Great Hunt, Great Venison: Don’t let it go to waste

Grilled venison is a tasty way to handle backstrap. Photo: Holly Heyeser.

Grilled venison is a tasty way to handle backstrap. Photo: Holly Heyeser.

By Howard Meyerson

Hank Shaw may, or may not, age his venison after he shoots a deer. The California author, forager and food blogger hunts black-tails in an area where temperatures can reach 105 degrees. Properly aging venison requires having access to cold-storage, and aging results in a loss of meat volume.

“It isn’t worth it for other than the biggest buck,” explains Shaw, who’s “Hunter Angler Gardner Cook” blog Honest-Food.net won the James Beard Foundation award for Best Food Blog in 2013. Shaw has a developed a nation-wide following of wild-game enthusiasts and foodies.

He is unequivocal about other slices of venison cookery. Too many hunters waste good parts, he says, and far, far too many overcook the meat.

“It may or may not be the most popular game meat, but it (venison) is definitely the most abused,” Shaw writes on his blog. “…if you overcook it and handle the meat poorly when you kill the animal it will be poor fare at the table.”

Shaw, now 44, is an admitted late-comer to hunting. He shot his first deer in 2002, a mule

Hank Shaw scans for diving ducks while hunting. Photo: Holly Heyser.

Hank Shaw scans for diving ducks while hunting. Photo: Holly Heyser.

deer in Montana. He was 32-years old, but the idea of eating natural foods, those he hunted and butchered, fished or foraged, inspired him to make lifestyle changes. He hasn’t purchased fish or meat, other than a few times, since 2005.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” said Shaw about his growing success, during a phone interview from his Sacramento-area home. A former line cook and 15 year veteran political reporter, Shaw began foraging in an effort to find what he calls “honest foods,” those that grow naturally and don’t come pre-packaged in plastic. Continue reading

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Firearm Deer Season: Get out and scout if you want to find deer

Pictured are 13-year-old Henry Lerrett and Zach Parrett, 16, standing proudly with nice healthy racked bucks at their camp in Menominee County last deer season. (Courtesy | David Kenyon, Michigan DNR)

Pictured are 13-year-old Henry Lerrett and Zach Parrett, 16, standing proudly with nice healthy racked bucks at their camp in Menominee County last deer season. (Courtesy | David Kenyon, Michigan DNR)

By Howard Meyerson

Get out and scout. It’s common advice — so common, I’m afraid, that some hunters ignore those words of wisdom.

However, state officials are saying this season might present hunters with challenges, and scouting could make a difference. Deer numbers are down across the state, and acorns are highly abundant in the Lower Peninsula.

That could result in a one-two punch for hunters who haven’t done their homework once the firearm deer season opens November 15.

“I am telling people to hunt smart and be ready to move,” said Brian Mastenbrook, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ wildlife field operations manager in Gaylord. “People are always comfortable hunting their traditional spots, but they may not see as many deer this year. They have to be adaptable.

“I was just at a butcher shop, and the owner said, ‘A lot of deer are coming through,’ but the hunters are saying that the acorns are really concentrating deer in certain areas.” Continue reading

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Salmon Fishing Dismal

A chinook salmon leaps from one raceway to another at the Little Manistee River wier where eggs are collected. Photo: Howard Meyerson

A chinook salmon leaps out of a raceway at the DNR’s Little Manistee River egg take facility. Photo: Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

Grand Rapids, Mich. — Fall salmon egg-take efforts have drawn to a close in Michigan, and state officials are reporting another successful year. But coho and chinook salmon runs were far smaller than average on two key waters, the Platte and Little Manistee rivers, where most of the eggs are sought.

“We got the egg-take done without a hitch, but saw just under 3,000 chinooks, our lowest number of chinooks ever,” said Scott Heintzelman, the fisheries technician supervisor who oversees the Michigan DNR chinook salmon egg-take on the Little Manistee River. “Our 40-year average (for the run) is almost 12,000 fish.

“Our quota was 4.3 million eggs. We can do with about 1,500 males and 1,500 females,” Heintzelman said.  “Michigan needs 3.1 million to 3.2 million eggs, and Illinois gets about 800,000, while Indiana gets about 400,000.”

Salmon eggs are the foundation for Michigan’s salmon-stocking program. Collected each fall when the fish run upstream to spawn and die, they are fertilized and moved to hatcheries. The young fish that hatch are reared and released at various ports and along Lake Michigan tributaries.

