Quick Corned Venison

Quick Corned Venison or Elk

Great for Elk and Venison!

corned elk venison roast reuben

Corned Elk

Okay so it isn’t exactly “quick” but compared to traditional corning, which takes weeks in the refrigerator, this is an excellent method for achieving similar taste and a roast that simply falls apart. Make the perfect elk or venison reubens!

Here is what you will need

  • Elk or venison roast, any size that will fit in your dutch oven
  • 1 packet of Mrs. Wages “Create Dill Pickles” seasoning (6.5oz)
  • Kosher salt
  • Pepper
  • 1 large yellow onion
  • Clarified butter or vegetable oil

This is a recipe that requires overnight cooking, so plan ahead. At some point before you turn in for the night, preheat your over to 220 degrees Fahrenheit. Next, take a cast iron dutch oven and put it on a burner turned to medium-high heat. Place clarified butter or vegetable oil in the bottom of dutch oven (about 2 tablespoons). Once the oil has gotten to temp. brown the roast. When browning make sure you give each side sufficient time to truly brown (you want to create a caramelized and crispy surface; it enhances flavor) at least 2 minutes. Once the roast is done browning, turn off the surface burner and quickly add a cup or two of cold water. Slice the onion into four or five large rings and place in dutch oven. Fill dutch oven with water until the roast is covered by about half an inch. Add approximately one ounce of pickling spices per quart of liquid in pan. If you wish, add more salt and pepper, starting at one tablespoon salt and one teaspoon pepper per quart of water, and increasing as desired.

Now place the dutch oven back on the burner and turn heat to medium high. Remove from heat the moment a slow boil is achieved. Place in oven and allow to cook overnight at 220 degrees. In the morning, the roast will be very soft. If you wish to pull the meat, do so after letting the roast rest on a carving board for five or ten minutes. For a more traditional corned beef cut, place the roast in the fridge for a few hours. This will stiffen the roast and allow you to slice layers of meat off.

If you are trying to cook venison or elk for someone new to eating game, this is an excellent recipe to start with. Don’t be afraid to apply some of these methods to other meats. Goose does very well cooked in a mira pioux at similar cooking times and temperatures.

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Premature Cabin Fever

Spring time in the San Juans with aspen trees turkey hunting

Turkey hunting amongst some fresh aspen leaves and green grasses.

Of all the places you could live, Durango has to be one of the best for those of us prone to premature cabin fever. The winter sports fill in the winter lull and if that isn’t enough, some years you can get away with riding singletrack out of Moab, UT; 2 hrs 45 minutes away. Even so, I seem to suffer from a lack of fulfillment in these cold and snowy months.

These winter months, however short the days, are what make the spring months so wonderful. I love to hit the mountains on powder days and can generally find a nice bit of open water to wet my line on a nice winter day. The hunter in me goes into hibernation, which is a good thing, because spring turkey season is still more than three months away.

I am currently volunteering for a season pass at Durango Mountain Resort. The other day I was working on the backside of the mountain, with a picturesque, blue bird view of my hunting grounds. I was rifting in and out of my elk and grouse hunting day dreams, all the while taking occasional runs down the ski slopes. Though my soul yearned for backcountry solitude in green grasses and fresh aspen leaves, my heart was satisfied by the view and the privilege of being able to go snowboarding and work at such an amazing location.

There is one chore that winter provides ample time for. Time to tie some flies! look forward to some fly pattern recipes coming soon in a new section of my site. In the meantime; better gather up that patience… springtime is a ways off.

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Getting back to work!

For those of you who follow my posts, things will be livening up around here! I have had a postponement in my posts due to the holidays and can’t wait to start updating you on a more regular basis. From now on, expect a new article every Sunday starting tomorrow. See you then!
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Umpqua Medium Professional Guide Fly Box Review

Umpqua Professional Guide Medium Fly Box

The small slits really help those who have a hard time keeping their flies organized.

I started fly fishing with the bare minimums, cheap hip waders, no net, a few purchased flies, and maybe some tippet (I think it took me a few weeks to figure out what tippet even was)! The other day I needed to make a fly box addition for my winter fly tying and I decided to step it up a notch from the old school foam boxes. The new boxes on the market can get pretty pricey, but I think I’ve found a keeper.

