here are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.
Aldo Leopold

31 August 2012

Changes in our Beef program

We have entered into partnership with Rosenkrans Farms to manage our beef herd and related activities so we can focus more on habitat enhancement and our fledgling vineyard. However, we still own our herd, continue to invest in its growth and expansion, and maintain our commitment to a natural, flavorful product.

Our beef is being combined with other local small producers' beef through the efforts of Rosenkrans Farms.  Collectively, the beef is being made available to consumers in New York City via DeBragga beef, located in the meatpacking district of NYC.

Our farm, and our partnership with Rosenkrans Farm, was recently featured in The Wine Spectator's annual food issue entitled, "All About Beef," a classic celebration of America's favorite food.

10 February 2012

Split wood, not atoms!

Bringing in firewood!  Split wood not atoms!

10 November 2011

Restoration project on "the back 40"

Restoration area shaded in green, an eroded "rill" originating in the woods to the south, flowing north into Canoga Creek tributary.
"Before" shot, looking north down the rill.

"After" shot, looking north down the rill from the same vantage point as above.

03 October 2011

Selective timber harvest

We decided to thin out some big black walnuts and also cut a few locusts for construction of a new cattle handling facility.  The timber sale financed the rest of the handling facility.

21 August 2011

First trellis

In 2002, we harvested our first grapes. At that time, our "front" field nearest the lake was planted to corn (in the background).

Now, almost 10 years later, we have installed our first trellis system, in the very spot where the above photo was taken. These two baby steps hopefully foreshadow what is to come at
Canoga Creek Farms (& Cellars).

30 January 2011

No Hunting

I spent some time with the family, celebrating my 40th birthday, in my favorite Adirondacks area, the Moose River drainage. This time, we were focused on the North Branch, based at Big Moose Lake's famous Big Moose Inn. We enjoyed some truly fantastic family downhill skiing at McCauley Mountain, and also some first -class backcountry touring in the Pigeon Lake Wilderness Area. While in the woods, we came across this novel scene of the game in the Adirondacks.

07 January 2011

Two Brown Dogs

I saw it all in a moment, the conflict, the struggle, the dialectic of dominance. The goose were felled, they hit the field. Two brown dogs were dispatched to subdue and retrieve them, from two different places, from two different persons, of two different tribes. One dog, unbridled in his aggression and accustomed to encountering little resistance, menaced the other, of arguably more truculent stock but considerably more trained and of better manners, over a goose which lie dead or dying on the field. In a flash, teeth were bared and the dogs hurled themselves into each other, growling and snarling and biting and struggling. This spectacle against the snow sprinkled with blood slowed down to a slow-motion ballet and soundtrack, mildly horrifying and intriguing at once, and seemed to go on for an eternity. I felt myself become fascinated and recognized the detached viewing and floating feeling of combat of any kind. It ended, with both dogs standing over the undecided but decidedly contested goose. Neither dog retrieved the goose, or accomplished the superficial objective,but both succeeded in their ultimate calling of asserting dominance and establishing order, by either victory, defeat, or a draw. A sublime experience, and applicable by extrapolation in profound and disturbing ways. I felt the familiar shiver of feeling the ghost of Hobbes and Burke passing over me as I walked onto the plain and retrieved the goose. I crossed the gap in the hedge, and unceremoniously tossed the contested goose into the other tribe's pile.

06 January 2011

I was asked once to comment on why I hunt, and I said: I for one don't hunt to prove anything, but to get back to an elusive something. Thanks to this landscape, and unconditional friendships that solidify within them, I always feel a level of fulfillment, of being "at my limit" in the satiated sense. I am proud of my farm, and my hunting, and my friends. Viva la Canoga.

Perhaps I was wrong, perhaps there is proving. Perhaps the "hero of every hunting story" problem that Rich described is a reaction to the fear of not being a hero in any story at all. Perhaps hunting helps us prove that we can be heroes, through mastery and persistence. Perhaps, when the noise of "constructive criticism" and the onslaught of suspicion by even your closest allies that you really are illegitimate, a fraud, a fake, an imposter and interloper, becomes almost deafening, perhaps it is then that the proof, the antithesis, the null hypothesis, is in the well placed shot and all that went in to it and becomes of it. The irony is that perhaps that cannot be shared or truly appreciated except for by a very few.

