Category Archives: hunting

Reflected Majesty

Warm rays of sunshine, long awaited since the cold darkness of early morning, poured through the Pinion pine trees. At first they were weak and shallow, but they soon began to warm the soft brown soil beneath me. Shadows retreated, and that familiar sensation of sunlight beating down against your back brought comfort to my half frozen body.
As my watery eyes wandered through my binoculars, my minds thoughts also wandered through heaps of memories, dreams, and expectations.

As I paused my glassing to blow into my fingers, I noticed the contrast of the sunlight and shadow. The rays of sunlight beat down, and it’s waves absorbed by everything it touches. So much more to absorb awaited us that day, my trembling hands would soon find.
It was November, and I was lucky to be along-side my Brother Spencer on a limited entry bull elk hunt. I say lucky because my Brother had waited fifteen years to accrue enough points to draw a tag, and in my eyes, there is nothing more exciting than hunting the biggest of Rocky Mountain Elk.
This late season hunt had the elk down from their summer ranges in the nearbye high rockies, they were now spread across their wintering grounds which consisted of a desert-like landscape, though still seven thousand feet above sea level. Sagebrush, Ceadar trees, and Pinion Pine’s covered miles and miles of country, all the way up to the pinetrees and aspens that grow above.
It was there in this landscape that my Brother and I waited, looking for the elk who’s tracks and sign were spread through the draws and hills.

With the help of some friends, we had wasted no time in getting close to the herds of bull elk that typically gather together after the rut. We had hiked several miles everyday, looking at elk, figuring out their patterns and bedding habbits.
We’d even had a look at several good bulls, but not long enough to make a play on them.

I knew this hunt wouldn’t be easy, nature has a wonderful way of testing you. Elk are an extremely tough animal, and bringing one down is no small task.
Today was our fourth day looking at elk, and trying to find one that would make all the time and effort worth it. And perhaps even more importantly, one that thirty years from now will still remind us of the amazing adventure and privilege it was to get him.
This particularly cold morning started out with a bit of a bust. We had moved to a slightly newer area but still close to where we knew the bulls to habit, and in a hasty move we were busted by two bulls who were paying better attention than we were.
Elk can be both like ghosts, and like a plague. So many times they have surprised me by being nowhere, anywhere, or at least somewhere besides here. And then suddenly, out of thin air, they appear.
In hopes that it had been just the two, and confiding that they would make their way off and hide. We continued our plan, moving slowly towards a high point that would give us a good outlook towards known elk territory.
The biting cold was just starting to loose its grip on our day, either that or the rush of blood and adrenaline took it from us.
We walked over the last of what seemed like endless highpoints, and there before us stood the ghost we had been searching for. He walked slowly up a clearing about five hundred yards from us, and as far as we could tell, he had no idea we were there.
We watched his antlers glistening in the sun, and my brother got into position behind his rifle.
It wasn’t just any rifle either, it was there for a reason. Years of diligent practice had paid off, and there was no doubt that my Brother could park a bullet right through the boiler room.

The rifle is a custom Remington with a Bartlein 260 Remington barrel. It road in a KRG Whiskey 3 chassis, upgraded with a Trigger Tech Diamond, a Vortex Optics Gen one Razor, and a Thunder Beast suppressor. Hornady 140 gr BTHP match bullets is all it eats.

It happened so quickly that I barely had time to get all my gear ready. I was hoping to spot the shot through my spotting scope, but instead watched through my binoculars as I fumbled blindly through my pack.
Everything went quiet as we anticipated the shot, the bull stopped his walk, and stood broadside to us, his beautiful color shining in the warm sunlight.
I watched silently as the bullet trace arched through the air, conditions were ideal for spotting the trace. Time slows as it often does in these tense moments, and I watched the trace disappear as it hit the bull. Seconds later, as the bull staggered, we heard the report come back to us. The sound of a bullet hitting flesh is a very recognizable one, and sure to get a hunter’s blood pumping.
The big bull continued to stagger about, as he forced himself to run, almost directly at us. Looking through my binoculars I thought his right front shoulder was broken, then I finally put hands on my spotting scope and pointed it at him. As he slowed down to stop, his legs looked buckled, his elbows almost touching. He crashed forward into the sagebrush, and lay there, head still up and looking for the threat.
Round two was hot on its way by then, again I watched the trace rise and then fall. The bull was laying down facing us, Spencer aimed the kill shot to go right inside his shoulder. The impact was severe, and the bull instantly dropped his head to the ground, leaving his mighty crown laying sideways in the brush.

