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Winter, Summer, Spring and Fall: Food and Drinks to Wow Your Friends

Winter, Summer, Spring and Fall

Food and Drinks to Wow Your Friends at BBQs and Dinner

Contributed by Jeremy Climer, Hunter, Rifle and Clay Target Shooter and Wine Connoisseur

We all know one of the best ways to recruit new hunters, or at least get people to support hunting, is through their stomachs.  Sharing our harvest is a sacred duty to hunters and backyard BBQs are as big of an American tradition as hunting itself.  We’re going to give you some simple tips to step up your backyard wild game BBQ this year with pre-meal cocktails as well as wine and beer pairings for three classic dishes.

Before we begin, a note about the products: I have done my best to offer widely available products that represent a value for their cost.  Costs and availability vary, so do not be afraid to ask your local retailer for a similar product if something is not available in your area or does not fit your price point.  

Pre-Meal Cocktails

There’s nothing better on a hot summer day than a refreshing cocktail.  Each of these three cocktails are easy to make with few ingredients and can be batched in large quantities if you’d like.

Smoky Negroni
A twist on the Italian, gin based classic, very few spirits go better with smoked or grilled meat as mezcal.  Do not be afraid of its past, unfair reputation, just think of it as tequila, but better.  The smoky quality of this incredible mezcal will be well integrated with the sweet and bitter quality of the other ingredients.  

1 oz. Xicaru Mezcal
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth
Orange peel

Combine all ingredients into a mixing glass with ice and stir for thirty seconds.  Strain and pour into a highball glass (or over ice).  Break a strip of orange peel over the glass releasing the oils in the skin and garnish with orange peel.

Mint Julep
No cocktail says summertime quite like a Mint Julep.  A cocktail that is as old as America itself, it’s been poured on hot summer days since before bourbon existed (originally it was made with cognac).  

2 fresh sprigs of mint
½ oz. Simple Syrup
2 oz. Buffalo Trace Bourbon

In the bottom of a highball glass, muddle one sprig of mint with the simple syrup.  Fill with crushed ice and add bourbon.  Swirl with a bar spoon until the outside of the glass frosts.  Top with more ice and garnish with the remaining sprig of mint.

Mexican Candy
A take on the popular spicy mango candy from Mexico, this will be sure to please your guests that like a little kick to their drinks.

2 oz. Crater Lake Hatch Green Chile Vodka
1.5 oz. Mango Juice
Soda Water
Mango slice

Pour vodka and mango juice over ice in a Collins glass.  Stir with a bar spoon until ingredients are well integrated and the glass is cold.  Top with soda water.  Garnish with mango slice.

The Main Course
The number of different dishes you can offer your guests at a BBQ are almost as many as those of you reading this.  However, we know there are certain staples to BBQs and there are definitely common ways in which many hunters process their meat.  Here are three basic options with wine and beer pairings.

Neck Roast Tacos
This is a great dish for many reasons.  First off, who doesn’t love tacos?  And secondly, this is a dish you can prepare in the morning or the night before thanks to the technology of a crock pot.  

Serves six.

2 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground coriander
½ tsp paprika
2 tsp salt
½ tsp dried oregano
2 lbs neck roast
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, smashed
1 chipotle in adobo, plus 1 tsp adobo sauce
½ cup Modelo Especial

  1. In a small bowl, mix together spices and rub over neck roast
  2. Heat the olive oil and brown roast on all sides
  3. In the crock pot, pour in beer, onion, garlic and chipotle with adobo and add the neck roast with juices from pan.  Cover and cook on low for 8 hours or high for 6 hours
  4. When the roast is cooked and tender enough to fall apart, shred it with two forks.  Add shredded meat back to the crock pot.  Keep warm in the crock pot.  

Put meat into warm corn tortillas, garnish with chopped cilantro, thinly sliced radishes, chopped tomatoes and crumbled queso cheese, served with a wedge of lime on the side.  

Wine & Beer Pairing

Risk Taker:

  • Sanitas Hoppy Lager (Boulder, CO) – Bright and clean with bready malt and Citra hop aromas.  At 35 IBUs and 5.5% ABV you can have more than one.
  • Kung Fu Girl Riesling (WA) – Riesling goes with everything, but this slightly off dry Riesling with notes of white peach, mandarin orange and apricot from Washington State goes fantastic with spicy dishes. 

Playing it Safe:

  • Modelo Especial (Mexico) – A fuller bodied and more flavorful option to Corona, jam a lime in it and enjoy the taste of summer
  • Kaiken Ultra Malbec (Mendoza, Argentina) – Argentinians know a thing or two about meat and they make wine to match.  This spicy and bold red wine is soft on the palate with notes of dark fruits and dried herbs.

