As the gray wind gathers dry leaves into restless vortices and the frost falls thicker with each passing night, the thoughts of this Montana omnivore turn to hunting. But while many hunters charged from the gates on opening day, Chef Boy Ari would rather risk midnight patrol in Fallujah than brave these overloaded forests of trigger-happy boneheads.
Being a man of deep patience, I waited until the day after opening day to make my debut, driving east to a certain Hutterite colony between Canada and Mexico where there is a certain ditch winding through a certain field. I like to sneak through the ditch and rest my gun on the rim.
A scattering of buildings and machines clinging to the windswept high plains of eastern Montana, this Hutterite colony might be the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to life on another planet. As you scurry from one building to another it feels like you could get sucked into the void. And there is also something otherworldly about the archaic form of German spoken there.
At 8:30 p.m., the night of opening day, I drove through the warehouses and heavy equipment and parked by a row of identical apartments. As I left my truck I felt hundreds of eyes upon me, peering through windows and from behind cracked doors. Dark shadows scurried about their clandestine business.
As I headed toward the hunting manager’s apartment I was intercepted by a young man dressed head to toe—like all the Hutterite men—in black. I knew where this conversation was going before he opened his mouth.
“Going hunting?” he asked.
“Do you like to drink?” he asked.
“No,” I lied. “Do you?”
“No,” he lied. “Do you want to buy some wine?”
“Hootie Hooch,” made from rhubarb, is pretty tasty and pretty strong. I have celebrated many a deer’s death with a swig of Hootie Hooch, which usually comes in recycled R&R whiskey bottles.
I declined his offer, knowing there would be other opportunities. As I continued toward the hunting manager’s apartment, the man pleaded, “Don’t tell [the hunting manager], okay? He’ll be mad. It’s against the rules, you know.”
Minutes later I left the hunting manager’s office with my permission slip and a bottle of wine. His daughter, who traded me the wine for a 12-pack of contraband 7-Up, reminded me, “don’t let anyone see that bottle. That’s between us.”
Alas, my experience the next day was like hunting the Wal-Mart parking lot the day before Christmas. Pickup trucks with Minnesota plates prowled the open plains, pausing while trigger-happy boneheads took impossible shots at distant animals. At midmorning I headed for a ranch on the other side of the valley.
The deer were everywhere; unfortunately, they were all asleep, as the full moon and warm weather allowed them to feed all night and bed down all day. As I prowled the cottonwood groves along the field’s edges, the newly fallen leaves crunched like potato chips, and the only deer I saw were running away. I never even got one in my scope.
I returned home to find a very large whitetail buck hanging in my garage, shot by the Independent’s intrepid photographer, Chad Harder. While Chad butchered his animal, I prepared the pan with some chopped bacon in grapeseed oil. I cut a tenderloin into medallions and rubbed them with crushed garlic and pepper. I dropped the medallions into the sizzling grease and fried them hot, crispy on the outside, barely cooked on the inside, deglazing the pan once with sherry. Finally, I killed the heat, drizzled soy sauce and stirred in more chopped garlic. We huddled around the pan, rubbing the dark meat with mayonnaise, co-munching with pickled peppers, chasing with red wine and Hootie Hooch and mopping the pan with bread. We repeated this until Chad was too drunk to continue butchering.
Another job of hunting season is cleaning out the freezer of last year’s meat to make room for the new. Here is a variation on the above recipe that takes advantage of frozen meat:
Drop the frozen meat, enclosed in plastic, into a bowl of hot water for 20 minutes until the outside starts to soften. Cut the barely thawed meat into chunks, rub in oil and then marinate in red wine, cider vinegar, crushed garlic, pepper and soy sauce. After at least 30 minutes, heat up grapeseed or canola oil in the pan with chopped bacon. Fry the chunks in the hot oil. Since the meat is still half-frozen, you can get the outside nicely brown and crispy without overcooking the interior. When it’s almost done, add a chunk of butter and toss it around the pan until it melts. Then stir the marinade into the pan, kill the heat, pour a glass of wine and enjoy the meat of the season.