Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Hunt of A Lifetime

The Hunt of A Lifetime (article written by a past client at Rolling Plains Adventures - 2013 season)

Yes, I had the hunt of a lifetime last year but this is a new hunting season and besides you are suppose to look forward aren't you? This years hunt will be in North Dakota and after going back to teaching full time I have been looking forward to a hunt with my friends. I didn't realize how much I was looking forward till I noticed I was in full protective mode for at least a week before we flew out of New Bern. Full protective mode means not picking up anything heavy, avoiding snotty people that want to shake hands, not eating unusual food ( OK, there is not much that I consider unusual!) and in short doing all I can to stay healthy. It must have worked because I'm starting to write this story aboard the flight to Bismarck, ND. Not all that easy to type in coach without elbow room but I can manage. The plan is to write a little at the end of each day so I don't miss anything.

I want to say this trip started to be planned on the return flight from South Dakota last year but that would be only a partial truth. The real story would have to start over 50 years ago when a sun burned little boy would sit on the dock with his worms and cane pole and look up at those DC 3 planes of Piedmont Airlines coming in to New Bern. Long summer days, a home on the peaceful river and nothing to do but discover wonders around me made an ideal setting to daydream. The roar of those huge planes stirred the imagination even more. What would it be like to be lucky enough to go places and do things? My Mother was always telling me how lucky and blessed we were to have our home on the river but just knowing there were other places to be seen was fascinating to me.

A few years later my life of daydreams was changed forever  when I was flung through the doorway of puberty. Daydreams turned into plans and schemes that never quite worked out but it always lead to another plan. A short time later I was married and climbing telephone poles for a starting salary of $68 a week (before taxes!). It was not the daydream I had lying on the dock and watching the planes fly over when I was a boy. I had bills to pay and there just wasn't any money left over for foolishness.

My first chance to do something other than work came from an unexpected source. I joined the National Guard to keep from getting drafted and to get a little extra money. When they asked me to go with the rifle team to shoot in Butner one weekend I thought they were crazy! Travel that far to shoot a piece of paper? Then they told me we  would spend the night at a Days Inn and I knew that they had lost it. At the time I was 22 years old and my only motel experience was one night at Atlantic Beach and that was my wife's honeymoon! I decided if the National Guard was  crazy enough to send me I would have to go so I became a shooter. After doing well in the match at Butner I got a real surprise  when I was told I would be flying to Little Rock Arkansas to shoot in the National Guard championships. I was finally going to fly somewhere and do something!

There have been a lot of of years and a lot of great trips added to my memory since then but I don't ever want to lose the thoughts of those summer days and idle daydreams because those memories are what keep me convinced of how lucky and blessed I am to be the one living the dream!

On to the hunt! This years hunt of a lifetime will be in Bismarck, North Dakota. We will be hunting with Rolling Plains Adventures. They are a hunting outfitter located just outside Bismarck. There are seven of us in the group from New Bern and surrounding area but this will be the first time for all of us when it comes to hunting North Dakota. Picking a hunting outfitter can be a little scary. All of us want the best deal but we also want great memories and stories we can tell about the hunt of a lifetime. We needed comfortable lodging, ample hunting area, guides with good personalities, good food and enough game to hunt. After a lot of phone calls, Internet searches and forum readings we decided on Rolling Plains Adventures. We booked a three day hunt for ducks and pheasants. We were wondering if it was the right choice!

After a challenging flight schedule we arrive in Bismarck and wait outside for our guide to pick us up. He said to look for a dirty red truck and a man with an orange hat. We soon discovered he had described at least half of North Dakota! Luckily he spotted us and we were loaded and on the way to the lodge in a few minutes. We were happy to find the lodge exceeded everything we had read and seen on the Internet. Beautifully remodeled, spacious and clean. We got orientation about how we would hunt, where we would hunt and the guide handled our purchasing of our out of state hunting license. We settled in our comfortable rooms after filling up on North Dakota cuisine and hospitality.