Bacon & Bleu Cheese Venison Burgers
Is there anything more classic for a BBQ than burgers on the grill?  For this recipe, if you have not already cut in some fat with your ground venison, simply add some ground pork or beef to your mixture so that it’s 80% venison and 20% fattier meat.

Serves six.

2 lbs ground venison
12 slices of bacon
8 oz bleu cheese or bleu cheese crumbles
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
Coarse salt and ground pepper
Sliced tomatoes
Chopped chives

  1. Mix in finely chopped garlic to ground meat
  2. Make into six 1/3 lb patties sprinkling salt and ground pepper onto both sides
  3. Cook bacon in skillet either on grill or stove top
  4. Grill burgers to taste.  About 1 minute before pulling off the grill, sprinkle bleu cheese on top of each burger (if desired, place buns on grill for a light toast at the same time)
  5. Place burger on bottom of bun, add two slices of bacon and sprinkle with chopped chives.  On top half, place lettuce and tomatoe.  Serve open faced.

Wine & Beer Pairing

Risk Taker:

  • Bell’s Two Hearted Ale (Comstock, MI) – This easy drinking IPA comes in at 7% ABV, well balanced between the malt and 100% Centennial hops.  Notes of grapefruit and pine will really match the bleu cheese on this burger to perfection.
  • Charles & Charles Rosé (WA) – Rosés are great for summer and great for grilling.  This Syrah based rosé from Washington State over-delivers for the price with notes of tropical fruit and citrus peel with a mouthwatering finish.

Playing it Safe:

  • Sierra Nevada (Chico, CA) – The classic American IPA that has been around for 30 years.  Much like the Two Hearted Ale, the balance to the malt and hops make this a great pairing, however this wine is much bolder and less nuanced than the Bell’s.
  • Boneshaker Zinfandel (CA) – While Zinfandel has its roots in Eastern Europe, California has really become the preeminent producer of the varietal.  For years it was underappreciated and used in syrupy sweet White Zinfandel, but now it is being taken seriously for the delicious, bold and hearty red wine that it can be.  This wine is jammy, spicy and will stand up to the bold burger with bleu cheese and bacon.

Grilled Sausage
If you make sausage, you probably already have a favorite recipe, so I’ll skip the sausage making here.  However, there are some ways to take things up a notch by toasting pretzel bread buns, grilling some chopped vegetables such as onions, bell peppers, banana peppers and sauerkraut in some aluminum foil with a bit of olive oil.  Offer a selection of different mustards and fire up the grill.

Wine & Beer Pairing

Risk Taker:

  • Schlafly Kolsch (St. Louis, MO) – Hard to beat a cold kolsch on a hot day with grilled sausage.  Schlafly does a great job with this sessionable beer that has the fruity aroma of an ale with the clean finish of a lager.  Made with 100% German Noble hops.  
  • Bodega Muga Reserva (Rioja, Spain) – A great example of what kinds of wines Rioja can produce.  Bright cherry aromas, earthy elegance, great acidity and well balanced with supple tannins.

Playing it Safe:

  • Pilsner Urquell (Czech Republic) – The original pale lager, the first pilsner.  Crisp, clean and palatable, a great pairing to grilled sausage.
  • Gerard Bertrand Minervois (Minervois, France) – This Syrah and Carnignan based wine from southwest France has note of licorice, dark fruits and lots of minerality.  Easy to drink and great with grilled meats.  

BONUS TIP: If you’re serving anything fried, such as chicken friend squirrel or rabbit, or having a fish fry, nothing goes better with fried foods than bubbles.  Try Ruffino Prosecco or Etoile by Domaine Chandon.  

Jeremy Climer
(502) 523-8354

More Than A Hunt At The Hixon Ranch

by Michael G. Sabbeth

Sometimes an event is infused with a meaning, a character, that goes beyond the details of the event itself. The experience has a message and an ethos that inspire the participants to pursue a higher virtuous purpose. The Heritage Hunt at the Hixon Ranch was such an event.

This past November 7th through the 9th, the Hixon Land and Cattle Ranch near Cotulla, Texas hosted the winners of the 2015 IHEA-USA Heritage Hunt. The hunt is sponsored by Focus Group, Inc. in partnership with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) and the International Hunter Education Association (IHEA-USA). Hunter education students Bailey Maier from New York, Tim Coe from Kentucky and Madi DeGarmo from Idaho won an all-expense paid ‘hunt of a lifetime’ when their entries were drawn from those submitted to the IHEA Heritage Hunt contest in the Hunter’s Handbook, ( the official student publication of the IHEA-USA.

To qualify to win, all students must have successfully passed a sanctioned IHEA course in North America. Rick Webber from Washington and Theodore Loftis, Sr. from Tennessee were the winning volunteer hunter education instructors invited to join this special event.

