Brenda Valentine’s Outdoor Legends Tour: Day 3

The first official stop of the Outdoor Legends Tour was the USO Warrior Center at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

Our first official stop was the USO Warrior Center at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. Sick or injured military personnel are first transported to this hospital for treatment or therapy before coming to the States or being deployed wherever duty calls, whatever the situation may be.

The Warrior Center was clean and a place of support. There seemed to be a swarm of activities for the patients. The food was fresh, tasty and plentiful. Moral was high. And many of the staff are hunters.

This recuperating serviceman couldn’t get enough turkey talk, so I left copies of Turkey Country for the center’s library, as well as DVD copies of the Bass Pro TV show.

I just happened to have some copies of Turkey Country to add to their library and gave a few turkey calling lessons using a drinking straw. We spent much of the day signing pictures and spending time with rehabilitating servicemen.

We were then taken on a tour of the hospital and had an opportunity to visit the patients. As far as hospitals go, this one was very good. The United States built it in the early 1950s and it still looks brand new. Everything was sparkling clean. The staff was professional but super courteous and friendly. Best of all, it didn’t smell like a hospital.

The common theme I noticed from every conversation was a desire to get back with their comrades.

The patients seemed pleased to see and talk with folks from home. The common theme I noticed from every conversation was a desire to get back with their comrades. All regretted they weren’t there to help their unit complete their mission.

— Brenda

Brenda Valentine’s Outdoor Legends Tour: Day 2

View from the Rhine River

Our group met at dawn for the first time at the Frankfurt airport after all-night flights. The good news was there was a driver in a big red bus there to meet us. The bad news we couldn’t check into our hotel rooms until 2:30 that afternoon.

As much as our bodies were screaming rest, our adventuresome spirits were chomping at the bit to explore. We chartered a boat up the Rhine River and were fascinated by the towering granite castles amongst the miles of well-maintained vineyards, both defying time and progress as the river rolled on.

No German dining experience is complete without a round of “Cotton-Eyed Joe.”

We had lunch in a quaint old villa near the river. Ancient grapevines adorned the canopies and open-air dining. I was enjoying the ambience, including other diners chatting in unknown tongues, when a rocking blast of “Cotton-Eyed Joe” spit out of speakers. The tune was the same, but the words were sung in German. How’s that for a hybrid culture?

It took me a long study of the menu to decide on what to order, mainly because I couldn’t read it. And if I could figure out the words, I wasn’t sure what it was. A “pig knuckle” sounded pretty wholesome, however I didn’t expect it to be the better part of a hog’s leg. Bill and I had enough pork to share with everyone.

Pig knuckles — enough pork to feed an army

I’m digging these German ways so far. Two-stepping music and pig knuckles, what else could a country girl want?

— Brenda

 

Brenda Valentine’s Outdoor Legends Tour: Day 1

Gazing out the window of Flight 700 headed to Frankfurt, Germany, I watched the last fragment of U.S. soil near Philadelphia slowly fade from sight. I pondered what lay ahead for our small group of pioneers.

Armed Forces Entertainment and Paralyzed Veterans of America contacted me more than a year ago about being a part of a special mission called the Outdoor Legends Tour. A small group of hunting personalities representing the North American hunting community would visit troops inside a war zone to personally thank them for their service and sacrifices.

Brenda Valentine is a woman on a mission: to say thank you on behalf of the National Wild Turkey Federation to the military men and women serving our country.

It was not to be a big production, rather a personal handshaking marathon trip with stops at as many camps as possible. Every detail would have to be carefully orchestrated if it was to be carried out safely and successfully.

The group I was part of included Bill Miller from Minnesota, a pillar of the outdoor media world and an all-around nice guy. He was at the helm North American Hunting Club magazine and TV show for 28 years and has extensive gun and hunting knowledge. While Bill is experienced with all types of hunting, his specialty is waterfowl and upland birds, with a real love for training sporting dogs.

Jim Shockey is a world-renowned big game hunter and award-winning TV host. He is from Canada and a wise choice for this mission since so many Canadian military men and women serve alongside U.S. troops and allies. His trademark black cowboy hat is recognizable to hunters everywhere.