I was very impressed with the new selection of Umpqua boxes. Some of them even have magnetic squares that hold your flies. The box I went with is the Medium edition, MSRP; about $34. After my experience with this product I will probably be adding more to my collection soon.

There are two major separations between this box and the standard ribbed foam doubles. The first being that the foam faces are directed away from each other, so there are two doors, one for each of the sides. This is nice because it adds an element of organization, but also lets you be more space efficient with your flies. One of the best parts is that you can see your flies through the opaque shell. The second major improvement is that these fly boxes can tremendously help those of us with poor organization strategies. No more throwing your flies in the wrong place or trying to do it without forceps, knocking off a half dozen innocent flies in the process.

Fly fishing is already frustrating enough as-is, so why not take advantage of quality products if you can afford to do so? Ditch that old white-foam double-ribbed box and pick up one of these babies, you won’t be sorry.

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The Ego Wall

The ego wall

The “Ego Wall” the brown trout from this story is on the lower right.

In my duplex I have recently added what I like to call my “ego wall”. On it, I can re-live some of the best moments of my life. On the ego wall you can find my euro mounted elk skull among a half dozen or more photos of the moments that I dream for. The best photos are credited to my girlfriend Emma, without her I would have to rely on my own memory.

The ego wall is a piece of personal history, I wish I were the only one to see it but that is not the case. Instead I broadcast my accomplishments to everyone who comes into my home. Fuck it, I have decided it brings me enough joy to cancel out the obvious criticisms it may bring.

Last night we had a potluck and a new friend came over, it seems so far that my ego wall may in fact be a good conversation starter. He was asking me about where I caught all of the browns, and struck his interest when I told him about the one I pulled out of the Animas River here behind my house. The large browns in the Animas are the center of attention with local anglers. The idea is to spend a day on the river tossing streamers and fishing through the little stocker rainbows in hopes of snagging a big brown in the mouth. Some people fish a large enough streamer that small fish aren’t a problem, but my streamer patterns seem to produce well for me even in their small size. I have had some success with large sculpin, which are considered to be the fly pattern of choice here on the local streamside.

Sculpin fly pattern

One of my sculpin fly patterns for the Animas River

When the brown trout spawn in the fall, a few nice fish will move right behind my house. I can check on the progress of the spawn on my morning dog walks which take me along the bridge that crosses the river. There was a nice trout lying in the same spot three days ago as there was a year ago almost to date.

Every once in awhile I will get caught by passersby as I am fishing in my backyard and I might find another fisherman in an otherwise empty hole in the days or weeks to follow. Otherwise the Animas doesn’t really see that much pressure. I like to fish above the golden water section, away from the highway and other fisherman. I find myself fishing more alongside spin casters with worms, but I always seem to do better in this section.

On this special day I was fishing a streamer pitching down and across, jigging the tip of my rod until I got to the end of the swing and then I would strip the line. I usually start with a fast strip to cover water, but if that doesn’t produce I take it down to a painfully slow pace. As I was about to give up and my faithful camera-woman was getting tired, I hooked into this beautiful brown trout, which now hangs on my ego wall.

Animas river broen trout

Animas River Brown Trout

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Lessons From a River

We all fish for different reasons. Sometimes to be with family or friends and sometimes to overcome something challenging. Some of us fish commercially to pay the bills and others to feed their family. For me, fishing doesn’t really come with any reason. I fish to “plug-in” to the moment, if a looming problem has me in a slump, fishing helps, but at the end of the day, knowing that tomorrow is not for fishing brings me back to reality. I suppose the drive home from a fishing trip might be a man’s most vulnerable state. Leaving something that seems like real life for the mighty illusion.