Focus Group pays for and sponsors The Heritage Hunt along with a generous grant from the SCI Sables. Additionally, Focus Group partners including Buck Knives, Cabela’s, Federal Ammunition, Under Armour, Mossberg, HIVIZ Sights and GrovTec, made in-kind contributions. All filming was done by videographer Cody Prather with CarecoTV based in San Antonio, Texas.

The transcendent themes of the Heritage Hunt are captured in Focus Group President Brian Thurston’s eloquent statement: “This hunt allows Hunter’s Handbook and its partners to not only award instructors for their hard work and dedication in the field, but also offers young hunters a unique experience that will keep them engaged in hunting while learning hands-on field safety and hunting success.”

The Hixon Land and Cattle Ranch

The ranch is owned by Karen and Tim Hixon, two gracious and charitably-disposed people steeped for decades in Texas conservation programs and organizations. The Hixons began buying ranch properties in 1964 in the Texas Valley of South Texas and now have acquired approximately 13,000 acres. The main ranch house has a high vaulted ceiling of massive timber and a 180-degree expanse of towering windows that seamlessly bring the magnificent acreage to the viewers’ eyes. Rough-hewn wood tables and comfortable plush leather chairs and sofas create a welcoming atmosphere. Dozens of shelves are populated with Indian and cowboy art and artifacts; animal trophies decorate the walls. Signed photographs of notables such as John Wayne and Roy Rogers and Dale Evans are tucked away in smaller rooms radiating from the main salon and dining room.


Timo, Karen and Tim’s son, participated in every facet of the program. Two years ago Steve Hall, then Executive Director of the IHEA-USA and now TPWD’s Texas Hunter Education Coordinator, asked Tim and his parents to host the program. Timo agreed because he and his family recognized the role of youth hunting in game management, conservation and protecting hunting’s future. The Heritage Hunt was another extension of their past involvement in programs such as TPWD and Texas Wildlife Association’s Youth Hunting Program ( Steve pointed out “We wouldn’t have youth hunting on private lands in Texas without folks like the Hixons. This is awesome!” Events such as the Heritage Hunt punch into the solar plexus of what Steve Hall laments as the current status of modern youth: a Nature Deficit Disorder.

Timo explained that the Heritage Hunt is important to him and his family because young people are the future of hunting and without these experiences, hunting, and its heritage will be lost. “These hunts are a way for my family to advance a culture, instill respect for the land and the animals and pass those values to the next generation.” Particularly meaningful to Timo was seeing the bonding between a young hunter and his or her parent or mentor. “They smile together. They work together. They succeed and fail together. These experiences have worth beyond hunting.”

Hunting at the Hixon Ranch

The first full day we were up at five in the morning, not my favored time for opening the aging eyes and greeting the birds and rising sun.  Hot breakfast, hot coffee and a selection of snacks were available to the gathering hunters and guides. Our experienced guides, Landon Guilick; Brad Detmore; Gabe Chapa, Doss Summers, Mike Hehman and Eddie Price, exhibiting more energy than I could muster, were assigned to the young hunters and the instructors. The weather was cool and wind minimal. The intermittent rain from the previous day seemed to have left town. The day was perfect for hunting.

I went into the field mid-afternoon. Doss deposited me and Rick Webber at a well-crafted metal blind with plenty of room to move around and slots in all walls for observing and placing a rifle. Many qualities are required to increase the odds for a successful hunt. Patience is one of them; and it is not my strong suit. I opened a slot and looked at the magnificent scenery; magnificent in the sense that it was bathed in tranquility and silence, at least for me. For some of the animals, life is drenched in the unrelenting tensions of self-preservation.

What appeared to be a large doe ambled into our shooting lane perhaps 300 yards away. I maneuvered my CZ 6.5 x 55 Swedish rifle into position. Rick glassed it and concluded it was very young. I brought the rifle back to an upright position and opened the bolt. A chorus line of javelina (collared peccary) traipsed into our line of sight. A few looked large but when they marched right in front of the blind, their mass seemed to diminish like a melting snowman. A coyote appeared on a road several hundred yards away. We glassed it through the binoculars like dogs eyeing a distant bone. It never came into range. I thought of Oscar Wilde’s statement: “Morality, like art, means drawing a line somewhere.”  Not having a legitimate shot, we didn’t take one.

The reality of hunting is strikingly different from watching hunting highlights on hunting TV shows—magnificent animals wandering by or being tracked, then the perfect shot from bow or rifle, the clean kill and the congratulatory satisfaction of a job well done. Then a break for a commercial. More realistically, hunting is tedium; waiting for hours, days or weeks to pull the trigger or release an arrow. Steve Hall opined that as a consequence of that distortion of reality, we tend to become spectators rather than participants in the hunt.

The hours ticked away, as time tends to do, until a rich pastel red and pink sunset bathed the west. As the starlit sky began to darken, Doss returned to take us to the ranch. Although neither Rick nor I took an animal, by the end of the program, Tim and Madi got lovely bucks and Bailey got a doe and a spike.

