What must the pilgrims have endured in 1621 when preparing for the first Thanksgiving or harvest feast?
There was not a Kroger or Publix to pick up your turkey and all the trimmings; they just simply lived off the land.
I suspect they were truly thankful for a bountiful harvest back then. Today, those of us who enjoy hunting and fishing are provided with wonderful opportunities to harvest our own wild game for the holidays.
This Thanksgiving is very special to me as I have had the time to pursue my passion for the outdoors with my family and friends because “Every day is Saturday” since my retirement. Several friends told me when I decided to retire that I would get bored because I couldn’t hunt and fish every day, but they failed to realize I can hunt one day and fish the next, or occasionally do both the same day. What a country we live in!
I have been blessed with some wonderful hunting and fishing trips this year which I was able to share with my family and friends. We have been able to harvest some exceptional wild game, which has provided some excellent fresh wild game dinners, not to mention the enjoyment of creating new wild game recipes from the freezer.
Deer season this year has been challenging for my son Josh and I, but we are both thankful it has been a great season for his son Jackson as he has taken five deer with his crossbow. There is so much food for the deer to eat this year that it has been very difficult to pattern them, especially the mature bucks.
We missed the rut in Ohio this year as we think it was a good bit later than normal, again due to an abundant food source.
Josh was able to harvest a huge mature gobbler with his bow in Ohio. The turkey weighed close to 30 pounds and had a 12-inch beard and one-and-a-half inch spurs. Having a fall turkey season in Ohio adds to the opportunities we enjoy each year during deer season.
We returned after a week of archery hunting in Ohio to hunt the rut in Georgia, only to find it was late as well. As I write this article I am watching for rutting activity on our trail cams that send pictures to our iPhones; technology is awesome!
I believe we will get an opportunity to harvest some mature bucks, but if not we plan to harvest some does to fill the freezer for the winter. As challenging as this deer season has been, I think this has been the best worst deer season I have ever had as a result of spending the majority of the season hunting with Josh and Jackson.
Gun hunting in Ohio is our next opportunity to harvest a mature whitetail deer. The hunting regulations in Ohio only allow the use of shotguns and muzzleloaders during the gun season, which makes for some challenging hunting due to the limited range of both weapons. We sight our muzzleloaders in at 200 yards, and quite often we may have a shot well over 300 yards on the huge soybean fields that we must pass up because of the limited range of these weapons.
Over the years we have taken several mature bucks during the gun season, which lasts a full week. One thing I am sure of is that it will be wet, cold and the wind will be blowing, but the food for deer camp is going to be outstanding as we feast on elk, venison, dove, wild turkey and of course my famous made-from -scratch biscuits.
Trout fishing has been terrific the last few weeks as the cooler temperatures have the trout moving up and down the streams. They are very active and feeding on a variety of food as well as flies.
I caught and released what I believe to be the largest male rainbow trout of my life two weeks ago. The fish weighed more than 12 pounds and was nearly 30 inches long! I caught him on my favorite Orvis fly rod ‘Lizard Lick’ and fought him for what seemed like 30 minutes. My friend Paul McGrath, an Orvis Pro Guide, videoed the catch and immediately released him so he could grow larger.
What a thrill to catch and release an incredible fish. Paul has caught several large trout this fall, including a beautiful 18-inch brown. I plan on doing a lot of trout fishing the next several months as it is my favorite time of the year to fish.
The water is very clear and cold, but fishing in the middle of the day when the sun is brightest seems to really get the fish active. I have caught more big fish in the fall and winter months than any other time of the year. This winter I plan to harvest some trout, grilling the butterflied filets and serving them with my new recipe for vegetable soup with ground elk and wild turkey breast filets for an incredible cold-weather meal.
This year has been a progressive Thanksgiving feast with the wild game we have been able to harvest.
We have enjoyed fresh trout, wild turkey, dove and venison, all harvested in Georgia. We also enjoyed eating fresh wild turkey and venison harvested in Ohio, and fresh elk and antelope harvested in New Mexico.
Perhaps the most incredible part of this past year of hunting and fishing has been watching my grandchildren Taylor and Jackson enjoy eating the wild game we have been able to harvest, especially when they pass up fast food for wild game harvested from the outdoors. No greater form of flattery than your grandkids telling folk that Pa Pa is the best cook ever!
I have been truly blessed with a great hunting and fishing season and a bountiful harvest from the outdoors.
“Every day is Saturday.”
Russell Vandiver, recently retired as president of Lanier
Technical College, has been an avid fisherman and hunter for 50 years. His column appears monthly.