Thursday, December 5, 2013

Two new videos: how to fillet a duck, and how to cook a duck fillet or duck breast

I'm obsessed with using as many parts as possible from the birds I kill, so I came up with a filleting method earlier this year that uses ALL of the meat and skin, and is easy to eat, too. The first video shows you how to cut a duck into two boneless fillets, and the second shows you how to cook those fillets (though, conveniently, the technique is the same for cooking breasts alone).

If you watched the PBS Food/Original Fare video in which I took a newbie duck hunting then cooked up a pintail for her, this is the method I used.


© Holly A. Heyser 2013

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Hunting like a guerrilla in a ballroom - a column for Shotgun Life

I am in my eighth season of hunting, so you'd think by now I'd know how to calm the hell down when ducks take me by surprise.

Apparently not.

Read all about my latest adventure in spasticity in my latest column for Shotgun Life.

© Holly A. Heyser 2013

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Taking a newbie/foodie on her first duck hunt

As a woman who didn't take up hunting until the age of 41, I love helping fellow adults - especially women - go out and get their first hunting experiences. In the case of Kelly Cox, we shared her first duck hunt in front of a camera.

Kelly is the creator of Original Fare, a PBS Food video series, and as part of the series, she decided this year to try hunting for her food. Check out the video on our hunt, then keep scrolling - I'll have a bit more to say.


OK, so much to say, but the first thing is that a new survey this year finally validated what I've been saying for a few years now: "(O)btaining meat is an increasingly important motivation among American hunters to go afield. While there are several reasons for this growth in the segment of hunters who engage in hunting for utilitarian reasons, several of Responsive Management's new studies make clear that the trend is widespread and unmistakable."

Translation: People want high quality meat, and they're willing to hunt for it.

Kelly - a former vegetarian who still shuns factory-farmed meat - definitely falls into that category, and she's part of a group of people whom hunters should do everything possible to welcome into the fold. It was really exciting to be in a video that I knew was going to reach an audience that cares a LOT about where its food comes from, but isn't necessarily familiar with hunting. Opportunity!

Now, onto the details: Kelly was a fantastic shot. I think she hit her first eight or nine clays in that first session with Dale Tate. And the bird she got was the first bird she shot at. Woot!

Next: She fell in love with the marsh, despite what you can't see in the video: that a couple assholes set up really close to us and seriously marred our hunt. She took that in stride and focused on what so many of us love: the beauty of the birds that live in that world so few people see up close.

Next: A few days before the hunt, she mentioned that I'd be cooking something. I'm not sure why it hadn't occurred to me - it is a food show - but I was a bit of a deer in the headlights. I'm not the star of my kitchen; Hank is! But Hank was on the road, promoting his new cookbook (with photos by me), Duck, Duck, Goose, so this was all on me. Gulp.

I quickly realized, though, that one of my favorite ways to eat duck is simply salting it, pan searing it, slicing it up, and maybe topping it with a squirt of lemon juice and some pepper. I can do that!

So I did, and the result was delicious. It didn't hurt that I had a couple pintails on hand, so Kelly and cinematographer Lucas Longacre's first taste of wild duck was as good as it gets.

We could barely speak as we ate.

Finally: When you surrender your actions to others, whether they're filmmakers, writers or photographers, you never know what you're going to get. In this case, I have to say what they produced is completely accurate - the only error in it is my own, and it's worth noting here:

When I was cooking, I said the biggest mistake people make cooking duck is not cooking it long enough. What I meant was that's the big mistake when they're pan searing duck, where you never seem to trust yourself to let it go long enough. For the most part, people tend to overcook duck, which is the worst thing you can do to a duck breast. My bad! As the politicians say, I misspoke.

All in all, this was a thoroughly wonderful experience. Kelly and Lucas are welcome in my home and my duck blind (such as it is) any time.

© Holly A. Heyser 2013

Friday, November 1, 2013

A post-meal grace for the first duck of the season: a column for Shotgun Life

I'm not a particularly prayerful person, but my first duck of the 2013-14 season tasted so damn good it was worth a special prayer.

Read all about it in my latest column for Shotgun Life.

© Holly A. Heyser 2013

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

My biggest photography project yet: Duck, Duck, Goose - the cookbook!

Click here to buy.
Super excited to announce the release of a second cookbook featuring my photography: Duck, Duck, Goose: Recipes and Techniques for Cooking Ducks and Geese, both Wild and Domesticated (Ten Speed Press).

As Hank Shaw's live-in food photographer, I've been doing photography for his James Beard Award-winning blog Hunter Angler Gardener Cook for years now. I also did most of the photography for his first book, Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast (Rodale, 2011).

But "Duck, Duck, Goose" is special to me for several reasons. First and foremost, waterfowling is my passion, and one of the primary reasons I started hunting ducks was how incredibly good they taste.