Panning for Gold

Talking with Tim and Kem Coe

I spent a lot of time talking with the participants and organizers. I talk with people as a prospector pans for gold: I look for gleaming nuggets of information, stories, experiences and arguments that enable me to be a better thinker, a more impacting writer and a more skilled instructor. I struck gold at the Hixon Ranch.

Tim Coe and his father, Kem, happened to be sitting at the table where I was chatting with Leaha Wirth, National Sales Manager for The Hunter’s Handbook and the driving force orchestrating this event. I struck up a conversation with Tim. I sought insights into the thinking and concerns of young hunters, which is important because about 50% of hunter education students are eighteen years old or younger. Tim thinks a lot before answering questions, and sometimes his words come out as slowly as drizzling chilled honey. They were worth the wait.

Tim’s grandfather encouraged him to take a hunter education course. Tim began hunting small game in Kentucky with an aged single shot rifle and advanced to a .308 for big game. Everyone in his family hunts, including his mother and his sister. Hunting, Tim told me, teaches many virtuous traits, such as valuing the outdoors as well as life skills such as self-reliance, self-discipline, and, above all, respect for the lives of the animals.


Pride motivates Tim to be a responsible hunter “A key issue is safety,” Tim said. “You see what a firearm can do.” Tim’s next words dazzled me. “Hunting is the best way to teach ethics. You see animals wounded or killed. You owe the animal to be a good hunter.” From such a young man, is this not a golden nugget?

Tim pointed out that the best instructors teach him to think of honor and character as he considers doing something. He added, “They make me feel I can make a difference in protecting wildlife. They make me think I can do something good for future hunters.”

We changed topics and talked about hunters being condemned by their peers.  Since most of his friends hunt, Tim has not found this to be an issue. He brushes off negative comments.  “They don’t know what they’re talking about. I don’t pay attention to them.”

I asked if Tim if he had ever been called a murderer because he hunted. As he began to answer, his dad interrupted. “Let me tell you about one of my experiences,” Kem said. He was about twenty years old, a student at Lindsey Wilson College, a small college in south central Kentucky, taking pre-pharmacy courses. A new professor from New York City asked if he hunted. “Yes,” Kem replied. The professor then vilified him. “You are no different from a person that kills a family!” Many people, perhaps most, in Kem’s position would have lashed out at the professor with the savagery of a momma bear protecting her cubs. Kem maintained a stunning poise although he confided he fought an impulse to slap her.

With dignity and restraint, he made the professor an offer she, evidently, couldn’t refuse. “Why don’t you and your son stay for a weekend with me and my family at our farm?” She accepted his offer. Kem’s farm was in Turkey Neck Bend, Monroe County, Kentucky. When the professor saw her first deer, she exclaimed, “I didn’t realize you had deer here!” Kem chuckled.  

The professor admitted she had no insight into the conservation component of hunting or game management. She learned how hunters work to preserve animals. In a remark that most of us would find to be less than an extraordinary epiphany, she said: “I now see that every hunter is not a mindless blood thirsty killer!” Apparently that’s a major insight for many folks from big cities who only know of guns in the context of crime and know of animals only from zoos, a few TV programs and Walt Disney. She returned to Kem’s farm. They became friends. That’s a powerful story, a real chunk of gold with practical application for educators and hunters.

Speaking with Leaha Wirth


Leaha was taking notes as I chatted with Tim and Kem. After Kem shared his professor story, she stopped writing and added some of her perspectives to the conversation. “When the topic is firearms, people will engage in a conversation more quickly and intensely,” she said. “It’s a good topic to learn about responsibility. An informed hunter then has an opportunity to reach and persuade people in a non-threatening way.”

Leaha continued. “Hunting experiences are a vital part of who I am.” It is a forum for communicating values, wisdom and knowledge. “Whether in the field with friends, family or students,” Leaha said, “I can share a one-of-a-kind opportunity. It’s not the kill; it’s the people and the experience; and an intimacy with the amazing Earth, the wildlife.”

Her experience affirmed that the young hunter will come away with a thirst for more experience and knowledge. “That is the emotional foundation for what I do. I can produce positive results.” Her next comment penetrated to the core of the honorable hunter’s character. “There’s an experience you have to own that comes with taking a life.” No excuses. No blaming others. You are accountable. Echoing some of Tim Coe’s comments, Leaha added, “taking a life demands that a respect for life be acknowledged.”

Inherent in hunting are matters of honor, of ethics, of integrity. These traits determine the moral timber of one’s soul. Speaking with increased intensity, Leaha added, “I can make a difference. It sounds like a cliché, but it’s absolutely true. Look at these young hunters! They are the future, and they are marvelous!”

Venison and Chili and Dove, Oh My!

