Three Points, You’re Out: My first Whitetail buck Tres & a lesson in wildlife management

“We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” Aldo Leopold Foreword, A Sand County Almanac

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New Ranch (San Antonio River)

I’ve never been a huge church goer. I enjoy the music & the message however, I tend to feel a bit claustrophobic in church- both physically and mentally. The minute I leave a church and breathe in the fresh air, feel the sun’s rays, hear the birds chirp or the sound of the leaves rustle is the moment I am reminded of a higher power. I know that for many, church is a community which I admire. Over time I have come to realize that similarly the land is a community to which I belong. Where I feel accepted, where I am alone (or not alone) with my thoughts and where I walk among God’s creatures. These powers that be have gifted me experiences in the outdoors that are meant to be the most valuable teaching tools of my life. In dog training, my trainer Dave Millmore always refers to theses as the “tools in our tool belt.” A lesson in something so simple as patience can really make me stop and contemplate the path that hunting has put me on. It seems that no matter how hard the lesson, at the end of it I come out stronger.

Fortunately, for the second year in a row, Adam and I have had the opportunity to harvest deer on a beautiful 3,800 acre low fence property along the San Antonio river owned and operated by dear friends of ours at New Ranch Outfitters. Our task however, was more than just hunting and celebrating Thanksgiving together. We were there for a bigger purpose.

Each year MLD permits are issued to private land owners across the state of Texas as part of the Managed Land Deer Program (MLDP). These MLD permits are issued by Texas Parks & Wildlife based on the recommendations of a wildlife biologist and used to manage deer populations and the particular goals of a landowner. New Ranch Outfitters participates in the MLD program. We have even been fortunate to help them conduct a deer survey via helicopter in past.

The Managed Lands Deer Program (MLDP) is intended to foster and support sound management and stewardship of native wildlife and wildlife habitats on private lands in Texas. Deer harvest is an important aspect of habitat management and conservation. Landowners enrolled in either the MLDP Harvest Option or Conservation Option are able to take advantage of extended season lengths and liberalized harvest opportunities. -MLDP, Texas Parks & Wildlife

Aldo Leopold, the father of modern wildlife management published Game Management in 1933. In it he states that,“…game (wildlife) can be restored by the creative use of the same tools which have heretofore destroyed it- axe, cow, plow, fire and gun.” Using Aldo Leopold’s methods of wildlife management, regulated hunting is used as a means to manage and protect sound wildlife populations. Because I can promise you, the Whitetail deer is not on the endangered species list.

On our first early 39 degree morning in the river bottom, just as the sun was rising we heard a parliament of Barred owls all around us. Adam and I affectionately refer to them as the monkeys of Texas for their distinct “hootin’ & hollering” calls. The Barred owl is a non-migratory native of Texas and one of the most animated birds of the forest. As they called out to each other I pictured them swinging from the trees like gibbons. I have an overactive imagination I am told.

We witnessed the nature of some of the biggest, most beautiful bucks that morning. A trophy class ten point made a six point look like a flea. A young eight point caught our attention too. The river bottom was the same location that I harvested my mature 4.5 year old doe last year. Ironically, we only saw one doe that morning and she was too busy trying to lose the affections of the ten point to be a good candidate for harvesting. There were several spikes making their rounds but we deemed them too young. I was looking for either a long “cow horn” spike, an uneven point buck or a doe. These particular types of deer were the preferred deer to cull or harvest for MLD permits. It appeared that all the deer I would see that day would either be too mature or too young. Regardless, it was good to compare and contrast all the different types of deer. Never have I seen a broader mix in one sitting.

Then came my encounter with Cinco…

Saturday morning we tried a different location. When a mature doe and two yearlings approached us, Adam took the opportunity. The mature doe didn’t travel far and we were thankful for her, as she would feed us some of the most organic and pure meat we could consume. As we packed up to leave that morning a buck appeared several hundred yards away. A large six point. We relaxed momentarily however, a second look at him revealed he was actually a five point- a excellent candidate for harvesting. “Cinco” was staring right at us.
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We set the rifle up and I hit the warm Texas ground. The sun was now shining and I could feel it warming up. I found Cinco in the scope. He made his way across my shooting lane just in time to disappear into the woods. Adam assured me that if we changed positions he would pop back out as he was looking to come in our direction. So we did just that and sure enough, Cinco gave me another chance. I lined my scope up, took the rifle off safety and reminded myself to breathe. Cinco momentarily stopped and my finger went to the trigger. I hesitated just for a moment and that big cull buck left my sights. Slowly, painfully, effortlessly, and just out of reach he turned and walked away. I knew it wasn’t the right shot for me but I was devastated.

That evening I was eager to get out and find Cinco. He had been spotted earlier in the day in the same area. To my heartbreak when we arrived there were cattle there. Very stubborn cattle. Even if I set up I didn’t want to have to worry about a “cowsulty.” So we opted to go back to our favorite spot in the river bottom where we watched the big bucks before. Until you are a hunter who has hunted the same area several times, you cannot understand the affection a person can have for one place. Last year I remembered it smelled of wild onions. This year I’ll remember it as Barred owl hollow.

An hour into the hunt and nothing had appeared. Nothing. I imagined that Cinco was probably hanging out among the cattle as I sat there. I began to worry that the cold snap of our first morning hunt had thrown the deer off. Would I even get a chance at another deer? What if we didn’t get enough venison to last us the whole year? My mind started racing as it often does.

