Mother Hunter

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Pa Hubbard and I were on the road by 5 am this morning, driving on back roads to one of our favorite spots in Kentucky’s Daniel Boone National Forest. We exited the truck, grabbed our hunting gear, and entered the early morning darkness. Soon after we began our hike, we turned our headlamps off – sometimes you can just see better in the woods without artificial light. Besides, even though we come here just a few times a year, we know this trail best at night. When it is deer season, we hunt from dawn to dusk.


As I write this, I’m sitting on my hunting rock. It is a huge sandstone boulder, actually –  about the size of my house. Many years ago, it broke off from the cliffs not far above me and tumbled to its resting place. I scramble 12 ft up the back side of it, pausing at some natural steps to hoist my gun and pack to the level above me. Once on top, I walk across to the other side, where I can look 20 ft down into a small saddle in the ridge and the beginning of the drainage we just paralleled coming up the mountain. The deer love this place, and so do I.

The morning sun breaks over my hunting spot.


It is mid-afternoon and I am taking a break – deer generally aren’t as active this time of day, and I need to stretch out. I’ve sat in the same position all morning, trying to be as still and quiet as I can, waiting for a deer to happen by.

It’s harder work than you think. Your legs fall asleep, you can’t scratch an itch, and sometimes you just get cold. Many times you can sit all day in a spot and never see a single deer.

That’s not to say they never came by. Deer blend in so well and can move so quietly, that sometimes they’ll seem to magically appear in front of you if you’ve not been alert… or you’ve fallen asleep.

You probably think that this would get old, that things would get boring up here, but there are always things happening in the woods. One year, from this same rock, I watched a mother bobcat catch a chipmunk for her two kittens. They happily played with it, batting it around while their mother climbed 25 feet up a tree after a pair of  pileated woodpeckers (only to have to inch her way backwards after they flew away). I’ve seen a family of coyotes, gangs of turkeys pecking through the leaves for acorns, and curious wrens that have perched on my gunsights and fussed at me.

This particular year, I experienced my first earthquake in the woods… just a few hours ago.  (As of this post, I just learned that it measured 4.3 on the Richter scale, and was centered near Whitesburg, KY). Let me tell you, when you are sitting on the edge of a rock, 20 ft in the air, and it starts shaking, it’s kind of frightening! And it is strange also to be disconnected from the human world – you question what you just experienced, but you have nobody with whom you can validate it until you emerge from the forest. (Pa Hubbard was down the ridge quite a ways from me… he admitted it woke him from a nap).

Of course, there are also those unforgettable moments when you are lucky and the deer actually show up. I once watched a 6-point crest the saddle – I was about to squeeze the trigger, but curiosity held me back. The deer kept looking back to the direction he had come… He was nervous…

He was being followed. A huge 8-point broke through the brush with his head down, chasing the younger buck toward the drainage. The 6-point paused as he retreated, seemed to think it over, and then started peeing on a large antler rub. It was if he was saying, “I’ll go, but first let me tell you what I think of this rub of yours.” I watched this interaction for a while longer, then later took the 8-point home with me – my first deer.

My first deer.


I have also watched deer go by, and not even aimed. Like I said, sometimes they sneak in on you, and you miss a good shot. At other times, they stay too far away, or there is too much brush in front of them. It’s hard to let a nice-looking deer go by, but sometimes you have no other safe choice.


Last year about this time, a friend of mine posted on Facebook about “buck fever.” Her husband hunts a lot, and he had recently come home from a very successful hunt. She asked us:

I’m not at all against hunting (necessary for population control). The thing that boggles my mind, though, is this: What causes the human mind and body to get so excited, so anxious, that it is shaking…… when they are about to kill another living being? Is it an instinct that is hereditary and passed on since the hunter/gatherer days? What are your thoughts?

I can’t speak for Lucy’s husband, but I know why I get anxious and tremble when a deer appears (especially a big one). It isn’t that I enjoy shooting guns. It isn’t that I’m hoping to score a big trophy. It’s simply that taking the life of an animal IS a hard thing to do. I just think to myself, “Man, I hope I don’t mess this up.”

And by messing it up, I don’t mean shooting at and missing the deer. I would rather miss a deer than just hit a deer. If I put a bullet into a deer, it is with the intention to kill without suffering, not to maim.

So I get shaky when I raise my gun and take aim, and I can hear my heart pounding in my chest.

And I feel exhilaration when I kill a deer, as I have twice now from this rock. I start shaking even more, and I am excited to see that it is lifeless on the ground – not out of bloodthirst, but out of relief. It did not suffer.  It will not escape from here a maimed animal. I respect the deer that is at my feet.

