Food & Drink » Food

Flash in the Pan

Call it good, elk or not


1 comment
The Hoochie Mama is a plastic device designed to sound like a cow elk when squeezed properly. Squeezing the Hoochie Mama–or using any other type of “cow call”—is like playing a musical instrument, with a world of nuance and skill behind every sound. The slightest variation of your squeeze can mean the difference between “What’s up, friend” and “Duh, I’m not an elk!”

My Hoochie Mama has three settings: estrus cow, mew, and lost calf. Estrus cow sounds like a cow saying “I’m so horny!”—good for attracting bulls. The “mew” setting announces “everything is cool here, how about with you?”—good for relaxing nearby elk.  The lost calf setting works on mothers. Supposedly, cows will investigate the sound of a lost calf even if their own calf isn’t missing.

I don’t use the lost calf setting. It isn’t that I don’t want to shoot a cow. In fact, I’ve been hunting in the Rattlesnake for a few weeks now on an early season permit that is only good for cows, and I want to shoot one. I’d just prefer not to use her maternal impulses against her. Of course, were I bull hunting I’d have no problem leading a bull to slaughter by his swollen gonads, via the sound of a horny cow. Go figure.

Once general season starts, I won’t hunt the Rattlesnake, since there aren’t many elk there. Nonetheless, it’s good training for the regular season, because hunting the Rattlesnake is so damn hard. It takes hours of hiking or biking to get to places where you can even legally hunt, and then even more slogging to get to where the few elk actually reside. It’s so hard that when I come back to civilization, everything else seems effortlessly easy.

But the main reward is the sublime and spectacular beauty up there, and the opportunity to experience that world as a hunter, which is a special way of relating to the landscape.

Sometimes I’m so happy to be there I forget to hunt. When I come down, I’m still on Cloud Nine.  So when someone asks, “Did you have any luck?” I don’t know what to say. 

To say I felt lucky after spending days and nights in the enchanted high basins elk inhabit would be a major understatement. The views of the Mission, Swan, Pintler and Bitterroot Mountains, not to mention our own Rattlesnake, with everything lit up by the turning larches, are amazing. Exploring the Rattlesnake makes me love Missoula even more. It’s like exploring a new room in my house. Hell yeah, I feel lucky.

“Did you have any luck?” they ask.

“Nope.” What else can I say?  I don’t have time to explain it all. It’s like what Louis Armstrong reportedly said about the question “what is jazz?”

“If you have to ask,” he responded, “you ain’t never gonna know.”

When you’re walking in the forest, each step is like stepping into a crowded bar. The music stops and the whole room stares at you. It’s always this way, but most of us are too spaced out most of the time to notice. I’ve noticed that when I blow the Hoochie Mama, the music comes back on, so to speak, and the room settles back into its groove. I blow the Hoochie Mama and birds start chirping, squirrels start chattering, and the forest bursts into life.

The Hoochie Mama, meanwhile, is death on deer. I’ve used it to stop bolting whitetail many times. But deer and squirrels aren’t the toughest of crowds. They’re speaking elk as a second language, and they aren’t so good at picking up on my human accent.  Maybe that’s why I’ve had bad luck fooling elk with my Hoochie Mama. Too often, not only is the cow I’m trying to call unimpressed, but also the rest of the herd, whose existence was unknown to me until they thundered off like a runaway freight train at the sound of my caterwauling.

Regrets, some of them much darker than spooking a herd, are part of hunting. It’s ironic, how you go out in search of food, and you get devoured in the process—not the chomp of a lion, but a thousand small nibbles. These bites are measured in drops of blood and sweat spilled in the chase or the search through the thick timber for the body of an animal you shot at. The landscape devours your bodily excretions as easily as it strips away the distractions of civilization below, leaving you purified. Kill or no kill, you earn the right to eat the flesh of another—even if it’s a burger on the way home.

And in the fading light at the end of another brutal, lucky day, the landscape devours the last traces of fancy, leaving me to reassess what is worth doing in a cold, utilitarian light. That’s when I turn my Hoochie Mama to lost calf, and squeeze.

Ask Ari: Get garlic planted now

Q: Dear Flash,

I think we’re approaching the time to stick garlic in the ground, and I’ve forgotten which end of the clove goes up.  Could you so kindly remind me?

—Grabs His Bulbs

A: Dear GHB,

Now is indeed the time to plant garlic—the sooner the better, with the freezing of the ground serving as your final deadline. Garlic planted in fall will establish roots and then go dormant for the winter. Come spring, it’s off to the races. Your garlic will be tall and majestic while your neighbors are still staring at the ground waiting for their radish seeds to sprout. 

After you’ve prepared a good bed of soil, gently break apart the heads garlic you intend to plant into individual cloves. Leave the skin on. If you don’t have seed garlic, buy local garlic at the store or farmers market and plant that. If it’s local, then it’s likely a variety that will grow well in your area. Just remember to plant garlic that you like, since what you grow will bear a strong resemblance to it.

Although commonly referred to as seed garlic, each clove is actually an entire plant. The small scab on the bottom of the clove is a stem. The roundish growth around the scab is the plant’s root, and the fleshy part of the clove is a modified leaf. Since it’s a plant, it doesn’t like to be planted upside down any more than a tomato plant would like it—so I appreciate the way you phrased your question.

Each clove will grow into a bulb, with a big set of roots, so the cloves should be spaced about six inches apart, with the flat scabby end—the root end—facing down. Then cover the planted bed with a thick layer of straw mulch to keep them warm all winter.

Send your food and garden queries to


Showing 1-1 of 1


Add a comment