About 45 minutes before sunset two spikes appeared. It is amazing to me how deer appear out of nowhere. One minute you’re staring at the same piece of moss hanging from a tree and all of the sudden there is a deer walking into your view. I settled the rifle in to check them out and noticed one long spike had a tiny point- he was a three point. This was Tres. Adam wasn’t convinced and we, I must admit, argued back and forth about it a little bit. At least as much as two people trying to remain quiet could. I was confident and after the incident with Cinco earlier in the day I knew I had to be sure.

Tres the three point sparred with a spike buck for what seemed like forever. I watched in my scope, taking short breaks to make sure I was calm and steady. I practiced getting on target, holding it, breathing and then rested momentarily before doing the same all over again. This is something I often do with the gun on safety. Then suddenly both deer looked off into the brush to the right of us. Adam told me to wait and see what would come out. My heart sunk when both deer followed whatever had caught their attention out of sight. My chance had slipped away, for the second time in a row.

I am my worst critic.

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I cried. The type of crying when you talk and no one can understand what you are saying. I knew I had made a great shot but taking a life isn’t something I do lightly. I cry for many reasons and I am not afraid to admit it. I hope that never changes for me, even as I gain more confidence in my hunting abilities. I only hoped that I had made Adam proud with how far I had come in my outdoor journey. Moments after my second chance at a buck had passed, the deer that had caught their attention came out of the brush. Who followed shortly after? Tres. It was my last opportunity and I made my move.

I will never forget the unique opportunities that I had that Thanksgiving weekend to remind myself how important patience really is. Not only will Tres always be my first buck, but I am thankful to know that the management of said buck is doing a greater part for Texas wildlife. Because the very same people who are against hunting complain about the deer eating their plants. Two deer of hundreds that remain, will feed Adam & I for a year. Friends, family, good health and hunting opportunities. A community where I belong and play a part. There isn’t much more I could be thankful for.

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Hunt Gather Cook: 25 Days of Wild Game Challenge

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me….venison backstrap? Sign me up!

Spurred by a successful hunting season and a full freezer I was inspired to start a #25daysofwildgame challenge to myself and share it with others during the month of December. Though eating wild game for dinner 25 days straight may be the norm for some, I wanted to challenge myself to make new recipes inspired by Hank Shaw’s Hunt Gather Cook series of books and online recipes. This however, is my personal goal and does not have to be yours if you take the challenge. For more on Hank Shaw, visit:  https://honest-food.net/ 

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Adam, Hank Shaw & I- Hotel Emma, San Antonio, TX (Buck, Buck, Moose book tour)

In addition to challenging myself to cook outside my wild game norm (and follow directions which I am not known for), I believe that when you cook wild game you are honoring the harvest. I think about the hard work, the joy, the memories and the lessons learned every time I cook with wild game. This is just something that cannot be replicated by cooking with store bought protein.

I will update this blog post daily with my creations, some more detailed then others. Since I am traveling during the month of December, some of the recipes will not be made by myself, but merely consumed and enjoyed. Luckily, most of that traveling will be hunting related!

I hope you are inspired to start the #25daysofwildgame challenge and push your limits in the kitchen with wild game! Use the hashtag on social media and share your creations.

Day 25: Venison Wellington| red wine reduction | braised carrots

Merry Christmas from the Czech Out Ranch! My 25 days of wild game challenge is over and I feel like I learned a lot. I’m proud that I tried new recipes, new flavors & even made up my own! I’m looking forward to continuing this journey and really enjoying the fruits of the hunt to it’s fullest potential.

Christmas day has always been a special day for me. Eight years ago today Adam asked me to be his wife. We never looked back after that day & I’m thankful how far we’ve come to fulfill our dreams together as husband & wife, but most importantly as best friends.

It’s true, I wasn’t always a hunter. But I sure am thankful & proud to be one today. So much of what I am passionate about stems from my love of wildlife & every unique opportunity to learn, to watch and to sometimes harvest the most organic protein available makes all the hard work worth it. From my first harvest of a pheasant to my first whitetail buck, the tiniest dove to the coastal bull elk in Oregon- hunting has pushed me physically, mentally, emotionally & spiritually. It has helped me cope, given me goals and made me feel a part of a greater community. In the kitchen in particular is where I honor that animal and give thanks.

“I feel a deep kinship with the animals I hunt; most hunters do. We get to know them in a far deeper way than all but a few other sorts of human: We know their personalities, their foibles, their habits. Where they like to live, what they like to eat, and what they might do in any given situation. Yet most of us take delight in being fooled when a deer or rabbit shows us some new quirk of their behavior. Hunt any animal long enough and it ceases to be the Disneyfied caricature of itself most people know and blossoms into a clever, free-thinking entity – an entity not so different from us.

My mind settled onto this seeming paradox the way a leaf settles onto the forest floor. Sitting in this meadow, in this place, as a hunter and a human animal, it felt serenely right in a way I find wildly incapable of explaining to those who have not experienced the same feeling.” -The Hunter’s Paradox, Hank Shaw

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Day 24: French onion venison soup | garlic croutons

I dreamt this recipe up for Christmas eve & it turned out exactly how I had imagined. The key is to have broiler safe dishes to get the bubbly cheese on top! It was a hit at the Parma family Christmas eve dinner too!

