Catfish Gumbo: 2007 archive

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Cooking up a cassarole — posted Dec. 28, 2007

There's nothing like a hearty casserole to satisfy your hunger after a long day outdoors. These belly-filling, one-dish meals are quick and easy to prepare, and while it is cooking, the casserole requires little watching. Mix the ingredients in the cooking dish, place in the oven and go tend to whatever needs tending to. Your casserole will be ready when you are.

Casserole cookery may have originated with the ancient practice of slowly stewing meat in earthenware containers. Medieval pies also are related; the pastry was used as a receptacle for slowly cooking sweet and savory fillings.

One of the earliest published recipes, "To dres[s] Rabbits in Casserole," appeared in The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy in 1747.

"Divide the Rabbits into Quarters, you may lard them or let them alone just as you please, shake some Flour over them, and fry them with Lard or Butter, then put them into an earthen Pipkin with a Quart of good Broth, a Glass of White Wine, a little Pepper, and Salt if wanted, a Bunch of Sweet Herbs, and a Piece of Butter as big as a Walnut rolled in Flour; cover them close and let them stew Half an Hour, then dish them up and pour the Sauce over them. Garnish with Seville Orange cut into thin Slices and notched, the Peel that is cut out lay prettily between the Slices."

Today, the word casserole is used in two quite different ways. Properly speaking, a casserole is a dish or pot made from a material such as glass, cast iron, aluminum or earthenware in which food is baked and, often, served. The word may also refer to the food itself. It originally described rice, potatoes or fried bread used as a border or mold around a central dish of meat or vegetables. It wasn't until sometime around the 1870s that the use of the word in its current sense—a mixture of foods slowly baked in a closed pot—came into widespread use.

Casseroles didn't become popular in America until the 20th century. "There is no doubt that the fashion of cooking in casseroles or eathenware dishes has come to stay in this country," Marion McNeil wrote in How to Cook Casserole Dishes (1912). "And it is hardly a matter of surprise when the advantages of this form of cookery are really understood …"

By the 1950s, when new forms of glassware and lightweight metal were first marketed, casserole cooking was all the rage. The virtues of easy-to-prepare, one-dish meals were increasingly promoted in the women's magazines of the era, thereby supposedly freeing the housewife from the lengthy drudgery of the kitchen.

Today, casserole cookery is still popular, and there are many recipes that incorporate game as one of the main ingredients. Here are several for you to try.

Mexican Rabbit Casserole

1 can (10-3/4 oz.) cream of chicken soup

1 can (10-3/4 oz.) cream of mushroom soup

1 can Rotel tomatoes and green chilies

1 cup chicken broth

1 bag (9.5 oz.) Doritos, crushed

3 cups cooked, diced rabbit meat

1 cup grated cheddar cheese or Velveeta

Combine soups, Rotel and chicken broth. Layer Doritos, rabbit and soup mixture in a casserole. Cover with cheese. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. Serves four.

Venison-Noodle Casserole

2 cups cooked egg noodles

1 pound ground venison

1 can (15 oz.) tomato sauce

2 cloves garlic, minced

Salt and pepper to taste

1 package (4 oz.) cream cheese, softened

1 cup sour cream

2 green onions, chopped

1 cup grated cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread cooked noodles in the bottom of a two-quart casserole dish.

In a frying pan, brown the ground venison along with the garlic. Drain and discard fat. Add tomato sauce to the meat, heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the meat mixture over the noodles in casserole dish.

Combine the cream cheese with the sour cream in a small bowl, and mix until smooth. Stir in green onions. Spread this combination over the meat mixture, then sprinkle cheddar cheese over top of the cream cheese.

Bake, uncovered, for 35 minutes. Serves four.

Quail Casserole

6 quail, halved lengthwise

1 1/2 cups long grain rice

1 can (10 3/4 oz.) cream of mushroom soup

4 cups water

1 package. onion soup mix

Spread rice evenly in the bottom of a casserole dish. Place quail on top. Mix cream of mushroom soup and water, and pour over the quail. Sprinkle onion soup mix on top. Bake for 2 hours at 350 degrees. Serves six.

Sumptuous Squirrel Casserole

3 cups boned, diced, cooked squirrel

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup sour cream

1 can (10 3/4 oz.) cream of chicken soup

3/4 cup Bisquick baking mix

1/4 cup cornmeal

3/4 cup milk

1 egg

1 cup shredded Longhorn-style cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix the squirrel, milk, sour cream and soup in a saucepan and heat to boiling. Spoon into a 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish. Beat the remaining ingredients, except the cheese, with a wire whisk or hand beater until almost smooth. Pour evenly over hot squirrel mixture. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake, uncovered, until the top is set and soup mixture bubbles around the edges, about 20 to 25 minutes. Serves six

Duck Casserole with Pinto Beans

2 cups dried pinto beans

2 wild ducks, cut into serving pieces

Seasoned flour

3 strips salt pork, diced

1 onion, finely chopped

Pinch basil

Freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

Soak the beans in cold water overnight. Drain, and simmer them in lightly salted water until just tender. Drain again, reserving the liquid, and place them in a casserole.

Dredge the pieces of duck in seasoned flour. Fry the salt pork in a skillet till crisp. Place the bits of pork in the casserole with the beans, and brown the duck quickly in the pork fat. Transfer the duck to the casserole.

Add the onion, basil, pepper and mustard. Work the pieces of duck down into the casserole so the beans cover them; do not crush the beans. Add boiling water or bean liquid just to cover, cover the casserole, and place in a preheated 350-degree oven. Cook until the duck and beans are well done, about 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Add more water if necessary, but when done, the casserole should not have too much liquid. Serves four.

Blood satisfaction — posted Dec. 18, 2007

A week ago, I accompanied my 23-year-old son Matt for a deer hunt on a friend's place in central Arkansas. Matt did the hunting. I went along to watch.

For years, our friend Alex Hinson has been kind enough to let my sons and me hunt as guests on his hunting club's lease in the Ouachita Mountains. This is a wonderful thing for us because it allows us to hunt for just a morning or afternoon when time permits. We can be at Alex's house in 45 minutes and in a stand 15 minutes later. Alex's kindness, and that of his father Lin, who often lets us use one of his stands, has enabled us to put venison in the freezer several years now. We are very grateful to them for inviting us each year to hunt on their lease.

My younger son, Zach, killed a buck each of the past two years while hunting with Alex, but Matt, because of work responsibilities, hasn't had an opportunity to go deer hunting the last two seasons. Therefore Matt was very eager to go when Alex invited us a few weeks ago, and prior to our most recent hunt, we had sat in Lin's stand one morning already but had come home empty-handed. This was not because we didn't see deer. We did. In fact, the deer we saw was a nice eight-point buck Matt could easily have killed. Matt could not take that buck, however, because Alex's hunting club has a rule: all guests must first kill a doe each season before killing a buck.

The reason for this is to keep doe numbers in balance with the number of bucks, and it's working nicely. There are more bucks and better bucks to hunt now. But as you can imagine, it was frustrating for Matt to see a buck and no does, when a doe was all he could kill.

Matt took all this in stride, nevertheless, and we found ourselves back in Lin's stand just two weeks later. This time, luck was on Matt's side. We had hardly gotten situated in the stand when a small doe walked out into plain view. Another much larger doe came out behind her seconds later, and five minutes after our hunt began, Matt made a clean, 134-yard shot with a .30-06 that dropped the larger doe in her tracks.

It is always pleasing for me to be sitting beside one of my sons when he kills a deer. There is a shared excitement that comes from such an experience, which I enjoy to the utmost. And because Matt and I hadn't had an opportunity to deer hunt together for a while, this hunt was more special than most.

Alex arrived a short time later, and we loaded the doe in his truck and took it to his house. Each deer we kill is hung from a gambrel in Alex's front yard and skinned. Some are then taken to a meat processor to be prepared as hamburger, steaks and sausage. Others we take home and butcher ourselves. On this day, because the hunt ended so quickly, we decided to take the latter course of action.

