By Michael Pendley
Everyone needs a little comfort food from time to time, and meatloaf definitely fits the bill. This recipe gives this home-grown classic a hunter’s twist by using ground venison and by baking it in a cast-iron loaf pan on the smoker. If you don’t have a cast iron loaf pan, you can simply form the meat mixture into a loaf by hand and smoke it in a disposable aluminum grill pan.
Since ground venison can be a bit on the dry side by itself, my family and I grind it with bacon to give the meatloaf a little better texture. We also add a can of fire-roasted tomatoes, both for flavor and moisture. The binders for the meatloaf are seasoned breadcrumbs, beaten eggs and a little grated parmesan cheese.
If you have your venison processed and don’t have access to a grinder, simply chop some raw bacon into a fine dice and blend it into your ground venison by hand.
1½ pounds of ground venison
8 ounces of bacon
1 cup of Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs
1 14-ounce can of fire-roasted tomatoes
1 cup of milk
¼-cup of grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons of onion, finely chopped
2 teaspoons of salt
1 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
½-teaspoon of ground sage
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup of your favorite BBQ sauce
Start by grinding or blending the bacon and venison together in a large bowl. Add all remaining ingredients except the BBQ sauce and, using either your hands or a large spoon, blend well.
Form the mixture into a loaf shape or pack the mixture into an oiled cast-iron loaf pan. Preheat your smoker to 250 degrees using hickory, pecan or fruitwood.
Place the meatloaf pan in the smoker and cook for 30 minutes, then brush a thin layer of BBQ sauce over the top of the meatloaf. Continue cooking for another one and a half to two hours, brushing with more sauce every 30 minutes.
Serve over a bed of mashed potatoes alongside your favorite roasted vegetables.
Try Out More Recipes with NSSF’s Game Meat Cooking Series
Where hunter and classically trained chef Georgia Pellegrini shares recipes from her book, “Girl Hunter: Revolutionizing the Way We Eat, One Hunt at a Time.”
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The Start of Something New…My first hunting experience!By: Heather Marie Johnson In July 2020, my two aunts, plus a friend and I, went on a road trip. During that time, we talked about past and future trips we have been on. We starting discussing hunting trips, because my Aunt Clara has been on a guided hunt in the past and my husband frequently travels with his friends on hunting trips. We talked about other family members who hunt and discussed the fact that we have never been invited to join them. I mentioned that I would love to try hunting some time, thinking we could plan a trip together in the future. The future was going to be much sooner than we thought! Shortly after getting back home from our trip, my Aunt Clara called me and said that she'd seen a scholarship opportunity through the Ladies Adventure Camp Experience (L.A.C.E.) to be nominated for a guided hunt on wild hogs and whitetail does in Texas—and it was to be a trip for the first-time women hunters. I was thrilled Aunt Clara nominated me! After waiting patiently for a few months, she called me with the exciting news that I’d been selected for the scholarship hunt trip to Texas. I was so excited! I shared the good news with my closest friends and family, and everyone was excited for my new opportunity! We flew from Chicago into Texas and met a group of women at a Dairy Queen in Rotan, Texas, to caravan to Hawks Double Mountain Ranch. From the start, everyone was so nice and excited for the weekend ahead. I felt comfortable with this group of ladies, especially Deb Ferns and Kay Miculek who run the Babes with Bullets camps that was the kick-off for the L.A.C.E. program. [caption id="attachment_3765" align="aligncenter" width="450"] Photo Courtesy of Blue 42[/caption] When we got to Hawks Double Mountain Ranch and I walked into the big lodge, I was even more impressed. We were immediately made to feel like family. Deb gave us a brief introduction and we talked about the NSSF +One program about inviting someone every time you go hunting or out to the shooting range. Deb noted that women don’t typically invite themselves to do things like hunt, so statistically there are fewer women hunters, though that number is growing. Men are more likely to hunt because, as a child, they will ask on their own to go with family or friends. That clicked with me as my husband has been great to invite our daughter to hunt with him, but I did not have the same experience of being invited to go hunting with my brothers, uncle or cousins. We unpacked at the lodge in big, very comfortable bunkrooms, and then Kay taught us how to shoot bolt-action rifles since most of the gals on the trip had never operated one before. We talked about our plans for the morning hunt, enjoying a wild-game dinner after and the camp camaraderie. Early on Friday morning, we woke up to get into our blinds before sunrise with our mentor guide (my first morning was with Kay and cameraman Eydin.) I remember it was shortly after sunrise when a group of 15 hogs came out in the open. They were quick and moved around a lot. I had my gun ready, I was comfortable looking through the scope and when I finally had a good shot, Kay reminded me to breathe, and I took the opportunity. I fired one shot and got my first wild boar on my first hunt ever! Kay and Eydin were pumped and they got me even more excited. I couldn’t wait to tell everyone back at camp and get back so I could call my husband! I felt so empowered, like there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do. I cannot thank my aunt enough for not only nominating me but for inviting me to go hunting. I think that if I had invited myself to go along on a hunt, there could have been opportunities for me to do that at home, but maybe I was waiting for someone to invite me? I am so happy I learned about the NSSF +ONE program. I returned home to Wisconsin with my stories and a desire to try new things. I knew that since whitetail deer season was coming up, I wanted to try my chance at shooting a deer. I told my husband and my dad that I wanted to go on a Thanksgiving morning hunt but didn’t want to go alone, so my stepmom (who had never hunted) offered to go with me. I went out the same day and purchased my first hunting license. My husband made some suggestions on what to bring with me, gave me a short tutorial on the gun and how to load it. On the upside, I knew how to be safe and load the gun based on what I had learned on my recent hunt. I picked up my stepmom at 5:30a.m. to go out to our family’s 10 acres. We didn’t see anything that morning, but it was nice to be outside together in nature. My husband wanted me to have an opportunity to hunt a larger area to potentially see some deer, so on Thanksgiving night we traveled to central Wisconsin and stayed at his friend’s cabin to hunt their 250 acres. We prepared and went out early Friday morning but didn’t see much. I went back to the cabin and took a nap, then we headed back out after lunch. Just as the sun was going down, a doe peeked appeared among the corn stalks and I was able to take a shot at her. She tipped right over. My husband had a huge smile on his face, and his excitement and pride made me more excited! Now, I keep thinking about all the people I want to invite to go hunting with me, even if we don’t see anything, as it’s therapeutic and calming to spend time in nature. I am so thankful for the scholarship opportunity and being able to hunt with some amazing women from the L.A.C.E. program. I know that shooting sports and hunting are activities that I will continue in the future!