My most recent return drive from a day of fishing on the San Juan really brought some obvious clarity to my life. When I was in my late teens and discovering eastern philosophy and transcendentalism for the first time; my interpretations were lacking life’s input. I always took to the Buddhist principle that life’s desires were never ending, but I didn’t understand it outside of a purely materialistic point of view. If we aren’t careful, we can get caught in this whirlwind of life. We do not become estranged from our live’s because we fall into an endless tunnel of tasks that need completed. We create those tasks because we are failing at life. Must be a better parent, must be more productive at work, need more appreciation, need to live beyond my original goals, need to be a better community member, must have a better garden than last year’s, need to be more productive! I would say that most of us fall into this trap as we get older in our workplace and at home. Those who have amazing jobs that pay beyond a reasonable wage often fall into a materialistic blender or alcohol and other drugs.

I rarely catch a cloud looming over my back when I am on the water working rising fish. I could honestly care less if I were to drop dead in the middle of the river. Generally when a funk catches me I lose it as soon as I put my waders on, but not the other day. I could still “plug-in” but my patience was less than average and my attitude seemed to be an outlet for the overflowing stresses. I rarely care about catching big fish, while bigger is better, working selective fish on the rise is all that usually matters. As a fisherman, I realize that I need to take a step back now and then and just appreciate the fact that true fulfillment is not realistic in our lives. Even the fulfillment of having children can escape you and leave you flat on your ass. I know this without even having them myself, dogs count; there comes a time when they die too.

The meaning of life is truly besides the point. There is not much room to escape our fate as human beings. Fishing has helped me be more observant of my life. I generally get consumed in the moment when I am fishing, but the lonely drive home brings a lot of insight during my efforts to translate my experiences.

The moral of the story is to stop taking yourself so seriously. You know the cartoon with the dog walking towards the hot-dog dangling in front of it with a stick and string attached to its head? That’s what you look like and only the dog knows it.

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Quest for Wapiti – The Haul

Part 3 of 3

Packing out the elk.

I had the elk quartered out and covered up by nightfall using the gutless field dressing method. I didn’t have the resources to hang the meat so I left the hide on the quarters and covered them as best I could. Nervously I left the meat, with my shirt draped over the cover to help deter scavengers.

The only meat I could immediately take out with me was the backstraps and tenderloins. This amount of meat was manageable to hang at camp and pack out the 8 miles with an already full load. I was camping out of a pack considered by most to be day-pack. I would also have to leave my tent and a few other items behind for the next trip in.

Hunting alone is very different than hunting with someone else. There are pros and cons of each. I would say that the overall spiritual experience when by yourself is much stronger however, there is a great human drive to share experience. Today, with cell phones and the internet, we can twitter our revelations to the world in an instant. I however, could not call anyone to let them know about my need of help or my success until the following day. Me and my friend Evan got along quite well that night.

The next morning I packed out of the canyon. Something about packing a heavy load an extra three miles past the 4×4 parking lot solidified my feelings about my next vehicle being a truck. Subaru’s are excellent and an old forester can outperform any other car in it’s clearance level. Unfortunately, extra clearance and a low gear all too often make the difference in Colorado.

At the top of the canyon I was able to reach out to my girlfriend and organize a posse of friends, ready and willing for the pack out. With a weight off my shoulders, lifted by the best of friends, I felt like things were truly working out perfectly. Sunday morning, two nights after shooting the elk, was the planned extraction.

Two of my friends had trucks, which was going to take 6 miles off our day and about 1500 feet of elevation profile. Me, my girlfriend Emma and four of our friends all met up at 6am on Sunday morning (amazing friends!). My anxiousness to get to the meat and make sure nothing had gotten to it was like a devil on my shoulder.

As the sun rose and the mountains reached for the first rays, the day had begun. Not only were we getting an early start, but for the first time in months, there was a zero percent chance of thunderstorms. My luck had amazingly continued. As we got to the general area of the elk carcass, my nervousness was exaggerated by a large pile of bear scat. You can tell the difference between bear scat filled with vegetation and berries from that containing meat fairly easily, unfortunately this type was of the latter.

Starting off with an excellent morning view.

Once I was able to locate the elk, my fear turned away from scavengers to time and temperature; my meat was in the sun. Even though it was in very thick timber, sunlight was getting through and beaming my meat. Fortunately it was only for a short portion of the day and after a below freezing night, the meat was in excellent condition.