Aaron Switzer, who oversees the state’s coho egg-take at the Platte River State Fish Hatchery, said 10,000 cohos were passed and collected this fall. That’s more than enough to reach the 5-million-egg quota (about 5,000 fish), but far fewer than the 30,000-fish runs that were seen in 2012 and 2013, or the 8,000- to 12,000-fish runs from 2008 to 2011. Continue reading

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Grand Rapids couple completes 70 day kayaking journey down the Mississippi River

Day 36: Gary and Linda De Kock. passing through Hannibal, MO continue paddling down the Mississippi River. Photo:  Mark Geerlings

Day 36: Passing through Hannibal, MO. continue paddling down the Mississippi River. Photo: Mark Geerlings.

By Howard Meyerson

GRAND RAPIDS, MI — It was late September when Gary and Linda De Kock arrived by kayak at Mile Zero on the Mississippi River. The couple gazed at the signpost with relish and dismay. Seventy days had passed — 2,291 river miles — since they launched on The Big Muddy’s Minnesota headwaters.

The De Kocks had reached the end of their Mississippi River voyage, a journey to raise money for a good cause. It was the conclusion of grand adventure for the Grand Rapids couple, who previously backpacked in Greenland, kayaked off Baffin Island and now had celebrated their 42nd wedding anniversary, camping on the Mississippi’s banks.

“I wanted time to slow down. When I saw the marker ahead, I stopped paddling,” said 63-year-old Linda De Kock, a self-employed vocational rehabilitation consultant. “It didn’t seem real; I wanted to enjoy the moment we had talked about for so many months.”

TheMississippi River passes through 10 states and empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

The Mississippi River passes through 10 states and empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

Gary De Kock, a retired Grand Rapids wastewater treatment plant supervisor, was contemplating something else.

“I was thinking about 2 million paddle strokes. That’s what it took, 1,000 strokes per mile,” he said. “I had envisioned stopping to celebrate, but like time, the river doesn’t stop. The current was carrying us downstream — and we were already moving on.” Continue reading

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Mixing it up at Short’s Brewing

The craft-beer world is alive well and full of quirky, fun brews.  Joe Short,  the founder of Joe-short-390x245Shorts Brewing Company in Bellaire , epitomizes the playful spirit behind some of those tasty beverages. His brewing company produces 200 different beers. All are distributed exclusively in Michigan.

Why? Because Short, who grew up in northern Michigan, prefers to pour his creativity, and that of his staff, into developing the popular beer recipes that have made Shorts one of the leading craft-breweries in Michigan.

Here’s a recent piece I wrote about him for  Michigan Country Lines Magazine  If you get a chance to visit Bellaire, check it out.

Read more: Mixing it up at Short’s Brewing.

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Microbe to control invasive mussels in open water approved by U.S. EPA

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Federal agencies are exploring how a new product might be used to control mussels in open water. Photo: GLERL.

By Howard Meyerson

GRAND RAPIDS MI, –  Federal scientists working to protect Great Lakes waters and fisheries are enthused about a new commercial product called Zequanox, which kills zebra mussels and quagga mussels without harming other species. But additional research is needed before it is used widely, they say. It could have a big impact on Great Lakes ecosystems.

“Zequanox does show great promise, but our level of understanding about its use in the Great Lakes is pretty low,” said Marc Gaden, spokesman for the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, one of four federal agencies, including the U.S. Geological Survey, Great Lakes Commission and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, that recently formed a collaborative to study the issues involved with broad-scale use of the molluscicide.

“We are looking to see if a comprehensive program is desirable,” Gaden said. ”It’s important to consider the impact. What would happen if you suddenly had billions of dead (decaying) zebra mussels out there. Would you end up with even more algae in the water? We have enough trouble now with anoxic (depleted oxygen) zones.

“The Great Lakes system changed pretty dramatically with zebra mussels, and we all agree that the lakes would be better off if they and quagga mussels never came. But they are well established and are now part of the food chain.” Continue reading

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Study finds black bears are not establishing themselves in southern Michigan

 and later returned north.  Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Most southern Michigan sightings were young bears pushed out of their territory. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

By Howard Meyerson

Maybe you remember the news reports: “Michigan black bears are moving south.” A spate of sightings just a few years ago confirmed that bears were showing up in unusual locales, such as Flint, Battle Creek, St. Charles and Lansing.

State biologists thought a population might have established itself just north of Grand Rapids.

And, if it was true that black bears were moving south, state wildlife managers wanted to educate southern Michigan citizens about living peacefully with bears in the neighborhood.

Well, that was then. Dwayne Etter now believes bears are not moving south to establish self-sustaining breeding populations in southern Michigan. He is the Michigan DNR wildlife researcher who collared and tracked 18 of the more southerly bears, beginning in 2010.

