This past weekend, I woke up very early and was flipping thru the channels until I came across The Godfather. I know all of us have a few movies that resonate in our DNA that when we come across them on the TV we cannot help ourselves but to watch it for the hundredth time. What can I say….I was hooked. When I get to the part where they are cooking Italian food, I start smelling it like I was there. I put my plan into action based on three basic principles. A fantastic meat sauce, a meatball from flavor town, and some great pasta. We got ourselves Baked Ziti on the way, and that how this recipe started. I had plenty of elk and everything to make this dish in my freezer. So off I went…at 5 am. in the morning.
The first thing I need to start on was the stuffed meatballs. Did I just say that? Stuffed Meatballs? Yes I did. They are just plain awesome.
1.5 lbs of Elk Burger.
1.5 lbs of ground veal, or Italian sausage
5 cloves of garlic minced.
1/2 cup of breadcrumbs. I use the Italian flavor.
1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese.
1 tablespoons of oregano
1/4 cup of milk
1/2 tablespoon of salt and pepper
1/2 inch cubed mozzarella slices
Mix all the ingredients together, exept for the mozzarella. Make one inch balls in your hand, then flatten and add your mozzarella.
Then roll the ball over the cheese and roll in your hand until you form a perfect ball.
Try to make sure that you cannot see the mozzarella inside or it will leak out during the cooking process.
Take a cookie sheet and I put cooking paper down, you can also grease the pan. Form, about as many meatballs that you are going to use for the dish. Save the remainder for your meat sauce. I have a huge cooking pot, so I made a lot of meatballs.
Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.
As you can see some of my meatballs leaked some cheese. I will do better next time. Now, you have some left over meatball ingredients left in the bowl, set that aside.
4 green onions chopped
1 onion chopped
4 garlic cloves chopped
1 cup of mushrooms (I add more because I love them) sliced.
1.5 cups of smoked linguica sausage (optional). Carlton Farms has the best.
28 oz, and 1 more 12 oz can of stewed tomatoes
6 oz tomato paste
1 tablespoon of oregano.
1/4 cup of fresh basil chopped
2 tablespoon of sugar
2 teaspoons of crushed red pepper
2 teaspoons of salt and pepper add more to taste
Add olive oil to pot, onions, mushrooms, garlic, and green onions. Add the crushed red pepper, salt and pepper and cook on medium high until translucent, 4-6 minutes. Add the meatball left over ingredients. Cook until browned. Drain any fat off.
Add tomatoes and paste, oregano, sugar and basil. Taste it, does it need salt and pepper. Season to taste…Be liberal with your salt.
Stir and cook on low.
I cut my linguica smoked sausage up and cook in frying pan to render any fat, and add to pot.
Stir and cook on low.
Cook pasta dente, per instructions.
Make sure to grease your ziti pan, add pasta sprinkle it with a little parmesan cheese.
Add 3/4 of the red sauce and mix pasta in.
Place your meatballs strategically so when you dish the pasta later you got a hidden meatball surprise in each plated dish. Shove them down into the pasta.
Pour remaining sauce over pasta and meatballs.
Then layer the fresh mozzarella over the top.
Set the oven to 350 degrees when you are ready, bake for 20 minutes, brown the top if needed.
Your guest will have no idea that there is a meatball waiting for them. This is a jaw dropper dish, but it is even better the next day. If the Italians wanted to set a trap for me, this is what they would put in the trap.
One of the things I love about summer is the outdoor dinner parties. I am in the middle of Winter, snow is falling and I was going thru some of my photos that my daughter Megan took and I found myself longing for Summer once again.
The photos tell the story….
The photos say it all….
The Hunting Chef and my daughter Meg who took the photos.
I love steak, my family loves steak, and if you are a friend of mine….you love steak too. We were born meat eaters, and steak is at the top of the list for special nights at the farm. I love cooking them on the smokers, wood bbq, charcoal, on a stick, sous vide, dutch oven, and cast iron. I usually change my method based off the weather. If it is 10 degrees outside I am using kitchen technique, once the weather breaks I find myself outside on one of my barbecues.