Nutritious delicious cuisine is one of the great rewards from hunting. The chefs at Hixon Ranch were masters, serving up fabulous meals every lunch and dinner. We had baked ziti pasta with spinach, cheese, sausage, tomatoes and enough garlic to be noticeable all the way to downtown Denver. We had dove stuffed with jalapeño peppers and cream cheese wrapped in bacon. But the culinary triumph of the visit was Chef Siboney Chapa’s fried backstrap of venison. Soft as butter, the venison possessed a layered game flavor and was not masked by strong sauces. It reminded me of a rich Cabernet wine. My cut, done rare to medium, was a banquet for the senses. Who needs to go to Michelin-rated restaurants in Paris when you can have Siboney’s cooking in South Texas?


Siboney’s recipe was so marvelous I asked her permission to share it. Here it is:


Fried Back Strap of Venison

Slice venison into 1/4 in. Slices and tenderize. 

(To take out any gaminess)

Soak back strap in milk or butter milk for about 10-15min. Some people also use vinegar. I’ve never used it-

While the venison is soaking grab two mixing bowls and a skillet with some oil to fry. In one bowl fill about half way of flour or Panko crumbs, whichever you prefer. Salt & pepper or any seasoning to your liking. – I use Lawerys or Johnnys

Next grab about 5- 7 eggs or more if needed and mix.

By now the back strap is ready to coat with egg and flour. 

Time to fry!

Fry about two minutes on each side or until done. 


Final Thoughts

Hunting is a complex process that calls upon many skills and traits to do it honorably. In her illuminating essay, What Kids Can Learn From Hunting, Melissa Bachman writes: “Spending quality time in the field with kids is priceless, but there are a lot of things that hunting teaches them above and beyond the hunt….. such as physical labor, disappointment, patience, preparation, mental toughness and personal responsibility.” Hunting can provide meaningful lessons for those who have the character and wisdom to learn them.

“Let’s be frank,” as Vito ‘Don’ Corleone said in a different context to Bonasera in The Godfather. One aspect of hunting is taking the life of an animal. There is no joy in watching an animal die. Yet hunting has value and can accomplish noble goals. Without hunting, animals have no value, and without value, the animals will die. That’s reality. Preserving animals means preserving hunting. A lot of people do not like reality. And a lot of people prefer the soothing fantasy world of feeling good rather than doing good. Unfortunately, only the animals suffer in the fantasy world, not the smug anti-hunters.  

The informed hunter knows that hunting’s past does not pass on genetically. The past does not guarantee present or future acceptance and support. Hunting must be defended and advanced every day. Steve Hall, Leaha Wirth and the marvelous Hixon family understand the big picture, and part of that picture is encouraging young hunters to accept the duty to keep hunting and the animals sacred and protected. That’s the reality. Honorable people deal with reality, not with wishing and hoping the world would be some other way.

The Heritage Hunt at the Hixon Ranch gave substance to hunting by transforming the idea, the abstraction of hunting, into reality. The young hunters learned that the ideal of hunting cannot materialize without the real world effort. I was enriched by the Heritage Hunt. Meeting dedicated people pursuing a noble cause; spending days under clear skies, breathing air scented more deliciously than the finest perfumes and sharing great food with vibrant young hunters and instructors; well, as Ira Gershwin wrote in the musical I’ve Got Rhythm, Who could ask for anything more? 

Nebraska Quail Hunting and More Friends, Family, Fine Hunting and Fabulous Cuisine

By Michael G. Sabbeth

An Improbable Occurrence Leads To A Wonderful Invitation

This was to be a special weekend. It better have been. It took months to organize. The events of the weekend developed in an improbable way, as so many interesting paths in life do. I had been pheasant hunting with my brother-in-law Bryce on a piece of farmland north of York, Nebraska. It is presumptuous, actually, to describe as hunting our walk on the dirt road dividing sections of corn or milo. I was carrying a well-worn L. C. Smith that looked as if it had been used to fight off bunch of attacking zombies; Bryce has a brand new Ruger Red Label. No dogs joined us and it was unlikely that my singing New York, New York would have caused any pheasant with the slightest genetic survival predisposition to leave its comforting bed and take to the air.

We approached the end of the road, where it intersected with a larger county road, and a burst of birds exploded on our left from a small thicket of brush and hardwood trees. They flew away from us, low and fast, like curve balls from a major league pitcher. They weren’t pheasant, or turkeys or Bald Eagles, so I didn’t have a clue as to their species. “Quail,” Bryce said with about as much emotion as hired help picking programs off the floor after a concert. I’d never seen quail, and I didn’t the rest of the walk. It was a first for me and I was excited.

