She stopped on a dime about 3 feet short of me and our eyes momentarily met, then she did a simple 180 and walked up and over the small ridge and was gone. It was the classic bluff charge. It took about 7 seconds from the time the stick snapped until she was on me. My heart was beating profusely and interestingly enough my hunting partner Ryan was only 150-200 yards away at our meeting spot and heard the whole thing go down.
The grizzly was feeding on a 5 point bull elk carcass with large sweeping antlers, in all probability an inaccurate hunter’s shot that could not be tracked down, and died where he rest. The lucky bear had begun to cache the kill by putting grass, dirt, and leaves over the midsection. Winter is fast approaching and unquestionably she is aware it is time to fatten up. An hour later back on the road some fellow hunters told us a ranger had mentioned that a female grizzly of about 300lbs lived in the area, so it was probably her. I reported the encounter to local Fish and Game, and was told this type of incident is happening more frequently, especially to hunters. As I expected, she was protecting her kill and sending a strong warning sign to me. I received that transmission loud and clear. Oddly enough I don’t harbor any fear of returning to the forest to hunt, not even of going back to the same zone. Although I must admit, had it happened before sunrise instead of well after, I might be a tad bit more hesitant to venture into that same stretch of woods.
This video is NOT MINE, but will give an idea of how fast a grizzly bear can get going:
EVENT: Book signing (and big buck contest... for the ladies)
This Friday (9/7) evening, I’ll be signing copies of my book at a great little store in downtown Bend. If you’ve never been to Cowgirl Cash, it’s an adorable boutique that sells vintage and new western wear, jewelry and other stylish miscellany. Come by during downtown Bend’s monthly Art Walk. You can visit with me, try on Tony Llamas and shop for antler art… all at the same time!
This event also marks the launch of the store’s second annual Women Only Big Buck Contest. Ladies who shoot a buck during Oregon’s rifle seasons should drive their deer head to the store so Rebecca (the owner of Cowgirl Cash) can measure your antlers, hear your story and share your excitement over the hunt. Top prize is a custom belt buckle and money to spend at the store. There are plenty of other prizes, too, so every lady who bags a buck this fall should enter.
Despite the name, this contest is not just about the size of the bucks. Just as the store celebrates Western culture, this contest is a way of celebrating hunting. Rebecca says she wants to support the women who “draw the tag, plan the hunt, sight the gun, take the time, rise with the sun, bring down the buck, enjoy the feast, and retell the story.”
It’s no secret that hunters are becoming more of a rarity in Bend. Rebecca told me that when she first had the idea for this contest, she was pretty nervous about how people would respond, so she didn’t do much to spread the word. At one point last fall, while the Bend Farmers Market was going on right in front of the store, a woman pulled up with a deer head in the bed of her pickup. Some of the veggie shoppers gathered around while Rebecca measured the antlers and listened to the hunter tell her story. People were curious, amused, impressed. There were no dirty looks, no stern words from offended vegans. Just locavores meeting locavores. Hey, we come in all forms.
Here’s one of last year’s contestants, Haley Rager, of Eugene, Ore.:
Several smart readers emailed me to identify the spider in my previous post: Araneus diadematus, also known as a cross orbweaver, cross spider or European garden spider. Apparently it not only spins a beautiful web, it also eats mosquitoes. A friend, in other words, not a foe. A hearty thanks to all the crowd-sourcers!
If you’re interested in hunting and haven’t read any Steven Rinella yet: You’re welcome. You are in for a treat, because Rinella is as precise a writer as he is thoughtful a hunter. He is also really, really hard working. He writes books. He writes articles. He hosts a TV show. He blogs. He’s a dad.
In his latest blog post, he reveals that he and his wife are now expecting a baby girl, and Rinella admits he is daunted by the prospect of teaching a girl to hunt with the same enthusiasm and proficiency as he plans to instill in his young boy.
It’s not that Rinella doesn’t want his daughter to hunt, but he can’t think of many role models for his daughter-to-be. His wife doesn’t hunt. And he’s rightly bothered by a disturbingly common modern hunting stereotype – the hypersexualized “sexpot huntress.” With surgically-enhanced breasts in the blind, the cultural tendency is to focus on the apparent contradiction of “hotness” and “hunting,” which diminishes, among other things, the truly important aspects of the hunt – a connection to the land, respect for animals, self-proficiency. He writes: “Hunters need to find it in themselves to invite women into the wild not as some obligation to their wives or daughters, but rather as a sacred engagement with their equals. The women in our lives need to be our hunting partners, our buddies.”
I face a similar challenge, just swap the genders. My husband and I are raising a son in a home where mother hunts, but father doesn’t. As silly as it sounds, I don’t want Sam to grow up thinking that hunting and butchering are for women only.
Fortunately, as someone who came to hunting as an adult, I understand that there are many different ways to fall in love with the activity. One of my mentors also learned to hunt as an adult, and he learned alongside his two young sons. He says it was not only a fun family activity, it was a unique equalizer in their father-son relationship. After all, how often do kids get to witness their parents building an entirely new skill from scratch? He recalled shooting at a duck and missing wildly, while his sons doubled over at their dad’s mistake. Though his sons are now grown, his mishaps get retold with pleasure during their annual father-son outings.