I am always surprised when I find chefs, restaurants, and friends that claim to know how to make the best steak but fall short of their promise because they have a lack knowledge, or they just don’t care. When I hear people tell me that they do everything from feel, I know what to expect…imperfection. I hear this all the time. “I just press on the steak and if it feels like the hand below the thumb its done.” So here is my thought on that….if you are camping and have nothing else use that technique, but it will not be perfect, not by a long shot. Steaks all have a different feel based on the product, quality, and the cut. Temperatures can swing very fast based on the temperature of the method using. I carry a meat probe, and my steaks come off the grill, and sit on the cutting board coming up to the perfect temperature, before a knife presented for its first pristine cut.
What you need
A great cut of steak
Salt and Pepper
BBQ (I am using fire, nothing better for a Ribeye)
It is that simple.
TIP # 1
Take the meat out of the fridge to get to room temperature at least 45 minutes before you cook it.
Tip # 2
Season the steaks generously with salt and pepper while it is sitting there coming to room temperature. Do not worry if you over season it a little, it will burn off on the fire if it is a ribeye. If it is another cut with less fat, be more particular and accurate with seasoning.
RIBEYES LOVE THE FLAME OF A FIRE. SIZZLE IT!
USE A MEAT PROBE. Steaks will cook differently depending on their location of the bbq. Be a pro, use a temp probe for accuracy. I pull my steaks at 136 degrees, then let them sit for 5 minutes before serving. I don’t want them bloody and I do not want them overcooked. I will not even serve people at my farm if they want it well done. I want my steaks to be a tweener, just over Medium Rare and under Medium.
Find a good butcher. There is a major difference in quality of good beef and meat. This is a shout out to my boys at Cutforths Market in Canby Oregon. The home of the Bone in Tomahawk Ribeye!
That folks is how you do it. Do not over think it, and do not be afraid of it. Keep it simple and precise. The method is the important part.
My father loved smoked salmon, and it was because of that love that I worked hard over the past twenty years to make it better and better until I finally broke the code about a year before he passed away. This learning curve was tested on 200 lbs. of salmon over the years I suspect. I got a call the other day from an old friend that has had my smoked salmon and said his father really liked it. So I said “You bring me the salmon and I will smoke it up for you.” I decided to blog my recipe because I think it should be shared, and if anything should ever happen to me I do not want the family not to have some record of it.
Here is what you are going to need:
A lot of salmon with the skin on. If you are using stuff from the freezer, butcher it properly so it does not have any freezer burn on it. That is the worst.
1 cup sugar
1 cup salt
1 cup of pineapple juice
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup of soy sauce
1/2 cup of water
I wrote them down in easy portions because you may need more depending on how much salmon you are smoking. If you are filling the entire smoker which is about 15-20 pieces you will most likely need to times the brine ingredients by three. I use Tupperware, do not use anything metal. You can use zip lock bags, or a big cooler if you want. Mix all the dry ingredients together and generously pour over pink flesh side of the fish. Then pour all the wet ingredients over the fish into to the tupperwear. Shake, or mix all of it around.
You are going to brine the fish for 8 hours or over night. Not all the fish is going to be under the liquid so its important to turn the Tupperware upside down to rotate the fish, or mix the fish around. Once the 8 hours is completed. Take the fish out, rinse it very well with fresh water. I use racks on a cookie sheet so you can get good air flow. This next process is very important. Dry the fish with a fan for about 2-3 hours until the fish is tacky. It should not be wet at all. This process will keep the fish from leaching fluids or allowing the moisture out of the top of the fish during the smoking process.
After one hour of air drying get these ingredients into a bowl.
1 tablespoon of pepper
1 tablespoon of onion powder
1 tablespoon of garlic powder
1 tablespoon of New Mexico chili powder
Sprinkle nicely over the fish.
Then return to drying for the remaining 2 hours, or until tacky.