I have a love/hate relationship with deer decoys – but the more I understand where and when to use them, the more I love them.By Bob Robb Back in the Dark Ages of whitetail hunting, before food plots and sophisticated trail cameras and quality deer management and YouTube videos and a plethora of hunting TV shows on cable and all of that, I learned a lot about deer hunting from friends who spent more time in the woods than most sane folks would consider healthy. One of them was Gary Clancy, an outdoor writer and deer hunter extraordinaire from Minnesota who was taken from us far too early, in 2016, by a cancer caused by Agent Orange exposure when he served as an Army point man in Vietnam. Clancy was a soft-spoken, down-to-earth guy who loved to laugh. When he talked about whitetail hunting, I listened, because he knew his stuff. He was one of the first men I know of to start using decoys seriously for deer hunting. His classic 200-plus page book, Rattling & Decoying Whitetails, became a sort of bible on the topic. Gary was killing bucks over decoys that were crude by today’s standards, learning, as he went, the old-fashioned way, through trial and error. What he taught me back then still applies today, and his simple yet effective techniques are even more deadly when using modern decoys.
Three Keys to SuccessWhile there are several nuances to using decoys successfully, Clancy stressed three things above all else: placement, scent control and distant visibility. [caption id="attachment_3720" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Depending on the situation, setting the decoy up behind you, so approaching bucks focus on the fake instead of you, can produce an easy shot opportunity.[/caption] Decoy placement is the most critical part of the game. “The wind must always be blowing from the decoy to your stand, for obvious reasons,” Clancy said. “Also, always face a buck decoy towards or slightly quartering-to your stand, and a doe decoy away or slightly quartering away from your stand. Never mind all of that ‘sage’ advice that says to never face a decoy towards your stand. Those guys have never decoyed deer. When a buck approaches a buck decoy, it will virtually always circle the decoy until it is nose to nose. When that happens, it is facing away from you and giving you the shot angle you need. Conversely, a buck deer will almost always approach a doe decoy from the rear, checking her for estrous.” [caption id="attachment_3715" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Wind direction is everything. Make sure you keep the wind right by allowing a buck to come nose-to-nose with your decoy without having it walk through your scent cone.[/caption] Always remember that a buck will most likely approach the decoy from downwind, so setting the decoy upwind from your stand just makes sense. After setting up the decoy, spray it down with an odor-neutralizing spray. “Using a decoy that smells like a human won’t cut it,” Clancy said. “If you can, wear rubber gloves when handling the decoy. After it is in position, spray it down liberally.” [caption id="attachment_3716" align="aligncenter" width="650"] It is imperative you spray your decoys down with a scent-eliminating product to remove all human odor prior to your hunt.[/caption] The more visible and the greater distance at which the decoy is visible, the more effective it will be. “The farther away a deer is when it first sees a decoy, the better the odds it will commit to the decoy,” Clancy said, adding, “Decoys in heavy cover scare more deer than they attract.” Field edges, dry creek bottoms, sloughs and fence lines are great decoy spots, as are open stands of mature woods. In fields, place the decoy up on a small hillock or mound, especially if you are hunting a depression or hollow, so it will be visible to deer no matter where they enter the area.