We made our way over to the big bull, and as usual it was absolutely surreal. The size of these animals always impresses me, as does their beauty.

There is something majestic about every one of these animals, each one a fighter, each one a champion of his environment. This bull had actually broken his leg, either by accident, or someone broke it for him. But this incredible animal survived, and healed. His shoulder wasn’t broken, his right leg was crooked, it had healed at an angle.
Majestic almost doesn’t do honor to these magnificent creatures. Their strength, and their endurance is beyond impressive. Their instinct and natural wisdom, born of an unimaginable series of lifetimes that led right up to this one. Not only do I feel an incredible debt of gratitude for all of these merits, I feel inspired by them. Much the way the sunlight is absorbed by everything it touches, the merits, memories, and all that this animal is, will soak into our minds and memory.

Love, honor, and respect for these animals. It takes a lot of work to get the best of one, they live here everyday, they fight to survive, simply put, they are better at it than we are. The only way to feel good about besting an old warrior, is to be the best of yourself. Living right on the razor’s edge of your dedicated hard work and skill, and the utter failure of loosing him. And then, having triumphed, recognize the lesson, the hard work, and even the luck. You can see now why I said lucky before, lucky and grateful to have had such majesty, reflected upon us.

-CBM


Remington Bartlein KRG Whiskey 3 Trigger Tech Vortex Optics Thunder Beast

Sacrifice, Harvest, and Killing

Do you think we are the only predators on this planet that contemplate these actions? What separates you and I from other top predators?
I have given it much thought over the years, and today I thought I might write about a death we should be satisfied with.

I often hear people refer to hunting and killing an animal as a harvest. This nomenclature has never sat well with me, as it is typically used in referrence to an agricultural crop. The commercialized hunting market seemed hasty to adopt this word, and for perfectly understandable reasons. Hunting and hunters are unfortunately ever less popular in modern society, and Harvest sounds friendlier than Killing.
That said, I dont like the word. You dont harvest a deer, I dont walk out in the pasture and pull a bundle of deer out of furrows. Nor do I pick a flock of ducks from a bush.

Hunting is so much deeper than that, more intimate. There is a very dedicated effort wherein a good hunter exhausts time, money, and practice of his craft in order to take the life of his prey. Better hunters spend even more time researching, scouting, and perfecting their skill. The crux of all this effort is to be a more effective and ethical predator, a skilled killer. It is a costly investment, both materially and emotionally.
I am a killer, I kill animals, and for that I make no apology. There are many reasons I hunt, most of which you’re probably familiar with if you’ve read much of this blog; food, game management, and especially the participation in natures way of taking and giving life. We are part of it, not some distant observer.
You may have heard “wolves lose no sleep over the opinions of sheep”, and just as the wolves sleep soundly in their dens, we should not apologize or soften our stance as both apex predators, and as stewards of the land we rule. Removing ourselves from the food chain does a disservice to the overall ecology, especially when it’s for self righteous reasons.

Sacrifice is an acient principle, it is a beautiful and fullfilling concept that gives meaning to what can often seem like a sufferable existance.
Men have sacrifced animals (for various reasons) since the beginning. And again, I often hear the phrase, this animal gave its life for us. It is used as evidence to care for and respect the flesh of the animal, a fine result but based on a flawed perspective.
Much as I dont care for using Harvest, I also dont feel right about This animal sacrificed its life for us.
Because if it were up to the animal in question, it would still be alive. I draw a similar distinction to my previous point about nomenclature, it goes much deaper than just This animal sacrificed its life for us. This animal was sacrificed against its will for us to live from its loss. There is a big difference you see.
Our agency allows us to choose what to sacrifce in our lives. Parents (both two and four legged) sacrifice for their offspring, soldiers sacrifice themselves for their countrymen, etc. But when a sacrifice is not made of free will, it carries an extremely heavy responsibility. When sacrificing an animals life, honor demands that its flesh be used with little to no waste, in a respectful and responsible manner.

These truths I believe are eternal, and there from comes our moral ethos as responsible hunters. It is what separates us from other apex predators like the wolf. It is the reason our conscience is so heavily taxed when we lose an animal, or when we cause un-nessesary suffering.
It is difficult for man not to think very highly of the animals we hunt. We spend so much time watching, admiring, and challenging them with our own skills, Yet even so we are frequently bested by them. This relationship betters us both, and elevates its value to us.
It is also what gives us such great satisfaction as we eat a tasty venison dinner. A meal that was achieved through great effort, and sacrifice, tastes so much better than one that was not.