Once the fish is dry, take it to your smoker. I use my good old fashion Big Chief. Make sure to spray the racks with spray pam so the fish comes out of the smoker with ease. When it comes to the wood chip selection I am unsure if one really can tell the difference with smoked fish. I have used apple chips, mesquite, and cherry. This batch is getting apple chips. I usually start out by running three loads of chips in about three hours. I check to see if the fish is getting cooked, check to see if it is flaking at all. It probably will not be, so throw another load of chips. I check the fish by taking the largest piece and the smallest and see how flexible it is. It’s all about feel for me, shouldnt be rock hard, and should break apart nicely. If you have no experience grab a temperature probe and check to see if the fish is 150 degrees.
Remove the fish, and get ready for the last step. Bring into the kitchen. Start your oven at 200 degrees.
Mix 1/4 cup of honey, 1 tablespoon of ancho seasoning, 1 tablespoon of red chili peppers. Microwave for 20 seconds, then spread over the fish.
Generously slather over the salmon.
Insert the fish on the cookie racks into the oven and slowly cook for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and it should be nice and brown.
I let the fish completely cool for about 1 hour or until cool to the touch, sometimes more than I vacuum pack them for the freezer.
Making this always makes me think of my father. I know he is looking down smiling and licking his lips. He probably sneaks in and takes a few packages. It is nice to know somethings havent changed.
Have you ever went to the freezer and just took some elk burger out and put it on the counter to dethaw and thought to yourself “I will figure out what to do with it in the morning.” I say this to myself all the time. The next day was Easter and I had the entire family of meat eaters coming over for one of my meals. There are two things that is on the menu at the Nanna Household. 1. Meat 2. More Meat.
That night I actually dreamed about making teriyaki meatballs for an appetizer, but adding pineapple into the middle of it for flavor and moisture. I woke up made a cup off coffee and made the ingredients and did a “meatball test run”. They came out perfectly, here is what you are going to need.
1 lb of Elk Burger
2 teaspoons of sesame oil
1 farm egg
1/2 cup of panko
1 tablespoon of ginger
1 tablespoon of minced garlic
2 tablespoon of soy sauce
1/3 cup of pineapple chunks for stuffing
Add the below ingredients when plating
2 green onions or 3 tablespoons of finely sliced green onions
1 tablespoon of sesame seeds optional
Teriyaki sauce for finishing. Use the thick stuff you like.
Mix the burger, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, and egg into a large bowl and mix.
Start the oven and get that baby fired up at 400 degrees. Meanwhile grab your wifes friend and tell her you will feed her if she helps you in the kitchen. Cut your pineapple chunks so they are about 1/4 inch thick.
Then get some of that burger mix and put it in your hand, you want enough to make meatballs about the size of of a golf ball. They always end up better. First, lay down some parchment paper on a cookie sheet. If you do not have any spray some non stick on it.
Flatten out a ball and add the pineapple. Then roll it to make sure the ball has sealed the pineapple inside nicely.
Then finish rolling balls with pineapple until you are done.
Insert into the oven for 18-20 minutes until golden brown.
Let meatballs cool for about 4 minutes then plate. Drizzle some Teriyaki sauce then sprinkle green onions and sesame seeds. I take wooden skewers and insert them but it is not mandatory.
Look at that little meatball party. Get a good mental picture of them because they are going to go quick. I love to stand in the kitchen about 10 feet away to watch my family members take a bite then look in the middle to find a pineapple chunk. That made me smile.
I hope you all had a wonderul Easter. We sure did.
