Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Kibitzing the Hunt

Hunting is not a particularly popular sport among those of the Hebrew persuasion. My rifle skills at summer camp were so-so, and thus I was never interested in spending a day slaughtering God’s creatures. Thanks to writers like Hemingway, hunting for some possesses a glamorous cachet.  I, however, found tromping through the Wisconsin countryside in search of birds on a cold, dank spring day far from glamorous. It was my first and only hunt, and I went without a rifle.

Cathy, a fellow teacher of Janet’s, and her husband, Jack (not his real name, for reasons apparent later), owned a farm near Cazenovia, Wisconsin. They invited another teacher, Eva, her husband, Norman, and Cathy’s sister and brother-in-law from Minneapolis for a weekend at the farm over May 23-25, 1975. We arrived late on Friday and awoke to find the men would be hunting this day. O.K., Jack and Norman would hunt and the brother-in-law and I would, in effect, kibitz the hunt.

Saturday dawned cold – in the 40s – cloudy and damp, just short of misting. Leaves had just begun returning to the trees, as the four and Jack’s dog made our way across woods, streams and pastures, occasionally traversing rusted barbed-wire fences. My assignment was carrying a #10 tin can filled with the farm’s homegrown weed, of which all but Norman indulged in before heading out. At one point, before nary a shot had been fired, we reached the top of a hill, only to find a few cows in the meadow. I thought of the story, which may be apocryphal, of Billy Martin shooting a rancher’s cows as part of a joke played on him by Mickey Mantle during a Texas hunting expedition.

Plunging again into the woods, Jack spotted a nest high in a distant tree. He aimed his rifle at it – I don’t think he was going to shoot – when just then a bird flew up from another direction. Norman, a Vietnam veteran, bagged it with one shot. They tried to get the dog to fetch it but he didn’t, so Norman retrieved the bird – a grouse – and placed it in a pocket in his hunting jacket. 

With no more birds in sight, the hunters figured on one more opportunity. Before us stood a field of dried-up cornstalks, each around 7 feet tall. Jack asked his brother-and-law and me to roust the birds out of the field; that is, to walk down the rows and swing our arms against the stalks in hopes birds were hiding within. As we were about to embark, Jack added, “Don’t get too far out there or the shot is liable to rain down on your heads.” Great, I thought, traipsing down a row, my life is going to end buzzed on bad weed after the only hunt of my life. Luckily, no birds rousted, no shots fired.

In keeping with the rustic theme of the weekend, dinner was forelle blau, or blue trout, a recipe from Jack’s German homeland he would try for the first time. The trout came from the pond on the property created by damming a stream. I doubt the fish qualified for the state’s size limit but because they were on caught on Jack’s property, they ended up on the dinner table. The recipe involved poaching the whole trout in vinegar – which turns the skin blue – and water and possibly other seasonings. Unfortunately, between having the poaching solution more at a boil than a light simmer and the extremely small size of the fish, most of trout busted into pieces What remained was hardly appetizing and insufficient to feed eight people. I don’t remember eating any but there was no alternative course and thus I went to bed very hungry.

We returned home on Sunday, without ever seeing the sun. Our hosts never invited us back, and my glamorous hunting career ended. The grouse? It was cleaned and put in the freezer, where it was forgotten until it became inedible. I appreciate the skill shown by hunters like Norman, although the sport is not for me; game farms and big-game safaris, however, don’t seem like sport at all.

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