It is this part of the hunting experience—skinning the deer and butchering it—that prompted me to write this blog. I know I would probably be better off not saying what I am about to say, for some will misconstrue what I say and take offense at it. Some may even believe I am crazy, or at the very least somewhat disturbed, because of the feelings I am about to share. That doesn't really bother me, though. I've always been one to say what's on my mind, despite what others think, and I wanted to say something about this part of the hunt—the blooding of one's hands and the emotions that evokes—because it is an aspect of our sport no one says much about any more.

There are reasons for this, I suppose. We live in a world where a person who enjoys getting their hands bloody is immediately thought to be dangerous or unbalanced in some way. Saying you enjoy skinning and butchering a deer makes you nothing less than a pervert in the eyes of many people who buy all their meat at the Superstore neatly packaged in plastic and styrofoam. That is a shame, for there is a deep sense of satisfaction to be gained by killing what you eat and preparing it for the table, and one need not feel guilty for enjoying that contentment.

I felt that sense of satisfaction when we hung Matt's deer from the gambrel and started skinning it with our knives. And I won't hesitate to tell you I always enjoy that feeling, for it is a wonderful sentiment I gain from nothing else I do. It is not a feeling of joy at the death of the animal we are preparing to eat. It is not elation or happiness. It is rather a sense of fulfillment because the hunt has been successful and there will be venison to eat later. The crimson stains on my hands symbolize that success, and as we skin the animal and gut it and then butcher it for the table, I feel immensely satisfied, much as I believe our ancestors did centuries ago when the preparation of an animal in this way often meant the end of a long spell of hunger.

For my family, food is at the core of hunting. Although none of us would starve if wild game did not reach our tables, it is equally certain we would not live as comfortably. Game provides many meals for us each year, and we enjoy the rich flavors found in meat that comes straight from nature's larder.

We eat game for other reasons, too. In her cookbook, Eat Like a Wild Man, Rebecca Gray notes, "One of the very best reasons for eating what you've caught or shot is that it conjures up an event, a nice memory, the time and place of when you caught the fish or shot the critter." That, too, is part of our incentive. A taste of venison conjures up visions of running deer, beautiful woods and good friends. When we dig into a freshly cooked quail, we're back in the field behind a dog on point.

In the book, A Rough-Shooting Dog, author Charles Fergus said it best: "We kill the game to eat it. Tasting it, we thank it. Thanking it, we remember it; how we hunted it, how it tested us, how we overcame it, how it finally fell." Only hunters like us can truly understand the compassion of the eater for the eaten.

For my sons and me, and our friends, it is not the shooting that matters, but what we do with this food we gather: how we prepare the game to eat, how we share it with friends and family, how we raise our glasses before we eat and thank the animals for their lives. This is why we are hunters—because we want this kind of intimate relationship with the food we eat. And that is why, as I skinned and butchered the deer my son had killed, I was warmed by an overwhelming sense of satisfaction. And I am not ashamed of that in the least.

Delicious game stews — posted Dec. 17, 2007

Throughout our history, an iron pot filled with stew simmering over a wood-burning fire or hot coals was the practical way to cook and share a meal. Today, one-pot dinners like stew—easy to prepare, simple to serve and perfect to make ahead—speak directly to our busy lives. Delicious, belly-warming stews never go out of style.

Stews are dishes made of vegetables, meat, poultry or seafood cooked in some sort of broth or sauce. The line between stew and soup is a fine one, but generally a stew's ingredients are cut in larger pieces and retain some of their individual flavors; a stew may have thicker broth, and a stew is more likely to be eaten as a main course than as a starter.

Soup is for folks who are not feeling well. You never hear, "I brought you some chicken stew for your cold." Stew is for more hearty appetites.

A stew may be either simmered in a pot on the stove top or campfire, cooked in a covered casserole in the oven or slow-cooked in a Crock-Pot. Prepared properly, the stew never boils, but simmers at slightly less than 200 degrees, a process that tenderizes tougher foods and mingles flavors. Even the least tender cuts of meat become tender and juicy when properly stewed. Thus, this is a popular method for preparing cuts of game that often are somewhat tough and lean.

Many stews had their origins in Southern kitchens, and included game in the ingredients. Gumbo, for example, is a hearty, spicy stew that originated in Cajun Louisiana where duck and goose were among the commonly used ingredients. Rabbit or squirrel was called for in the original Brunswick stew, which had its origins in Virginia and the Carolinas. Kentucky burgoo included whatever game was brought home from the hunt, including deer, opossum, squirrel and/or game birds.

Fact is, you can prepare stews using any game meat you have on hand. The following recipes are proof of that.

Grandpa's Favorite Rabbit Stew

2 rabbits, cut in serving pieces

3 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 cup flour, for dredging

3 slices bacon, cut in pieces

3 tablespoons shortening

4 medium onions, sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 cups water

4 medium potatoes, diced

1-1/2 cups diced carrots

2 teaspoon paprika

1 cup sour cream

Mix flour, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper; dredge rabbit in mixture. Fry bacon until crisp. Remove bacon. Add shortening to bacon drippings, and sauté rabbit until browned. Add onions, garlic, diced potatoes, diced carrots, water, 2 teaspoons salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cover and simmer until tender, about 1 hour. Remove from heat and stir in paprika and sour cream. Do not allow stew to boil after adding sour cream. Serves 6 to 8.

Alex's Venison Stew

3 pounds venison, cubed

1/4 cup vegetable oil

4 carrots, diced

6 potatoes, cut in large pieces

1 cup diced celery

1 large onion, cut in large pieces

1 tablespoon salt

1-1/2 teaspoons black pepper

1-1/2 teaspoons garlic salt

1 teaspoon marjoram

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1/3 cup flour

In a large stew pan, brown the venison in the oil. Cover with water, and boil until the meat is tender. Drain the water, cover again with water, and bring to a boil. Add vegetables and seasonings, cover, and simmer until the vegetables are tender. Put the cornstarch and flour in a shaker, and add enough water to make a thick paste. Shake until cornstarch and flour are completely dissolved. Add the mixture to the stew, stir, cover, and simmer for about 30 minutes. Serves 8 to 10.

Gulf Mountain Bear Stew

3 pounds bear meat, cubed

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon black pepper

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon oregano

4 cups water

8 medium potatoes, diced

1/2 cup sliced mushrooms

Sauté bear meat in olive oil heated in a Dutch oven or large stew pot. Cook until well done. Stir in flour and seasonings. Add water, potatoes and mushrooms. Simmer, covered, 45 minutes. Serves 8 to 12.

Stewed Wild Goose

2 goose breast fillets

1/2 cup diced onion

1/2 cup diced celery

1 cup water

2 chicken bouillon cubes

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon thyme

6 medium potatoes, quartered

Cut the breast meat into bite-sized pieces. Place in a slow cooker with the next six ingredients and cook on high two hours. Add potatoes, and cook another 1-1/2 hours. Serves 3 to 6.

January Stew

1 raccoon, cut in serving pieces

2 cups chicken broth

1 large onion, chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

6 tomatoes, peeled and diced

4 medium potatoes, diced

1 cup whole-kernel corn

1 tablespoon black pepper

1 tablespoon salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Dash Louisiana hot sauce

1 clove garlic, minced

2 bay leaves

Place coon in a large pot, add chicken broth and enough water to cover. Parboil until coon is tender and falling from the bone. Remove meat from the bone and reserve. Discard bones.

Place meat and remaining ingredients in a large slow cooker and stir to mix. Cook on low heat 10 to 12 hours, or on high for 5 to 6 hours. Serve hot. Makes 10 to 12 servings.

Photographs and memories — posted Dec. 16, 2007

Recently, a young man I met almost twenty years ago in the duck woods called me. His name is David Bendigo. His father Bob Bendigo was a very good friend of my sons and me because we hunted with Bob many times at the Poor Boy Duck Club near Humnoke, Arkansas. Bob was a big man, always smiling, always eager to help others have memorable trips in "his" duck woods. My sons think the world of him although they only met him a few times.

The reason David called was to tell me Bob passed away quite unexpectedly the day before. "I know you shot many photos of my dad in the duck woods," David said. "And our family was wondering if you can let us use some of them for his memorial services."