And on a more personally gratifying level: This book is 100 percent in color, unlike "Hunt, Gather, Cook." Every single image is mine, right down to the duck silhouette motif you'll see throughout the book. And Andrew Zimmern of the Travel Channel's "Bizarre Foods" gave me a nice shout-out in his back-cover review of the book. Thanks, Andrew!

If you're not a hunter, this book still has plenty for you - Hank and I worked with both domestic and wild ducks. And if you are a hunter, this is an indispensable guide for getting the most out of your birds. Some of the dishes are super cheffy, but the book also devotes a lot of space to basic techniques that you'll appreciate even if you never try the high-wire stuff.

The recipes originate from all over the globe, so if you love ethnic food, you'll find lots of ethnicities represented here. And having eaten every single dish I photographed, I can tell you they're ridiculously delicious. Even though they sometimes got cold by the time I was done shooting them.

If you'd like to meet the master, Hank will be on book tour for the next several months, and most of his events are dinners at excellent restaurants with chefs the likes of Bryan Voltaggio and Anita Lo. These events are fun because you can get dinner and face time with Hank, not just hear a lecture and stand in line for an autograph. You can check out what cities he's visiting here.

Work prevents me from joining him on the whole tour, though I will go to a few stops with him, time permitting.

I hope you'll consider buying the book. If you do, enjoy!

© Holly A. Heyser 2013

Video: How to pluck and gut a dove

I think most hunters like to breast out their doves, but you know me - I'm a fan of eating as much of the bird as possible. Besides, I once watched my boyfriend Hank cook whole doves for a group of men who were used to breasting them out, and they were nearly in tears it was so good. Definitely had some converts that day.

So for all my kindred spirits out there, I've created a video showing how I pluck and gut the bird. I'm already bracing for the comments on YouTube: "Brah, there's an easier way. Just breast 'em out." Yes, I know, Brah. I'm showing you another way. If you're not interested, don't do it.

© Holly A. Heyser 2013

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

What happens when you put hard work into a dove hunt - a column for Shotgun Life

As a writer, I'm generally bored by happy endings - failure is so much more interesting than great shooting and a fat limit of anything.

But in this case, the journey included enough failures to make that happy ending worth writing about, and thus I present to you my latest column for Shotgun Life.

One note worth adding: It was in writing this column that I finally pieced together something I've been feeling about hunting for seven years - the straight-line connection between my non-consumptive childhood wanderings out in nature and hiking with a gun. It's been hard to figure out precisely why I almost always flash back to childhood when I'm out in places like this, but a sentence spilled out of me for this column that made it pretty clear.

I'd be interested to know whether it's the same for everyone else, or just a case of me being my weird old self. Read it, and you'll see what I'm talking about.

© Holly A. Heyser 2013

Monday, September 2, 2013

An open letter to the dude who ruined my first hunt - a column for Shotgun Life

In my seven years of hunting, my experiences with other hunters have been overwhelmingly positive. But there's one big exception: the man I didn't quite meet the morning of my first hunt ever. He is the topic of this month's column for Shotgun Life.

© Holly A. Heyser 2013

Friday, August 30, 2013

What happens when a wetland goes dry? It's not pretty.

Much of my work as editor of California Waterfowl Magazine can't be seen online because the magazine is print-only, but last week I produced something you can see here: a video on water being cut off for a critically important wetland on the California-Oregon border. Just be warned that some of the images are upsetting.

I hope you'll not only watch this video, but share it with your friends, and with your representatives in Congress. We need to urge them to stop the de facto draining of this vital wetland. If you're the kind of person who likes to be armed with lots of details when contacting your elected officials, click here.

© Holly A. Heyser 2013

Thursday, August 1, 2013

On loving - and respecting - what you kill - a column for Shotgun Life

What on earth could there be to envy about "Tinker Bells on crack"?

Plenty: Like all birds, there is far more to them than meets the eye, and I find myself more in love every day with these little guys and all the birds I see.

That's the subject of my August column for Shotgun Life. And the Tinker Bells? I'm talking of course about hummingbirds. Yeah. They're way more badass than most people think.

© Holly A. Heyser 2013

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Making a GREAT impression on new co-workers - a column for Shotgun Life

If there ever was a situation ripe for disaster, it was this:

Holly joins hunting/conservation organization as the new editor of its magazine. Organization invites Holly to Staff Day before she even starts work. Staff Day will feature shooting on a challenging sporting clays course. Scores will be kept.

It went as badly as you'd imagine, but with a silver lining you'd never expect in a thousand years. Check out what happened in my latest column in Shotgun Life.

© Holly A. Heyser 2013

Sunday, June 16, 2013

And now for some really awesome news...

After seven years of hunting, seven years of nothing but growing passion for all things waterfowl, seven years of seizing whatever opportunities I could get to write about hunting in general and duck hunting in particular while having to reserve top priority for my day job, I have scored!

Starting June 25, I'll be the new editor of California Waterfowl, the magazine of the California Waterfowl Association. I'll also be helping out with its Facebook page and doing some media relations as well. This, my friends, is my new day job!