I have been in a “artistic cooking rut” lately. I just haven’t had the energy or the focus to work on recipes lately. I know it happens, but I didn’t know what would happen next. About two months ago, I was watching a news show on the history of Carolina grits and how this man was bringing the old seed stock back into production and chefs every where were ordering this product for new innovative throw back recipes. I thought to myself, “My father loves Southern grits and I have some wild boar andouille sausage and Hood Canal shrimp in the freezer….hmmmmm.” That is as far as I got until I got this random email from someone that read my blog. Her name is Cornelia Wilde, and she owns a restaurant called Funky Art Café in Brenham, Texas. She emailed me to tell me that she had read my blog and found it to be very interesting, and inspirational. I am telling you this not to gloat or for my own ego. I am sharing with you because her kind words in fact inspired me to get back on my horse and keep working on my passion. I told her that I was very humbled by her email and appreciated the kind words. Then we got to talking about her menu at her restaurant and I noticed she had grits on her menu and that began an email education from her Southern back ground on the key elements of working with grits. So, Cornelia Wilder of Brenham, Texas. This one is for you and my ailing father. Thank you for your inspiration and grits wisdom. I hope someday to come into your place and surprise you.
My father grew up in the South, a little town called Cape Girardeau, Missouri. My grandmother used to cook grits pretty often for the family. I was watching a Sunday morning news show on history of grits, so I ordered myself a bag of South Carolina Gold. The rest is history. I am going to tell you something right now, I was nervous about this one, but it is easy smeezy chicken peasy.
Lets rock this thing.
4 1/2 cups water
1 cup grits (Carolina Gold is the best)
1 tablespoon oil
1/2pound wild boar andouille sausage cut into small pieces
1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning
1/2pound wild shrimp (peeled and de-veined, the black little line at the back of the shrimp, pull it out…taste nasty)
1 tablespoon oil
1 onions (diced)
1/2green bell pepper (diced)
1/2red bell pepper (diced)
3 cloves garlic (chopped)
1/2teaspoon thyme (chopped)
1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning
1 cup chicken broth (use that Costco chicken to make your own broth)
1 tomatoes (diced)
1/4cup heavy cream
3 green onions (sliced), keep 1 tablespoon for plating at the end.
1 handful parsley (chopped)
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup cheddar cheese (grated)
Follow the directions on how to make grits on the back of the grit container, or in my case the bag. Boil 4.5 cups of water, and add 1 cup of the finest grits you can find. Here is the key, making grits is about love. You got to love on them by stirring them constantly. Once it boils, turn the heat down to simmer. This does not mean forget about them, you can’t do that because you love them so you stir every so often. I do this as I cook the other good stuff for an hour. As my friend in Texas says “don’t overcook them… undercook rather than overcook them… like that pheasant meat, overcooked grits turn into gelatinous rubber… kinda like something the nutty professor would prepare, make sure the grits are a bit loosy-goosy when putting into a casserole or a bowl… putting it in the oven to melt the cheese will cook the grits a bit more so the consistency should be just right… if not, you’ll need a knife & fork to eat the grits”.
I like to prep all my ingredients because I do not want to miss my “Grits window”.
Sear the andouille sausage on medium heat until brown. Keep in mind, keep stirring those grits
Once the sausage is browned, remove and set aside. I leave that oil in the pan to sear the shrimp. Add some cajun seasoning to the shrimp and cook for about 3 minutes, make sure to not over cook the shrimp.
Remove shrimp from pan, clean pan, and add oil to it and the diced up veggies for about 7 minutes until tender.
I like to add a little Cajun seasoning to the onions for a wee little kick. At this time, look over your shoulder and give a holler out to the Thyme girl who is taking the small leaves off the stem.
Add the garlic, thyme, and remainder of Cajun seasoning and cook until fragrant, that means until you start smelling the garlic and thyme. That takes a few minutes.
Are you stirring the grits? Give them some love.
Add the broth and chopped tomatoes and simmer to reduce about 1/3rd. This takes roughly 5 minutes.
Please notice that I pour my homemade chicken broth out of a wine glass like it is the holy grail. That is how much I believe a great chicken broth can change the outcome of the dish. I also make the sound “ta-daaaaaa” when I pour it in.
Add the sausage and shrimp back into the pan. Season with salt and pepper. Mix in the green onions, cream and remove from heat. Stir very well.
Add the butter and the cheese to the grits and stir.