Say what you mean, and use the appropriate words that accompany your actions. There is no doubt about the intentions of our brother the wolf when he stares down his nose at his prey. Neither should there be any doubt about our own intentions, and we should honor the sacrifice by giving the most swift and humane death we are capable of. A death we ourselves could make peace with.

-CBM

Make that Slaughterhouse a Slaughterhome

If you haven’t noticed yet, I love to eat. Nothing is more satisfying than a home cooked meal made from ingredients procured by my own hands. Whether its tomatoes grown in the garden, or a lean trimmed elk roast that I cut out by hand in a cold October garage.
One of the ways I maximise the flavor and the satifaction that comes with it, is by butchering all my own animals. It started long ago, when as a child I watched my Father bring home deer to be butchered on the kitchen counter.

Many years later, more out of necessity than desire, I began carting my own deer carcasses into the kitchen. Being a bit of a germaphobe, as well as a bit picky at the table, I couldn’t fathom leaving the cleanliness of my food to the hands of some game processer. Just the look and smell of those outfits is enough to make me toss my lunch, so I was determined to do it all myself.
In the beginning, I’ll admit it wasn’t great, but I have become pretty good at it. I think its important to share a couple of the advantages that I have by doing it myself.
I am in complete control over what gets used and how. Being particular about my food, I like to know it was well cared for both before and after it was butchered. I always take great care of my animals, trying to get them gutted, cleaned and cooled as soon as possible. I have seen overwhelming evidence that the crucial time between death and freezer has a huge impact on the flavor and quality of your meal.
Once the carcass is cleaned, and cooled down, comes the aging. I think that aging the meat is very important, second only to the quick cleaning and cooling of it. Call me crazy, but I like to age my venison a minimum of four to five days. I actually wait until the first signs of decomposition start to show. When little specks of white mold start showing on the carcass, its time to start cutting. Much like a good piece of fruit, the best flavor comes right before it spoils. Obviously this must be done in a state of refridgeration, lucky for me, October temperatures here hover around freezing.

Not only does the flavor and texture of the meat improve, but its easier to handle and separate. Meat peels right from the bone, leaving a clean white surface. All the hard work of removing tendons and silver skin is also simplified, little to any coaxing is needed to fillet them right off of your favorite cuts. The meat itself takes on a softer, stickier texture, it almost feels greasy in a way, like near room temperature bacon.
Another benefit of butchering my game at home, is the ability to cut the meat the way I want to cook it. I have recently explored many different bone in cuts that not only increase the quality of my meats, but also cut down on waste. When cutting bone in pieces, you get to eat all the meat in between the bones that is typically discarded.

Some of these great examples are cutting whole T-bone steaks. Since some deer arent that big, I actually cut them as Cross-bone steaks, basically two T-bones that haven’t been split in the middle. I cut them about 1.5” thick, and sear them in a pan, till rare (120*) at the center near the bone. The only way to improve backstraps and tenderloins is to serve them together on the bone, with butter and rosemary.

Another great cut that Ive tried is a bone in Frenched rib rack. This is done by again leaving the backstraps attached, and sawing the backbone and ribs out. You can then either cut lengthwise down the back, splitting the two, or go really fancy and leave them whole.

Sawing the shanks is another great way to use bones that are almost always discarded. Cooked slowly the shanks are a very tender and tasty piece of meat.
I also like cutting out the meaty ribs of deer and elk. Cooking them twice, first in a pressure cooker, and then again in the oven. This melts off the undesirable fat from the ribs. I then season them a second time and slow cook them in the oven, it makes for an extremely soft and tasty meal.

All these custom cuts and preparations can be done at your own pace, and even cooked without having ever been frozen. I love a good fresh celebratory meal during the hunt.

I like to use a good fillet knife for processing my game. The flexible blade, and the razor sharp edge allow me to skin the dried rind off of most of my meat, exposing the perfectly aged and protected meat below. It also allows me to shave off any damaged parts, leaving as much meat as possible.

I start out with a sharp knife, and regularly sharpen it during the process, to keep the edge from dulling. The sharp blade easily separates broad tendons like those found on backstraps, just like skinning a fish fillet.