Lt. Col. Lew Deal is a retired Marine Cobra pilot who now works with Armed Forces Entertainment among other military and veterans organizations. We were glad to have someone along to advise us on military protocol. Although Lew was our official tour coordinator he soon became just one of the guys.

Ronnie “Cuz” Strickland, the man behind the many successful Mossy Oak TV productions as well as a recognizable hunting personality, was scheduled to be a part of our group. However, a family health crisis kept him from going. I felt really bad for Cuz, since it’s truly in his heart to support our fighting men and women in the field.

I completed the diverse quartet. Pretty sure the service people I met from the South appreciated hearing a familiar accent with a sincere “thank y’all.”

—   Brenda

Attention outdoor TV junkies!

Big news for Pursuit Channel, home of NWTF programming! Starting TODAY it’s moving to DirecTV channel 604.

It’s a mere four remote clicks away from it’s previous home (608), but it’s a world of difference in bringing in more viewers to learn about the NWTF and our mission.

You see, right now, there’s this itty-bitty thing going on called the Olympics. NBC Sports, channel 603, is now Pursuit Channel’s neighbor, and they’ll provide great coverage of the games. Our hope is folks who may not dig women’s gymnastics will start channel surfing and land on one of our awesome shows.

Two NWTF shows are currently running on Pursuit Channel. “Get in the Game” shows viewers how to make their plot of dirt a haven for wildlife. And the exciting new “NWTF 365,” which debuted this summer, demonstrates how NWTF volunteers have stuff going on all year long — and not just during spring turkey season.

Haven’t had a chance to catch an episode of “NWTF 365” yet? Check out the show trailer below.

Then look for it on DirecTV channel 604 on Tuesdays (5:30 p.m.), Thursdays (1 a.m.) and Sundays (10 p.m.).

Find “Get in the Game” on Wednesdays (9:30 p.m.), Thursdays (5:30 p.m.), Fridays (12:30 a.m.) and Sundays (11:30 p.m.).

All times are EST.

So reset your DVRs and let your fellow hunters know of the big move. And if they don’t have Pursuit Channel, tell them they can catch episodes of “NWTF 365” and “Get in the Game” at www.pursuitchannel.com a week or so after they’ve aired.

Six things you didn’t know about champion caller Mitchell Johnston

Mitchell Johnston really emerged on the turkey hunting scene when he took home the title of 2010 Grand National Senior Division Calling Champion. It wasn’t an overnight achievement; he’s been calling competitively for more than a decade, winning more than 30 contests from the local to national, even world levels.

But there’s more to Mitchell than mouth calls and kee kee runs.

His closest friends call him Mitch. Sarah and Cadence call him Daddy. And fellow champion caller Mark Prudhomme says the guys on the circuit know him to be as passionate about turkey hunting as he is devoted to his family.

You can learn a lot about a person by spending hours with them in a blind. I learned that if Mitchell Johnston (right) was a cookie, he’d be chocolate chip. And his friend, Cornbread, would be oatmeal. Not that any of that matters…

I got a crash course in Mitchell by spending two days with him in his hometown of Purlear, N.C. You learn a lot about a person by staying in his home with his family. You learn even more spending hours upon hours with him in a hunting blind, along with one of his closest friends (named Cornbread).

The random stuff I took away from our hours of conversation ranged anywhere from silly to serious. And each little nugget of personal info combines into who Mitchell is today.

Somebody call 9-1-1! Mitchell and Karen are on call! We stopped by the volunteer fire department where Mitchell Johnston lends some of his rare spare time. Did you notice it’s the Champion Fire Department? Get it? He’s a champion caller? Work with me here, folks.

Everyone, meet the real Mitchell:

  1. He called in his first turkey at age 16 — a jake he shot with an old Ithaca.
  2. His wife, Ashley, killed her first buck the evening he proposed to her, which threw a loop in his special dinner plans. But it all worked out. They’ve been married for 9 years now.
  3. Mitchell entered the work force as a high school math teacher. He also coached baseball and tennis. But teaching left him trapped in a classroom when the turkeys were gobbling outside, so he left to pursue another passion as a firefighter.
  4. He delivered his first daughter, Sarah. The doctor knew he was a trained EMT and asked if he’d ever delivered a baby before. Mitchell hadn’t. “Well, right now’s a good time to practice,” said the doctor. So Mitchell went from not even wanting to be in the room to delivering her.
  5. He and Ashley named their second daughter, Cadence, after the rhythm of sounds a turkey makes.
  6. His family wasn’t at the NWTF Convention when he won his Grand National title. But he called Ashley from the stage to tell her the news. (He still tears up telling the story of his win.)