I hadn't seen Bob in a while. My friends lost their lease on the Poor Boy Club several years ago, and Bob had retired from his job to enjoy hunting and fishing around the country. The week before his death, he had been fishing with a friend in New Mexico. He came home in time to watch his favorite college football team, the Arkansas Razorbacks, play on TV, and his wife found him dead in his favorite easy chair late at night with the game still on.

Those of us who knew Bob try to console ourselves by saying he died a good death—quietly, in his favorite chair, watching his beloved Razorbacks. But it was shocking to me to learn that someone still so young (62) and so beloved by the many people whose lives he had touched was now gone, and I would never have a chance to hunt with him again.

I cancelled other plans so I could attend Bob's funeral services. The day before I had emailed all the photos I had of Bob to a Walgreen drug store near the family's home so they could pick them up quickly and have photos printed for the service. When I arrived at the service, I was amazed to see a gigantic, beautifully framed photo of Bob at the head of the room beside a small wooden box that contained Bob's earthly remains.

It was a photo I shot one beautiful autumn day when the leaves were still colored and the mallards were so thick we had a limit apiece early. At the back of the room were several other photos I had taken of Bob over the years, including one previously published as a two-page spread in Ducks Unlimited that showed Bob standing in the middle of an incredible snowstorm that struck without warning one day. It is a stark but beautiful photograph, one Bob always loved.

I knew no one in the family but David, and hadn't seen him since he was a teenager. He was now a grown man and I hardly recognized him. He recognized me, however, and came to me and embraced me with tears in his eyes. "You can't possibly realize how much these photos mean to us," he said. Then he took me around and introduced me to everyone in the family, all of whom embraced me and told me how much the photos meant to them as well.

Six months ago, the daughter of Skip Cullum, another member of the club I had often hunted with, called to tell me her father, just 51 (my age) had also died unexpectedly. Skip had already been buried several months before she called, but she called for the same reason as David. She knew I had taken many photos of her father in his beloved duck woods and wanted to know if I could send some she and her family could keep. I did.

Over the years, this has happened at least six times. Friends of mine who I hunted with during almost 25 years visiting Poor Boy as a guest passed away one by one and family members called to ask if I could provide photos of their loved ones hunting in places they loved very much. Each time I have lost a good friend, but I've found some small measure of comfort in the fact that during my days with that person I had taken photographs of them in places many of their family members had never seen, places dearly loved, and those photographs in some way provided solace for the people who loved my friend as a father, son, uncle, grandfather or other relation.

Why do I tell you this? As a little form of encouragement, I suppose. Next time you go hunting or fishing with a friend, take a camera. And for an hour or so that day, put down your gun or your fishing rod, and take some photographs of your friend doing something he or she loves in a place he or she loves. Worry not that you don't have a great camera. Worry not that the photos aren't perfect. Snap lots of photographs anyway, and some day, someone will thank you for the memories you've created in that way.

Game Shooting Records — posted Dec. 15, 2007

In nineteenth-century England, hunters often gathered in large shooting parties and competed to see who could bag the most game in a single day. Their gunning practices seem terribly excessive by today's standards, but it's interesting, nevertheless, to read about some of those shooting records, which were remarkable feats of skill and endurance.

Most amazing grouse hunter
Consider, for example, the individual single-day shooting record of the 6th Lord Walsingham (1843-1919) who killed 1,070 grouse at Yorkshire's Blubberhouse Moor on August 30, 1888. To do it, he fired 1,510 cartridges during 20 drives and twice killed three birds in the air with just one shot. He used three guns, which were continually reloaded by his two loaders and his cartridge boy.

Most varied bag
In January 1889, Walsingham also shot what may be the most varied bag ever recorded. It included 65 coots, 39 pheasants, 23 mallards, 16 rabbits, 9 hares, 7 teal, 6 partridges, 6 gadwalls, 4 pochard ducks, 3 swans, 3 snipe, 2 moorhens, 2 herons, 1 otter, 1 woodcock, 1 woodpigeon, 1 goldeneye, 1 rat and a pike that was shot while it swam through shallow water.

Most prolific hunter
Perhaps only one man ever surpassed Walsingham in bird-hunting skills, and that was the Lord de Grey, later the Second Marquess of Ripon (1867-1923), who bagged 556,000 birds during his lifetime, 241,000 of which were pheasants. On the morning of September 22, 1923, he shot 52 birds then fell dead, himself, on a grouse moor.

Also prolific
Another prolific hunter was Lord Malmebury of Great Britain who kept a detailed hunting diary from 1798 to 1840. During those 42 years of hunting, his total of game taken was as follows: 10,744 partridges, 7,417 rabbits, 8,862 pheasants, 5,211 hares, 4,694 snipe, 1,080 woodcocks, 145 rails, 50 quail, 8 geese, 6 golden plovers and 3 swans. Altogether he hunted 3,645 days, walked 36,200 miles and fired more than four tons of shot.

Most rabbits
The biggest bag of rabbits ever shot in Great Britain was probably at Blenheim Palace in
Oxfordshire. Here, on October 7, 1898, 6,943 rabbits were bagged by just five guns on seven drives.

Single most killing shot
On October 26, 1826, at Whittlesea Mere in Cambridgeshire, England, a Colonel Hawker, firing one shot from a massive double-barrel punt gun loaded with nearly two pounds of fine shot, downed 504 starlings.

Rub-a-dub-dub, Give game a rub — posted Dec. 14, 2007

Next time you're grilling a prime cut of venison, a brace of quail or other fresh game, take a hint from barbecue aficionados and give it a rub.

A rub is a mixture of dried spices and seasonings that's rubbed directly onto the meat's surface. This adds more intense flavor, and the coat of seasoning seals the meat to keep it juicy. Any type of game can be prepared with a variety of homemade rubs that add a special flavor that keeps family and guests coming back for more.

After the meat has been "rubbed," let it stand at room temperature for up to an hour before cooking to allow the seasonings to permeate the meat. A longer stay in the refrigerator will add a stronger flavor.

Paprika-Pepper Breakfast Steaks

1 pound venison steak or tenderloin, cut in small pieces 1/4-inch thick

1 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon each: onion powder, garlic salt, freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon each: Accent flavor enhancer, white pepper

Dash cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon butter or margarine

Make a rub by thoroughly combining all spices in a small bowl. Pierce each piece of meat all over, on both sides, with a fork. Sprinkle each side with rub mix (lightly if you prefer a less spicy taste, heavily for real pizzazz), and press it into the meat. Allow to sit at room temperature one hour.

Heat olive oil and butter or margarine over medium heat in a small black-iron skillet. Stir to mix. Sear each side of the venison pieces in the hot oil/butter mixture, about 1 to 1-1/2 minutes on each side. Serve immediately, hot and preferably rare.

Chili-Rubbed Quail

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper

1-1/2 teaspoons paprika

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

10 quail, split up the back and flattened

Mix all ingredients but quail. Rinse quail, pat dry with paper towels and rub spice mixture on all sides of each bird. Let stand 1 hour.

Grill over low to medium heat, covered, turning often, until done to taste.

Catfish's All-Purpose Barbecue Game Rub

1 cup Hungarian paprika

1/4 cup ground cumin

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 cup chili powder

1/4 cup salt

1/4 cup freshly cracked black pepper

2 tablespoons cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon ground cloves

Mix all ingredients together and rub to your heart's content. Covered and stored in a cool, dark place, this rub will keep for about 6 weeks.

If you're interesting in wild game cookery, check out "Duck Gumbo to Barbecued Coon: A Southern Game Cookbook," written by my wife Theresa and me. Copies are on sale for holiday shoppers and can be purchased by visiting our website, www.catfishsutton.com.

Ducks for dinner — posted Dec. 10, 2007

This week is "Wild Game Cookery Week" at Catfish Gumbo, and to start things off, we'll continue with last week's waterfowl theme and share some recipes for the ducks you're hopefully bagging right now.

I started hunting ducks late in life, but they occasionally showed up on the dinner table when I was a boy, gifts from hunting relatives. I did not like the ducks my mother and grandmother prepared.

