HUNT. FISH. FEED. Once Again Serves Up Goodwill In St. Paul

The popular outreach program that takes protein (venison, fish and fowl) donated by sportsmen and turns it into a gift of kindness to help those less fortunate in the community arrived in St. Paul this past Monday.   Of the approximately 50 such events that have been held around the country, this marked the second time (since 2010) where volunteers from the outdoor television industry rolled up their sleeves and donned aprons for a good cause.

The concept of HUNT. FISH. FEED. first began with the Sportsman Channel launching the initiative back in 2007 and has since served up several thousand meals in an effort to end hunger.   Not only does it show sportsman doing something positive to give back to the local community, but it allows television executives, TV personalities, local politicians and others an opportunity to see first-hand how people continue to need such assistance.

Back in 2010 I was fortunate to first experience one of these events at the Catholic Charities Dorothy Day Center in St. Paul.   At the time, my entire family assisted in both the preparation and the clean-up of the charity meal conducted by HUNT. FISH. FEED.   I must say how even though this is a one-meal effort and the need continues daily, there is something quite humbling to witness how certain segments of humanity depend greatly on such volunteer efforts.   It changes how your perceive the world.   And I dare say, it warms the heart in ways very few other volunteer efforts can achieve.

This time around, however, I was invited to the event to just cover all the good deeds going on.   In fact, Michelle Scheuermann and I conducted a quick podcast with some special guests that will be posting soon — stay tuned.   On that podcast we talk briefly about HUNT. FISH. FEED., but mostly we talk with some wild cooking notables who share some great insight on how to best prepare wild game.

If you ever get the opportunity in your local community to volunteer with any such charity work I encourage you to give it a try.   And if you are part of a sportsman group and can parlay that effort into a more positive image for sportsmen, even more power to you.   At the very least, every sportsman should consider perhaps donating some of their wild game to a local food shelf.   Some states and localities might have certain restrictions on you doing that, but at the very least check it out as the need continues to exist.

In closing, here are some pictures from Monday’s event held at the Catholic Charities Dorothy Day Center:

Here The Sporting Chef, Scott Leysath, stirs up some hearty venison chili that will be served to all guests.

Volunteers form a production line to fill each tray with salads, fruit, cheese bread, venison chili, chocolate brownie and milk.

All in all over 200 people were served in downtown St. Paul on this day.

Moments before food service began, Scott Leysath took a moment to discuss the HUNT. FISH. FEED. program with St. Paul Mayor, Chris Coleman.

The many volunteers who made this day possible.

Important To Understand Your Limits In The Outdoors

About a month ago I sat down with one of my long-time outdoor pals just to shoot the breeze.   While the conversation was upbeat and generally happy as usual, suddenly it took a turn much more serious in tone.   Todd confessed to me that he was having heart troubles and an upcoming important surgery was being planned to correct a genetic defect.   A surgery that would repair an ineffective heart valve causing him several medical and quality of life issues.

Of course, I sympathized and felt sorry for what my buddy was about to go through.   After all, nothing about a person’s heart is routine or simple.   Little did I realize, I would find this out first-hand even before my buddy’s scheduled surgery date.

Last Sunday I asked my wife to take me to the Emergency Room as I was experiencing non-stop heart palpitations.   Oh, I had experienced them before…but didn’t think much of it as they usually went away after a short time.   But that day things were different.   My heart didn’t want to settle down.   I have worked in pre-hospital emergency care long enough to know I likely was not having a “heart attack” per se, but yet I had this sense that something was not right in my chest, either.

We made the right choice.   Upon hitting the ER I could tell quickly this was the place I needed to be.   The technician who conducted a 12–lead EKG on me wasted no time getting the ball rolling toward rapid emergent care.   Within moments my shirt was completely off and big pads were affixed on my chest and back in the event I needed some sort of cardioversion in the form of a controlled electrical shock to take control of my heart.

Yeah, things were serious.   I was deeply concerned.   My wife sitting just three feet away was concerned…hell, I could see the concern on all of the emergency worker’s faces wondering where this was going.   Doctor after doctor checked me out and concluded my heart was not working properly and it needed some sort of immediate medical intervention.

In time, I was moved to the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit where I would end up spending the next two days trying to get control of my racing heart once again.   My condition is known as Ventricular Tachycardia and basically it’s the bottom half of the heart not working in proper sequence with the top half.   In other words, when things don’t work together as they should the heart is not an effective blood pumping organ.