Deboning the elk

Deboning an elk

It took an hour or two to debone the meat and cut the head of the elk off. Hungry enough to eat lunch next to a pile of guts, hair and meat; we all relaxed and enjoyed the beautiful place we were in. On our way out, by guidance of my friend Daniel, we cut through a high-year avalanche path and saved ourselves an extra two miles of hiking. When we got nearer the parking lot, I was met by a lot of curious hikers. At the lot itself, we were all met by cold white wine and a successful end to the day. The sun was setting, and I felt like I was on the top of the world with some of the best of friends.

At last we made it!

I thought at this point I was surly near the end of my work load. But as a person who is so compelled to do-it-yourself, I still had a lot of hours to put in butchering this animal. It took me about two full days of processing spread throughout the weak in order to finish the job. Including grinding burger meat and making sausages.

Though the hunt is now over, and I am sitting on a freezer of elk meat, I still can barely believe that everything worked out so smoothly; from finding the elk, to the harvest, and packing it out. I truly couldn’t expect things to ever go so well again.

Thanks to all of my friends who helped me, if it weren’t for you, I might never have gotten all of the meat out safely!

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Quest for Wapiti – The Harvest

Part 2 of 3

First Elk

My first harvest with a bow and my first elk.


After setting up camp in record time, I decided to crawl down and across the top of the ravine where I had heard bugling on my way in. I positioned myself at the top of a small dip in the terrain and gave a bugle. This was my first in-the-field bugle, and honestly anytime I am using a game call that involves a certain level of skill, it always makes me slightly nervous when it means the difference between a successful hunt and going home hungry.

I sat in silence for five minutes wondering if setting up camp first was actually a good idea. I moved up about another twenty yards and bugled once more, this time with a response. Above me on the mountain, was a bull elk, and that…. is a beautiful thing to hear. Figuring the elk was much further up based on the sound of it’s bugle, I climbed up the slope in order to get a better position. In doing so, I spooked a bull out of it’s bed! A few cow calls seemed to kick the bull into a bugling frenzy, but the bugles got further and further away. I then bugled back at the bull, and he was instantly convinced. The bull came back and started stomping and thrashing at the ground and bushes. He was about seventy yards away and seemed to be hot and ready to come in for a fight. As the bull came around my side, with cows in order, I had a potential forty-five yard shot at a large cow. I drew on this cow, but never got the shot. As the bull came down closer, I thought I might actually have a chance. Then, from above us, a spike bull chased in after the herd.

I felt as though I had lost my chance at a nice cow, and with the elk chased off, it seemed like a big loss. I could only follow so closely due to the 80 yard avalanche clearing in the elk’s direction, being exposed would surely not help. When I finally got to the other side of the clearing all had gone silent.

I was just about to turn around when I heard another bull bugling. It seemed like a good 300 yards or more off, but as I circled around, I spooked the elk once more. To my astonishment, each time I spooked the elk, I was able to keep them calm simply by cow calling, just like in the books. I was equally amazed at how the wind hadn’t changed or swirled my scent at four in the afternoon.

I cow called twice, and having only seen a cow spook, I was overcome when a five by five bull came in. The amount of time between seeing the bull and releasing the arrow was about forty-five seconds. The amount of adrenaline you have to deal with in those moments might be easy for some people. For me, I’ll never forget the trophy class whitetail buck I missed with my recurve bow at fifteen yards, at the losing hand of adrenaline. I drew on this bull forgetting my mantra that is supposed to slow me down through the process. Autodrive sets in and that is why practice is so important. I practiced estimating yardage and shooting with the pins and a great deal of focus, but I also practiced by shooting without thinking – a method very much adapted to traditional archery. I am not quite sure what I did when shooting the bow, but I know what happened. As my arrow left the string it took great flight for the kill zone of the elk, it then hit the vertical limb of a small tree and deflected into a summersault. To my amazement the arrow had somehow managed to hit the elk with the broadhead side of the arrow. I saw the elk run off with the arrow behind it’s shoulder.

My belief was that the arrow got placed too far back and probably lost a lot of penetrating energy when it hit the limb. In short, I was after a wounded elk. As I heard the bull stomp up the opposite hill; my heart sank in a familiar feeling of defeat. I heard an elk bugle in the same direction, and leftover hope evaporated.