Both women were wonderful cooks, but ducks weren't common fare in our household, and apparently my mom and granny had no proper experience in their preparation. The birds they served were roasted for long periods with no enhancements. They tasted like liver and were dry and tough.

I remember well the first time I tasted good duck—a fat ricefield mallard cooked to perfection by Betty, a chef at Hartz' Duck Camp near Stuttgart, Arkansas. What a revelation! Could this succulent bird really be the same animal my mother and grandmother had prepared? Had I been so foolish as to turn my nose up at this incredibly delectable game bird for all those years?

I soon discovered that duck can serve as the basis for a wide variety of mouth-watering recipes. The meat is dark and less moist than domestic duck, with a much more pronounced—and in my opinion, pleasing—flavor. If you prefer your game well done, larding, basting and cooking in a covered pan or slow cooker add moisture that might otherwise be lost. It's been my experience, however, that wild ducks should always be on the rare side if you want to enjoy the full flavor. When roasting, allow 20 minutes per pound at the very maximum.

Here are some great recipes you can start with:

Stuttgart Betty's Roast Mallard

Any number of mallards


Baking soda


Green bell peppers



Salt the ducks to taste, and rub with baking soda. Allow to sit one hour, then wash off the soda. Stuff the body cavity of each bird with small chunks of onion, bell pepper and celery, then rub each bird with flour. Place in a large roasting pan with enough water to half cover the ducks. Cook in a 350-degree oven for 3 to 3-1/2 hours or until the birds are tender. Remove the vegetable stuffing and discard. Halve each bird lengthwise before serving. If desired, thicken the broth from the ducks with a milk and flour mixture to make gravy.
As befits a recipe from Stuttgart, these birds should be served over a bed of rice. Each mallard serves two people.

Rotisserie Duck

Rub the inside of the ducks with salt, secure a piece or two of bacon to the breast with toothpicks, and place on the rotisserie spit. Set the spit so the revolving birds are just above the fire. Roast and check for doneness in 1.5 hours. Brush ducks last 15 minutes with your favorite barbecue sauce or a mixture of 1/3 cup each butter, orange juice and wild plum or crabapple jelly melted together and applied hot.

Quick & Easy Duck in a Bag

1 duck

1 large oven cooking bag

1/2 stick butter

1/2 can beef consomme

1/4 cup orange juice

1/2 cup currant jelly

1 large onion, sliced

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup red wine

Put duck in bag with all ingredients. Follow directions for using the oven bag. Bake at 350 degrees for 3 hours.

Grilled Marinated Duck Breasts

3/4 cup Italian salad dressing

3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

Juice of 3 lemons

3/4 teaspoon garlic powder

Pepper to taste

16 boneless duck breast fillets (2 from each duck)

16 slices bacon

Combine first five ingredients and pour mixture over duck breast fillets. Marinate in refrigerator at least 3 hours, preferably overnight. Remove duck breasts from marinade, and wrap each in a bacon slice; secure bacon with toothpicks. Grill over slow coals 7 minutes on each side or until bacon is done.

Duck Casserole

2 whole ducks or 4 breasts

1 onion, sliced

2 ribs celery, chopped

1 (6-oz.) box long grain and wild rice

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup onion, chopped

1/4 cup flour

1 (6-oz.) can sliced mushrooms

1-1/2 cups half-and-half

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

2 teaspoons salt

1-1/2 teaspoons black pepper

1 (3-1/2-oz.) package slivered almonds

Boil ducks for two hours with sliced onion and celery. Cook rice according to directions on box. In a deep skillet, melt butter; sauté chopped onion, and stir in flour. Add mushrooms and their liquid. Add half-and-half, parsley, salt and pepper. Add rice. Bone ducks and add chunks to other ingredients. Place in a 2-quart casserole, sprinkle with almonds and bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 35 minutes. When it bubbles in the center, it's done. Serves 8.

Duck, Sausage and Oyster Gumbo

1 pound sliced okra

1/4 cup bacon drippings

1/4 cup butter

1/2 cup flour

1 large white onion, chopped

1 green bell pepper, chopped

2 ribs celery, chopped

7 cups water

Cubed breast meat from 2 cooked ducks

1 pound smoked sausage, cubed

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 bunch green onions, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1 bay leaf

1/2 teaspoon thyme

1 pint oysters

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/8 teaspoon Tabasco sauce

Gumbo file' powder (optional)

Cook okra in 2 tablespoons of bacon drippings until tender; set aside. Make a roux by heating the remaining bacon grease and butter in a Dutch oven; stir in flour. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until the roux is a caramel color. Add the white onion, bell pepper and celery; cook until onion is clear. Add three cups water, the cooked okra, duck meat, sausage, salt, black pepper, green onions, garlic, bay leaf and thyme. Simmer for 2 hours. Add 4 more cups water with the oysters, Worcestershire and Tabasco sauce. Continue simmering 1 hour. Serve over cooked rice. Serves 8 to 12.

If you're interesting in wild game cookery, check out "Duck Gumbo to Barbecued Coon: A Southern Game Cookbook," written by my wife Theresa and me. Copies are on sale for holiday shoppers and can be purchased by visiting our website, www.catfishsutton.com.

Fun Facts About Decoys — posted Dec. 6, 2007

How much do you know about waterfowl decoys? Probably not as much as you think.

Siever's folly
In 1897, Nebraskan John Sievers Jr. was issued a patent for a hunting decoy—a full-sized cow. The patent specifications indicated that the decoy was to be of a flexible shell of hide, canvas or similar material and be painted like a cow. A system of braces held the hollow body upright and was supported by two hunters inside the cow, one fore and one aft.

The decoy's legs held the legs of the men. The idea was to walk the decoy near waterfowl. Then at the right time, the hinged neck portion dropped down to enable the forward man to "discharge his fowling piece." The rear man shot from a side window. The specifications did not mention precautions to be taken by hunters in the presence of a bull.

Heavy duty decoys
No one would make duck decoys out of cast iron, right? Wrong. The idea seems preposterous, yet hunters of the past often used them. These flat-bottomed birds, each weighing as much as 30 pounds, were set on the wings of sink boxes to provide stability and to keep the boxes flush with the water's surface.

Live decoys
Live ducks and geese called tollers also were used at one time to toll, or lure, their wild counterparts into shooting range. Their use became illegal in the 1930s, but prior to that, many hunters maintained large pens of tolling fowl that were sold throughout the country.

The birds were trained to call and to tolerate a leash. A strip of leather was sewn about the leg in a figure-eight fashion to facilitate handling. The ones that were slow to cooperate soon found their way into the soup pot.

Most expensive decoys
On January 23, 2000, bidders flocked to Sotheby's in New York City to compete at the auction of the finest private collection of American waterfowl decoys in the world. In a standing-room-only salesroom, hundreds of passionate collectors witnessed the sale of the distinguished Collection of Dr. James M. McCleery, which became the world's highest grossing auction of decoys today with a staggering total of $10,965,935.

The two-day event set a world record for the most expensive decoy ever sold at auction when a sleeping Canada goose by renowned carver Elmer Crowell of East Harwich, Massachusetts, circa 1917, went for a staggering $684,500.
Other highlights of the auction included a long-billed curlew by William Bowman that sold for $464,500, a wood duck drake by the Mason Decoy Factory that which fetched $354,500, and a ruddy turnstone by Lothrop Holmes of Kingston, Massachusetts that sold at the stunning height of $470,000.

Retrievers Quiz — posted Nov. 29, 2007

On Day Three of Catfish Gumbo's "Waterfowl Week," we serve up this fun quiz.

Retrievers are the most popular hunting dogs in America. Six breeds are recognized by the American Kennel Club, each with its own unique history and characteristics. Can you name each breed described below? The answers follow the questions.

1. Known for its "otter tail," this retriever (the most popular dog breed in America for over a decade) can go from the hunt to the showroom to the family room with equal aplomb. Descended from Canadian dogs that worked alongside Atlantic fishermen, it was officially accepted into the English Kennel Club in 1903 and the American Kennel Club in 1917.