Many people grind a lot of their meat into burger. While I enjoy and love a good burger, I rarely grind mine until Im ready to eat it. Part of the reason I think so much meat is ground by so many, is because of the large scrap piles of meat that accumulate during the butchering process. I try and avoid this as best I can by keeping the meat in the largest pieces possible, and the scraps that I do get, I set aside for bottling.

Bottling venison is an often overlooked process. I have had spectacular results putting my venison into jars instead of the freezer. A big benefit to this approach is no need to keep the meat frozen, and subsequently no loss should a freezer go down, or a power outage.
If those reasons arent enough, then the simple fact that it tastes so good should be enough. Bottled venison is extremely tender, and when bottled together with other ingredients like tomatoes, onions, or even a complete recipe, it is a whole meal ready to eat. One of my favorites is a simple chilli that consists of venison, tomatoes, roasted red or green peppers, onions, garlic, barley and black beans. Thrown together in a bottle with some salt, and cummin, it makes a delicious meal that requires nothing more than a source of heat to bring it to life.

Bottling meat is a slightly different process than you may be used to, do yourself a favor and look into it.

When I do grind venison, I like to do it just before cooking. I also add in some pork fat, either straight fat, or fat with a little meat. This, as well as some good seasoning and some garlic and onions mixed into the burger will make one of the best hamburgers you will ever eat.

Butchering an animal myself has led me to several practices while still on the mountain. One of them is a valiant effort to get the animal out whole if possible. Sometimes it is just too difficult, and an animal must be halved or quartered for extraction. I always prefer to get them out whole, this minimizes the amount of meat lost. For every cut that is made before the butcher table, there is meat lost. Whether it be from drying, contamination, or some other reason.
Keeping the animal whole keeps as much meat as possible protected from the elements.

Another field tactic that I use is the gutless extraction. Some of the places we hunt here in the Rockies are quite close to home. Almost every year, one or two of the deer or elk we kill, are close enough to home, that I can have them home, skinned, and washed out within thirty to forty minutes after the coup de gras is fired. That being the case, I will often leave the guts in the animal until we reach a vehicle. This avoids getting the chest cavity contaminated with dirt, leaves, or any other debris. The animal is then gutted, and transported home where it is skinned and washed in preparation for the aging process.

Another big lesson I have learned, for antelope in particular, is to get as much blood out of the animal as you can. In my experience, one of the best practices is to take head shots. This leaves the circulatory system intact, allowing it to evacuate its volume even after brain-death has occurred. Obviously this practice is not recommended for an animal who’s head you intend to mount, or save. But for antlerless and meat hunts, it works great. Not only does it empty most of the blood via the headwound, but it does little to no damage to the eatin bits of the animal. And its much easier to gut and clean.

I cant believe how much venison I could have enjoyed so much more over the years, instead of suffering through it. It doesn’t take a huge amount of effort to put these things into practice, but it will make a night and day difference in how you enjoy all that beautiful game meat that you work so hard for. I hope these tips help make your meals better and more memorable, and please feel free to offer any tips you may have!

-CBM

“Why Do You Hunt?”

The world we live in is infinitely more convinient than it was even twenty years ago, we can have almost any commodity delivered to our door. We almost feel cheated if our food isn’t ready in moments, the services we use are expected to be streamlined and painless. With our lives being simplified and aided by technology and ingenuity, why do so many of us still find virtue in the massive efforts of hunting down our own food?

Despite the convenience of modern life, it is still no easy task to find a wild animal, and through one manner or another convince it to surrender to the dinner table. There are tedious applications and preparations to do, months in advance, there is tackle to make or procure, and that is to say nothing of the actual physical work of scouting, hiking, butchering, hauling out, and preserving our kill. Depending on the hunt and what we put into it, it could be cheaper to just purchase our protein.

Like many of you, I reject the excuses made by our modern society to leave the forest, to gather my food in little plastic containers. I choose to hunt for many reasons, some of which I can articulate, and others I may not be able to put to paper.

I was made to observe nature, but also to be part of it. An observer of nature is exposed to its beauty and cycle, but as a predator within the circle, you get far more than just a snapshot. The vivid imagery one gets when participating in the life and death struggle of nature cannot be seen, it is experienced. Everything from the beauty of a sunrise, to the revolting stench of death are just part of the highs and lows you get to be a part of. The suffering that comes with the challenge of hunting makes the moments of beauty and success much more than victory, even triumph. As an active part of the ecosystem I inhabit, I am no longer an outsider, but part of the same circle as the animals I hunt.