Normally you should wait at least three hours after placing a bad shot to start tracking your animal. Even with good placement a forty-five minute wait is worthwhile. If you start too early, the animal might get up and wander for miles leaving you with a much harder job of tracking. With it beginning to rain I was worried my blood trail would wash away,so I began tracking much sooner.

When I got to the place where I shot the elk, I could not find my arrow but did discover a splat of blood. This blood looked good to me, it was very bright and somewhat foamy. This kind of blood generally indicates a lung shot. As I followed the trail, a spot here, a spot there, I noticed the amount of blood increasing dramatically. Only thirty yards away from the point of impact there was a blood spot that was about twelve inches in diameter. I looked up, and there was my bull. Apparently I had gotten great placement and shot him in the heart. When I had thought I was hearing the bull stomp up the opposite hill, he was actually crashing.

Sometimes success comes in with instant emotion. When I found the bull I had shot, the experience was indescribable. The full experience was too much to absorb and to try and explain it now would just be impossible. After a few moments of recollection, reality began to settle in.

Now all I had to do was figure out the logistics of packing him out, I was without cell service and was going to have to camp overnight after quartering the elk. The work had begun, but was about to get unruly.

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Quest for Wapiti – The Hunt

Part 1 of 3

Engineer Mountain Purity, oneness, fulfillment, transcendent; all words that can only come moderately close to the experience of successfully harvesting an elk with a bow. When the accomplishment is achieved in solidarity and with a satisfying amount of effort behind, it is incomprehensible. Like a drain that becomes acutely plugged, the emotional and mental pipe become clogged with an influx of experience. I will never be the same.

Archery elk season only lasts for 4 weeks, but the effort begins much in advance. I had decided to save the recurve bow for later hunts and sought out a compound bow late last winter. Putting meat on the table and realistically approaching my novice situation lead me to the rational decision. The bow was had and so were many hours of practicing on a friend’s property. My work had only just started; hours of internet research, looking at maps, scouting, looking at youtube videos and talking to other hunters filled the gaps of standoff time between opening day and present anticipation.

I had scouted an area that was about one mile away from the road that had great sign: a wallow with fresh tracks, scat, and most importantly, elk themselves. I decided to hunt close to the road for the first two weeks of the season before they were spooked out of these areas. I soon found out, however, that the elk were easily pushed out by scouting activity and by opening day they were already gone. I have theories as to where they went now, but at the time the elk were very ghostlike, which became an increasing theme throughout my elk season.

Even though I scouted pre-season for elk, I was not able to hike into some areas I had wished to hunt. By the middle of the season, I had decided it was time to get away from the crowds so I headed into the backcountry… or so I thought. After hiking in 5 miles to a location within the San Juan National Forest, I discovered an unmapped road, with a truck at it’s termination… it seemed as though I had been duped by my maps. The next morning I headed out of the area, I hadn’t heard any bugles and the other hunters I had seen had no reports of elk, so why stay? After all the great majority of hunting elk lies in finding them.

Back at the house I pulled out my eight maps of the surrounding areas, double checked with google earth, and called NASA to see if they had any new-age elk imagery available on the USGS site. After that I shot a trophy bull, and then I woke up from my dream surrounded by maps and empty halvah wrappers. Elk hunting makes you as hungry and tired as a thru-hiker on the Appalachian Trail. The benefit is that elk hunting generally lends itself to going back home and recharging now and again. Once, while I was on the AT, I had only one Cliff bar left which I then proceeded to slobber over just before dropping it under a dirty, old, mousey lean-to. I recovered the cliff bar as you would a specimen of bubonic plague, and then proceeded to eat it. Mouse hair is a lot less noticeable than that of a dog or cat.

Roads are everywhere out here in Colorado; it is a mixed blessing. On one hand you can get a lot more places, and the old, closed down logging roads are excellent habitat and great for hunting grouse. On the other hand, a lot of people use the roads as an ends and not necessarily a means for the enjoyment of nature. I like the fact that they stay in their car; getting away from people means doing things most wouldn’t and it also means not eating McDonald’s and drinking sugary drinks everyday.