2. Declared the official dog of Maryland in 1964, this is the largest of the six retriever breeds and the only one that originated in the U.S. Two puppies rescued from the shipwreck of a British brig off the coast of Maryland in 1807 are the ancestors of today's dogs.

3. A popular retriever in New Zealand and Australia, this rare breed sometimes is mistaken for a kind of poodle. In fact, poodles may have been bred with the dog's ancestors (crosses of the small St. John's Newfoundland with English and Irish water spaniels) to tighten the curl of the dogs' coat, which is either liver or black in color.

4. This versatile breed was the favorite of 19th-century British gamekeepers because it excelled at the basic hunting tasks of flushing game, working any sort of cover, locating cripples, and retrieving from land and water. Its coat has a tendency to wave, which led to the original name "Wavy-coated Retriever." The standard now allows for the appearance of those long-ago genes, stating only that the coat should be "as flat as possible."

5. Known for its gentle nature and easy trainability, this beautiful breed is a good choice for hunters who want a versatile dog adept at upland hunting and waterfowl retrieving. Color ranges from light blonde to dark red, with the darker colors being more prevalent in field lines.

6. The smallest of all retrievers, this dog became the 150th recognized breed of the American Kennel Club on July 1, 2003. It is known for its unique ability to lure and retrieve waterfowl. Its playful antics draw the waterfowl into the range of the hunter by piquing the birds' curiosity.

1) Labrador Retriever
2) Chesapeake Bay Retriever
3) Curly-coated Retriever
4) Flat-coated Retriever
5) Golden Retriever
6) Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

Waterfowl Banding Trivia — posted Nov. 28, 2007

For waterfowl hunters, duck and goose bands are among the most treasured mementos of the hunt. Killing a banded bird is a special thrill, and wearing a lanyard of bands around your neck is a symbol of status.

The value and importance of waterfowl bands far exceeds that of mere jewelry, however. The hunters who harvest birds and report their bands play a vital role in the conservation of North America's waterfowl populations. And the reports not only provide interesting insight into the lives of waterfowl, but also hopefully foster a much greater appreciation for our quarry.

Waterfowl banding
Since 1914, the mallard has been the most commonly banded waterfowl species. Through 2004, more than 6.2 million mallards had been banded. The Canada goose is second on the list, with more than 2.8 million birds banded. Surprisingly, the blue-winged teal is third at 1.4 million birds banded. Large numbers of blue-winged teal are captured along with mallards on the prairies and thus are banded in higher numbers than other duck species.

The West Indian whistling duck is the least commonly banded waterfowl species. Only 39 of these birds have been banded during the last 90 years. Among northern-breeding species, the black scoter is the least often banded: only 340 have been banded to date. The remoteness of the black scoter's breeding range in northern Canada and Alaska has made it difficult for waterfowl biologists to capture and band this species.

Bands have been recovered 2.3 million times from a total of 16 million banded waterfowl.

Sounds fishy
According to a 1957 issue of Ducks Unlimited Quarterly, a trout tagged by Wyoming biologists and a merganser banded in the same state turned up together in a most unusual situation. A California biologist making a wildlife food study obtained the merganser after it had been shot by a hunter. In the bird's stomach was a tag from one of the Wyoming trout.

Gator food
A band placed on the leg of a pintail in Canada's Northwest Territories was recovered from the stomach of an American alligator in Florida's Orange Lake 13 months later.

Against all odds
Dr. Stan Chace of Alturas, California, seemingly defied all odds way back in the fall of 1962. Chace bagged a banded Canada goose in October, and shot another banded Canada in December. When he compared the bands, Chace found them to be consecutively numbered—the first 518-31661 and the second 518-31662. The birds were banded three years earlier at Goose Lake.

Duck dogs
In the 1950s, biologists used retrievers to catch young mallards for banding on the nesting grounds in Canada.

Feeling trapped
One black duck drake was captured 18 times during a nine-year span in the waterfowl banding traps of the Michigan Department of Conservation. An adult when first trapped and banded in 1949, the duck successfully eluded hunters and wildlife predators for 10 years. Caught in a trap on January 31, 1958, the bird's original leg band, which was worn thin with age, was replaced.

Marathon flyer enjoys travel
A pintail banded on September 2, 1940, in Athabasca County of northern Alberta eluded hazards until January 1954 when it was shot near Naucuspana, Tabasco, Mexico. Considering the 3,000 miles between band site and death, and assuming the bird made the two-way migration each year for 13 years, the pintail would have logged nearly 80,000 migration miles alone during its lifetime.

Hitting the jackpot
Acquiring one bird band a season ranks right up there. But how about two, on consecutive shots, on the same day? That's what happened to Howard Ewart on November 23, 1996, when he shot a pair of mallard drakes (1007-31302) and (1337-79713) while hunting on the Big Horn River near Thermopolis, Wyoming. Also living a charmed existence was Jack Needles, who, on December 24, 1992, bagged a drake black duck (1287-82810) and a hen mallard (1287-82870) near Stone Harbor, New Jersey. The birds arrived as a pair.

Early miner bands treasured
Duck and goose bands have become collectibles. And perhaps none are more treasured than those originating from the Jack Miner Bird Sanctuary in Kingsville, Ontario. The late Jack Miner founded the sanctuary in 1904 to provide a refuge for migratory birds. He banded his first wild duck in 1909 and in 1915 started banding Canada geese. That same year, Miner added a verse of Biblical scripture to his bands. By 1944, 50,000 wild ducks had been banded at the sanctuary, along with 40,000 Canada geese.

The tradition continues today. In 2005 alone, hunters from 23 states, Ontario and Saskatchewan reported harvesting waterfowl with Miner bands. By comparison, the U.S. government's bird banding program was initiated in 1920. Since then, more than 23 million birds have been tagged, making the federal bands much more common.

Interesting double take
Tom Kowa of Sacramento, California, shot a female Ross's goose in January 2000, and a neck-collared male in January 2002. Both birds were shot on Pond 6 at Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, and both were banded by the same individual eight years apart.

Age records
Information on life span is collected every time a banded bird is reported to the Bird Banding Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. And the record ages for some duck species may surprise you.

Canvasback, 29 years, 6 months
Black duck, 26 years, 5 months
Mallard 26 years, 4 months
Blue-winged teal, 23 years, 3 months
Redhead, 22 years, 7 months
Wood duck, 22 years, 6 months
Northern pintail, 22 years, 3 months
American wigeon, 20 years, 11 months
Ring-necked duck, 20 years, 5 months
Green-winged teal, 20 years, 3 months

Waterfowling Words — posted Nov. 27, 2007

Duck hunting apparently is good in Arkansas this year. In recent days, I've received hunting invitations from members of at least five Natural State duck clubs, all of whom indicated the waterfowling is better than it's been in years.

Unfortunately, I'm tied up at my computer this week, writing and editing, and won't have an opportunity to go hunting. That being the case, I figure I'll do the next best thing—write about duck hunting. So this week will be Waterfowling Week on Catfish Gumbo.

For the first course of this waterfowling banquet, here are some wonderful passages by great writers that describe what it truly means to be a duck hunter.

