Birds Left Over

Just typing the words “coming fall” goes a long way toward easing my weariness

By Rob Breeding

Jim Harrison once wrote that hunters should rummage through their freezer at summer’s end, tallying up the number of birds left over from the season before. We are obliged to subtract the quantity of freezer burnt, wasted game birds from the allotment we are allowed to kill in the coming fall.

Just typing the words “coming fall” goes a long way toward easing my weariness of the lingering summer heat.

Fortunately, the number of wasted birds in my freezer is slight. There’s one whole chukar, double wrapped in foil and a zip lock bag, buried in the back. I suspect the flesh of that bird will be just fine. I think I’ll simmer it with some green chili for tacos or maybe enchiladas. It’s just one chukar so I’ll need sides for a full meal.

More problematic is the tub of frozen coq au vin left over from December. After a particularly good run on the chukar grounds I had enough birds to make a pot. I ate on it for a while, and shared some with friends, but I still reached my saturation point with quite a bit remaining. I froze it, then forgot it. By the time I remembered the frozen tub the weather had warmed and the thought of stew, even one this delicious, had lost its appeal.

I think I’ll thaw it and fish out the bird meat and lardons to feed Doll. Maybe that will help get my bird dog out of her own summer doldrums and ready to hunt.

There’s good news on the coq au vin front as I received affirmation of my long-held belief that cheap wine is the way to go when cooking. We’ve all heard the old canard that you should never cook with a wine that you wouldn’t want to drink. Well, coq au vin calls for pinot noir, maybe a couple of bottles depending on the size of your pot, and the tasty Oregon pinots I like will set you back at least $25 a pop.

That makes for an expensive pot of chukar.

A foodie website I recommend, www.seriouseats.com, dispelled the “only cook with the good stuff” myth, testing a variety of wines in side-by-side preparations of pan sauces, reductions, and as the braising liquid in coq au vin.

What the testers found was that as long as you stayed away from “cooking wine products,” which aren’t really wine at all but instead weird chemical concoctions, the results varied subtly if at all. The long cooking process of a coq au vin braise dramatically transforms the flavor compounds in wine to the point where a boxed red is no better or worse than expensive hooch.

So I say save the pricey stuff for drinking and cook with Two Buck Chuck.

In any event, with Doll and I finishing off last fall’s bounty, we will enter this year’s season with a clean conscience and a full bird allotment. I’m now taking the initial steps to get ready for hunting season as I was out on the Bench yesterday evening with the Elk Hunter; scouting out some of my favorite chukar ravines. The Elk Hunter and I like to walk and talk out there, though she interrupts me whenever she spots something more interesting, be it a cool rock underfoot or the fleeing rump of a stotting mule deer.

She apologizes. We laugh. I say something. She interrupts me again. There are lots of shiny objects worth noticing out on the Bench. I’m happy to have her pick them out for me.

We weren’t the only ones laughing. Toward dusk, chukar assembly calls echoed off the cliffs. The birds sound almost like turkeys, but not quite so over the top. Then I noticed my own shiny object scattered under the sage: piles of chukar poop.

I smiled. Fall can’t come soon enough.