For all our technological advances, we cannot beat nature’s prescription for clean healthy food. Everyday as I prepare food for my family, it is with great pride that I feed them clean and healthy meats that are free from so many of the side effects of agriculture. Knowing that our food lived a free life, moving as it pleased, eating what nature provides gives me satisfaction as we fullfil our part in the food chain.  My children watch and participate as well, which brings me to my next point.

My children know exactly where their food comes from. Most of the time they are with me, they get to see what it takes to bring home these tasty meals. They know what it costs, they are intimately aware with the effort required to get it done. They know the value of the life of the animal, and the sacred responsibilty to respect it. Our traditions may or may not be important, but respect for sacrifice such as this is a must. And while speaking on tradition and its value, I’ll add this;

Doing something because we always have, is not necessarily a good reason to continue so. It is the virtue and moral value of our traditions that should earn them a place in our future.  Handing down a gun for example is traditionally something of great importance to many of us, but it means nothing if the responsibility and respect for it are not expressed in kind.

My Brothers and I, together in adventures of every kind.

Perhaps the greatest reason for the traditions and hunting in general, is the deep conection and camaraderie we feel with our fellows. Nothing I have experienced can quite compare to the friendship and company of loved ones who stand beside us in our adventures. I have so many close friends, like Ive said before, many of them are related by blood and others that should be. Most of these relationships have been cemented in both good times and bad, usually on a cold mountain also involving darkness, steep terrain, snow, rain, fire, heavy lifting, late nights and early mornings. It may sound bad, but the triumph over all is what makes memories. And memories are the lasting beautiful thing that we take with us to turn into tradition.

I will never apologize for being a hunter, and I will fight for the right to do so always. Not just for the reasons above, but because I take responsibility for what I eat instead of allowing others to kill on my behalf. Instead of distancing myself from the unpleasantness of taking a life, I respectfully do it on my own. Cleaning, butchering, and preserving it as best I can. Instead of absent consent, then scavenging on the sanitized remains at the market.

It is my hope that our future will be full of great experiences based on honored traditions. And that those traditions will keep the virtues of hunting safely treasured in the hearts of those that will someday take our place.

-CBM

Two Many First’s, the 25 Creedmoor goes Deer Hunting

A young man’s first deer is a memory that lasts a lifetime, but this story has more than one first time.

The 25 Creedmoor project that I named Operation Quarter Lord, has taken down its first big game animal. But it doesn’t stop there either, it is also the first time a Blackjack bullets ace 131 has been used on a deer.

It started late one afternoon, after a heavy rain storm had passed through the dry desert canyons of Utah. Myself, my Brother, and a good friend of ours headed up into the hills to see if we could get on to a deer or two. Also in tow was my friends son Aiden, who was eager to fill his first deer tag.

Can you spot the buck?

Only a few minutes after setting up the spotting scope, we had eyes on a fine little buck who would fill the tag nicely. The gun obviously was new to him, it was still new to me for that matter but I was very confident in its potential due to much practice.

Aiden was quickly voluntold to get in position for a shot, and after a few moments he more or less said “shooter ready”. We all focused through our perspective optics, and waited for the buck to give us a good broadside shot. When he did, just a moment later, everything went quiet, and we all concentrated on the small buck, six hundred and ten yards away.
Thats no short poke, but this wasn’t Aiden’s first rodeo either. He has practiced all summer shooting further distances with a custom .223 Remington his father built.

Excitement was in the air, and even my own heart pounded. We waited silently as Aiden took his time to get a good hold, and calmly broke the trigger.

I watched as the ultra flat shooting Ace flew through the cool evening air, barely arching above the target due to the uphill angle. It found its mark, as I have found it always does, impacting the young buck behind his left shoulder. He staggered forward a few steps, looking as though he was going to take a dive, but since he didn’t, Aiden sent round two. Running the bolt on the Tikka like some kind of pro. The second bullet also impacted the bucks chest, and after a couple more staggers, and coughing up much blood, he rolled over and died.

The excitement was thick in the air, a Boy’s first deer, a Father’s first successful hunt with his Son, and ontop of that, my excitement for a project perfectly executed.

The deer was dragged back down to the truck, cleaned and inspected, then back home where he was summarily skinned and washed for butchering.

The excitement never dims, be it the first, or just another hunt. These adventures bring so much flavor to our lives, and tables. I can only hope it stays so.

-CBM

Exit wound on the offside