"I suppose it may seem like a strange sort of lullaby to some, but I have never heard sweeter music than the muffled report of duck guns on a distant marsh, and I know that others share my feeling."
—Burton Spiller, More Grouse Feathers, 1972

"There are no bad days in a duck blind."
—Charles F. Waterman, "Duck Blinds," Part I Remember, 1974

"… a lone black duck came out of the west, … set his wings and pitched downward. I cannot remember the shot; I remember only my unspeakable delight when my first duck hit the snowy ice with a thud and lay there, belly up, red legs kicking."
—Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, 1949

"I intend to learn to call waterfowl even if in the process I offend every ear in the country—and I just might."
—Gene Hill, "Calling Ducks," Mostly Tailfeathers, 1971

"When done under the rules of good sportsmanship, duck hunting is a culmination of art, skill and scientific endeavor. It is also an act of love, for who loves the birds more than the hunter?"
—Bob Hinman, The Duck Hunter's Handbook, 1974

"To the avid waterfowler, no moment of truth can match the instant when a flock first responds to his call and decoys, the time when this wild, free bird of unsurpassed grace begins a descent from the sky down to gun range. It is a stirring spectacle …"
—Grits Gresham, The Complete Wildfowler, 1973

"A duck call in the hands of the unskilled is one of conservation's greatest assets."
—Nash Buckingham, "De Shootinest Gent'man", 1941

"When a duck hunter gets it all right, the satisfaction is sublime. When he picks the precise spot, fashions a good blind, sets his decoys to look like live ducks on the water, calls convincingly and makes a clean kill … he has reached a high pinnacle of achievement."
—Wade Bourne, A Ducks Unlimited Guide to Hunting Dabblers, 2002

"Duck hunting gives a man a chance to see the loneliest places … blinds washed by a rolling surf, blue and gold autumn marshes, … a rice field in the rain, flooded pin-oak forests or any remote river delta. In duck hunting the scene is as important as the shooting …"
—Erwin Bauer, The Duck Hunter's Bible, 1965

"A duck hunter is a man who finds value in a pair of patched waders that should have been replaced years ago, a wooden decoy with the paint worn off and a Labrador pup that might make a retriever … someday."
—Larry Dablemont, Memories from a Misty Morning Marsh, 1999

"Out of small game came flights of … ducks, and I came to see, through them, that my attraction was not, above all else, to the killing, but to the sighting of the animal, the 'reading' of his flight, the knowing of where he would be …"
—Thomas McIntyre, The Way of the Hunter: The Art and Spirit of Modern Hunting, 1988

"What finer recreation could fall to the lot of any boy than to tramp with his dad, gun in hand, through forests ablaze with autumn leaves; over pungent marshes where swift-winged quacking waterfowl await his coming?"
—Raymond S. Deck, "Take Your Boy Hunting," Parents' Magazine, October 1942

"The joy of hunting was beyond accounting, once I was old enough to be trusted … with my father's old shotgun. I loved to bring birds down, to take quick aim at mallards, pintails, teal … and feel the twelve-gauge bounce against my battered shoulder …"
—A.B. Guthrie Jr., The Blue Hen's Chick: A Life in Context, 1965

"… the magic visitation of ducks from the sky to a set of bobbing blocks holds more of beauty and heart-pounding thrill than I have ever experienced afield with rod or gun."
—Gordon MacQuarrie, The Stories of the Old Duck Hunters & Other Drivel, 1967

"Grand ideas can be born in duck blinds, for many of America's leading conservationists found both inspiration and motivation from what they saw and felt as they awaited encounters with wildfowl. Leopold's 'land ethic,' Darling's determination and Teddy Roosevelt's vision likely owe their genesis to the same wetland cathedrals …"
—Chris Dorsey, Wildfowler's Season, 1995

"When blizzards and storm winds strike, other hunters curl up by the hearth. Waterfowlers go forth."
—Zack Taylor, Successful Waterfowling, 1974

50 Things For Which I Am Thankful — posted Nov. 24, 2007

I have many, many things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving: a wonderful wife and sons, a roof over my head and food on the table, great friends and family, good health, freedom, the sacrifices made by our military men and women and their families, and living in the greatest country in the world. Here are some other things I'm thankful for as well.

1. Those little arrows that show me which way the batteries go
2. Ted Nugent
3. Hatchet Jack's Bait Shop
4. Tequila
5. Catfish (especially big catfish)
6. Bait
7. Shotguns
8. Bug spray
9. GPS
10. Freedom of speech
11. The calls of wild geese
12. Pocketknives
13. Friends who love shooting but can't shoot as well as me
14. Gore-Tex
15. Being my own boss
16. Duct tape
17. The ivory-billed woodpecker
18. Cabela's
19. Bass Pro Shops
20. Sports Academy
21. Calm days on the water
22. Shakespeare Ugly Stiks
23. The Second Amendment
24. Friends who take me and my sons fishing and hunting
25. Cialis
26. Circle hooks
27. Panfish
28. Cast-iron cookware
29. Spawning season
30. Sporting clays
31. All-you-can-eat buffets
32. Hand warmers
33. Venison
34. Pat McManus
35. Teflon
36. That bird that's first to sing when the sun rises
37. Bobbers
38. Hunting dogs
39. Rebel's Pop-R
40. Life jackets
41. Salsa
42. Flashlights
43. The Internet
44. Autumn
45. National wildlife refuges
46. Mourning doves
47. Turkey in my tummy (and dressing and cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie)
48. Wilderness
49. A day off so I can go hunting with my best friend Lewis
50. All of you who read the crazy stuff I write

Be sure to post a comment and let us all know what you are thankful for this Thanksgiving. I'll be back next week. (I really am taking a day off and going hunting with my best friend Lewis!)


Forktail Dinger, Snapper Slapper And Other Fun Fishing Tackle Names — posted Nov. 23, 2007

Fans of the TV show "Friends" probably will remember a scene where Phoebe is looking through some of Joey's fishing lures and asking him what they're called.

"What is this now?" she asks, holding up a soft-plastic bait.

"Googly Worm," says Joey. Phoebe gets tickled at the name.

She holds up a spinnerbait. "And this?" she asks.

"Gold Pop Jiggly Jammer," replies Joey. Phoebe laughs again.

Phoebe gets a kick out of these goofy fishing lure names. But if Joey had been using real names for real lures, she might have found them even funnier.

Have you ever noticed, for example, how some fishing lure names sound just like the names of adult toys? Mini Turbo Slammer. Double Cavitator. Slant Chrome Jet Head. Super Vibrax. Hot Lips. Giggly Stick. Husky Jerk. Flashtail Whistler. Pearly Popper. Power Wiggler. Mini Wacker. Ultra-Vibe Speed Worm. Vibra King Tube.

I'm not making these up, folks. These are real names of real lures.

The names of many other fishing lures are even more sexually suggestive—so much so, it's hard to believe their designers didn't actually intend it that way. Chug-N-Spit. Tally Whacker. SplitTail. Balls O' Fire. Bang-O-Lure. Snapper Slapper. Gulp! Slo-Poke. Ring-A-Ding. Swizzle Stik. Slurpee. Super Squirt. Squirmin' Squirt. Forktail Dinger. Woolly Bugger. Gay Blade. Butt Skunk. Little Stubby. Wooly Beavertail. Crappie Beaver. Beaver Bug. Tiny Beaver.

(Notice how often the word "beaver" keeps popping up? What's a beaver got to do with fishing?)

Lures aren't the only fishing products with suggestive monikers. Consider, as well, the variety of scent products with names that sound like something you'd find in an Adam and Eve catalog: Lunker Sauce, Activate Gel, Nitro Gravy, Nitro Grease, Bang, Glory Hole Oil.

Even everyday, ordinary fishing terms often sound dirty when they really aren't. Can you keep from snickering when you read this list aloud?

• Jerkbait
• Spawn sac
• Fuzzy Grub
• Bottom bouncer
• Hard bait
• Rod with blank through butt
• Teaser
• Drop shot
• Dough balls
• Chugger
• Rod rack
• Rod holder
• Slider head
• Daisy chain
• Worm blower

You gotta love the folks that name this stuff.


Rhetorical Questions — posted Nov. 20, 2007

Sometimes, answers are irrelevant; it's the question that counts. For example:

Why are they called deer "stands" when they're made for sitting?

If we catch bass when we go bass fishing, what do we catch when we go bottom fishing?

What's better about improved cylinder?

Do cinnamon teal taste like pumpkin pie?

Where are the cods on a codfish?

Are there crawmoms, too?

Do we need to take Viagra if we use a deboner?

Do dogfish chase catfish?

Who were eddies named for?

Why do we say we're "dressing" game when we remove its hide?

Does anyone ever get convicted at a field trial?

Why is it called a firearm? Why not fireleg or firenose?

Do bees make honeyholes?

Can you weigh a fish on its scales?

Is it just a coincidence that a party boat is also called a headboat?

Do pork frogs taste like bacon?

Will you find a pot of goldfish at the end of a rainbow trout?

Can you get some money back if you rebait?