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Day 23: The Hunter’s “Yumm Bowl” | ground venison | jasmine rice & Tillamook cheese

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Cafe Yumm is a household name in my hometown of Eugene, Oregon where it first came to fruition. Their mission is provide a healthy, sustainable alternative to fast food, offering both vegetarian & vegan options to their signature Yumm bowls. They even boasted the first electric car charging station in the nation. Are your hipster senses tingling? And while a Yumm Bowl is basically a glorified taco salad made with local ingredients, it’s the Yumm sauce that’s so addicting. So much so that my mom transported a jar of Yumm sauce over 2,200 miles for me! That’s love. Because hunting plays such a big role in sustainable eating & wildlife conservation, it seems only right to make my own version with wild game…though I don’t think Cafe Yumm will be offering it anytime soon!

Day 22: Venison tacos

Nothing new here, venison tacos are a staple in our house. Today was special though. Today my parents got to see the ranch house for the first time since completion. We celebrated Christmas a little early out of excitement & I made venison tacos. My parents had never showed interest in trying wild game much until today. It made me happy that they tried and enjoyed my “unique” cooking.

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Day 21: Venison wild pork sausage & pepperoni calzone | chunky marinara

The perfect way to reuse leftover sausage from yesterday, these calzones got approval from Kolton, our almost two year old Godson. He’s such a funny, sweet boy. He’s even starting to say Kristin & Adam!

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Day 20: Venison & wild pork sausage ravioli | brown butter balsamic reduction

I pre-made these using leftover wonton wrappers & venison/wild pork sausage that Adam ground himself. It made dinner a breeze tonight!

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Day 19: Goose Goose on Couscous | crispy brussel sprouts | orange miran pan sauce

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Day 17 & 18: Cheater leftovers, travel & wild pork fried rice

I’m in Houston for work the next couple days which makes eating wild game a bit harder. I had wild game leftovers for lunch & stuck strictly to seafood for dinner. I can’t complain. I am proud that Adam continued my culinary challenge for me back at the ranch with smoked pork fried rice with farm fresh eggs. I will get back on track soon!

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Day 16: BBQ wild pork & goat cheese pesto pizza | caramelized red onion & mushroom | homemade crust

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Rainy days are for the ducks! Spent the morning doing chores outside with Jane. Newly adopted hen Macy (left) got her first run of the yard today. She enjoyed hanging with our jumbo Pekin hen London (right).      IMG_20171216_181337_743

Day 15: Wild onion & venison stuffed crispy wontons | organic miso soup

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I used Hank Shaw’s venison potsticker recipe for these. The perfect dinner for my under the weather husband…feel better soon Adam!

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Day 14: Here Piggy Piggy Delight: Smoked hog tenderloin & goat cheese cavatappi | Wild hill country chive

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Day 13: Deer camp venison chili

There is something very rewarding about spending the day completely focused on hunting. Tonight my hunter and I made it happen and she connected on a large mature hill country doe. I was so proud of her! Thankfully, after all the hard work I was rewarded with venison chili courtesy of Justin Dreibelbis, Program Director, Private Lands & Public Hunting for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. To top it off I found some wild onions growing near our deer blind!!

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I instantly could smell these wild onions outside our deer blind Wednesday morning and started digging. I will try to use them in as many dishes I can the next week.

Day 12: Campfire venison sausage with Chef Jesse Griffiths

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Chef Jesse Griffiths of Dai Due

I’m living the guide life this month. If you told me 10 years ago one day I’d be mentoring hunters I’d have probably laughed. Now I lay here in a cabin at Inks Lake State park & tomorrow morning I’ll be guiding a young adult on her first hunt ever. It’s surreal and exciting. I really love guiding & am thankful for every opportunity. Tonight we had the extra special treat of sharing a campfire dinner made by Chef Jesse Griffiths of Dai Due restaurant in Austin. It was really great to get to know him better, chat about hunting and I even got some inspiration for my 25 days!

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Day 11: BBQ Wild Pork Taquitos

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Mondays are my busiest day of the week. Work & then late night agility class with my collie Jane. Plus tomorrow I’m leaving to guide a hunt for Texas Parks & Wildlife. Thankfully, I premade these taquitos last night & stuck them in the fridge. Boy, am I glad I did! I’ve never made these before. Super simple & easy, great for a busy week night.

Day 10: Smoked wild hog | Habanero pickled cucumbers | Homemade Boot sauce courtesy of Adam Parma & good friends

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Some things I’m just not meant to mess with. One of those things is smoking meat. When it comes to BBQ, Adam is the pitmaster & I’m ok with that. I do love sharing food with friends though, and today was no exception. Walking the property, showing the farm animals to the kids & eating good food? That’s living the dream!

Day 9- Wild pork tamales two ways | Mexican crema

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Last year around Christmas time I ate the best tamale ever. That tamale was made by Bryan Jones. A Marine Corps veteran & a native of Colorado, Bryan grew up with a big New Mexican influence when it came to cooking. I bugged him incessantly to teach me how to make tamales & today I got my lesson! I have a feeling I’ll be elaborating on the experience in another post soon…Thanks Bryan!

Day 8- Pintail duck risotto | Sweet Cheeks Winery pinot gris

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Day 7- Lone Star Redfish | organic fingerling potato chips | caesar broccoli slaw (A Tex-ified version of Hank’s Classic Fish and Chips)

Adam & I went fishing for red drum this summer with Stewards of the Wild. It just so happens that was the hottest weekend of the year so it’s only fitting we eat it on the coldest, right? It’s actually snowing at the ranch right now! No joke.

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Day 6- Hank Shaw’s Japanese Teriyaki meatballs (venison) | lemongrass & organic turkey broth

It’s actually in the low 40’s here in South Texas and this was a perfect dish to Netflix & chill with!