Plate the grits.
Then ladle the shrimp and andouille sausage over the grits, making sure to get everything on top of the dish. Do not leave anything out. Sprinkle with green onions. Serve immediately.
I hope you enjoyed the dish as much as we did. We have family dinners with my mom and dad every Sunday. I am not sure how many we have left with my fathers ailing health but we all still get to laugh and enjoy eachothers company. One thing is for sure, when my dad gets up there to heaven there is gonna be a little conversation with grandma on who made the best grits. I guess I will find out when I get there.
This summer a groupl of friends went up to Alaska on a fishing trip. In the midst of targeting King Salmon, we would get hammered by black rock fish. One of the guys on the trip told us it was his favorite fish so we kept them. I asked the guide if it was true and he replied “Yes, they are quite good.” We could keep five a day a piece, so we had them processed with the rest of our fish. We caught Lings, Halibut, Yellow eye, and two species of salmon.
We caught some good size fish on this trip. I was already thinking about how I wanted to prepare them in my mind on the boat. I love the flavor of lemon picatta, so that is one of the dishes I prepared.
Lemon Dill Piccata Rockfish (Sea bass)
4 filets of Rockfish or Sea bass (you can use any white fish)
1 cup of flour or Pride of the West flour
1 cup of white wine
4 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of chopped dill
2 cloves of garlic chopped
3 tablespoons of capers
1 cup of chicken stock
sea salt and pepper to taste
Take the filets out, dry off with paper towel, sprinkle with salt and pepper then dredge in flour.
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in medium high pan, then 2 tablespoons add butter.
When oil is nice and hot, lay the fish in the pan.
Sear fish until nice and brown, on both sides.
Should take about 3-4 minutes per side. Remove fish from pan, set aside. Add remaining two tablespoons of butter to the pan, and add garlic and cook for about 30 seconds over medium high heat. Add the wine, and cook until reduced by half.
Once the wine is reduced by half, add the chicken stock, chopped dill, capers and two teaspoons of flour to the pan and mix. Take one half of the lemon and squeeze juice into pan. Taste it. If you need the remaining half of the lemon juice add it. This comes down to personal taste. Some like a hint, some like the full Monty. Lower the heat down. Set the fish back into the pan and spoon sauce over filets, and cook for about two minutes warming the fish up. Plate the fish and pour the sauce over the filets and serve immediately.
I only wish I kept more rockfish. You can use this recipe on basically any white fish.
Sit down and get ready to watch your served table explode with “I love its”. It is simple, and will not disappoint.
Get out there into the wilderness, or to the sea my friends. It will set you free.
This is a simple Italian dish, that is relatively easy to make. It is light, but packs a good punch full of flavors. It is a great dish when you have a beautiful bounty from the summer garden and some sausage in the freezer from the hunt season before. You can use basically any game sausage, or basic sausage from the store. I would recommend Mild Italian, and if you do not have that exact blend in the freezer. Use some salt, red crushed pepper, and black pepper to taste as you cook the sausage.
1/4 cup of good Olive oil, plus 3 tablespoons.
3 Meyer lemons for juice
12 oz of purple cauliflower, trimmed
12-15 oz of Orecchiete pasta
1 lb. mild or hot Italian wild boar sausage (or any sausage you prefer).
1 lb of grape tomatoes
3 garlic gloves chopped
1/2 cup of white wine
1/2 cup of good quality ricotta cheese-Whole Milk
1/2 medium red onion, sliced.
1/4 cup of fresh basil thinly sliced
In a small bowl, whisk together 2 TBS of olive oil, the juice of two lemons, 1/4 teaspoon of salt and pepper. Set aside and get the oven going to 425 degrees. Take another bowl and cut the cauliflower in to 1 inch pieces, then add 3 Tbs of olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. I added my zucchini and Patty Pan squash to the pan and seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper as well.
Bring a nice pot of water to boil, the vegetables will take about 15 minutes so add the pasta at the same time.