And I’m thankful for the meat it will provide my family, because I do hunt to eat after all. Deer meat, or venison, is one of the best meats you will ever eat, provided that you don’t overcook it. There is hardly any fat in venison, so cook it too long and you have something dry and leathery. When someone tells me they don’t like venison, that it tastes too “gamey,” I know they’ve had it overcooked. Just as a chef would scowl at the customer that wants their filet mignon cooked “well-done,” I can’t stand to see overcooked venison. Medium-rare is perfect – you’re far less likely to get a foodborne illness in an animal that you have harvested, butchered, and packaged, than a feedlot animal that has gone though several facilities and several hundred miles to get to the average American family’s dinner plate.

Because venison is such a naturally-lean meat, it is healthy too. One especially good year, we had meat from two deer and two elk in the deep freeze. Between Pa Hubbard and me, childless at the time, we consumed it all in one year. Venison fajitas, roast venison, venison lasagna, venison chili, smoked venison, venison chimichangas – it was straight out of that scene in Forrest Gump. Later, I went in for a routine medical checkup and had some blood work done. The doctor was amazed at how high my levels of good cholesterol were… Just what had I been doing? “Oh, nothing really,” I replied. “I’ve just eaten the equivalent of an entire deer and an entire elk over the past year.”

My favorite way to eat venison is in chile rellenos. We grow our own poblanos (called anchos when dried), which we roast on the grill to give them a nice smoky edge. You can also grill and freeze extra poblanos for winter use; they store very well!

The best tomato sauce for chile rellenos is homemade; if you’ve never canned tomato sauce, you would be amazed at how much brighter it is in taste and color than store-bought. Plus, you get that burst of summer garden flavor even in winter. The tanginess of the tomato sauce pairs well with the ground venison, which has a natural sweetness to it.


Venison Chile Rellenos


  • Ground venison (1-2 lbs)
  • Poblano peppers (6-8)
  • 1 pint tomato sauce
  • 3/4 cup gluten free (GF) multipurpose flour (King Arthur Flour recommended) and 1/4 cup GF cornmeal, mixed
  • 2 eggs and 1 tbsp milk mixed well
  • 1 cup monterey jack cheese, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • cooking oil (canola or vegetable)


  1. Roast poblanos on the grill on high heat, turning frequently to char all sides. (Don’t overcook the peppers – the point is to add some smoky flavor and prepare the outer skin of the pepper for removal).
  2. Place peppers immediately into a paper bag. Roll the top down, and let rest about 10 minutes. (While peppers cool, prep the rest of the ingredients).
  3. Cook ground venison on medium heat until no longer pink (I know what I said earlier, but this is ground venison. Please keep the pink in deer roasts and steaks, okay?). Set aside.
  4. Begin simmering your tomato sauce.
  5. Remove peppers from bag. The outer skin of the pepper will have begun “sloughing away,” so help it along and remove it. This is just to improve the texture of the poblanos, so if you don’t care about the skin or have a toddler pulling at your leg, just leave it on.
  6. Begin heating the cooking oil of your choice over medium-high heat in a heavy-bottomed pot (I use my cast iron dutch oven, minus the lid of course. See note below about using cast iron if you’re new to gluten free cooking).  You’ll want to have enough oil to a depth of about one inch.
  7. Make a small slit into one side of each pepper. Stuff each with cheese.
  8. Roll each pepper in the GF flour mixture, then egg mixture, then back into the flour for another coating. Place prepared poblanos into oil, slit side facing up. Fry until batter is cooked through and inner cheese has melted, turning as necessary. (Do not add poblanos into oil that hasn’t had time to thoroughly heat; you’ll get soggy, oily chile rellenos. Test by putting a pinch of flour into the oil; if hot enough, it will immediately begin to bubble).
  9. Add venison to individual plates. Add poblanos, then top with tomato sauce.

Venison chile rellenos with summer squash.



Lower-fat version: Skip the battering and frying. After stuffing poblanos (perhaps even with reduced-fat cheese if available GF), place in a lightly greased baking dish. Spoon tomato sauce on top and top with cooked ground  venison. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes.


Notes for the newly-diagnosed celiac/gluten intolerant:

If you must avoid gluten for health reasons, please make sure that you are using cast iron cookware that has never had gluten-containing ingredients in it. The seasoning in a cast iron skillet binds gluten, so once a gluten skillet, always a gluten skillet. After I read that nothing outside of sandblasting can remove all the seasoning from a gluten-contaminated skillet, we gave away our cast iron and stoneware and started over.

Also, if this is your first time frying with gluten free flours, please note that they generally won’t become toasty and golden the way you are used to with wheat flours. Just fry until you can see they are cooked through and becoming crispy… Otherwise you’ll end up with either a grease fire or poblano brick.




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