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Day 5- Leftovers.

Better than the first day. Reheated in a cast iron skillet with more cream. I licked the plate. #Noshame

Day 4- “Chipped beef” venison sausage | egg noodles | toasted sour dough

I remember growing up my mom always made my brother’s favorite food: Chipped beef. Typically I am not a big fan of sausage but wow, this was off the charts delicious. Sauce was basically butter & cream, how could you go wrong? For a similar recipe try Hank Shaw’s Venison Stroganoff

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Day 3- Wild pork backstrap lettuce wraps (Made by Adam Parma)

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My sweet husband had these ready for me when I got home from a long weekend of guiding for the Texas Youth Hunting program. He knows the way to my heart!

Day 2- Venison Chili (Made by Cathleen Barnette)

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This was the day I guided Sadie, 13 year old, & helped her harvest her first Whitetail deer

Day 1- Apple Cider Venison Stew (Made by Cathleen Barnette)

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Girls Have More Fun: Guiding an ALL Girls hunt for the Texas Youth Hunting program

Modern Day Manifest: Cooking Up a Custom Metal Home

“I manifest abundance by being grateful for what I already have.” 

I’ve come to learn that I view cooking just like I view building a custom home- it involves a lot of passion and can look a bit temperamental to the naked eye. You go into it with a plan, maybe even a recipe to follow, but changes are made along the way to adapt. In the end, you reap the benefits of a finished product made with love and hopefully, just the way you want it. If not, you can always add a little salt.

Adam and I have come to really love cooking together these past four years in the fifth wheel. Surprisingly living life without the conventionality of modern day cooking has spurred our passion for it- no dishwasher, little storage, no oven. In addition, things like wild game, wild edibles and our garden have utterly changed the way we view food. And when I read the book Animal, Vegetable, Garden this year we really started to look at grocery shopping different. Even my tough, bearded husband buys tiny organic potatoes and I haven’t purchased a banana in months, though I contemplate it often, and accidentally ate one smothered in brown sugar at the J.W. Marriott. People at the grocery store probably think I am the oddest shopper ever. Don’t mind me, just having a staring contest with these bananas.

I am not a complete food snob. I have tried to make “easy” crock pot lasagna twice, and have failed miserably twice. This last time I tried it was dang near inedible, even by husband standards. (I refuse to EVER trust Pinterest again…ladies, what is the deal!? Why are you so obsessed?) And let’s not forget the time our good friends the Powell’s choked down my first attempt at Thai pizza which was really more like peanut butter on bread. God bless them for letting us use their oven often. Regardless, if you put Adam and I in a kitchen with an expensive cut of ribeye, pheasant breast or redfish filet we’re probably going to whip up something simple and spectacular together. Food is love, right?

You give us a mutual dream of building a custom home and we will cook it up together too. And while home ownership is a normal American dream these days (and well deserved) it was the way in which we made sacrifices to build a custom metal home that would scream, “Kristin and Adam live here” that is so unconventional.

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December 2016

The thing about cooking up a custom home is that a builder or general contractor doesn’t take into account all the sacrifices you’ve made to sign your name on a thousand dotted lines. They don’t care that you took out your life savings to make this happen. They use vocabulary like, “that is the easiest way” or “that is too hard to do” or “this is the cheapest option” and “it’ll be done next week” as the words echo in your mind four weeks later and your refrigerator still sits in a box on your porch. You have to remember to breathe. You have to take a big gulp as you nickel and dime your way through life staring at paint colors, door handles and light bulbs for hours on end. That is, unless your budget is endless I suppose.

Your relationships suffer as you dodge questions daily from unknowingly aggravating family and friends. Or listen to people go on and on about their ideas for your home. You smile and nod a lot. When is the completion date? They will ask as you over and over and over again as you try to explain that building this type of home has no projected completion date. They’re eyebrows will furrow.

I always hate complaining. Really, I swear. I may be a realist with slight pessimistic tendencies however, complaining makes me feel icky and anxious. When I complain I go back and over analyze why I complained in the first place and what the person who heard me complain probably thinks of me now that I complained. Maybe it is the curse of the child born to a eternal optimist and the stubborn cynic. So when I told my friend Mary Kay nonchalantly at a dog show that it is taking a lot of TIME to build this house, her response was perfect.

“You have time.”

This was the mantra to get me through the final push to finish the ranch house. I have time. I have time. I have time. I repeat it daily and I keep myself busy taking care of helpless kittens, fishing, dog training or planning my fall garden, my typical prescription for anxiety.

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April 2017

Regardless- Fear. Anger. Happiness. Love. Sweat. Frustration. Euphoria. Guttural hatred for the human race. Patience, lots and lots of patience. Building a custom home is like having daily mood swings for months on end. I always hated people who told me, “You know, building a home usually ends in divorce.” And yes, multiple people told me that. While I still believe that is literally one of the most inappropriate things to say to someone in a happy marriage who has just told you they’re building a home the truth is, I can see why it does lead to divorce. Most partners set very high expectations for the way they see their lives together. They have to have it a certain way- or else. When those expectations aren’t immediately met then people give up, and quickly.

Admittedly, my life seemed to fall apart a little while building the ranch house. I forgot to brush my hair. I cried a lot. I experienced a traumatic event which I have difficulty talking about. But I was still a functional human being, going to work and smiling. Volunteering and giving what I could, where I could. Hunting with friends, attending weddings and traveling across Texas.

