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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bowhunting As the Shadows Fall (Blog Four)

Last week I never even had the opportunity to draw back on a whitetail, but I still experienced a marvelous time in the woods.  One of the most fascinating aspects of the pastime is the last half hour of shooting light when the creatures of the day stir a great deal and the nocturnal animals begin to look for food.

This past Saturday, for example, as the shadows lengthened, a barred owl on top of the Craig County, Virginia mountain where I was began to belt out the species' "who cooks for you" chorus.  The owl's song had a cascading effect on others of its kind and soon two other owls further down the mountain were joining in.

A few days earlier, I had observed a pileated woodpecker making its last rounds of the day.  The pileated drummed on a dead tree to announce its presence, next winged to an oak and vocalized its "cuck, cuck, cuck" notes, then flew and perched just outside of a tree cavity that was only a few yards from my treestand.  The woodpecker took a quick peak inside the cavity, and, apparently satisfied that the area inside was vacant, hopped in and no doubt went quickly asleep.

I enjoy bowhunting a great deal and providing healthy, nutritious venison for my family.  But sitting 10-feet above the ground in a treestand is a relaxing experience and also a superlative way to observe the natural world.

Monday, October 18, 2010

After Work Bowhunting (Blog Three)

Almost every day in October after my Block IV Creative Writing class ends, I leave my job as an English teacher at Lord Botetourt High School School and head for rural Botetourt County to bowhunt.  I truly enjoy teaching, something I have done for nearly 30 years, but I also truly enjoy being alone in the woods.  Every day in the woods, I receive a valuable lesson about nature, just as I hope my students learn something worthwhile every day in my classes.

For example, on a recent outing, I watched a flock of wild turkeys for over an hour.  The young males, known as jakes, precipitated a fight with each other in their never ending desire to see which one of them would become the dominant male.  The jakes chest bumped each other, periodically charged each other with wings held aloft, strutted menacingly toward their flock mates, and vocalized gobbles, fighting purrs, yelps, and kee-kees.  The reaction of the jakes' mother hen and their sisters, know as jennies? The females went about the serious business of eating while the males fought.

On another trip, I sat amazed as a doe and her two fawns, some 200 yards away, scented me from such a great distance.  Deer have a legendary sense of smell, and this trio stared at me, began snorting and stomping their feet, and then fled from the field they had just entered.  At times like this when the wind is blowing from my position toward whitetails, I don't think it is possible to fool a deer's nose.

Of course, there are also days after school when I am fortunate enough to use my compound bow to kill a doe - a cause for joy in my household.  My family does not buy meat from a store, so every fall I try to tag at least seven or eight deer so that we will have our meat needs  met for the year.  In the past three years, Elaine and I have learned to butcher the deer, saving a great deal of money in the process.

What will today's after school excursion bring? I will let you know next week.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Paw Paw Time

One of the great things about fall is all that there is to do in the outdoors. During September and October, I enjoy bowhunting for deer and float fishing for river smallmouths, but I also relish gathering wild fruits, especially paw paws.  On a recent Saturday afternoon before the bow season began, I went to a Botetourt County, Virginia farm where I have permission to hunt.  After I finished putting up my tree stand, I walked to a small grove of paw paws that lies on the shaded side of a mountain.

There on the forest floor were dozens of paw paws, some black and covered with ants, some green and unripe, but many were light brown and perfect for eating and gathering.  I ate the first three fruits that I found - I was a bit of a glutton for sure as I love the taste, something between that of a banana and custard.

I then proceeded to gather some three dozen paw paws, filling my hat and pockets with the delectable bounty.  That evening, my wife Elaine made two loaves of Paw Paw Bread and froze the rest of the pulp for winter.  Some January day when it is snowing, Elaine will bake Paw Paw Cookies.

Elaine's recipe for Paw Paw Bread is as follows.

First you will need to prepare 2 cups of pawpaw pulp.  To do this, cut the pawpaws open.  Remove the seeds and scrape the pulp into a bowl.  Try to get as much pulp as you can from the seeds by scraping them with a knife, but that is hard work.   Each fruit has about 5-7 seeds a bit larger than a pumpkin seed.  If you can't remove the pulp from the seeds, just enjoy sucking the pulp from the seeds as you work.  I found that a serated grapefruit spoon was somewhat helpful to remove the pulp from the skin, as was just using my hands while wearing disposable gloves.

Preheat the oven to 375  degrees F.  Grease two 9x4x2-inch loaf pans. 

1 cup melted butter
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 cups prepared pawpaw pulp
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1-2 tsp. lemon zest
4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
nuts of your choice, optional

Beat together the butter, sugar, and eggs.  Add and beat in the pawpaw pulp, lemon juice, and zest.  Sift the flour and baking powder together, and stir them into the batter.  Add nuts if desired. We especially like wild black walnut and shagbark and mockernut hickory nuts.  Scrape the batter into the loaf pans, and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Check carefully the last 5-10 minutes just in case the bread begins to brown too much.