In these cases, I defer to the good sense of dogs. Here are a few pics of Nick and Brant doing what they do.

01 January 2011

Finale buck

Despite the twists and turns of 2010, I am able to reflect upon my big game season with some measure of satisfaction. On my last successful hunt of the 2010 big game season I was able to take a nice coyote and a buck that is easily my second best ever. This in a year that was supposed to be a wash for me, a year that I had written off as a loss, given my injuries in the pre-season. I ended up the year with an antlerless archery tag filled, a buck and a doe tag filled during the shotgun season, and a buck on a muzzleloader tag.

The buck pictured here represents a very memorable shot. I had killed the coyote only about 30 minutes earlier and was debating about ending my hunt when I noticed motion about 150 yards away in a ravine. After a few minutes of watching, I was able to pick out the shape of a doe, who became more visible with time and focus. She was intent on something in the opposite direction of my stand location, and the wind was in my favor. I watched her for over 30 minutes, sometimes laying down, other times standing up with ears pricked forward, twitching her tail. A buck?

After another 15 minutes of this I decided, seeing no other deer, to climb down and try to stalk the doe by creeping to the edge of the ravine and pulling off an ambush shot. I didn't want to take such a long shot on a doe. As I was descending the tree, I kept looking at the doe in the gully, but as I got lower and the angle of view changed, she went out of sight. Then, I caught a burst of motion and the shape of a deer raced by from right to left in the ravine. They're moving...change of plan!

I raced back up the tree, thinking better of my ambush plan, and hoping they would move towards me and offer me a shot. As I reclaimed my position in the tree stand, and brought the binoculars to my eyes, I could see two deer. I looked at them through the binoculars. They were bunched up now, both looking intently away from me, oblivious of my presence over a football field away. Then, out of the right side of my field of vision through the binoculars emerged an antler, which kept growing until I saw a large neck and attached to the body of a very healthy buck in full rut. It was so vivid and clear against the snow, and yet I dropped the binoculars, not trusting the data coming in. I raised them again... he was big bodied, his tines reached beyond his eye in profile and he was beyond the ears... "a shooter," I breathed, dropping the binoculars and raising the gun to asses the situation through a scope.

The shot was no chip-shot, plus 150 yards, down hill, lots of trees and brush. I had two possible openings two shoot through if the buck cooperated. It would have to be perfect. PERFECT. I debated momentarily about taking the shot at all, and then the voice of reason, the one I have grown to trust in deer season told me "you see one shooter per season-- two if you are really lucky... if you have a make-able shot, take it." So the shot was makeable, I told my self, so I'll take it.

The buck was busy sniffing and twitching his tail while I was snuggling up to the seat and the tree on my hang-on tree stand, trying to find a rock-steady rest. As I settled in, kneeling on the platform and using the seat to stabilize, he stepped into the better of my two openings. He was quartering toward me, presenting a thin window at vitals with a sharp down angle, but I felt good on my rest. He stopped. I focused on a quarter-sized patch of fur slightly forward of his front right shoulder. At that angle I'd hit vitals and perhaps break the shoulder, anchoring him. I prepared to commence the squeeze. As I began the exhale and the oh-so-gentle squeeze I vaguely noticed him move his head downward to lick his front left leg and his left hind quarters. The shot. A cartwheel through the scope and smoke. Did I hit his antlers when he moved his head? Still looking through the scope, and not moving an inch, I began to be able to see four legs straight up in the air quivering, and then they became still and listed to the right. Deer down. Was it my buck? Did I hit him in the head or antlers? Did a different deer step in front of the shot? Many questions were racing through my mind.

I regained my seat in the tree stand to compose myself, reloading and checking back every few seconds to confirm that the downed animal was not going to regain consciousness and scamper off (as happened the year before out of the same stand... see the "snorkel deer"). I checked my watch, to begin the agonizing but obligatory 30 minute wait. After 15 minutes, and many, many confirmations with scope and binoculars, I was certain of the presence of antlers and that the deer was dead. I descended the stand and slowly made my way to the downed deer. As I reached him, the two does he was with burst from some brush on my right and bounded away. I worried for a moment that that was a sign that the buck was still alive, but when I reached him, the bullet wound(s) told another story. As the buck had turned his head to lick his left side, the bullet neatly severed his spine, then entered his chest cavity and lodged in the upper portion of his heart. He died instantly.