I couldn't be more excited for a number of reasons, first being that I've had a longstanding relationship with CWA as a volunteer, contributor and life member, and I have nothing but love and respect for the organization. Since the early 1980s, it's been restoring, improving and creating habitat for not just the waterfowl we hunt, but for all animals that need wetlands to thrive.

Cal Waterfowl also does a terrific job in shooter and hunter education, helping lots of folks earn their hunter education certificates and go on their first hunts - that's where I've focused most of my volunteer time. And it goes to bat for waterfowl and hunters in the California Legislature - super important in this state.

The second reason is that there just aren't a lot of full-time jobs for writers and photographers in the world of hunting, so when you get one, you'd best have the sense to count your blessings. I am incredibly lucky to have been given this opportunity.

Finally, I'm going to be in a workplace that's steeped in hunting culture, which will be a nice change. It's not that I've encountered any anti-hunting hostility during my seven years of teaching at Sacramento State - quite the opposite, actually. The kids have been curious to hear about what I do, and some colleagues have as well.

It's just little things, like if I want to go dove hunting after work near the university, I have to drive 45 minutes in the wrong direction at rush hour to go home and pick up my gun, then head back where I came from to go hunting. I couldn't keep a gun in my car at school. Couldn't even check a gun at the campus police station. Zero tolerance, baby.

Now, what about all my other activities? I'm done with teaching for now - I might go back and teach a class once in a while, but not full-time. I'll still be doing independent food photography on the side, and I'll continue to write my monthly column for Shotgun Life as long as Publisher Irwin Greenstein is willing to keep me on there.

Will I blog again - revive NorCal Cazadora? I'm not sure, but definitely not in the near future - I need to focus on doing my new job well before I pile more things back on my plate. But I think it's safe to say you'll see a little bit of the flavor and personality I put into the blog appearing under my name in the magazine from now on, starting with the winter issue, which is the first one I'll get to work on.

Now, for The Ask: California Waterfowl is a magazine for members, not something you subscribe to or buy at Cabela's or Sportsman's Warehouse. If you'd like to check out my work there and you're not already a CWA member, you'll need to join, which costs $35 a year. The good thing is that your money doesn't just buy a magazine - it supports the ducks! If you're interested, just click here.

Thanks, readers, for sticking with me!

© Holly A. Heyser 2013

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Judgment anticipated, unexpected and otherwise - a column for Shotgun Life

I must be a very judgmental person, because I constantly expect to be judged, especially when it comes to hunting.

I got an interesting lesson on that very topic when I went on a tour last month with a group made mostly of bird watchers. You can check it out in my latest column in Shotgun Life.

© Holly A. Heyser 2013

Depressing news - a column for Shotgun Life

I've been remiss in posting links of late, but here's my (depressing) May column for Shotgun Life.

Spoiler alert - this column doesn't reflect it but I'm pretty sure there's gonna be a happy ending.


© Holly A. Heyser 2013

Monday, April 1, 2013

A little bit of honesty, please - a column for Shotgun Life

This robin fell victim to a threat far more prevalent than lead
ammunition: a window. I helped it recover, and I'm pleased
to report that it flew back into the wild later that day.
Uh oh, I've gone and gotten all indignant again - this time about the lead ammunition debate.

Readers of my old blog may remember that I stopped hunting with lead ammo three years ago, but that doesn't mean I love some of the lead-banners' rhetoric.

If anything, it has made me even more aware of - and pissed off about - the stunning hypocrisy about man-made things that kill birds.

Check out my rant on this topic in this month's column in Shotgun Life.

© Holly A. Heyser 2013

Friday, March 1, 2013

The most outrageous rudeness I've ever experienced while trying to shoot ducks - a column in Shotgun Life

© Holly A. Heyser
You're going to think this month's column in Shotgun Life is one of those stories about a dream because it's just so freakin' weird, but it's actually just about a new form of hunting I tried last month.

I liked it a lot, but it had some serious limitations. Check it out and you'll see why.

© Holly A. Heyser 2013

Friday, February 1, 2013

When just one duck is enough - a column in Shotgun Life

Photo courtesy of Joe Navari
Restraint isn't one of my strong suits, especially not when it comes to duck hunting.

But this duck season, I learned that one is enough - and far more rewarding than I could've imagined.

Check out why in my latest column in Shotgun Life.

© Holly A. Heyser 2013

Monday, January 7, 2013

Liberated by boat - a column in Shotgun Life

For years, there have been hunting grounds I've eyed longingly - rich waterfowl habitat that I couldn't access because deep water made walking in too dangerous.

This season, I finally did something about it: I bought a sneak boat, a waterfowl hunting kayak with a low angled back rest that allows you to use it as a floating layout blind.

I can't say I've been bringing home full straps of ducks. Not yet. But I've been having a blast learning - see why in my latest column in Shotgun Life.

© Holly A. Heyser 2013