I still consider myself a novice hunter, and I’m sure I’ll have plenty more to learn when my son is ready to start hunting. Still, love the idea of Sam having a parent by his side from square one. I figure that leaves me about 11 years to convince my husband to take up hunting. They can complete Hunter Safety together and then we can all head out in the woods together, as a family.
A note from a reader arrived at my office yesterday:
Of all the possibly controversial parts of my book – my murderous meat-eating, callous gun-ownership, blasphemy against the NRA, pinko support for wolves, elitist criticism of lead ammo – this person chose to take offense at a description of my hometown. Oh well. Probably best to stop at page 21, then. That page, heavily annotated, also happened to be enclosed:
I’ve received very kind letters and emails from readers, too. To respect others’ privacy, I won’t make public any signed notes.
Like most Americans, I’m reading "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed right now. It’s a memoir about her 1995 hike along part of the Pacific Crest Trail. There’s more to the book than just the hike, but the trek itself is what I find myself putting the book down to talk to Scott about. It was grueling, and her writing is so vivid that I can almost feel dust sticking to the sweat on my own calves as I read.
Meanwhile, Scott’s reading "The Way West" by A.B. Guthrie. It’s a novel about a wagon train from Missouri to Oregon, and it takes place about 150 years ago.
Last night, I interrupted Scott’s reading to remark, yet again, on some tiny facet of Strayed’s journey. This time, it was the food. Every few weeks, Strayed stops at some tiny intersection with civilization, where she gorges on candy bars and lemonade. For breakfast on the trail, however, she simply mixes a powder called “Better Than Milk” with water, and pours it over granola. I was recounting this in amazement — how could someone walk for so many miles eating such terrible food?! — when I stopped, mid-word. I suddenly realized that Scott was reading about a much longer, more arduous trip.
"What do the people in your book eat?" I asked sheepishly.
"Lots of wild game," he said. "Bread, they stop on the trail and bake it. Dried meat."
No stops for cheeseburgers. No candy bars. No moleskin. No technical fabrics that wick moisture. How funny, by comparison, that Strayed’s two-month journey — which, though undoubtedly difficult, was still, in a way, a vacation — is suddenly sweeping the nation.
Then again, the Oregon Trail involved so much physical hardship and isolation, it doesn’t translate easily to our air-conditioned, 4G lives. Strayed’s journey is relatable. And given her goals of redemption and renewal, maybe her PCT hike is the 21st Century equivalent of the Oregon Trail, after all.
My first-ever radio interview is airing today on an awesome CBC show called Q. I haven’t heard the interview yet, which means my imagination has composed several variations, some good and some dreadful.
I drove to Portland for the interview, then back to Bend in the same day. The return trip gave me three-plus hours alone to agonize over each answer I’d given. Why didn’t I mention that Disney’s “Bambi” misrepresents hunters? What a missed opportunity. There’s a reason I write — instead of speak — for a living.
Here’s what I do know: As a professional journalist, I was really impressed by Jian Ghomeshi’s interviewing skills. He asks great questions in a relaxed, appealing manner. Chatting with him before and after the interview started, he was every bit as charming as I’d expected. He knew how to endear himself to this happily married woman: By complimenting my husband, who, not surprisingly, plays a big role in my book. Jian, if you’re reading this, Scott says hi.
I hate the term “date night,” but I’m beginning to appreciate the idea of it. After work one day this week, we left the baby at home with my parents and went fishing. It was like old times, pre-baby, when we used to fish at least one evening a week in the summer.
We drove about 15 minutes away, recounting our day to each other as we pulled on waders and strung up our fly rods. Scott selected a classic, dainty dry fly, to float on the river’s surface. Then he laughed while I tied on heavier leader and a long, ugly black articulated leech. I made no apologies: I was aiming for a big brown trout, and dragging that thick chain of rabbit fur through deep water is the best technique I know.
Scott’s more refined method dredged up a lot of tiny fish. Mine didn’t entice any. Eventually, I met him halfway by switching to a tarantula. I got a few bites (from also tiny fish) but didn’t land any. After a couple of hours, we headed home. The sun was still two hours from setting, but now we’re beholden to new rituals of nature, such as bed time.
The best unforeseen side effect of writing a book: Fame for my mutt.
Sylvia, my flat-coated retriever mix, is in the latest issue of The Bark (for anyone unfamiliar with this magazine, it’s basically The New Yorker for dogs) not once but TWICE. There’s a Q&A with yours truly. And, on the last page, there’s an essay about my fly-fishing wonderdog.
In addition to selling tires and above-ground pools, CostCo also hosts author signings.
Sitting in the middle of the store, at noon on a Saturday, next to a giant pile of CALL OF THE MILD, was less awkward than I’d expected. The people-watching was top-notch. It felt borderline intrusive to smile at someone and then glance into his or her shopping cart. What is that couple going to do with eight dozen eggs, anyway?
Just as I found at the two readings I’ve given, people were more than happy to stop and chat about hunting or food or dogs. I signed (and sold) more books than I was expecting. And I learned that the one thing almost every CostCo member buys is toilet paper.