“Why are y’all shooting at a dead goose?” I asked my four companions in the blind. We’d all just emptied our shotguns at the lone speckle belly goose who’d made the poor decision to fly low over our heads.
“Nice shot Andy,” they all chuckled in one version or another.
I’d already explained my questionable belief that I kill every duck when hunting in a group. Now when I’m alone, I miss some ducks. But this honker is a prime example. It came in on my side of the blind, I took aim, emptied my gun, it fell dead. The others guys shot too, but clearly my pellets dropped the unlucky goose and every other bird killed that day.
This was the first of three days I got to hunt, cook, and discuss assorted manly things with Hank Shaw. Dude runs an awesome blog, Hunter Angler Gardner Cook, and chances are you’ve seen him on Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods or Steven Rinella’s MeatEater. I honestly can’t remember when I discovered him–but I can tell you why: I’m sick of eating game chicken fried, in Campbell’s mushroom soup, or wrapped with bacon and a slice of jalapeno. Some form of these constitute the cooking arsenal in most hunters kitchen, like it had mine.
So when he announced he was coming to my tiny gulf coast town to host a hunt and cooking school, I was in like a fat girl at the buffet line. As luck would have it, a couple of my friends signed up independently making my anticipation for the three day event sky rocket.
There is a certain pride I think we all develop for our local hunting area. Where I live, hunting and fishing can be epic. I’ve had killer hunts here for ducks, dove, pigs, deer, etc. So I felt an awkward responsibility for the slow hunting and bad luck we experienced.
The first day found us hunting a Ducks Unlimited project pond. We saw a few flocks before sunrise, but they were travelling high and fast and didn’t want to land in front of us. I did manage to kill my first Speckle-belly goose and I shot a coot which fell into tree like a tacky Cajun Christmas tree ornament. The second day, we made our way to the bay for some diver shooting. Despite the unseasonably early cold weather, the redheads simply hadn’t made it South. It was a bust. Hank did show me the edible plants I’ve so often trudged through while fishing and hunting. I now know I can survive at the beach, and my sons are pumped about going back and grabbing some greens.
The final day, we’d planned on goose hunting, but the ATV broke down and sunk in the mud—right in the middle of 1500 snow goose decoys at 4:30 am. We switched spots and managed to scratch out a few more ducks and had a fun time jump shooting coots. I also finally nabbed a wigeon which had eluded me through the years.
The Cooking School
But really, I was there for the cooking school which was THE BOMB! If like me, you want to elevate your kitchen skills, you owe it to yourself to sign up for one of Hank’s cooking schools. The lessons were clearly planned yet still kept an informal and extemporaneous feel. He encouraged us to interrupt him with questions and we went off on many tangents. It was a convivial atmosphere, more like hunting with a new friend who happened to be a talented chef than a dry lecture series.
We started with breaking down the birds. He explained which birds to pluck, and which to skin.
We all took a bird, rough plucked it (basically plucked about 50-80% of all big feathers) and left the down. We dipped the birds in wax and finished plucking them.
He then had us cut up the birds, all the while discussing things like making stock and broth, rendering fat, sausage, etc. I’ve read quite a bit of his work, so it had a deja vu quality hearing him describe what I’ve seen in print.
I do love reading, but this cooking school proved hands on training is where it’s at. Even if you’ve read most of his work, there is still lots he didn’t cover in his books. Take a look at this short clip where he was going over the fine points of cooking duck breast:
And it wasn’t just show and tell. In this video, he’s showing a chubby dude how to cut up a duck. Let it be known, chubby dude had enjoyed a couple Southern Comfort and Diet Cokes, and caught some flak for his drink choice by both Hank and fellas that were supposed to be friends. Apparently it’s not a “manly” drink unless coeds are involved. Nonetheless, his duck cutting skills greatly improved after this session, despite his unwieldy use of the knife. Oddly enough, they didn’t find his sweet Filson hat all that studly either.
Straight up, I gained 12 pounds in 3 days. I’ve never eaten so much good food in such a short span of time. At first, I was bashful. Slow to get seconds, thirds and fourths. After the first dinner, it was on. My buddy Rob described it as a “food blur” because we had so many great dishes it was hard to keep track.
Each of us have been attempting to recreate the dishes back in real life, and while only at about 80% the awesomeness, still damn fine fair.
Many of the guides missed dinner while out scouting and we made sure to eat their portions. Now, I’m no Holly Heyser, but this was our first dinner:
Grilled quail with semolina gnocci, wildboar sausage and collards. Many of the dishes were new to me, or they were just so much awesome they might as well have been new. Appetizers like gulf shrimp tossed in olive oil, habanero, and cilantro. Wild boar this and that, venison smash burgers, Hungarian goulash, and some of the best cookies ever put in this mouth. Oh, and we of course snacked on wonderfully seared duck breast each evening.
Hank’s Texas Duck Hunt Event combined the primal satisfaction of finding and killing your own food, the artistic pleasure of cooking well, and the camaraderie of friends in the field. Fun times. So if pursuing and acquiring wild food is your thing, go out and purchase Hunt Gather Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast. Also, check out his latest book Duck, Duck, Goose: Recipes and Techniques for Cooking Ducks and Geese, Both Wild and Domestic which is fantastic. Then sign up for one of his cooking school and hunts. Plus autographs!