The next day we went to Oak Creek Sporting Clays in Brainard, Nebraska, to shoot clay targets at the five stand and the two full sporting clays courses. I’d been shooting at Oak Creek for years and consider myself friends with Dean Kriz and his son, Terry. They are fine sturdy honorable men. I like them. Each year Oak Creek hosts several charity shoots, competition shoots and hosts groups including the Boy Scouts and the Wounded Warriors. In between bites of his mom’s buttery brisket served for lunch and a sip of a lite beer, I told Terry about seeing the quail.

“I know some great places for quail hunting,” he said. “Well,” I blurted out, “I want to hunt quail with you.” “Okay,” he said, “we’ll set it up.”  He thought late September would be best. I began making plans. First order of business was to schedule a visit to the Hornady factory in Grand Island, Nebraska. I had developed a relationship with the company as a consequence of sharing a table with owner Steve Hornady at a luncheon reception at the 2015 NRA Convention and then meeting Neal Emery from the marketing department at the Hornady exhibit.

I asked Neal if he could help me with some writing projects, particularly my forthcoming pronghorn hunt in northern Colorado. The marvelous organization, Outdoor Buddies, would be hosting severely disabled hunters. CZ-USA had loaned me a Model 557 Sporter in caliber 6.5 x 55 Swedish. Might Hornady provide its acclaimed 140 grain SST Super Performance? “Absolutely,” Neal said without hesitation.


Fast forward to late September. I, my wife, Nancy and my friend, Rob Anderson, traveled a little north of York, Nebraska to visit my brother-in-law Bryce and sister-in-law, Janet. I had previously scheduled a visit at the Hornady factory for Friday morning. If you are ever out in that part of the country, a visit to Hornady is strongly recommended. Todd Knecht, Technical Services Manager, greeted us and guided Rob and me through the extraordinary facility. The entry boasts full-size mounts of big game and the walls in the main visiting and open work area feature magnificent full and shoulder big game mounts from around the world.

The processes for making bullets and complete ammunition cartridges are complex and extraordinary in detail and quality control. Glistening jacketed bullets in dozens of calibers and structures—SST, InterBond, GMX, V-Max and InterLock—came tumbling from their respective machines like a copper-flowing Niagara Falls. Although we were wearing surgical face masks, the facility impressed me as clean and sanitized as a hospital operating room. Quality control tests are run every few thousands of bullets or cartridges, which is thus quite frequently. Ammunition and components of unsurpassed quality requires time, money and monitoring processes of the highest standards. Observing how meticulously Hornady bullets and ammunition are made was an up-lifting experience that gave me a comforting feeling.

Heartland Shooting Park


We then drove to the Heartland Shooting Park, conveniently situated about three miles from the factory. Todd generously gave me several boxes of 6.5 x 55 Swedish ammunition so I could sight in the CZ Sporter in preparation for the forthcoming Outdoor Buddies hunt. Leupold had donated a VX-2 3-9×40 scope. Todd also gave me a few boxes of an array of .45 Colt ammunition to use in my two Uberti revolvers.

Heartland is a world-class multi-discipline shooting facility offering skeet, trap, sporting clays, rifle ranges out to six hundred yards, hand gun ranges, cowboy action formats (even a stagecoach and a jail!) and more. I had been there several times and it was like visiting friends again. Director Bill Starkey met us at the sign-in counter and cleared us for all shooting venues. Stellar employee Jacob Schwan escorted us to the rifle and handgun ranges.

Without burdening the reader with details, my two Uberti .45 Colts, a beautiful New Army Conversion Revolver and an 1873 Single Action Cattleman Revolver, sold under the Beretta brand as a Stampede, shot with superb accuracy. The Army Conversion .45 was particularly accurate with Hornday’s 255 grain Cowboy loads and the Stampede did admirably well with the 255 grain FTX load. The CZ rifle mated with the Hornady 140 grain SST Super Performance cartridges produced consistent groups of about two inches at two hundred yards, more than sufficient for our pronghorn hunt.

My task with the CZ sporter complete, Rob, Todd and I went to the skeet fields. I had with me two of my favorite shotguns, an Abiatico and Salvenelli 20-gauge Poseidon and a stunning Zoli 28-gauge over/under engraved by Mauro Dassa of Incisioni Dassa. Dassa’s studio is in Collebeato, Italy, just north of the renowned Val Trompia region, Italy’s firearms center. Dassa’s soul-churning engraving featured on the underside of the receiver a bobwhite quail painted in enamel flying in the middle of Bulino bank-note engraving of trees and vegetation. All other metal surfaces on the receiver were engraved in a classic ornamental style. Rob was shooting his massive AyA 12-gauge side-by-side custom built by renowned instructor, gunmaker and gunsmith, Dale Tate.

We began shooting skeet. Todd shot his gorgeous Caesar Guerini 28-gauge which boasted a lovely marbled walnut stock. My shooting, was, I confess, not my finest hour. If the clay disks were quail, they would have reported back to their covey, “Nothing to worry about with the guy from Denver.” Todd seemingly crushed about every target, swinging the shotgun as smoothly as a conductor waves a baton.

