By Dennis Smith
Well, here it is: January. Another year gone, a new one just starting. It’s as good a time as any to reflect on the year gone by and contemplate the year to come. The 2018 big game seasons are over for our family; the harvest butchered, wrapped and stacked in the freezers. The bulk of work attending those projects is over but some still remains to be done. Rifles have to be cleaned and returned to the safe, big game clothing stored in dry boxes for another year. The grinders and associated game processing equipment has to be sterilized and packed away.
Processing wild game meat is messy, time-consuming work, but its rewards are immeasurable: black iron seared elk medallions drizzled with mushroom-bourbon sauce; venison/bacon patties charred over hardwood coals; pronghorn loin steaks sautéed in herb butter; smoke-roasted top round of venison with caramelized onions. I could go on, but you get the idea.
Our big game seasons were followed by upland bird and waterfowl hunts: crispy-cold days in the river bottoms and CRP fields with the leaves crunching underfoot and the Lab pups flushing bobwhite quail and ring neck pheasants; jump-shooting winter mallards in the warm-water sloughs along the Platte; watching flocks of Giant Canada geese drop on cupped wings from lead-colored skies into our decoys on a frozen prairie cornfield.
By the time this issue goes to press, we’ll have been sitting in heated ice huts on Lake John, grilling brats and sauerkraut, sipping hot toddies and jerking trout through the ice holes. At home, we’ll brine, smoke and whip them into appetizing spreads and hors d’oeuvres. If the warm-water lakes along the Front Range freeze and we’re lucky enough to hook a mess of yellow perch or bluegills, we’ll have a good old-fashioned family fish fry.
Mid-February through April will find us on the eastern plains gunning for snow geese during the federally-mandated Light Goose Conservation Order Season when hundreds of thousands of blues, snows, and Ross’s geese migrate north in one of the most spectacular wildlife events in the natural world. It’s an amazing experience.
Our big game applications have to be submitted in early April so, while we’re hunting snow geese, we’ll be planning our autumn big game hunts. As April fades to May, our thoughts will turn from snow geese to turkeys and, almost simultaneously, fly fishing. We’ll pull our pop-up turkey blinds, box calls, waders, rods and reels from storage and start planning trips to our favorite turkey-hunting spots and fishing holes. We’ll clean and grease reels, dress our fly lines with new floatant and, though we’ve been tying flies sporadically through the winter, we’ll tie with more urgency now. After all, it’ll be spring soon, and the sportsman’s cycle will be starting all over again. Although the more I think about that, the more I realize it never really ends.
Happy New Year, everyone.
Dennis Smith is a freelance outdoors writer and photographer whose work appears nationally. He lives in Loveland.