Archive for May, 2015

Free Range and Minnesota Organic Turkey

Breakfast gobbler


During the first two days of the spring turkey hunting season, I helped my 89-year old father-in-law, Dave, try and get a gobbler. I did the calling and while we managed to see a half dozen hens, only one longbearded gobbler came relatively close. He passed behind our blind some 40 or so paces away in the brush. He was intent on following a live hen, rather than be tempted to check out our faux hen decoy.

We hunted for hours and at times there was too much chuckling coming from our blind as Dave told tales and jokes that triggered our muffled outbursts. Dave is  a joke savant and it only takes the mention of a subject and he will more often than not, pull a joke or limerick from his 89-year old brain to share with anyone around him.

We were whispering about the joys of eating wild game when he shared a story of a nephew who travels back to Minnesota from his Los Angeles home every November to hunt whitetail deer.

When he is lucky enough to fill his deer tag, he will ship venison home to the west coast. He enjoys cooking and entertaining his non-hunting California guests with his culinary skills. His urban friends often exclaim wonderously about his culinary skills and will ask him, “What kind of meat is this? It’s delicious.”

His answer, “Minnesota, free range, organic,” satisfies everyone with unquestioning blissful nods.

So on the morning of the third day of our turkey season, I went by myself to a neighbor’s woods. The day was clear and flirting with temperatures around freezing. After settling down in the dawning woods, I used my mouth call to try and provoke a gobbler to answer.

Nothing. Only the raucous bugling and clattering calls from nearby sandhill cranes. After twenty minutes of watching the sun climb out of the east horizon and occasional yelping on my part, I heard a distant gobble. Ahhh. . . a response! It always warms me a bit when a gobbler answers my rendition of a hen turkey’s yelps.

I called again and a closer hearty gobble erupted through the morning chill. Clearly he was on his way towards me. Sure enough, in less than two minutes I saw movement out in front of me from inside a ragged brush line beneath some tall red pines. I was pleased to see not one but two mature male turkeys or toms and no hens.

Without a hen, they would be more susceptible to my lone hen decoy. The larger tom paused to look my way and consider my decoy, but at roughly 40 yards, I was not comfortable in making a killing shot so I waited for him to move in closer. In seconds he decided to move on and my heart sank as he dipped into some brush.

I fretted momentarily that I might have missed my only opportunity but then I comforted myself in thinking that they were not alarmed and that they might be back.

The pair of gobblers moved on a short distance, slightly behind me and to my left. The continued gobbling as a duet, particularly when I gave a soft yelping call.

Suddenly I caught sight of a third turkey moving out in front of me following the same route the gobblers had taken. It was a hen. She paused to give a dismissive look at my unmoving decoy and moved steadily toward the two gobblers.

Less than a minute after she passed my set-up, the male’s gobbling intensified. Clearly the hen had been spied and now they were in full chorus with their lusty gobbles.

I realized I would have to be patient or try and attract the hen. I’ve had luck in the past calling an aggressive hen call known as cutting when I wanted to attract a hen or hens to by decoy. It always feels so out of place to rip off a loud cutting call followed by excited yelps. Hen turkeys have their own pecking order and sometimes upon hearing an aggressive cutting call, a dominant hen will make her way over to check out who the “new girl” is in her neighborhood. And with luck if she comes, she will inadvertently troll along any male suitors.

So I cut like crazy and sure enough within a couple of minutes I glimpsed the hen making her way towards me with two strutting, fan-tailed toms following her like love struck groupies.

It was 6:40AM when my shotgun erupted erasing the morning quiet and a gobbler’s life.

Less than an hour later I was dicing an onion, garlic and mincing the fresh heart, liver and gizzard from the turkey. Nancy came down the stairs from our bedroom still yawning and commenting on the blend of smells that pulled her from bed. She could hardly believe that I was already back with a bird.


In short order a couple handfuls of freshly picked nettles were sautéed and bowl of cracked eggs were stirred. Soon we were sitting down to a skillet of “Minnesota Free Range, Organic Nettles and Gobbler-Infused Scrambled Eggs.” A proper thanks and acknowledgement was made for the gifts of the turkey and nettles.

And all was good.

skillet breakfast

cirrus and rim

Eight of us, four Canadians and four Americans, paddled down the taupe- colored Green River in Utah for nearly half a dozen days before making camp at the head of Horsethief Canyon. This was said to be one of the very canyons that famed train and bank robbers, Butch Cassidy and his partner, the Sundance Kid, had found refuge with their shadowy cohorts.

Even though it was mid-April, it was hot and after the tents were put up, we sought shady shelter to eat some lunch before heading switching footwear and heading up the meandering sandy wash that snaked up a canyon.

A large boulder cracked and worn from millions of summers and winters had once tumbled and settled, like a solitary feature at the base of rocky and steep slope. It’s tapered aspect angled over us like ramp and made a perfect sun shelter for our camp kitchen area. And we were not the first to pause here.

Stippled chest high is a small herd of sheep, desert bighorn I suspect. The artist had tapped the images hundreds if not thousands of years ago. Was it a Fremont culture native or Anasazi hunter who paused to create this mysterious billboard of sorts? Was the intent of the boulder art to give a message to followers? Or perhaps it was rendered out of respect for the game that nourished “the people.” I kind of like to think the native had found himself resting in the shade of the boulder and was simply expressing his creativity for no reason other than to do some stone doodling.

If the thicket of thieves had sequestered themselves in this remote canyon hideout, had they paused here to ponder the petroglyphs?

Tom lunching with visions

Horsethief Canyon was one of several of Butch’s favorite hideouts. While it did not have the notoriety as his remote Robbers Roost further north up in the San Rafael Swell in Utah, Horsethief Canyon is in rugged and isolated country that is mostly described as desert and sinuous canyons.

With water bottles filled and stowed in our daypacks we began hiking up canyon. The creek soon disappeared beneath the loose sand and we soon found ourselves weaving amongst impressive water-smoothed boulders. While the land wears its aspect of desert impressively, I couldn’t help but wonder how a rainstorm could turn this canyon into a mighty rapids of water rushing to merge with the Green River. With the azure sky overhead, I was confident we would not have to clamber up any canyon slopes to avoid any deadly, surging washout.

We were not alone inside the deep sandstone walls. Tracks of small desert dwellers squiggled their hieroglyphics up and down the washout banks. Small lizards were common sights and Say’s phoebes flittered ahead of us, always keeping their distance from us.

sand tracks

I wondered if the sandy score of footprints and tail drags came from a lineage of snakes and lizards that might have skittered from Butch and Sundance. My guess is that this canyon acts somewhat like a biological bank where species can remain undisturbed from human alterations to their homes.

An hour of hiking up canyon we delighted in finding small pools of fresh, clear water. The pools beckoned us to take a dip, but with a mysterious bend in the canyon up ahead we pushed on to explore for signs of Butch and Sundance.
With the day waning we finally halted at an immense water-smoothed sandstone bowl. We could only imagine the torrents of water that must pour through here, rushing to join the Green River.

A raven called from up canyon. Knowing the raven’s importance in many native myths and stories, particularly as a magician or trickster, combined with Butch Cassidy’s love of tricking and disappearing from the law, I couldn’t help but wonder if Butch’s spirit now flies black and still haunts prickly, rocky, and heated hideouts.