I hefted the antlers in my hand. I was very aware of the feeling that was washing over me, of a kind of relief mixed with remorse, the beginning and ending, the victory and the end of the struggle. He was a nice buck. One to be proud of. I have only one bigger, but not better. This buck came with much effort, after many trials and barriers, and after a difficult previous season. This buck was a gift to mark a turning point for me, a leaving behind and a striving ahead. The season finale-and a beginning.

On hunting whitetails, Koller once said:

"If we must kill them,let it be quickly and cleanly, without excuses. Paradoxical though it may seem, a sportsman, to enjoy his sport, must kill that which he admires. He must posses it, fondle it, show it to his friends; and to possess he must kill. No one can object to this, for it is the way of nature; but in the name of this mother of all wild things, it should be a sudden, painless death."

10 December 2010

Cagey's Alligator Gumbo

Cagey’s Alligator Gumbo

Bow-hunting for alligators in in some states is legal and fun. Thanks to Barry for the alligator meat used in this recipe.

2 pounds alligator meat, cut in thin strips approx. 1"long x 1/4"thick
3/4 pound butter
1/2 cup green onions, chopped
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 stalks celery, chopped

4 carrots, chopped

½ cup of fresh sliced mushrooms

1/2 cup red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 large cans stewed tomatoes ( I like yellow)
1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt (to taste)

1 tablespoon of olive oil

½ cup of Kentucky bourbon

Pinch of brown sugar

Sauté onions, garlic, peppers, carrots, mushrooms and celery in butter until soft in a cast iron dutch oven. Add other ingredients and simmer for 10 minutes covered. Lightly brown alligator strips with olive oil, bourbon, and seasonings in a cast iron skillet. Remove alligator meat from pan and reduce mixings. Add alligator meat and reduction sauce to pot and allow to cook over low heat until tender (approximately 1 hour). If gravy is too thick, add a little hot water. Serve over rice with hot buttered cornbread on the side.

20 November 2010

An Odd Season- Deer Opener

I wasn't expecting to hunt this year. I had injured my arm in a fall from my tree-stand in the off season, in August, as I was repairing a deer stand and making it "safe." One of the metal screw-in steps, the top most step, snapped and left me a free fall, interrupted by a grab of a step which caused me to burst and tear my right biceps tendon, but, kept me from breaking my neck or back. When I caught myself, my body swung back toward the tree like a pendulum, and I slammed into a lower screw-in step, which I am lucky did not manage to completely pierce my torso. I lived through this, but was told by my doctor to expect a surgery and a long painful recovery.

I won't go into great detail about my travels to Asia and the various forms of traditional healing that I sought out while there on business. It suffices to say that I returned home, the archery season in full swing, healed, at least enough to hunt. A second opinion from an arm specialist confirmed this, and I used my jet lag to arise early and provide the family with a wild turkey for thanksgiving. The turkey fell to the big side-by-side 10 gauge. I missed the first shot, but made a satisfying second wing shot and relished the thud of a big turkey falling from the sky. My 2010 season was underway. The picture here is a classic and comedic capture of me patiently explaining to my loving wife that taking pictures is not very hard.

I turned my attention to the archery deer season, managing to hunt almost every day of the nearly three weeks remaining of the season, for at least an hour or two. I saw surprisingly few deer during that time, but did see 2 different "shooters," one of which I confronted at about 15 yards head on, but was never afforded a reasonable shot. That buck was later killed on the first day of gun season, today, by my neighbor. I was able to take an antlerless deer as the season closed, a memorable shot from a tree stand down by the lake on a beautiful misty evening.

Saturday was the opening day of the firearms deer season. At around 7:30 am, I missed a moving buck, a very wide and thick 6 pointer, at about 90 yards in cover. This buck was just hammering on a small button buck, literally kicking his can all over the place. I watched this big old buck throw the little feller into the air with his antlers, chase him down, and pin him to the forest floor. When the shot (80 yards or so, moving- high winds) finally, briefly, presented itself, I was surprised and frustrated by the miss. The day's frustration continued with continued heavy winds, and the hunting pressure from neighboring farms, as it seemed every time I got settled into a new location, within an hour bright orange blobs could be seen in my upwind scent cones.