Wonderous Whitetails — posted Nov. 16, 2007

With deer season in full swing in many parts of the country, it seems appropriate to share stories of some of the biggest whitetails ever. Many hunters kill trophy deer each year, but few manage to take animals like the one-of-a-kind monsters in these vignettes.

(photo courtesy of Boone and Crockett Club)
Whitetail history is filled with landmark events, but perhaps none more noteworthy than the one occurring on the morning of November 23, 1993. That day, Saskatchewan rifle hunter Milo Hanson killed a tremendous 14-pointer that would be certified as a World’s Record in the typical category of the Boone and Crockett record book. The monster received a final panel score of 213 5/8 net points. The record had been held by the James Jordan buck shot in Wisconsin in 1914.

Not only did Milo’s trophy handily beat the whitetail that had been the world’s biggest typical for more than three-quarters of a century, he’s still the buck to beat in the typical category. That fact surprises many whitetail experts who openly doubted the Canadian deer would hold onto the No. 1 ranking this long.

There’s an interesting side note to Hanson’s story. When he spotted the huge whitetail during a “bush push”—a term Saskatchewan hunters use to describe a deer drive—he almost shot off one antler, something that would have excluded the deer from the record books.

Hanson shot the deer twice—the killing second shot, and a first shot made while the deer was running about 100 yards away. Hanson’s opening volley ripped through the buck’s body and slammed into the rear of the left antler about four inches above the base. The lead slug became embedded in the antler, and the inside of the antler was split like a green sapling.

If Hanson had shot that antler off, it would have been the deer that was almost the world record.

(photo courtesy of Boone and Crockett Club)
Hunter David Beckman was driving in St. Louis County, Missouri in November 1981 when he spotted an amazing non-typical whitetail. The deer was already dead, but its outstanding rack caught Beckman’s eye. There was one problem: the dead buck was lying inside a fence on private property, and Beckman could not legally retrieve it.

Beckman enlisted the help of conservation agent Michael Helland, who obtained permission from the landowner to recover the carcass. The deer apparently died of natural causes and had an amazing rack with 44 points.

The buck, now known as “The Missouri Monarch,” was officially scored at 333-7/8 points and was recognized as the new World’s Record non-typical whitetail at the Boone and Crockett Club’s 1983 Awards Program. It is truly a “one-in-a-million” animal, the biggest of the big. In fact, the antlers of this monster buck are so massive, some wonder if a whitetail scoring higher will ever surface.

On September 29, 2003, in Monroe County, Iowa, 15-year-old Tony Lovstuen killed a monster whitetail with his muzzleloader. With a net non-typical Boone and Crockett score of 307 5/8, that deer has the biggest anglers of any whitetail ever shot by a hunter. (Two pick-up entries remain ahead of the Lovstuen Buck in the B&C record book: the 333 7/8 inch “Missouri Monarch” World’s Record non-typical whitetail and the runner-up 328 2/8 inch “Hole in the Horn” buck from Ohio.)

On a cold November day in 1926, Carl Lenander Jr. dropped a monstrous Minnesota buck with a single shot. Field-dressed, the deer weighed 402 pounds. The state Conservation Department calculated its live weight to be 511 pounds. No heavier whitetail deer has ever been recorded.

The Irish elk, or Megaloceros, became extinct around 7,700 years ago. That’s too bad for hunters. This was the largest member of the deer family that ever lived. A mature Irish elk stag stood up to 7 feet at the shoulders, could weigh in excess of 1,500 pounds and carried antlers weighing up to 95 pounds and spanning as much as 168 inches from tip to tip. That’s a spread of 14 feet. This outrageous headgear ranks as the most massive ever worn by any animal, extinct or living, almost doubling that of today’s champion, the Alaska-Yukon moose.


Flubbed Headlines — posted Nov. 14, 2007

I got quite a favorable response when I posted a blog titled "Flubbed Headlines" a while back. For those of you hungry for more, here's proof perfect that some folks who write the headlines we read in newspapers just can't be trusted to get the story right.

Man held over forest fire

Wildlife officers begin campaign to run down poachers


State Will Poison Rivers So It Can Count Dead Fish

Surgery For Duck Hurt By Anglers Left Hook

Trout Being Tempted By Extra-Terrestrials


Bonus Permits Enable 809 Hunters to Kill Two Deer

Stolen Gun Found By Tree

Cuts Could Hurt Wildlife

Biologist Gives Talk on Deer


Reason for More Bear Sightings: More Bears

Small boat for sale by widow — with a wide bottom.


Things I dislike — posted Nov. 11, 2007

I don't want to get a reputation for being negative, but there are a lot of things I don't like. I figure if I bring them up here, maybe someone will do something about it and all of us will be better off.

For example, I can't stand these hard-plastic clam-pack things they're packaging new fishing tackle in nowadays. Have you tried to open a new fishing reel or spinning combo that's been vacuum-sealed inside one of these things? Use a knife and chances are good you'll slice a major artery before you make any headway. Scissors and pruning shears don't work either. I've tried. A chainsaw probably is the best option, but you'll have to sharpen it good after dismembering a clam pack or it'll be too dull to cut through wood.

Why do they have to package fishing stuff this way? They don't put expensive jewelry in clam packs or high-dollar electronics like digital cameras. I think they do it just to piss me off. And if they do, it's working.

I don't like having to get up so early to go hunting and fishing either. None of my buddies ever says, "Let's meet at the boat ramp at noon," or "Why don't you just call me whenever you get up?" They always want to get together at some ungodly hour long before the sun rises. They say we have to go early or we'll miss the bite. We have to get there before sunrise or the deer will all be bedded down.

Now is that really true? Absolutely not. It's just one of those stupid things everybody does because everybody's always done it. I've caught catfish and bass in the middle of the afternoon and shot whitetails and mallards when the sun was high overhead. There is absolutely no sense in this "get there before sunrise" mess, and I'd like to see it stop immediately.

The next person who invites me on a trip and lets me sleep in will be my best friend forever.

Here's another thing that really gets my goat: people who do business on their cell phone while we're trying to fish or hunt. One of these days I'm gonna blow a gasket when that stupid little song starts playing (and it's always some stupid little song) and interrupts my peace and quiet. I will then either: a) use my friend's cell phone for skeet practice, or b) see if a cell phone can function as a fishing sinker or boat anchor. If you're out with me and don't want to take that risk, then you better either turn your cell phone off or shove it … well, shove it under your truck seat.

And finally . . . for now, anyway . . . the next time another fisherman walks up and looks at the mess of fish I'm taking home and says real smart-like, How could you kill all those fish?, I'm going to really cut loose and say what I think. As long as I abide by the regulations regarding how many fish I can catch and keep, it's none of your damn business if want to whack the heads off every trout or bass I hook. I like eating fish, and I like knowing that the ones I eat I put on the table myself. So next time you see me trying to drag a stringer loaded with dead fish to my vehicle, shut your fat mouth and leave me the hell alone.

Have a nice day.

Strange Catches — posted Nov. 9, 2007

When a fisherman goes fishing he expects to catch fish, right? Well, that's not always what happens. And it's not always an old boot the fisherman hooks either.

Consider the case of Rick Nascak. While fishing the Mississippi River in Minnesota, Rick snagged the skull and antlers of a bull elk. Thing is, elk haven't lived in Minnesota in 150 years! Scientists say the skull may be 1,000 years old.

When a California angler dropped his bait over the side, an octopus grabbed it and carried it into its home. The fisherman didn't know that, of course, and when he reeled up his line, he was surprised to find he'd caught a beer bottle full of octopus instead of beer.

Some catches are rather macabre, and ironic as well. Consider, for example, the case of Scottish fisherman William Gault. On January 14, 1992, William's brother Jim was lost overboard from the fishing boat Dayspring 40 miles off the northeast coast of Scotland. A search failed to recover Jim's body. Three months later, on April 7, while William was fishing from the same boat, he hauled in a human body. From the clothes on the corpse, he recognized the body as his brother.

A guy named Ryan Snow may have made the weirdest catch ever. While fishing for trout in a Washington lake, he hooked something on the bottom. He thought it might be a log, but when he reeled in, he discovered it was a wedding gown. He told reporters he was glad there was nobody in it.