Bring large skillet to medium high heat and add the sausage and cook until brown breaking into 1/4 bites. Usually cooks 5-7 minutes but get it nice and brown.
Transfer the sausage to a plate and add garlic, tomatoes and onions to the same skillet using the any juices left behind from the sausage. If you need add olive oil to help them caramelize. After 3 minutes, add the white wine and scrape the bottom to deglaze the pan. Allow the alcohol to burn off the skillet. Then transfer to a big bowl and stir in cooked pasta, the purple cauliflower, and small bowl of whisked ingredients that you set aside to use later. Toss together, add sausage. Then plate. Then take a small spoon and add dollops of ricotta, sprinkle with basil. Squeeze your left over lemon over the top with a few sprinkles of olive oil and serve.
I love this dish. My advice to you is to taste it before serving to make sure you have enough lemon before squeezing the finale on top. I added Jacobsen salt with a quick sprinkle. There is nothing better with wild game than fresh veggies from the garden. I can hardly wait for my tomatoes to come in.
I hope you enjoyed cooking it as much as you enjoyed eating it with family and friends.
About a year ago some friends and I were having dinner at a place in Cabo, and my wife and friend Ryan Jaffe ordered a beet salad. My first response was “Yuck”.
He replied “What? I love beet salads.”
I looked at him for a few minutes then said “You are disgusting.”
When they brought it out, he made me try it. It was either I try it or I was going to get red beets all over my face. So I did what I would have if I was two years old and I opened my trap up. I couldn’t believe how good it was. I tried picking the salad apart to visually inspect what they did, but it was so dark none of us could see anything. We had one candle 15 feet away, so we could barely see our own forks. I had to reconstruct this dish by taste and memory from 6 months ago. I spent some time at the Hunting Chef Laboratory on research and design and I think we have a better dish than I had in Cabo.
Ingredients for 4:
2 12 oz. can of beets
1 12 oz can of jellied cranberry
3 oz Capricho De Cabra goat cheese
8 oz, whipped cream cheese
1 tablespoon of chopped mint
1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice
Lemon zest from the lemon peel
3/4 cup of chopped pistachio nuts
6 radishes finely sliced
1/4 cup of olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
First thing you are going to need is a good mixer, mandolin, “stuffing gun”, circular form, and some patience. It takes some time, but not as much as you would think. Your efforts will be well worth it.
Take 1/4 cup of pistachios and 1/4 cup of virgin oil, and roast the nuts in the oil in a pan over medium heat until lightly brown. Then remove them to your mixer/blender and finely mix until smooth. Congratulations, you have successfully made pistachio oil. Set aside, you will use this later on your final step.
Chop the beats into nice little tidbits.
Get the Mandolin out from closet your mom bought you for Christmas a few years ago when you told her you were taking up cooking. If you do not have a mom or the mandolin she bought you use the a knife.
Finely slice the radishes. Be careful of your fingers.
Take the jelly cranberry out, and gently shake until the entire contents comes out on the plate. Then take a knife and gently slide it cutting 1/8 inch slabs.
Set the small slabs of cranberry aside and prepare the cheese mixture.
I use a mixer for this part, because I really want to whip and mix the ingredients as best I can. Add the whipped cream cheese, the goat cheese, and take your lemon and grate some lemon zest into the mixture. I would suggest about 2 teaspoons. Once you have it mixed, add the mint leaves and 2 tablespoons of olive oil and hit that mixer with a vengeance. Hit with a little sea salt and pepper, like a dash at best.
I found two ways of doing this technique. One is using what I call a “Stuffing gun” and squirt the cheese mixture into the form when needed. The other is spoon it and gently push with a plastic sandwich bag that I have sprayed non stick Pam on so it pushes down into the form.
The sequence is important here, simply because it allows you to use the ingredients to push into the form allowing the ingredients to set correctly.
Spray your form with Pam. Start with the beets, then the cheese mixture, sprinkle with chopped nuts. One layer completed. See below, you really want to use a sandwich bag or back of a spoon to push the cheese mixture so it is touching the form.
