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Greetings from Alaska!
Hunting is a way of life here, and living off the bounty of the land is an integral aspect of an Alaskan lifestyle for many of its residents and visitors. This tale of adventure begins with a 2-hour flight out to Crescent Lake Lodge, located about 50 miles from the native village of Sleetmute. Built over the years since he first homesteaded it 1971, by Doug Carney and his family. I have been here several times over the past 15 months to video (I've been hired to make a production about all the different activities here) and I deliberately painted my long nails metallic camouflage green just to rile him up...it worked!
Hunters fly out all day long to their designated camps, and after overnighting in one of the comfy cabins, I too fly out the next day to a remote hunting camp. Mike, my pilot, makes landing on the mountaintop seems like nothing special at all, a feather drifting out of the sky -- believe me this is not the usual landing! Denny, the designated guide at this camp, lopes up the side of the mountain and helps me haul my gear down to the camp, which is situated in the first big patch of alders. The entire way down, he rattles on non-stop about the beautiful blond grizzly that came right into camp that morning to get a whiff of their breakfast bacon! Dang! I have a hunting tag and missed a great opportunity to shoot my first bear. (Alaska has an extremely large grizzly population and hunting is a good way of keeping them in check.)
I meet Jerry, the hunter who flew in yesterday from the lodge, and we all get our gear together and hike up to a good vantage point to look for game. There are several caribou on the slope of the next mountain over moving slowly through the pass, but too far away to shoot safely. We head back to camp and Denny makes lumpy macaroni and cheese with Spam for dinner...I think I'll take over the cook stove from here on out!
The next morning, I sure am glad Denny knows how to cook bacon and eggs, because I didn't want to crawl out of my sleeping bag until it was absolutely necessary....brrrrr! A couple of shots ring out in the cold air and Jerry gets a caribou just over the ridge from our camp! The entire herd of about 30 caribou all circle back around to check on their fallen comrade and it is a sight to behold standing there as they move past us from less than 100 yards away. I get some awesome footage of them streaming past.
Fresh caribou meat for dinner! Boy, am I hungry after butchering and hauling all the meat, hide, and the trophy up to the windsock for the plane to pick up the next time it passes by. It will be hung in the meat-house at the lodge until the hunter takes it home or it is donated to the village or one of the guides. Myself, I take a hind-quarter home with me and now have 2 roasts, some steaks, stew-meat, and hamburger in my freezer. The meat can be used just like beef, except prior to cooking remove all the fat and niv (tendons and membranes holding the muscles together) as that is where the heavy game taste comes from. Well-butchered meat is the key to good taste in the kitchen. We take one of the tenderloins down to camp with us for our dinner and I make sure I'm the one in charge of the preparation. Cooking in the field at a camp where you may be living without refrigeration for several weeks requires food that won't spoil. It's cold enough this time of year (average 40 degrees) that cheese, eggs and butter will keep for quite some time, but stuff like fresh milk is not possible for more than a couple of days. I always bring a clove of garlic and Mrs. Dash with me, as I know that most guiding outfits don't provide much above the basics in the way of food preparation. My pack has a limited weight requirement of about 50-60 pounds -- what I can carry -- and what you are allowed to take on a small 2-seater plane. About 15 pounds of that is my camera equipment, the rest is cold weather survival gear and my books -- I made do with 6 paperbacks and the new Cabela's fall issue catalog for 20 days!
1/2 caribou tenderloin, cut into about 7-8 small steaks about 2/3" thick (substitute 2 lbs. small beef steaks)
5-6 red new potatoes, quartered
2 T. butter
1/4 lb. sharp cheddar cheese, sliced thin or grated
Preheat a large frying pan with olive oil and garlic. In a Ziploc bag, mix the Bisquik and Mrs. Dash, shake the steaks until well coated and lay them in the pan. Fry one side until crisp and golden brown, as you turn them over place into only 1/2 of the pan, and add the potatoes to the other half. Slide the pan so the potatoes receive most of the flame or heat, and cook until done and lightly browned, about 20 minutes, turning occasionally. Salt and dot with butter both the steaks and the potatoes and cover the potatoes with the cheese. Lower the flame to its lowest point and cover the pan. Wait 2-4 minutes for the cheese to melt and serve.
