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By Staff | Oct 8, 2010

It’s not uncommon these days for my wife and I to be awakened by small arms fire.

No, we haven’t moved to a war-torn Third World nation. The shooting has come to us in an annual battle called hunting season.

Among the first to be targeted are waterfowl, which obviously includes ducks. The early-morning gunfire echoing from nearby sloughs seems to indicate that some of them are forgetting to duck.

I’ve done my share of duck hunting. I have sat motionless in the frozen predawn morning, trying to blend in with the cattails, scanning the sky for quackers willing to drop in on me.

It was very much like Linus waiting in the pumpkin patch. Except instead of watching for the Great Pumpkin, I was hoping that some migratory bird-brains would deem my decoys sincerest of them all.

There were many times when I returned home with an empty game bag, which is why it’s called “hunting” and not “target shooting.”

What keeps many hunters going during dry spells is a yearning to recreate their Supreme Hunting Experience.

My buddy Steve and I had such an experience when we were young men. This was long before we knew that nose and ear hair management would become such a large part of our personal grooming routines.

It was a beautifully sunny Indian Summer afternoon and we were on the prowl for ducks. The day had been a good one in that we hadn’t missed any shots; it was a bad day in that we hadn’t actually taken any shots.

We decided to check out the marsh in my grandpa’s pasture. A field of standing corn provided cover as we stealthily approached the slough.

Stalking through the stalks, we saw that the bog was dappled with ducks! We had stumbled onto the waterfowl version of a Shriners’ convention!

We leapt into action with guns ablaze. I won’t say which of us dropped the most ducks because that would be embarrassing. But as I later explained to Steve, my strategy was to blast empty areas of the sky and thus herd the ducks towards his deadly 12 gauge. Steve had never heard of this tactic; I explained that it was because it had just been invented.

While collecting the spoils of our hunt, a red-tailed hawk suddenly lifted off nearby. Investigation revealed that the hawk had picked clean one of our downed ducks!

I’d often heard that particular raptor referred to as a chicken hawk, but had no idea that it might swing both ways and could also be a duck hawk.

I don’t hunt much these days. Been there, done that, passed the shotgun pellets through my digestive tract. It’s much more enjoyable, I have discovered, to let others do the hunting. And also clean the game and cook it.

This is why my wife and I have fallen into the habit of attending the Wild Game Feed held each fall at our local St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

“We’ve been holding our Wild Game Feed for 10 years now,” said Lee, one of the volunteer cooks for the event. “It seems to get more popular each year.”

It’s easy to see why. The grilled deer loins, Lee’s area of expertise, are absolutely sumptuous. Before grilling, Lee and his chef companions marinate the venison in some sort of secret sauce.

The result is so delectable, you get the feeling that you would have be killed upon uncovering the recipe – although Lee assured me that this is not the case.

The pheasant stroganoff was falling-apart tender and thoroughly delicious, as was the venison version of that dish. Platters of pasta and long grain rice and homegrown mashed squash provide the carbs.

“Our stroganoff isn’t exactly approved by the Heart Association,” grinned Lee. “The recipe starts out with butter, then moves on to sour cream, then half and half.”

Julia Child would be proud.

I asked Lee if the recipe included mushrooms and he said that it did. Aha! This means the stroganoff is actually a health food, because mushrooms are a vegetable. Sort of.

The dessert course included of a choice of pumpkin or apple pie. Both were homemade, naturally, with crusts that were as light and flaky as freshly fallen snow.

The meal was served in the basement of St. Paul’s. Being a snug space, a person can’t help but become intimately acquainted with one’s tablemates. But this only adds to the family atmosphere.

A person cannot be an atheist and attend the Wild Game Feed at St. Paul’s. This is not due to any kind of sectarian litmus test; it’s merely because an atheist wouldn’t be able to mumble between mouthfuls “Oh my God, this is so good!”


And please pass the pheasant.

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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