Then add a slice of cranberry, cheese mixture, sliced radishes.
Beets, slice of cranberry, radishes, cheese mixture and finish with the pistachios.
You can refrigerate in the form, I would suggest doing this for a minimum of 30 minutes that will allow the ingredients to “set” better. You do not want your masterpiece to fall apart as you serve. Take a spoon and click on the form as you gently pull the form up. If it is not moving, gently push the top and it will start to move.
I usually put into the fridge until I am ready to start service. When you are ready to plate, take the form off and drizzle the pistachio oil on top and around the plate.
This is a dish that I think Emeril himself would say “BAM”.
One of the things I love most about doing this blog is eating with my family and friends, but shooting in the kitchen with my oldest daughter Megan. We are always tasting, talking, laughing, and then getting focused again. She is a talent to be reckoned with a camera. I love to watch her work. One of our projects we will be working on is the Hunting Chef Cookbook when we both get time. When we do, this recipe will definitely make the cut. Just for the record, her photos are the ones that look really good. I take the ones when I am working on building the product and I am always in a hurry and hands are always dirty.
I hope you enjoy the recipe and you had fun making smiles at the kitchen table.
If you have never read Jack O’Conner, the father of the .270 Winchester, famed hunter, and one of the best outdoor writers of the 20th Century. Then I highly suggest you buy a few of his books and read them. I think every hunter should experience his wonderful, descriptive stories that enrich you with outdoorsman knowledge. It was because of Jack’s writing that I chose to chase the white ghost of Sonora.
“If I had to pick the American big game animal that has given me more real pleasure than any other, I think I’d choose the Arizona whitetail,” he wrote. “I like the big mule deer, the majestic elk, the great, brown mountain sheep, the gaudy antelope; but for real, deep-seated thrills, little Odocoileus coues is my favorite. The flash of his big, white fan, the sight of his small, compact antlers, his sleek, gray body scurrying through the brush — well, they give me, more than any other animal, those moments of high ecstasy which make a man a sportsman.”
Jack O’Conner 1972
I was like a lot of hunters that gets hung up with large massive horns. The Coues buck is 100 lbs smaller than the Northern White tail, and the Muley. However, it is because of his smaller size and statue that makes this critter very, very wiley. I have often thought of Jack’s writings when hunting Coues bucks in Sonora. I cannot tell you how many times I have been glassing an area on top of a ridge, turn to glass something 30 degrees to the right that caught my attention, then turn to find a nice buck that miraculously appears exactly right where I was just glassing for the past 20 minutes. You can spend five hours on water in a blind and count over a hundred deer and twenty nice bucks….waiting for the muy grande burro that is probably standing two feet behind you. This is why I love Coues deer hunting. I also love it because its sunny in January, and where I am from it is snowing and raining that time of year.
So a group of us went down to Sonora to hunt with a friend of mine, Erwin Ronquillo. He has an outfitting place down there called Erwin Outdoors. He has excellent coues buck hunts with private ranches and good water. He does it right, and let me tell you I have been to Mexico many times hunting and been on some real bad ones. Erwin has a nice ranch house, excellent chef, great guides and equipment and most importantly a very good area to hunt Coues bucks. He also speaks English and sends me Donald Trump jokes about building the wall which we both find hilarious. The boys that I was taking had never been to Mexico hunting so I was excited to take them down for the experience. We landed in Hermisillo, Mexico and headed to Costco for water, big ass steaks, and some beer (not exactly in that order). We are 3 hours from a store and of course they didn’t want to run out of beer. Erwin provides excellent meals, but one thing I love to do is buy a huge rib eye roast for steaks for not only us, but all the guides and ranchers working. It is important to me that we all have one big dinner together and it is rare that they get to enjoy a steak of great quality because it is very expensive in Mexico.
Erwin picks us up a the airport with my old buddy Luis and off we go to the ranch. Erwin just got done remodeling the little ranch house with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, and a new bar for the boys beer.