Nobody wants to fight for their modern day Manifest Destiny or mission anymore. My phone doesn’t meet my expectations? I can get a new one. My car isn’t the latest model? I could trade it in for something better. Even if my hair doesn’t meet my expectations, I can buy new hair. And when you see your spouse at their lowest breaking point or feel like they’re not meeting your expectations? Well, you get the point.

With Adam’s help I persevered. We have always been fighters.

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July 2017

I am so thankful we have similar tastes when it comes to our home. There is not an inch of the Czech Out Ranch house that we didn’t think about or put effort into designing together. We decided to do plenty of the work ourselves, especially Adam who would work ten hour days at his day job only to come home and work on the house. Good friends, family and even neighbors helped us too. My parents drove from Oregon to help and my uncle flew in from Florida to do his part. There were a lot of late night dinners past 8 or 9 o’clock at night.

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Now that we are living in the house we are taking our time to make the inside a unique reflection of our personalities. Bringing the outdoors that we love so much in. The work never stops and it probably never will. Most of all, I have enjoyed the kitchen. Coming home and creating dishes has become a sanctuary for me. I have a lot of goals, one being to incorporate even more wild game into my nightly creations. I want to make more soups. I want to can and preserve the fruits of my labor from the garden in the spring. There is a lot to look forward to and I am so thankful to be sharing this dream with Adam.

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Javelina cornbread stuffing

While contractors and builders will always be a frustration, especially in a custom home designed and propelled by your hard earned money, a builder is ultimately not who builds a home. Only dreams and strong marriages do. Only the couples that hand and hand cry together on couches late at night build homes. Or who cook oven-less food for nearly four years, saving up money to buy a double oven. (Maybe the title of my first book should really be- First World Problems: How I Lived an Oven-less Life) Those are the people that build homes. Sacrificers.

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Good thing our marriage will remain built on a strong foundation!

Wild Texas Film Tour: An evening of comradery, compassion and conservation

“The land beneath our feet tells us who we are,

tells us who we were,

and who we will become.”

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September 21st, 2017 San Antonio, TX-

Only in Texas would over 200 wildlife enthusiasts gather outside for a night of comradery and film to be greeted with a downpour of rain. Ironically, we were later reminded of the importance of rain in the short films Selah: Water From Stone and Living Waters. Rain or shine the evening was a spectacular conglomeration of short films directed by Ben Masters.

If you haven’t heard the name Ben Masters before, I am happy to introduce you to his work. Ben is a young professional, Texas born filmmaker known for his documentary and book Unbranded. Unbranded follows Ben and three other Texas natives on an epic 3,000 mile journey across the American West (Mexico to Canada) on the backs of adopted wild mustangs. Ben is an avid mustang advocate and horseman, proving time and time again the worth of thousands of wild horses and burros that remain in holding facilities across North America.

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25% of book sales go to the Mustang Heritage Foundation to support Wild Horse adoptions

Ben is not just passionate about horses, but wildlife and habitat conservation as well. Watch any short film by him or listen to him speak and you’ll know conservation is in his heart. It is a part of who he is and his identity. He is relatable in that he makes films about topics he himself wants to learn more about. I respect him because he is always learning and seeking out information from the experts who eat, sleep and breathe the topic. When I heard the quote above I got chills and I felt tears well up in my eyes. My body reacted before I could even process the profane statement. That is what Ben Masters does so subtly and so greatly.

His films make you feel your heart beat.

The Wild Texas Film Tour featured several short films ranging from topics of White Nose Syndrome in bats to the relationship between Texans and water conservation in our drought prone state. If I had to choose a favorite short film of the night I would have to choose Lions of West Texas. Featuring lots of trail cam footage, Lions of West Texas, followed the study of the elusive mountain lion in the Davis Mountains and Big Bend National Park. After surveying over 200 kill sites they found that the lion’s diet consisted mainly of Mule deer, Whitetail deer and Javelina. Despite the threat of having an apex predator like a mountain lion around, 0% of the kill sites monitored contained livestock. Dr. Patricia Harveson, who was joined by her husband Dr. Louis Harveson joined Ben on stage afterwards to discuss their findings over the years. I was very inspired by their work which required thousands of hours in the field over a span of many years. And yet, so much about the mountain lion and its relationship to its Texas habitat remains a mystery.

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Ben Masters, Drs. Patricia & Louis Harveson
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Ben and CEO of Texas Wildlife Association David Yeates discuss border wall issues in Texas

I can’t remember the last time I went to the movies with Adam. The Wild Texas Film tour however, was our kind of movie night. As someone who is constantly thinking about the land beneath my feet, where I fit in (or rather don’t fit in) and the journey that made me the outdoor oriented person I am today, I couldn’t have been more inspired by the night’s offerings. I have the privilege of knowing many of the “characters” featured in the films and am often surrounded by extremely intelligent, positively poignant Texans working for the greater good of Texas. Still, I walk this earth unbridled with a unique passion for conservation that I often struggle to express to others.

So ditch the theater, overpriced popcorn and the latest blockbuster movie this coming month for something that will tease your brain, tug at your heart strings and inspire you to contemplate more in life. Catch the Wild Texas Film Tour at a city near you across Texas. Hurry though, they are selling out quick!

http://www.wildfilmtour.com/

 

 

Drum Roll Please: Fishing the unique waters of Calaveras lake with Stewards of the Wild & Manny Martinez

“Did you see that Adam? She was like ‘Hey Manny, get out of the way there’s a fish!'”