Each bear was found in a winter den and fitted with a GPS collar that transmitted its location every half-hour. The data points, when plotted on a map, showed Etter where each bear traveled — which river corridors they navigated; what routes they took through a forest; whether they crossed farmers’ fields or went the long way around them.

“I don’t think we will see bears expanding into southern Michigan and becoming residents,” said Etter, who plans to terminate the study this winter and pull the collars off the last four bears. “They are not establishing themselves down here.” Continue reading

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2014 fishing license sales lagging in Michigan

Michigan's Great Lakes and inland fisheries will be guided by new five year plan. Photo: Howard Meyersoon

Fewer anglers purchased license in 2014. Photo Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

Grand Rapids, Mich. — It may be the weather or Michigan’s new license structure, but fewer anglers have purchased fishing licenses this season compared with 2013. State officials say the license year is half over, but the decline in sales, so far, is clear.

“It’s hard to tell what it’s attributed to,” said Kristen Shuler, analyst with the Michigan DNR licensing and reservation section. “It was a cold summer and it may be more weather-related, but we don’t know yet.”

What is known is 58,401 fewer “unique customers” purchased fishing licenses as of Sept. 30, according to Shuler. Dealers had sold fishing licenses to 1,046,075 customers, compared with 1,104,476 customers by the same time last year.

Most of the decline occurred with nonresident anglers, who saw annual license fees increase from $42 to $76 for Michigan’s all-species fishing license.

Many opted to purchase $10 daily licenses instead.

“A lot of people bought five or six daily licenses rather than pay $76,” said Denise Gruben, manager for the licensing and reservation section. “The longer-term trends are that participation is declining, and we were excited to see that it went up in 2013. That was an early start year. We had a warm spring. But in 2014, people in the U.P. were afraid of hitting an iceberg with their boats.”  Continue reading

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When the greater good isn’t good enough; Muskegon sturgeon kill should sound alarm

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Thirty two juvenile lake sturgeon, about the size of this one shown, were found dead on the Muskegon River. Photo: MLive.

By Howard Meyerson

MUSKEGON, MI – Wildlife and fisheries management is full of seemingly damaging actions — those undertaken to achieve some “greater good,” meaning the betterment of a particular species. We set fires to create prairies and improve habitat for butterflies; we allow wolves to be killed for the greater good of communities affected by having too many; and we treat rivers with chemicals to kill “rough” species, such as carp, so other popular game fish can thrive.

But, what if attaining that greater good means killing a threatened species?

I was troubled by what happened on the Muskegon River in September, when 32 baby sturgeons were killed during a sea lamprey treatment conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The lampricide TFM — 3-trifluoromethyl-4-nitrophenol — can kill non-target species, but lake sturgeons are a state-designated threatened species. Extraordinary measures should be undertaken to preserve them. Work to restore them in the Muskegon River has been ongoing since 2006.

Didn’t have to happen

What’s troubling is the kill could have been avoided with better communication between state and federal agencies and, perhaps, more flexible treatment scheduling. It appears the kill was the result of bad timing rather than the misapplication of TFM, the standard chemical used to treat lamprey-infested rivers.

“Thirty two is the number we found, and there are probably others we haven’t found,” said Kregg Smith, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources biologist who supervises the Muskegon River sturgeon restoration effort. “I don’t think it was a matter of human error. And I know the Fish and Wildlife Service is concerned about it and is working on ways to improve (TFM applications and strategy).” Continue reading

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Michigan’s snowshoe hares disappearing, could benefit from forest management amid climate changes

Snowshoe hares change colors from brown to white in winter to provide concealment.  Photo: Dr. Gary Roloff

Snowshoe hares change colors from brown to white in winter to provide concealment. Photo: Dr. Gary Roloff

By Howard Meyerson

Grand Rapids, Mich. — Researchers investigating the whereabouts of Michigan snowshoe hares confirm what hunters have said for quite some time: The big rabbits with the white winter coats have vanished from places where they once were abundant and hunted. Their disappearance is being linked, in some cases, to a warming climate and forest habitat changes.

“We looked at 134 sites statewide and found 49 percent of the historic Lower Peninsula sites, and 27 percent of the Upper Peninsula sites, do not have hares anymore,” notes Gary Roloff, assistant professor at Michigan State University’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. Roloff spearheaded a 21⁄2-year, Michigan DNR-funded study to assess the hare’s status and what might be done to improve conditions for the species.

“We picked up both climate and habitat effects,” Roloff said. “All of their sites at the extreme southern edge of the hare (range) were unoccupied. Those historically were areas where they had been hunted. When hunters have been asked why they stopped hunting hares, the consistent message has been there are too few hares in an area. That (void) wasn’t just on the southern edge. We found unoccupied areas all over the state.” Continue reading

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