I finally decided to finish the opener in a newly installed, safe, two person ladder stand in the "square wood" otherwise known as the "hickory lot." This stand has a great view to the east and the south east of two large fields and a hedgerow. As I entered the little grove to climb into the stand, I kicked up two deer, but I could only hear them and see their tails. About an hour later, two deer, does, appeared at the end of the large field I was hunting over, out of range. They were feeding relatively comfortably on the clover. I watched them for quite awhile through the Nikon BDC scope mounted on my Ithaca Deerslayer II. They finally drifted out of the field and into the gully. Ten minutes later, another doe appeared, this one moving more purposefully toward the gate at the far southeast corner of the field. After 5 minutes, another deer appeared- the big 6 pointer.

The wind was blowing from the West, from behind me, to the field and the deer. I had not noticed any of the three does from minutes earlier obviously "scent" or "wind" me. However, as I had an aerosol can of "Buck Bomb" given to me, I thought I 'd see how well it works by spraying some in the air and hoped it would drift down wind to the buck and lure him my way. I sprayed, and within a minute, the buck could be seen scenting the air, nose high, in my direction. He immediately began to move towards me, closing the 300 yards step by step.

At about 150 yards, the buck veered slightly left (south) and was concealed by the thin hedgerow that runs perpendicular to the line of woods where I was positioned. The sun was setting, a big full moon was peaking in and out of the clouds. I assumed the buck was marching toward me. Five minutes, ten minutes, twenty minutes elapsed. No buck. I resigned myself to the fact that he had been dissatisfied with something and lured elsewhere. I packed up by satchel, slung the gun over my head and shoulder behind me, and prepared to descend from stand. Just as I extended my foot to step down to the first rung, I heard leaves crunching steadily, from behind the hedgerow where I had been expecting the buck. "It's him!" I nearly said out loud. "Better late than never." I clumsily removed my gun, knocking my hat off in the process. I settled in to a shooting position and tried to calm my nerves.

The bright moon and lingering sunset gave decent light, which was improved by the light-gathering qualities of my scope. I watched the end of the hedgerow intently. The sound of shuffling leaves grew louder . I could see feet, legs. The deer paused. Head movement. I could see an antler. "It's him!" I thought again, almost out loud. He was hanging back, sniffing. I needed two steps for a 15 yard shot at vitals, broadside. He took ones step, still partially obscured by the tangly brush of the Buckthorn and other hedgerow miscellany. As he bobbed his head I could make out his profile, tall antlers, points, some thickness... he stepped again. A clear shot at vitals. Bang. The Hornady SST was on its way.

He jumped straight up, and then went running. I shot four more times at him running, later learning that three of these running shots connected. The final shot downed him in the middle of my field, out about 150 yards. It was done. I descended the ladder, slightly shaky and well adrenalized, was smiling as I walked up to the big buck... but he got smaller as I approached. I stopped, paused... "that's a different buck" I said aloud. I walked closer, knelt over him, gently took the tall but juvenile antler, and chuckled softly. "Sorry boy- a case of mistaken identity" I said.

Apparently the original big 6 point deer, when concealed by the hedgerow, was met by the smaller 8 point 1 and 1/2 year old buck. Whatever transpired, time elapsed, and one buck went one way, one buck went my way. The smaller one went my way and is now headed towards the sausage maker.

I believe this is the same buck as pictured below from pre-archery October trail camera shots. He was supposed to benefit from QDM. Instead he fell victim to classic buck lust and "eager orange" as I call it. I have been struggling with that since the kill, but have resolved to be thankful and move on, perhaps wiser. In any case, as I have been told, you can't eat antlers. He'll be tasty. I will remember him for what he is and isn't, and for the Opening Day hunt under a full moon that I wasn't going to get to experience, but did.

Day two of the opener dawned sunny and with little wind. I set up in the second of my three two-person tree stands, the one that faces south down in the gully. I set Rich up in the "Quickie" stand that overlooks "The Bedroom," a deer bedding area that has traditionally held big bucks every year. My goal was to fill the first of my 2 DMPs (the second is for a different WMU). At 7:30 am, I filled that tag with a nice, neat, single 50 yard chip shot that anchored the deer in her tracks. In the picture, the white spot in the center is the doe's belly. There will be feasting.