My Dad loved to hunt, that’s for sure. The earliest photos I have of him on the Whitbeck Ranch in Smith Valley show him proudly holding up two pheasants on display for the camera. He is dressed in khakis (seldom wearing jeans) and a plaid woolen jacket. I found the photo several years ago in a box of memorabilia from my Mom, that and a slew of photos of my older brother Dave on the ranch. There is a photo of Mom as well, her arms wrapped tightly around her from the cold, standing in front of the foreman’s cottage they were living in at the time. Over the picket fence is a set of deer antlers.
Dad loved to hunt. Whether it was pheasants, or geese out in the fields near Fallon, Nevada, or deer in Elko County: he loved the outdoors and getting away with a few of his hunting buddies. It’s October now, deer hunting season in Nevada, and I’m taken back to those years in the 1960s by a sudden memory this week.
I went deer hunting with my Dad only once that I can recall. It was local, the pinion pine-covered mountains outside of Virginia City. It’s where we would go each year to cut our Christmas trees. The photo of us with that year’s tree shows my younger brother Rick, one of his friends, and my Grandfather, along for the ride. But the climb thru these mountains wasn’t anything compared to the mountains in Elko County that Dad and his hunting buddies would head to in the fall. I can imagine that my complaining about the hiking, and the sitting quietly, and the waiting…would be the reason I didn’t go again. My brothers don’t hunt either so maybe it wasn’t just me, who knows now.
But last week I was given a frozen slab of venison. And Dad’s old recipe for venison stew was what I made. He always used a pressure cooker to start the process and tenderize the meat. I just left it in the pot to cook slowly for several hours before adding the potatoes, carrots, onion and green peppers. Dad like stewed tomatoes but I didn’t have any so, we left that out. Plenty of salt and pepper. Bay leaf of course. It could be my Dad’s recipe, or it could be my Mom’s beef stew recipe that Dad repurposed. We always had venison in the freezer and truthfully, I only remember Dad cooking it.
I saw online recently that The Sportsman in Reno had published a cookbook. The recipe might have come from it, we loved the Sportsman and would go there for everything: fishing and hunting licenses, all our gear, or just to hang out with old guys talking about the weather. It was that kind of place, years before Walmart or Dick’s Sporting Goods took over the sporting goods retail industry. (photo courtesy Karl Breckenridge)
I texted a friend of mine while I was thinking of the past and deer hunting. Pat is an avid bowhunter and I thought it would be great to hear from him, how his season was going. He texted back from his hunting cabin that he hadn’t seen anything yet, and though not as enthusiastic as he had been in the past, still he goes out every season. I can’t remember a year when my Dad didn’t come back with a deer. The mule deer in Nevada are huge compared with the whitetails here in Virginia, but their numbers don’t compare.
I frequently see deer in my backyard here in Virginia (eating the hostas!), but I doubt whether I would have had the patience to hike, sit, sit some more, and eventually hike back down the mountain with a 200 lb deer, especially in that crisp mountain air. I’m more the camera guy, sit back in my recliner, have a hot cup of coffee while I reminisce. But thanks for the memories, Dad. And a love of plaid shirts.