It grieves me more than I can explain to say I think the South has to give up the king of hospitality title to the Dakotas. I have been to most parts of the US and nobody beats the Dakotas for making sure you feel welcome. This trip only reenforced that feeling from the moment we arrived.

Hunting Day 1
The morning hunt was ducks over decoys in a shallow pothole and flooded field. After a quick breakfast we loaded in our guide's truck and headed to the pond well before sunrise. It was a classic prairie pothole less than knee deep. I was wishing I had brought my dog Sammy! He would probably start looking for clams like he does at Cedar Island! After we waded out a short distance and the guide arranged our decoys we settled in and waited till legal shooting time to arrive.

While we waited we were treated to something only duck hunters experience, dawn in a duck blind! As the eastern sky turned from dark cherry red to orange the early flights of teal buzzed by the decoys that were sitting silent on the dark water.  Teal are the smallest of ducks but maybe the hardest to hit on the wing. When shooting time arrives we have ducks swarming like bees and I get to enjoy one of the best duck hunts of my life. We all get our limit and then watch as several flocks come into land. It is an awesome sight!

We are the first group to get back to the lodge for lunch which gives us bragging rights that we don't dare waste! We tell about all the hard shots we made and how our young guide is the best! After a great lunch in the lodge we sit in the sun on the porch and recount the morning hunt before loading on the bus for the afternoon pheasant hunt.

The pheasant hunt let's us know just how soft we have become. After a couple miles of walking in heavy cover we finally manage to get enough roosters to quit for the day. Although it was hard on legs and knees for us older guys it was still great fun. We retire for the day after enjoying another great meal and lots of story telling at the lodge.

Day 2

We rise early, eat a light breakfast and head back to the pothole for more duck action. We are not disappointed and have another super hunt. Mallards, gadwall, widgeon and teal are steaming by like feathered rockets but we manage to get our limit again. Actually it seemed a little slower than the first day but it made it more fun by giving us more time at the pothole. Flight after flight of honking geese and chattering sandhill cranes never came into range but were fun to see and hear as they made their way from resting areas to feeding areas. It made me realize that even if I hunt something else I'm always a duck hunter at heart. We get back in time for lunch and change into hunter orange for the afternoon pheasant hunt.

This pheasant hunt was a lot easier than the day before. We hunted standing crops of corn and sunflowers. The huge dried sunflowers were like walking through a field of disc sanders but it was easier than the heavy cover the day before. We had better shooting too and ended up with a lot of beautiful cock pheasants. Mike Mills from Vanceboro NC tried to claim his cock was the largest but we didn't pay him any mind. The day ended with a beautiful western sunset and more good food at the lodge.

Day 3
We hunted ducks at the same prarie pothole and again we had a great hunt. Not as many as the day before but still enough ducks to keep us smiling. It was not our preferred weather for duck hunting but we enjoyed not having to face death to hunt. Pop use to say "If the weather is  bad enough to kill a duck it will kill a man"! We also got some unexpected additions to our game bag, 2 redhead ducks and a Canada goose. The redheads are diving ducks and are usually found on large bodies of water. They are the preferred duck for the table around Cedar Island and I hope they live up to their reputation! The goose is my personal favorite and I picked him as soon as we got back to the lodge in preparation for our evening meal. My brother's shot on the goose was so spectacular that it attracted the attention of a Federal Game Warden watching from a mile away. He had laid in wait like a cat in the grass and walked up as we were wading out of the pothole. I think he was convinced that we were using illegal ammunition to be able to bring down a goose from that height! After he checked everything and found nothing wrong we questioned him about guns and ammo. It was apparent that he didn't know enough to pass one of my Gunsmithing I test on shotguns!

It was lucky for us that we didn't get checked by one of our local Game Wardens. North Carolina game wardens have always been tougher than any others. One use to stick his finger in the rear end of the duck and pull it out to smell and tell where the duck came from. He would smell his finger and say "this duck came from Virginia, you got a Virginia license?" I heard he quit doing that  when he asked a hunter where he was from and he bent over and said "You tell me!"