Oak Creek Sporting Club


The next day, Saturday, we all went to the Oak Creek Sporting Club to shoot clay targets and to shoot quail. Oak Creek is located in Brainard, Nebraska, a part of this great country derisively referred to as ‘fly over country.’ As for me, I’d rather land in Nebraska than a lot of territories on the two coasts.

I find the region enriching and rejuvenating. It’s that part of America where you see billboards advertising businesses such as “Bill’s Fine Dining, Plumbing and Tires” and you hope Bill has kept the components of each business separate from the others. Brainard is a few miles from Loma, the diminutive town where much of the somewhat cultish movie “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything Julie Newmar” (1995) was filmed, starring John Leguizamo, Wesley Snipes and Patrick Swayze.

Oak Creek resides in the larger geographic area known as the Bohemian Alps, a designation derived from the fact that the area was settled primarily by Czech immigrants. The region boasts lush farmland and gently rolling hills planted with alfalfa, milo, wheat and corn, which on the day of my visit, showed like a patchwork quilt of pastel shades of green and brown as far as my eyes could see.

This is big country, inhabited by big things: big trains, big trucks, big skies and, from what I have experienced, big hearts. Real blue jeans are worn and faded and made threadbare from real work. Boots are scuffed and cut on real iron, rock and concrete. It’s where the amber waves of grain wave and is home of the fruited plains some of us still sing about.

Located in the core of the Heartland, world renowned for upland bird hunting, Oak Creek has thousands of acres of prime upland bird habitat all within a controlled shooting environment. Native pheasant, Bobwhite quail and introduced chuckar populations thrive in this area and will most certainly satisfy even the staunchest wingshooter. Oak Creek’s guides and dogs are some of the best in the Midwest. With infectious personalities, significant knowledge and awesome dog handling, an upland experience at Oak Creek is like no other.

I had recently been to Oak Creek to break clays, hunt pheasant and write an article about a friend’s pristine thumb-lever Damascus-barrel Purdey built in London in 1869. This day we began shooting with Dean Kriz, one of the founders of the business and father of my friend, Terry. Terry is an extraordinary man by every measure. Most striking to me, he has adopted children and been a foster parent to several others, which, in my book, is as close to God as a human can get.

Quail Hunting at Oak Creek

The thing I like best about the Old Man is that he’s willing to talk about what he knows, and he never talks down to a kid, which is me, who wants to know things. When you are as old as the Old Man, you know a lot of things that you forgot you ever knew, because they’ve been a part of you so long. You forget that a young’un hasn’t had as hard a start on the word as you did, and you don’t bother to spread the information around. You forget that other people might be curious about what you already knew and forgot. ………The Old Man said he didn’t know what I would be when I grew up, and didn’t care a lot, but he said I might as well learn to respect quail, if only for practice in the respect of people. 

Robert Ruark, The Old Man and the Boy

It Takes A Gentleman To Approach Another Gentleman


 As the morning was warming quickly, we cut short the clay target shooting and drove to the fields of corn and milo to hunt quail. Bryce, Rob and I gathered around Terry for a quick review of safety procedures. We had two young hunters joining us, Terry’s son, Cooper, and Colby, son of our guide and dog handler, Chad. Both youngsters were about thirteen.

The midmorning was graced by an azure sky and dots of cotton candy clouds. The fragrances of hardwoods, brush and damp earth appealed to me more than the finest perfumes. Some of the birds we were about to hunt were raised; a few would be wild. We uncased our shotguns. I gave my Abbiatico and Salvenelli to Terry, saying, “This is my finest shotgun. I want you to use it.” Terry grinned. “I’ve never seen a shotgun like this before.” I smiled. “Now you have. Enjoy!”

We began the excursion by walking to a corn field a hundred yards from the cars. Chad’s dog, Lucy, leaped about like a porpoise over the waves. Within moments a large quail flushed as if catapulted off an aircraft carrier, a severe right to left crossing shot with the bird rapidly gaining altitude. Terry gracefully shouldered the A & S and fired. A puff of feathers fell to the ground like dark snow. Lucy recovered the bird with speed and enthusiasm.

We kept walking with military like precision, keeping a straight line of guns, no one ahead that might get in the path of a shot as a shooter swung his gun. No shooting at birds behind and no swinging a gun beyond eighty degrees or so from the forward position in either direction. Proper hunting is safe hunting, and safe hunting demands self-discipline and thinking of safety in advance.

As we marched up one of the gentle rolling hills, a bird flushed. “No bird, no bird!” Rob yelled as the quail flew toward the non-hunters behind us. A moment later, another bird flushed. Colby brought up his Beretta Ukika 12-gauge with speed that some of us older folks could only envy. The shot was perfect. Lucy was on the bird within seconds, her tail wagging like the wings of a hummingbird.