Our fishing guide, Manny Martinez belly laughed after my quick reaction to grab the jerking rod had resulted in reeling in my last redfish of the day. While some people kick back and relax while fishing I am a bit of the opposite- intensely focused on the task at hand for fear I’ll miss my opportunity to reel in a fish. I am no expert fisher woman however, I was the first of our three man team to limit out.

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If you have ever read an edition of Texas Outback magazine then you probably know all about Manny Martinez. Manny is a veteran fishing guide on Calaveras and Braunig lake where he has guided for 30 plus years. He even holds the record for redfish caught on Calaveras lake, tipping the scale at 30 pounds (Water Body Records). Manny isn’t just a fisherman though, he is a man of purpose. Right away he explained to us that though he guides fishing trips over 300 days of the year that his passion as a cancer survivor was giving back to the cancer community, in particular to children.

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A double!

Though he has guided many celebrities and well to do members of the community, when you fish with Manny he quickly has a way to make you feel like it’s just another day on the lake with a good friend. Thanks to Stewards of the Wild- San Antonio chapter, on July 30th relatively one of the hottest weekends of the summer, Adam and I got the chance to fish with Manny on Calaveras lake and learn about it’s unique waters.

Stewards of the Wild (SOTW) is a program created to engage young professionals in the outdoors and wildlife conservation. From raising local and statewide awareness on wildlife issues, volunteering in the community to commiserating with other outdoor enthusiasts, Stewards of the Wild hosts an array of events for it’s members which hold chapters across Texas.

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If you’re not familiar with Calaveras lake you might be scratching your head…redfish in a lake? Yes. Though traditionally redfish or red drum are salt water fish, since the stocking program created by Texas Parks & Wildlife millions of redfish fry have been stocked in the warm reservoirs of Calaveras and Braunig lakes owned by CPS energy over the years. And the fish flourish! The warm water and lack of predators make the redfish the top dog of the water in these lakes allowing them to grow rapidly along with catfish, largemouth bass a hybrid striped bass. The hybrid being redfish and striped bass. As the redfish spawn each year many of the bass will fertilize their eggs creating these hybrid fish. If that isn’t unique to fishing I don’t know what is!

Located twenty miles South of San Antonio, and not far from the Czech Out Ranch I might add, Calaveras lake is a great place for the serious fisherman or woman. By serious I mean that Calaveras Lake is one place dedicated and maintained specifically for fishing which also makes it unique. While there are public restrooms and picnic tables there is no recreational swimming allowed. Some folks do fish from its banks however, with a surface area of almost 4,00 acres. boats and kayaks are the main vessels used for getting closer to the action. Everyone on the lake is there to do one thing- fish.

Fish we did. Redfish put up a decent fight on the line and we even caught some doubles when things really got exciting. We cheered after each round of reeling like the dickens and enjoyed the hot afternoon.

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Stewards of the Wild- San Antonio Chapter fishing day

I was never a big fish eater until I started fishing for myself. I got the bright idea one day that Adam and I should spend our two year anniversary fishing for Sturgeon on the Columbia river. I think I saw some guy on PBS do it and thought hey, why not? So we did! And then we did it again…and again. The amazing memories that sturgeon fishing brought us led us to other fishing adventures such as flounder gigging in Rockport and offshore fishing for snapper in California. Every year provides a new fishing experience it seems and 2017 was the year of the redfish.

I still prefer to only eat fish that I or someone I know have caught. Texans love catching redfish as much as they like eating redfish. Visit just about any restaurant in Texas and they’ll be asking a pretty penny for a redfish dish on the menu. Now I know why! Which makes it worth every penny to catch redfish and cook it yourself in my opinion. Adam and I enjoyed our first redfish cooking experience by cast iron searing it and making our go to lemon caper sauce, served on a bed of pesto Israeli couscous (which I am currently obsessed with).

When it comes to fishing, Texas rarely dissapoints. Adam and I look forward to fishing again with Manny in the near future!

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The Quail Quota: Empowering Texas youth for quail conservation

“Nature is an open book for those who care to read it. Each grass-covered hillside is a page in which is written the history of the past, conditions of the present, and predictions of the future.” -J.E. Weaver

My Silver Bullet.

phone pictures 07062017 735If nature is an open book, we certainly read and re-read the pages. Working in the wildlife field I was called to serve as an adult “covey” leader at the South Texas Bobwhite Brigade camp. No prior wildlife knowledge required, at any Brigades camp an adult leader serves as a mentor, counselor, and guide for five or six teenagers as they progress through the five day, intense learning program.  A week long summer camp for high achieving youth, the South Texas Bobwhite Brigade is a wildlife and natural resource focused leadership camp dependent on volunteers, staff and one little, important bird. The quail.

How many of you wake up in the morning and hear a quail call?

This was a question asked by a Texas Parks & Wildlife biologist during a discussion as the sun set on the last night at Brigades camp. My hand was one of few that shot up into the air. As I looked around at both kids and adults a like, it sunk in just how lucky I am to hear quail often at the Czech Out Ranch.

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Evening ethics discussion

Before that week at camp I knew very little about quail, other then they were charismatic and beautiful little birds that are difficult to shoot with a shotgun when hunting.  At our home in Oregon we had the pleasure to watch a covey of California quail in our backyard. The male, who I called Geronimo, would often perch on our fence and make his territorial call. One day, Adam even saved this boisterous quail from the hungry dinner plate of a resident cat. When we heard our first Bobwhite quail at the ranch we were happy, and when we flushed our first covey we were even more excited. Still, I knew little about the intricate needs of a quail.