Best Time for Decoy UseThough I’ve used decoys at various times of the season, like Clancy, my experience has been that the chances of having a mature buck come visit a decoy are best during the 10- to 14-day period just prior to does’ first estrus. During this time, bucks are actively scraping and roaming, and they seem to respond to both grunting and rattling, which is a very effective way to draw a buck’s attention to a decoy it might otherwise not see. During the peak of the rut, when most of the mature bucks have already found does to breed, bucks still come to a decoy, but I’ve mostly had immature bucks come then. A mature buck between does might also commit, but everything has to be “just right.” I’ve had my best luck with decoys in the morning when bucks return to bedding areas after an unsuccessful night of seeking out does. I also like using decoys in the afternoons, especially if I can set up in the corner of a field I know does are regularly using. This sometimes means I might hunt a stand in a funnel or known travel corridor between food and bedding areas from sunup until early afternoon, when I might then move my stand location to be near a food plot or other agriculture area.
Setting It UpOne of the problems with using some of today’s full-body decoys is hauling them into your hunting area quietly in the dark, then setting them up without sounding like a marching band, for a morning hunt. This is especially true for big decoys that have to be assembled before they’re set up. There are a couple ways to help alleviate this problem. [caption id="attachment_3718" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Floating a decoy while wading a shallow creek is a great way to access the area both quietly and without leaving a trail of human odor.[/caption] The first is to simply bring the decoy to the hunt area midday, assemble it, drive the stakes into the ground and leave the decoy lying on the ground nearby. When I leave mine in the woods, I carry them a little way from the stand and stash them in a blowdown, brush pile or small depression. (If it is cold enough for frost, be sure to cover the decoys with an old sheet, a burlap sack or brush—I tried plastic tarps, but they’re just too noisy—because a decoy glistening with frost in the morning will spook deer.) When you go back to your stand or blind for that afternoon’s hunt, simply uncover it and set it up quietly before climbing into your stand. [caption id="attachment_3717" align="aligncenter" width="650"] A deer cart can make hauling a bulky, heavy decoy a long distance into the hunting area much easier than trying to backpack it along with all your other hunting gear.[/caption] The second strategy is to haul the assembled decoy to your stand sight on the kind of wheeled carrier designed to haul out a dead deer. I’ve also used a wheelbarrow. In the right terrain, you can do this quietly. Once I get the decoy set up, I spray it down with a no-scent spray, then add some real deer scent to the mix. If the decoy doesn’t have a place for scent, I take a small stick, jab it into the ground underneath the deer’s belly, and place a scent wick on the stick. When using a buck decoy, I use both a rutting buck and a doe estrous scent on separate wicks.
Multiple Decoys[caption id="attachment_3719" align="aligncenter" width="650"] In the early years, doe decoys were the most common type used. Today, in many cases, buck decoys have gained favor with hunters who use a doe or fawn decoy along with the buck.[/caption] Using more than one decoy can be a major hassle, especially if you are hunting solo, but there are times when adding a doe decoy to your buck can make a big difference. When I do this, I generally like to place the buck where it is most visible to cruising deer and where I want to make the shot, then I place a doe decoy off to the side. Ideally, this is on the edge of the woods if I’m on a field, partially hidden by some flora or a bump in the landscape. One killer set-up is using a rutting buck standing near a bedded doe decoy.
Add Some MotionAll game animals, from ducks to turkeys to deer, are more readily drawn to a decoy that exhibits some motion. In the old days, I used a number of things to try to impart movement to my deer decoys, including toilet paper, strips cut from a white garbage bag and fluffy white cloth strips hanging from the ears and tail of my full-bodied decoys. Today, of course, there are decoys with built-in motion. Some of it is conveyed simply, with parts that flap and sway in the breeze. Others have electronic motors that allow the tail and neck to move on command from a hand-held control; they are not legal in all states, so check your local regulations before using one. There are even heads and tails that can be moved with a string pulled by the hunter. One thing I do today is take a real deer’s tail—one that I cut off last year’s deer, skinned and fleshed out and cured with salt and Borax—and attach it to the decoy’s butt end with a small nail. That tail wiggling in a breeze really seems to get them going! Adding motion adds realism, and that translates into more effectiveness.
Speaking of Realism …The more realistic the decoy is in terms of how closely it resembles a real deer, the better it will work. Top decoy manufacturers today include Come Alive Decoy Products, Dave Smith Decoys, Flambeau, Montana Decoys, Primos, Rinehart, and Renzo’s. Don’t forget that sound is part of the act. When using decoys, I also do some calling, everything from rattling to using grunts and bleats. How aggressively I call depends on my feel for how the deer are acting on a given day. Some days I’ll be boisterously loud, others soft and alluring. The one time I’ll always call boisterously is if I see a buck cruising out of range that obviously isn’t coming my way. If I’m loud enough and get him to stop and look my way to see the decoy, then I’ve got a chance. When decoying works, it’s like calling in a big bull elk or a strutting tom turkey: The excitement is unparalleled. But it doesn’t always work, and sometimes it can scare off deer. Which is why I love it and hate it, all at the same time. But I still do it. A lot.
Ballistics: The science of the motion of projectiles, such as bullets or pellets.Whether you’re hunting or practicing with a firearm, there are several things you can see and control, like where your muzzle’s pointing, if the safety is on, and if the gun is loaded. But there are some very important things happening that you just can’t see, like the speed and angle at which the bullet travels and the distance that it will go. And these factors make up the science of ballistics. So it’s our responsibility as hunters to know the ballistics of our firearm and ammunition before we pull the trigger.