I recently read where the US supreme court ruled against the mining coalitions that were fighting the roadless areas in our National Forests. This was a decades long battle and a victory for anyone with any connection to these wildernesses. There are more critters in every nook and cranny; the trout are numerous and wild and the elk have a place where they can escape most of the hunting pressure. That is of course, minus the outfitters with horses and the crazy nutcases like myself.

I wish everyone could experience the same loneliness my elk hunting brought me. It sucks, but it is also necessary for learning certain truths that otherwise can not be explained. No, it is not safe wandering over deadfalls off trail and five miles away from the nearest road. There are some places I have ventured where if I were to be killed in an instant by a falling tree or lightning, the only thing that would ever find me would be the coyotes, bears, and ravens; effectively I would become part of the mountain. This is a realization that is comforting spiritually; full circle. Hunting will bring those in tune with their own mortality, especially when you realize how quickly you can find yourself dead. The thought of my family never being able to recover my body if it were to be in such a circumstance hurts and for that reason I carry a SPOT GPS locating device. That way, if I have a few moments, my last words will be the push of a button. Luckily that only happens to about one in five hunters, about the same as the success rate for archery elk in Colorado.

When I finally got away from people, it was obvious. Walking into a lonely canyon, I noticed the lack of mountainbike and hiker tracks. I also noticed the prevalence of elk sign. I was overcome by the experience of hearing elk bugling in the middle of the day. In a moment, I had taken off my pack in pursuit of the bugling elk, with my life in the pack I decided taking the chance in leaving it for a couple of hours could be a deadly one. If a bear got my pack and carried it off, my only means of survival would be hiking not the eight miles to my car, or the five to the nearest 4×4 road, but the 13 miles to the nearest highway, where I might actually be able to find help. That is another good reason to hide a spare key under your car’s chassis.

In a rush, I found a campsite and set up base next to a few weary doe mule deer, my favorite company in the woods. Mule deer doe seem like the mother of the woods, it is hard to say why. After camp was assembled I could hunt with my pack on. The only problem now, was the lack of bugling elk…

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Morning Blues

Blue grouse

Blue grouse opener.

When you work hard enough at something and it finally pays off, it seems like a gift. Then again, when you go out opening day and take your limit of grouse, it seems like a right, granted by effort.

With the monsoons threatening most afternoons, getting out early is your only guarantee of high elevation relaxation. Grouse hunting used to be known as the gentlemen’s game because you could sleep in, shoot grouse, and come back in for scotch and a session of backgammon before your vision was reduced to candlelight. It is thought that grouse do not like their feet getting wet in the dew of the morning, so they typically don’t fly down until the ground cover has dried a bit. Contrary to what you might think, dew does exist in Colorado, at least above 10k in elevation.

Last year was my first grouse season with a bird dog and my first hunting season in Colorado. I hunted high and low, East and West of Durango and only shot two blue’s all season. I decided to find them in my backyard this year.

Driving along at elevation trying to pick a logging road to hunt, the first warm light of the morning flecked by a browsing blue grouse. In a way, blue’s are lot like humans; they like to sleep in past first light, don’t like getting wet, and are easy to catch once found. They also get a bad rap for being among the dumbest of grouse species; flying up in a nearby branch, huntable by the primitive rock method. Like most game, respect is a learned principle. I believe that when you look for something, all of the sudden it is impossible to find, yet if you forget about it, opportunities abound. Lessons I wish I had learned earlier in life.

After choosing a road to hike in pursuit of grouse, Fiddle and I began our annual games once again. By 10:30am a limit of grouse had been harvested. Fiddle sight pointed the first two and flush steadied the second. Now that my dog has been trained to retrieve, it really was quite enjoyable watching him work with wild birds and fetch them out of areas I would have a hard time getting to (not to mention find).

Sometimes hunting seems more like work than anything else, other times it is more spiritual and reflective, then there are the moments where you feel like you just went out and got the job done. When success is had early, it is either due to luck or pre-season prep and training, generous proportions of both is best case scenario.

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