There are four types of quail that call Texas home- Bobwhite, Scaled, Gambel’s & Montezuma. It turns out to know quail is to know Texas. I would venture to say it should have been the state bird (Sorry Northern Mockingbird fans). Virtually everything in Texas effects quail populations across the state. From overgrazing, to under-grazing livestock, predators, cover, open ground, rainfall, insects and human interaction. Point out a bush, a tree, an animal, a seed- it can almost always be related back to quail.

As a covey leader I didn’t know what to expect. My best friend Katie always raved about going to camp every summer as a kid. Me on the other hand, I went to Texas. She told me I would be responsible to break up things like hand holding, and excessive giggling after hours. While there was giggling it mainly came from activities like animal charades & habitat sit circles. All designed and developed to educate in a fun and very effective way. Yes, it’s true, Brigades camp is not the kumbaya camp that you or I are probably familiar with.

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Habitat sit

A camp that involves lessons on gun safety and skeet shooting…does it get much better?

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Breaking Clays. Photo credit: Clint Faas

During camp we learned about complex topics such as habitat management, plant identification, animal tracking, game laws, ethics, radio telemetry, gun safety, dog training, quail biology, calls, soil composition, predation and more. Each day we spent an extended period of time in the field as well as in the classroom. We learned from an array of wildlife instructors and enthusiasts, several of which were my very own coworkers. I think what most impressed me was the high level of curriculum which could easily have been used for adult education. So while we did play games, these kids were treated as the future adults they were becoming.

Carson, Joseph, Jake, Lacy, Molly, Brenntan and I made up the Bobwhite covey. I couldn’t have been more impressed with these kids who came from as far as Seminole and Nacagdoches (A 532 mile difference) and everywhere in between. This meant that they had willing parents who saw the benefit in an educational wildlife leadership camp to drive them there. Aside from quail, the kids from my covey are the real stars of this blog post. Carson kept our spirits up with his positivity and laughter, Joseph was our entomologist/photographer, Molly was our shotgun pro (No really, she won a national competition last year), Lacy was our fierce and unafraid spokeswoman, Jake was our call leader and one heck of a trivia whiz, and Brenntan kept us (mostly me) on track. All of them are smart, funny, talented and unique kids. By golly, they knew the words to Dolly Parton songs! I am thankful to have gotten to know each one of them. To shake the hands of their parents. They are all going to go far in life, and with them carry the torch of wildlife conservation in Texas.

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Photo taken after our morning spent “Dissecting the sunrise” From left to right: Joseph, Carson, Molly, Me, Lacy, Jake & Brenntan (assistant covey leader)

I think often as a adults we forget to listen and learn from the youth around us. We’re so busy putting them down for being on their phones or latest fidget whatevers. We forget that we were once kids waiting for that one adult to take a little extra time to get to know us and inspire us. Brigades camp empowers Texas youth to think, learn and lead their peers. No matter how outgoing or reserved a kid is, they all find a moment to shine at Brigades camp. No matter where these kids go in life, whether they become doctors, chefs, travel bloggers, circus tumblers, famous singers or wildlife biologists- they will continue to be involved and inspired by the outdoors and the issues surrounding its conservation.

In addition, we forget to actually invest in our youth beyond our families as adults- and especially as millennial age adults. I talk to a lot of wildlife enthusiasts from across the nation that are my age. While some want to argue over products to promote themselves, superior hunting methods or antler size, I stop a midst the banter. I cannot fathom arguing over these trivial things when there are opportunities out there to continue our wildlife conservation and hunting heritage. I reflect on the opportunities I have been given in a short time to introduce adults and youth to hunting and the outdoors. And to support and encourage those youth who have already taken an interest, like my Brigades kids. To actually take the time away from the norms of life, and learn from them. A part of my life I never dreamed I would be so passionate about a decade ago.

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Using radio telemetry we tracked our Bobwhite quail affectionately named George who we collared several days prior.

The experience as a covey leader for the South Texas Bobwhite Brigade can’t really be explained in words. It was an experience that I will never be able to relive knowing what I know now. Yet I will always cherish and remember it whether I am given the opportunity to inspire more youth or am just walking around the Czech Out Ranch identifying plants crucial to quail livelihood. After all, because of Brigades camp I now can be found standing around outside eating Brasil berries or rattling off some facts about loafing cover to anyone within earshot.

I can’t get Chuck Norris out of my head or look at anyone from the Pearson family without genuinely smiling. All quail, until further notice shall be named George…because George lives on. I can’t talk to anyone named Jake without continuing the sentence in my head (from State Farm…). I am convinced everyone should have to “Hiney Write” as punishment for forgetting things. And if the game wardens from Live Oak county are reading this, mama told me to shoot the chicken. A few of my coworkers have seen me function on very little sleep  yet still choose to talk to me. Thank God.

Yes, I am now one of those annoying people who has “you just had to be at camp to get it” stories. Poor Adam.

As the sun rose on my last day in McCoy, Texas there was an eerie stillness. I am not sure if it is the physical stillness of the outdoors or the stillness in my soul. I paused and quietly shut my lodge room door so as not to wake the other adults. I snapped a photo of the Texas sunrise, exhausted yet somehow revitalized by the thought of the day ahead…and the nearby coffee pot. I had thought I was coming to camp to help change and inspire kids however, that day I marched and graduated from the 20th Battalion of the South Texas Bobwhite Brigade camp alongside my youth cadets and I too, was changed.