For the afternoon hunt we talked our guide into an afternoon goose hunt. We decided it was just more fun to play in the water, shoot bigger shells see ducks and geese and getting a beautiful duck or goose was better than shooting at a dusty old pheasant! OK, the real reason was my foot was hurting so bad that the thought of walking all afternoon made me cringe. When I told my wife how bad it hurt the night before and she said "after what you spent to hunt you better cut it off and walk on the bloody stump! Not much sympathy at my house for sore hunters!

When we got to the field next to the pond I volunteered to lie down in the grass and hide instead of standing in the tall marsh grass. Turned out to be a good decision because it kept me off my sore foot and I got to shoot 3 ducks that were out of range from the decoy spread. It was warm and a soft southern breeze was just enough to make the decoys move and look natural. As the sun started to set the huge flocks of geese that we dreamed about never came but we were treated to another spectacular sunset rivaled only by those I see from Ocracoke. It was a fitting end for a spectacular trip.

My hunting friends and I have learned the hard way that these "trips of a lifetime" will end one day. That knowledge is what makes us try to make it memorable whenever we get a chance to savor time together and enjoy our wonderful storehouse of hunting memories and funny stories. We all agreed this was our best "trip of a lifetime". The outfitter, the guide, the amount of wild game and the beauty of North Dakota all helped to make it special but the most important ingredient was supplied by us, the desire to have a good time and enjoy good company. I won't hesitate to do this trip again. Maybe it's time you tried a "trip of a lifetime"! If you have never had one what's stopping you?

Timothy P. Whealton

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

How to Cook Venison

  1. Cook Venison (Deer Meat) Step 1.jpg
    Use only venison that has been field-dressed correctly. The longer the meat stays on the deer carcass after the animal was shot, the tougher it becomes. Choose only deer meat that was cut, skinned, wrapped and refrigerated promptly.
  2. Cook Venison (Deer Meat) Step 2.jpg
    Marinate the meat for several hours before cooking it. A good marinade can be as simple as a mixture of salt, vinegar and water, or something more sophisticated, such as French or Italian salad dressing, Worcestershire sauce, tomato juice or sauce, or a citrus juice, such as from oranges, lemons or grapefruit. The marinade will tenderize the meat and add flavor to it, removing the "gamey" taste.
    • Although you can soak the meat in a brine mixture to marinate it, you should not add salt while cooking, as this keeps the meat from browning.
  3. Cook Venison (Deer Meat) Step 3.jpg
    Trim away all visible fat. The more deer fat that remains, the worse the meat will taste.
    • You could render the deer fat into tallow and use it for a project, or form it into a suet cakes to feed birds in winter.
  4. Cook Venison (Deer Meat) Step 4.jpg
    Substitute the removed deer fat with another fat source. Although the deer's own fat will affect the flavor of the venison adversely, venison is so lean, lacking "marbling", that it needs another fat source to give it flavor when cooking.
    • Possible substitute fats include butter, margarine, cooking oil, bacon or ground beef.
    • Laying other fat on the meat is called "barding"; poking it into the meat is called "larding". Larding may be healthier in adequately fattening the inside without over-fattening the outside.
  5. Cook Venison (Deer Meat) Step 5.jpg
    Keep the meat moist when cooking. Because it is so lean, deer meat is prone to drying out when cooked, making it tough and chewy. Cooking with a method that keeps venison moist, such as frequent basting, braising, sauteing, roasting or slow cooking, will preserve the flavor and keep the meat tender.
    • When cooking deer meat in a pan, roaster or on a grill, wrap it in foil for 5 to 10 minutes before serving. This will let the juices distribute themselves evenly through the meat without evaporating.
  6. Cook Venison (Deer Meat) Intro.jpg


  • Good seasonings for cooking deer meat include parsley, thyme, garlic and onions. Powdered soup mixes often include these and other spices.
  • Deer meat can be served as steaks and roasts, cubed for casseroles, soups and stew or ground to make patties or put into chili. You can find specific recipes online or in books published by state conservation departments or hunting associations.