I was fortunate to be in the Mayo (Clinic) Health System so I had access to some of the brightest minds in medicine.   Team after team of experts consulted with me and a plan was launched to bring this health matter under manageable control.   In total, I spent five days in the hospital last week realizing that when a person approaches their mid-50s they must deal with medical challenges that a 30 year old often doesn’t think much about.

I now take a series of medicines that help to control my specific heart arrhythmia.   Oh, things are not perfect or as they once were.   I now have limitations to what I feel I can physically do safely.   These are not limitations put on me by my doctor, instead…these are limitations I put on myself not to push things beyond what I feel comfortable doing.   After all, the only one who pays the price is me.

A year ago I had the opportunity to go on a remote fly-in fishing trip into the northern part of Canada, but I turned it down.   Even back then I had a sense about me that I should not be that far off the grid because my body was telling me so.   At that time I thought it was just feeling jittery from too much coffee…so I gave up caffeine.   The symptoms were reduced…but did not totally disappear.

I suppose I was in denial.   Often times the body tells a person something, but we don’t like to listen.   Men, as I’ve been told repeatedly lately, are notorious for being in denial.   Heck, I did not even tell my wife about any of the symptoms until the day I had her drive me to the ER.   Oh yeah, as a nurse she was not pleased about that silence.

Over the coming weeks I am now faced with figuring out to what level I can carry out my future outdoor activities.   I know trudging through a wet slough where the mud grabs onto your feet and wants to hold you is not probably something you will find me doing.   Likewise, dragging a deer for a great distance or packing out meat would be far too taxing on my now somewhat fragile heart.

Nothing quite like dealing with an important medical issue to force you to accept reality…and your own mortality.   On the other hand, the reality is just because a person might have some limitations does not mean they need to give up the activities they truly enjoy.   Sometimes it take creative planning.   Maybe this fall I choose an easier deer stand to reach without getting all worked up.   Maybe I don’t struggle trying to do certain tasks alone when I have outdoor partners who can lend a helping hand.   Hell, one of the best things about getting older and needing assistance is to invite younger, stronger blood into the experience to help you.   In exchange for your wisdom they gain, you get the brawn of someone younger doing the strenuous tasks.

I guess the main point I want to emphasize in this blog post is if you live long enough on this earth crap is going to happen to you.   My buddy, Todd, hasn’t even had his heart surgery yet and it was almost ironic that I had to suddenly deal with heart issues even before he does.   As I’ve come to learn, one of my other life-long hunting buddies has been having terrible knee problems and needs surgery.   He’s also struggling to get his blood pressure under control.

Indeed, when we get to a certain point in life we don’t necessarily quit thinking about pheasants, big deer or trophy walleye.   Not at all.   Yet, when many of us start venturing beyond “middle age” we must contend with other matters like medicines, surgeries and various health issues that can certainly influence how we safely enjoy the outdoors.

Sometimes it’s hard to accept you cannot still do things you once did when you were half your current age.   That said, as a sportsman ages, it is very prudent to realize those limitations and then strive not to push one’s own physical limits.   The outdoors can be a a physically demanding environment in which to recreate.   It is also not the ideal place in which to experience some type of personal medical emergency.

In closing, don’t fret about me.   Over the coming weeks I feel very confident that with some tweaking of meds I will have my medical situation well managed.   This summer I plan to fish…search for morel mushrooms, and do lots of nature photography.   Next fall I plan to hunt, trap and do mostly what I love to do outdoors, if God remains willing to go along with my plans.

If nothing else…sitting in the hospital for five days gives you a unique opportunity to reflect on what is truly important to a person’s life.   With a renewed perspective, the outdoor is important to me and will continue that way for hopefully many more seasons to come.


Hunters Must Know What’s Inside Their Sausage

Last week the UPS man handed me a package at the doorway and then proceeded to hand me something else I was not quite prepared for.   It was a nice gesture on his part.   Rolled up in some butcher paper was venison stick sausage he had just made the previous weekend.

“Go ahead, take one” he said.   In my mind I thought…do I have to?   I mean, the visual was gross upon first inspection.   Worse yet…when I picked up a meat stick the casing was loose and all slimy.   My stomach started to churn and I suddenly became queasy about the prospect of eating it.   Honestly, I have seen coyote bait I would be more tempted to put in my mouth than this gift now being offered to me.

Being the gracious customer I am, I took a stick…thanked him…closed the door…and quickly walked to the trash can where it was deposited with a slam dunk.   YUCK!   As I washed my hands I wondered how could anyone put such a disgusting item inside their mouth?   Hell, I didn’t even want to touch it with my bare hands.