 

 

 

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For more information about Texas Brigades camps please visit www.texasbrigades.org 

https://www.texasbrigades.org/donate/

The Fiery Farmer: Growing and preserving habanero peppers (and memories) in South Texas

“A fiery poet is nothing if not the fire that burns the fuel that runs the world.” -Anonymous 

When it comes to the garden at the Czech Out Ranch I am the caretaker of all things growing. Don’t get me wrong, Adam helps me tremendously with preparation and planting, but I make the at least daily trip to water, weed, pick and admire our growing gifts.

The exception to this is when the habanero peppers start to ripen. All of the sudden there is a tall, bearded man wandering around the garden helping me by plucking tiny tomatoes and beautiful peppers with his large hands. A fan of spicy food, Adam enjoys eating these hot peppers raw with meals. While I am not that brave, I do love spicy food and enjoy them chopped or mixed into our meals in various ways.

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Hidden gems in the Czech Out Ranch garden

Brushing back the plant’s leaves, one can count the numerous peppers that hide underneath. There is something invigorating about peering at the garden from afar and seeing a splash of orange amidst the sea of green. Habanero peppers were made for Texas heat. Starts planted into the ground in March, our peppers started appearing early in June and were darn well piling up on the kitchen counter by July.

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The Fiery Farmer

Every time I see a habanero pepper I am reminded of our honeymoon at Coco Plum Island Resort in Belize. A small beautiful country in Central America, Belize shares (and often fights about) its border with Guatemala. Belize however, takes pride in this tiny orange pepper and it is often incorporated into each meal. During our stay we admired a wild version of the habanero growing in the jungles of the Mayflower Bocawina National park located on the edge of the Mayan Mountain range. The peppers were affectionately plucked and eaten raw by our guide, Byron.

Belize should be proud of the habanero pepper, it is home to one of the most famously exported habanero pepper sauces in the world, Marie Sharp’s.  Each meal, aside from a breakfast of fresh fruit, is accompanied by this pepper sauce. Since our trip to Belize, Adam and I keep a bottle of Marie Sharp’s in the fridge 24/7.

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Wild Habanero peppers growing in the Mayan Mountains.

When people see how many habanero pepper plants we plant each year they think we are crazy. What are you going to do with ALL those peppers? They ask. Inspired by our love for Belize we decided to preserve our Czech Out Ranch habanero peppers by making our own Belizian style habanero pepper sauce.

Ingredients needed:

  • 1 white onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 cup carrot chopped (about two whole carrots)
  • 2 cups water
  • 10-15 habanero peppers, seeded and fine chopped (wear gloves!!) 
  • 3-4 tablespoons lime juice (about two limes worth)
  • 3 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt

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 Directions: 

  1. Saute garlic in cast iron skillet
  2. Add the chopped onion, carrots, and water. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer until the carrots are soft. About 20 minutes. 
  3. Remove from heat; Add chopped habaneros, lime juice, salt and vinegar to carrot mixture.
  4. Let cool.
  5. Place in a blender or if you’re like us and only have a small chopper, place in chopper in batches and blend till desired texture. If you like a very smooth pepper sauce invest in a blender. 
  6. Pour into sterilized jars and seal. Keep refrigerated.
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The final product!

Ultimately food is a connection. Sometimes the smell, the taste or even just the sight of a certain food can bring back a memory. It is important to me to continue to remember and be inspired by those feel good moments. The habanero pepper is one of those foods that incites good memories of young love. Ultimately, that brings me back to my strong connection with Adam, our marriage and our dream to own property to do the things we do- like grow our own food.

We love habanero peppers so much that we named our recently adopted orange kitten, you guessed it, Habanero! 

If you ever get the chance to visit Belize I highly recommend it. The Caribbean sea is crystal clear, fishing is out of this world and with a history as a British colony, it’s people are an exotic mix of races, languages and cultures. Prior to colonization of course, the Mayan people ruled the land which adds to it’s uniqueness.

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Avid hikers (or so we thought), Adam and I were the only tourists at our premier island resort who insisted on going to the mainland to exercise during our stay. Byron, on his day off I might add, took us hiking despite his warnings that, “Nobody wants to do that!” Lots of sweat, tears (from me) probably near heat exhaustion later, Byron got the last laugh. Any steeper in places and we would need rock climbing equipment. Only around 4 miles round trip, the hike to Antelope falls was probably one of the hardest hikes I have ever completed in my life to date!

In the end we missed our scheduled private beach massages back at the resort while we were suffering on our hike but it was worth the experience. We got to see untouched Mayan ruins (as a historian I love seeing history preserved in such a way), leaf cutter ants, swam in the cool waters beneath Antelope Falls, green jungle covered mountains for miles, and a menagerie of birds and exotic flowers. I even saw my first wild tarantula! Which now of course, is a common sight at the ranch. Belize will always hold a special place in our hearts and we hope to return soon.

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Our hike, located on the Cockscomb Basin Preserve, was SO strenuous but we were rewarded with a swim at Antelope Falls.
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Adam and unexcavated Mayan Mound

 

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The preserve, located in the Mayflower Bocawina National Park, was established to protect the local Jaguar population and is the only of its kind.
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Byron our guide still works for Coco Plum Island Resort where he is everything from guide to bartender to just plain entertainer! Byron is still admired by ALL who meet him.
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Adam with Mayan Mountains