When a buddy of mine reeled in a bikini top one day, his comments were quite the opposite.

One For The Money, Two For The Show — posted Nov. 7, 2007

This past weekend, I did something I’ve never done before: I fished in a catfish tournament. And what a tournament it was.

Ken Freeman, founder and owner of Bass Pro Shop’s Big Cat Quest Tournament Series, invited me to participate in the Series championship November 3 and 4 on the Mississippi River at Memphis, Tennessee. And I'm darn sure glad he did.

In case you don’t know, this stretch of “The Father of Waters” has produced some of the biggest catfish ever caught in North America, including a 116-pound, 12-ounce world-record blue cat landed in the river at West Memphis, Arkansas in 2001. Several other blues near or exceeding the 100-pound mark have been snatched from the Mississippi in recent decades as well. And the river is teeming with huge flatheads and channel cats to boot.

That being said, you can understand why I was eager to get on the water with my partner Jeff Williams who owns Team Catfish in Grove, Oklahoma. Jeff is a superb catfish angler, and fishing with him on one of the best big-cat rivers in the world was an incredible opportunity. We both knew this trip could possibly produce the catfish of a lifetime.

The weather was beautiful both days of the tournament, but the catfish weren’t exactly jumping in the boat. Fishing was tough compared to previous trips I’ve made on the Mississippi in this area, and at the end of Day 1, while Jeff and I had managed to catch a limit of five fish, our total weight was only 31.4 pounds.

When we got back to the weigh-in area at Mud Island River Park, however, the folks there were buzzing about a big catfish that already had been brought to the scales.

At mid-morning, veteran catfish guide and tournament pro Phil King of Corinth, Miss. had set the hook in a fish he immediately knew was a cut above average. His teammates, Tim Haynie and Leland Harris, pulled their anchor so they could follow the big catfish and give King a better chance of landing it. The strategy worked. After a 30-minute battle, King brought the gigantic blue cat close enough for Haynie to net it.

“When we had it in the boat, I was pretty certain my dream had come true,” King told me. “After years of trying, I finally had caught a catfish weighing more than 100 pounds.”

Three pounds more to be exact, a record weight for a catfish weighed in during a U.S. tournament. Although other teams brought in some very respectable cats as well, King’s 103.11-pound blue was enough to put his team in the No. 1 spot at the end of the first day of competition. Their five-fish limit pushed the scale to 163.5 pounds, nearly 46 pounds ahead of second place.

“We’ve just seen history being made,” Freeman told the crowd gathered at Mud Island. “Never before has a century-mark catfish been weighed in a catfishing tournament. I always hoped I would see it, but I never thought I actually would.”

Day 2 was more of the same for Jeff and me. We tried every trick we knew but only managed to catch four cats. Fortunately, the last one we landed was a healthy 20-pound blue, so we weren’t totally out of the running.

At dawn that same morning, while Jeff and I fished downstream from Memphis, Harold Dodd and Cary Winchester of Cape Girardeau, Mo. dropped their lines in a hole upstream from the River City.

For 20 minutes, they had been fishing a hole where Dodd caught an almost-50-pound blue cat a week earlier. Then, suddenly, Winchester’s rod went down hard. Winchester, who has caught Mississippi River cats up to 95 pounds, knew the fish was huge when he couldn’t budge it from the bottom.

“It took half an hour for me just to turn its head and get it coming toward the boat,” he told me. “And another 15 minutes passed before I got the fish close enough for Harold to net.”

Dodd and Winchester are among the country’s premier big-river catfish anglers, and when they first looked at the humongous catfish, they both thought it could weigh more than King’s 103-pounder. When they put it on a hand-held scale, however, it showed an even 96 pounds.

“We knew for sure we had a fish that weighed at least 96 pounds,” Dodd said. “But Cary felt it was even bigger, despite what the scale told us. Hours would pass before we knew for sure.”

It took both Winchester and Dodd to carry the blue catfish to the stage (see their photo above). When they finally got the fish on the scale, a cheer went up from the crowd. Winchester’s monster weighed an even 108 pounds, another new tournament record.

“I’m still in a state of total shock,” Winchester told me as he watched the enormous catfish swimming in the mobile aquarium where it was transferred after the weigh-in. “This is an incredible fish, one I’ll never forget catching as long as I live. And for it to happen here at the world championship with all these great catfish anglers participating, that’s just icing on the cake.”

If Phil King was upset that his record only lasted 24 hours, he didn’t show it. But that could be because he had another dream come true on that final tournament day. He and teammates Tim Haynie and Leland Harris brought in five more cats with a total weight of 127.5 pounds. They swept the world championship with a cumulative total of 291 pounds, and won almost $30,000 in cash and prizes.

“For years now, I’ve had two main goals as an angler: to win a world championship and to catch a catfish over 100 pounds,” King said. “This weekend, I accomplished both those things. To say I’m on cloud nine would certainly be an understatement.”

Many people attending the tournament, myself included, believe this incredible event will have far-reaching, positive effects on the sport of catfishing.

“If there was ever any doubt in anyone’s mind that catfishing is truly exciting, or doubt as to whether or not catfishing deserves respect in the world of sportfishing, those questions have now been answered two times over,” said Ken Freeman. “When I think about everything that transpired here in Memphis, I’m reminded of an old saying: ‘One for the money, two for the show, three to get ready, now go cat go.’ We’re ready now, and we’re going to see catfishing go to new levels.

“Our motto at Bass Pro’s Big Cat Quest says it all: The best is yet to come.”

As for me and Jeff, well, we finished a respectable 29th out of more than 100 teams, with just over 72 pounds of catfish, enough to rank us with the money winners. I’m pretty darn pleased with that considering this was the first catfish tournament I ever fished and the fact we were fishing against some of the finest anglers of any kind every to wet a line in the Mississippi. My first catfish tournament definitely won’t be my last.


Priceless Fishing Lures — posted Nov. 6, 2007

How much would you pay for a single fishing lure? Five dollars? Ten? Twenty?

In November 2003, Tracey Shirey from South Carolina paid $101,200 for a lure. Imagine that: more than $100,000 for one fishing lure.

The copper lure Shirey bought was special, however. It was a 10-inch Haskell minnow made in 1859 by Ohio gunsmith Riley Haskell. Its spinning double hook was the first patented hook in the U.S. Because of its age, rarity and uniqueness, Shirey called that saltwater bait the "Holy Grail of fishing lures." When he purchased it, he established a record price for an American fishing collectible bought at auction.

I have an old Arbogast Jitterbug that doesn't look valuable, but it too is priceless, at least to me. It's the first fishing lure I ever owned. My uncle gave it to me when I started bass fishing at the age of 12. I caught dozens of nice bass on it over the years, including at least one 7-pounder. Somehow I never lost it, and when I was twenty, I decided to retire the lure and store it away. It's simply too valuable to fish with.

Would I take $100,000 for it? You're darn tooting I would. My mother didn't raise no fool.

That won't happen though, because the reason this Jitterbug is valuable has nothing to do with dollars and cents. It's priceless because of the memories it created. And the memories, more than anything else, are what make bass fishing special.

What Do Deer Think? — posted Oct. 29, 2007

You can't believe everything you read on the Internet, but Catfishdude likes to think that the following witty exchange, shared by a friend, may have actually taken place. Then again, it may be too good to be true.

Ted Nugent, rock star and avid bow hunter from Michigan, was being interviewed by a French journalist and animal rights activist. The discussion came around to deer hunting. The journalist asked, "What do you think is the last thought in the head of a deer before you shoot him?

"Is it 'Are you my friend?' or is it 'Are you the one who killed my brother?'"

Nugent replied, "Deer aren't capable of that kind of thinking. All they care about is, 'What am I going to eat next, who am I going to screw next, and can I run fast enough to get away?' They are very much like the French."

The interview ended at that point.

For more of Keith "Catfish" Sutton's views on the world of Outdoors (and just in general), feel free to check out his blog at http://catfishgumbo.blogspot.com/ for more of his musings.