During our brief conversation he admitted this was his first attempt at sausage making and didn’t really know what he was doing.   Really?   I would have never guessed.

Unfortunately, this scenario plays itself out thousands of times each year with sportsmen looking to save $300 or more by doing their own meat processing.   Now, while I applaud the effort…it takes more than just desire to be a good sausage maker.   In fact, it takes more than just watching a YouTube video, reading an article on the web or even following a good book on the subject.   Sausage making is an art form and the mere act of squeezing ground up venison into a sausage casing does not in itself make for a culinary masterpiece at the table.

Initially when I attended the University of Minnesota back in the early ’80s I had an emphasis in meat science.   Of course, I’m not saying that a person has to be college educated in the science to be capable at producing good, wholesome meat products.   Yet, it doesn’t hurt.   In fact, I would say that to handle meats on only a casual basis just one or two times a year is a recipe for failure.   What may seem simple can be much more complex than meets the eye—especially when sausage products are involved.

It takes the right equipment.   It takes the right seasonings used in the proper proportions.   It takes the right cuts of meat from certain areas of the animal to produce optimal results.   But moreover, it takes the know how to pull it all together and make for a delicious final meat product that folks will truly enjoy.

I get it that hunters don’t savor the idea of paying anywhere from $5–15/pound for sausage when THEY HAVE SUPPLIED THE MEAT and a commercial processor does their magic.   Still, I contend that saving a few dollars per pound on meat that is barely edible compared to meat expertly handled by a true professional is not a good value.   The point at which a hunter has to decide if they are going to pay someone else to process their meat or do it themselves is a critical decision point.

318First off, let me clarify something here.   This post is not talking about the hunter who simply butchers his/her own deer up into roasts, steaks, and ground meat product.   Instead, I am talking more about the hunter who intends to cure, smoke or somehow fashion a specialized meat product using casings.   This goes far beyond the basics of butchering as, depending on the product produced, you are now preparing meat where some fundamental knowledge of food science is required.

Please understand I’m not trying to scare people off from processing their own meats at this higher level.   Heavens no.   What I am suggesting, however, is if you want to extend your skills beyond the basics of butchering a hunter has to be prepared to take on a new skill that is not always easily or quickly learned.

I still contend that far too much meat handled by hunters soon becomes a product not wholesome by current accepted meat industry standards.   That is another issue for another day…but it is critical to this entire endeavor.   Once meat has gone bad there is no amount of seasonings, smoking or preparation techniques that will save it.   Good venison begins once the animal is shot.   In fact, one might say it begins even before that by taking proper shot placements on the critter.315

As I told my UPS man you can’t just go to a Cabela’s or other type of outdoor store to buy the equipment and automatically expect favorable results.   A hunter needs to take a class or somehow get the proper training.   Heck, my hunch is many meat processors would be willing to give a hunter an hour or two’s worth of training in exchange for some helpful assistance.   That’s what a person has to do if they are serious about home sausage making.

In Minnesota, much like I’m sure is available in many other states, the DNR has a fall class in cooperation with the University of Minnesota Meat Science Department to learn how to properly handle venison and make sausage products.   For more information on 2015 fall classes click HERE to inquire.

Moreover, once a person learns about the sausage making craft it’s highly likely their skills and interests will venture far beyond the basic supplies available at typical sporting outlets.   One good source I’ve found is PS Seasoning & Spices in Iron Ridge, Wisconsin.   Contact them to request their most recent catalog.   It will inspire you with new product ideas AND it will open up many new avenues of equipment to correctly get the job done.   Certainly other fine sources are also available, such as Nassau Foods or The Sausage Maker.

So, are you curious about what my UPS guy did wrong in his first sausage making attempt?   First off, he used the wrong casing for the meat product he intended to make.   He used a casing intended for use with a fresh meat product (to be cooked or grilled) not one that was intended to be smoked (and then eventually consumed cold).   He didn’t know…all he cared about was buying a sausage casing not realizing there were differences.   He certainly learned his lesson the hard way.   So did the people who tried to stomach his venison food gift.

For safety’s sake when it comes to food handling all sportsmen deserve to know what they are doing.   Don’t guess.   Learn.   It’s one thing if the meat is only going into your digestive system.   It’s entirely another potential risk when you serve others, particularly the elderly or young children.   I’ll be the first to admit there is nothing wrong with taking your venison to a professional processor.   On the other hand, if you aren’t completely sure about your skills handling your own venison you have no business taking on such an important task until you do.