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, http://blog.winchester.com/2015/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:
Heartland Shooting Park
Boone and Crockett book
909 17th Street, Denver, Colorado 80202
Shotgun Life www.shotgunlife.com
Outdoor Buddies www.outdoorbuddies.com