Yields: 4 servings (or 3 extremely hungry people working up an appetite in the wilderness!)
Preparation Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes
We went to meet the plane the next morning to load it and discovered that some varmint -- probably the fox who visited us every morning after that -- made off with our other tenderloin and the back straps in the night! That was supposed to be our fresh meat for the next couple of days...sigh.
We hike down the valley and Denny spots two trophy bull moose (males) of legal size and starts grunting like a cow moose (female) to call them in, but it is too dark to tell where they went, though we could hear them answering him back! Jerry is 64 years old and follows slowly behind us without complaint. He is such a nice man and you can tell his knees are paining him greatly, we try extra hard to help him get his moose. The next day, Denny and I hike up to the site where Jerry shot the caribou 2 days ago to see if we have attracted a bear. (Bears have been known to scavenge everything from gut piles to garbage bags!) There is no sign of anything bigger than a raven having disturbed the site, so we hike up to the top of the next mountain to look for game while Jerry scouts from camp. At the top, we can see down into five different valleys and suddenly Denny drops down low and signals me to do the same. There is a huge bull caribou with at least a 300 point rack (Boone & Crockett trophy rating) in the ravine right below us! We head back to camp and tell Jerry about it, but it is too late in the day to make a try for him. Jerry has 2 more days left of hunting and he can use his moose tag on another caribou if he chooses to do so. They decide to spot the other side of the slope where we are camped while I make dinner using the other half of the caribou tenderloin hanging in the tree beside the tent. I cut off the rind -- the layer of meat that has been wind dried -- and cube it for a stew. Now I just need to figure out what else I can put in it from our limited selection of supplies...
Throw all of the ingredients into a pot with 6 cups water and boil until the meat is tender.
Yields: 8 servings
Preparation Time: 1 hour
Denny and Jerry come back cold, hungry and disappointed that Jerry missed a moose. It was about 600 yards out, but they tried for it anyway! As we eat dinner, we can see that huge caribou in the ridgeline about a mile away! In the morning, I throw some blueberries into the pancake mix for breakfast. Today is Jerry's last chance to hunt before the plane will come for him, so we head up to the spot where we hope that big caribou may have moved to, but there is no sign of him. I volunteer to hike back up the mountain and see if it is still in the ravine where Denny and I spotted it yesterday. Sixty sweaty hard-climbing minutes later, I am disappointed to see no sign of him. I rack a round in the chamber of my side arm (a Para-ordnance P14 45 semi-auto hand gun), and head down into the ravine to see if I can flush him down valley where Jerry can get a shot at him (lions and tigers and bears, oh my). I scare myself silly when I flush up a covey of ptarmigan, a small grouse type and the Alaska State Bird. I come around the slope and work my way back to Jerry and Denny's position. I can see them so I eject the round in the chamber and re-holster my side-arm. Then I notice the caribou right out in the open just below where they are! I slip back over the ridge out of site and run pell-mell down the mountainside and come up behind them, panting and so excited I can hardly breathe. We work our way off to one side and move in for a better vantage...We spot him as he goes into the willows and, sure enough, he comes out on the other side into view. Jerry sits down and takes careful aim...He gets it from about 500 yards out!
WaaHOOOooooo....! What a beautiful shot! We prepare the meat and get it all up onto the mountaintop just in time for the plane to arrive for Jerry's departure.
The next day, Denny is flown into the lodge and 2 new hunters arrive, local Alaskans from Anchorage who don't require a guide. Next month's article will tell the exciting tale of the Moose, the Wolf and the Bear! Complete with recipes, of course!