We then went to a larger field of slightly rolling hills covered with corn stalks and beans, I think they were. Lucy zig-zagged with trained precision, returning to Chad for a quick drink of water. Moments later two quail flushed. With a lightning-quick move to the bird, Rob dropped one, expertly swinging his heavy AyA. The other bird was now gaining speed and quartering away slightly. I was shooting Fiocchi Golden Pheasant 28-gauge ammunition. I fired and the bird dropped like an anchor. The bird not wounded, I was relieved. As my colleague Steve Comus, editor of Safari Magazine, says, “When you make a great shot with a beautiful gun, for that moment, all is right with the world.”

One bird was enough for me. I moved from the line back to the observers. The youngsters could have any birds that would have been in my range.

The hunt ended triumphantly. Rob, Cooper and Colby each had several birds; the rest of us one apiece. Safety had been observed all around and there was a shared sense of joy as if our shoulders had been touched by rainbows. The way I see it, we older folks have duties—a moral duty and a duty to our heritage—to pass along hunting skills and hunting ethics to the younger folks. Hunting is a complex process that demands many skills and traits if one is to hunt honorably.

I urge the reader to read Melissa Bachman’s insightful essay,  What Kids Can Learn From Hunting,  Here is an example of her excellent writing. “Spending quality time in the field with kids is priceless, but there are a lot of things that hunting teaches them above and beyond the hunt, such as physical labor, disappointment, patience, preparation, mental toughness and personal responsibility.” For those who have the character and wisdom to learn them, hunting can provide meaningful lessons. Instilling ethics, elevating character, maintaining our hunting heritage and traditions are done slowly, meticulously and prudently, one step and one cartridge at a time.

Wild Game, Wines and Cuisine

            Terry prepared the quail and, graciously, gave me ten, more than Rob and I brought down. That’s the kind of person he was. After unloading and cleaning the guns, Terry took us to the Makovicka Winery, located three miles from Oak Creek. Butler County’s First Farm Winery, Makovicka is a beautiful little winery, the beneficiary of thousands of hours of work by owners Steven and Dianne Makovicka. Picnic areas and walkways grace the grounds behind the tasting room, offering an expansive soothing view of the rolling hills. Makovicka offers about a dozen varietals and blends, including some luscious fruit-based wines. Visitors receive a complimentary glass of wine, which can be enjoyed with selections of cheeses and crackers. My group bought a substantial collection of Makovicka’s offerings. I favored the La Crosse 2014, a white wine sporting a fresh fruity quality. I bought a few bottles, in part, because I liked it so much I decided I would use it in the recipe for cooking the quail.

Cooking with Boone and Crockett


We returned to Janet and Bryce’s spacious home north of York and I began cooking. Rob and Nancy selected wines to be consumed as I slavishly maneuvered in the kitchen. I had selected the recipe Grilled Quail with Jalapeño Sauce, a creation of chef Jon Bonnell, contained in the marvelous must-have wild game cookbook, Wild Gourmet, a Boone and Crockett Club Publication, featuring an Introduction by Mark Mondavi. For better or worse, I always tinker with recipes. In this case, I added extra garlic and jalapenos, guided by that maxim from Julia Child, (I am writing from memory here) “You can never have too much garlic.”

To accompany the quail I prepared scalloped potatoes—sliced potatoes bathed in layers of aromatic finely-grated Reggiano Permesan and prosciutto, a little salt and pepper and added cream and a sprinkling of white wine. Bake for one and one-half hours and wow!!! I report, without a hint of boasting, that the quail were magnificent—tender, drenched in flavor and thoroughly delicious. Get the cookbook and prepare your own!

I also share another quail recipe that I learned about coincidentally just one week after I returned from Nebraska. The recipe is so delicious I am convinced the reader will enjoy it. I had purchased a seat at a cooking class on preparing quail given by Elise Wiggins, the Executive Chef at one of Denver’s preeminent restaurants, Panzano’s. The recipe, accompanying this article, is somewhat complicated but well worth the effort. Also included is the recipe for Elise’s elegant tomato sauce.

Elise Wiggins is a culinary wizard, her signature dishes feature the best in contemporary Northern Italian cuisine with a focus on local, seasonal and organic ingredients. Panzano has been awarded 4 diamonds by AAA and named one of Zagat’s best restaurants in America.

Thus ended our marvelous quail hunt to Nebraska, blessed with good friends, a loving family and great food and wine. As Ira Gershwin wrote in I’ve Got Rhythm, “Who could ask for anything more?”

To download the recipe click HERE

For More information:

Oak Creek

Heartland Shooting Park


Makovicka Vineyard  402-545-2173

Boone and Crockett book


 909 17th Street, Denver, Colorado 80202

Shotgun Life


Outdoor Buddies