It is very comfortable, most nights we find ourselves out by the fire that Luis builds with Mexican mesquite wood that burns forever. While we are hunting he is looking for good pieces to put on the fire. I must have ran into him 100 times while he was looking for wood and me looking the other direction for a big buck.
All four of us have our own personal guide, and in the morning we break up to go our blinds to hunt water. Luis and I like to walk and glass, working up over hills a few miles to the blind. I like where Erwin has property because you do not have a ton of cactus and NO SNAKES, at least at the time we hunt.
When it is hot, the deer will go to water. It is a little different in Mexico, they go to water from 9 am to 1pm. I would count over 100 deer a day on some days coming to water. We are looking for 100 plus inch bucks on this hunt, that would be the minimum B&C score we are looking for.
This Coues buck was taken on the ranch and scores well over 110, the eye guards is what you look for and a good main frame with the main beam that comes curled back in. I always look for the main beam going out and curling back in towards each other, then the eye guards. I start counting points last.
I always come across Javelinas out on his ranch. There is a lot of them. I never engage them because I do not taxidermy little pigs, and I never want to scare off bucks with firing my weapon. They are fun to look at though.
This is Matt’s buck, a nice buck to say the least. I have to teach him that he needs to hold the buck next time and allow the guide to take the photo. We will chalk this one up to “lost in translation”.
This is another beautiful coues buck that scores well over 110. Luis capes the animals here, salts the hide, and prepares the horns for transports. Here is what you need to know about buck hunting in Mexico. When you take the cape back into the United States the cape will be inspected. So you DO NOT WANT TO HAVE IT FROZEN SOLID, AND NO TICKS. They see one tick, they take the cape. The guides always brushes the cape and closely inspect it before packaging it up for home.
Erwin has nice blinds with comfortable chairs in the blinds. As you can see, the bucks can come from any direction and they usually do. Greg found that there was a lemon tree that must have been over a hundred years old. It had to produce the world record size lemons.
It took them about 4 seconds to come up with something creative to do with them. So they started drinking beer out of them. Matt and Greg harvested their bucks first, so they got to drink beer and go bass fishing at this world class bass lake that Erwin guides fishermen. They have all the equipment and a real bass boat. I guess they catch some serious whoppers out there!
Rudy, the chef always prepares great meals. He is a chef in San Carlos, so he comes up for the week to prepare us meals. I always enjoy seeing him at camp.
The Ranchers wife, however, sets up shop outside the house to make tortillas. They are excellent! I never thought I would say that about a tortilla but they are damn good.
We enjoyed the evenings outside telling the day hunting stories and the funny events that occurred during the day. I think that is what I truly love about hunting, is the comradery and belly laughs later.
We finished our hunt, and had a few days to kill so we decided to pack up and head for San Carlos. We said good bye to our Mexican friends and headed to the beach. We had to find a beach and a bar to watch the Super bowl.
It didn’t take us long at all to find the beach and food in San Carlos. They had a nice hotel right there on the beach and we made it Base Camp Alpha 2.
This is a nice place for us old hunters to put our feet up and enjoy the sunset. We later would watch Tom Brady fight his way back from a huge deficit to defeat the Atlanta Falcons. We will never watch such a Gladiator like Tom pull off a miracle like that again.
We found a wonderful restaurant on the beach that served the best skirt steak I have ever had in my life. It was far better than the rib eye and I never thought I would ever say that in my life. I felt a little dirty when I said it.
The boys and I finished off a great trip. We finished the week pulling off the trifecta. Great Hunt, shared an awesome memory, and enjoyed our friendship along the way. Then I made them take this corny picture in front of all the tourist.
We had the plastic on the horns to make them look HUGE in front of all the tourist. I’m joking, that is for packaging to send them home.
I’m glad these guys had the opportunity to share the experience with me. I think they went home smiling with a long lasting memory and the fact that they now can say they hunted the Sonoran Ghost.