More important than what I found out about Mitchell is what he wants you to know about him.

“It’s true my family and my faith are my priorities in life,” said Mitchell. “It’s also spot on that turkey hunting is my passion. Winning calling contests and now having my own line of hunting calls and products is a dream come true for me.”

One day Mitchell hopes God blesses his company, Dead End Game Calls, to be successful enough to make a living for his family while doing what he loves, which is calling in old gobblers to his gun and helping others do the same.

Want to try a Dead End Game Call for free? Here’s your chance. Mitchell is giving away calls to six lucky Keeping Up With Karen followers — five of his Roadkill Mouth Calls and one Roadblock Slate Call. Go to www.deadendgamecalls.com and click on the Contact Us link. Fill in your name and e-mail address, and write “Keeping Up With Karen” in the subject field. Then feel free to leave Mitchell a nice little message if you want. Everyone who does this by May 31 will have his or her name in the pot for the chance at one of the six calls.

Mitchell says watch your mouth (calls)

I spent two days with 2010 Grand National Senior Division Calling Champion Mitchell Johnston in his hometown of Purlear, N.C., this spring. The idea was for us to kill a turkey or two and for him to make me a better caller.

We had our work cut out for us on the turkeys, which weren’t gobbling, as well as the calling lessons. Let’s just say you won’t find me on the calling competition stage any time soon.

But we did have a breakthrough — I learned to make a somewhat, sort of turkey sound using one of his Dead End Game Calls mouth calls. It was light years beyond the mutant bumblebee hums I’d achieved before.

Champion caller Mitchell Johnston makes a mean turkey call — mean on the turkeys, but easy for us to use. You have a chance at a free one. Just scroll down for details.

I tried his Roadkill Mini-Me (youth model/smaller frame) Batwing 3 cut and actually sounded like a hen, albeit one with a high-pitched, super raspy voice. (Surely, a few toms out there that dig that kind of talk.)

I think my humble achievement was due to Mitchell knowing how to make calls. He crafts each one by hand, using the same latex tension as on the calls he uses to compete (and win) contests.

According to Mitchell, it takes less air to make his mouth calls sing, which I was grateful for, since I’m going to need a lot of practice. My little ol’ lungs can only handle so much abuse.

The same goes for a mouth call.

“When a mouth call is not properly cared for, it can lose its effectiveness and overall tone and volume,” said Mitchell, who gave me these tips to help our mouth calls perform to their full potential as well as give them increased longevity.

1. Keep calls out of sunlight. (ex. Do not place them on the dash of your truck.)

2. Let the calls air out in a shady area, preferably at room temperature.

3. Place the calls in the refrigerator after it has dried out. Many callers and hunters do this, however, I do not. I simply place my mouth calls on top of a cabinet, entertainment center, etc., let them dry out overnight, then close my call case. (Why the high location? To keeps my kids from getting their hands on the calls.)

During my couple days with Mitchell, I got to make my own mouth call. Can you guess which one is mine? It sounds about as good as it looks. (Making a call ain’t easy, people.)

4. Begin using the calls before going into the area you are hunting, which will help separate the latex reeds if they are stuck together. If the latex reeds are still stuck together after a period of time, pull the latex apart by pulling the top reed towards the closed end of the horseshoe frame. Use extreme caution in doing this, because it can tear the latex and ruin the call altogether.

Just so you know, Mitchell has been using some of the same mouth calls for nearly seven years. Talk about rockin’ oral hygiene!

Don’t forget these TLC rules of mouth calls. Yours might last long enough to be an heirloom to pass on to your children. On second thought, that’s kind of nasty. I recommend bequeathing one of Mitchell’s box or slate calls instead. Your kids can thank me later.

Want to try a Dead End Game Call for free? Here’s your chance. Mitchell is giving away calls to six lucky Keeping Up With Karen followers — five of his Roadkill Mouth Calls and one Roadblock Slate Call. Go to www.deadendgamecalls.com and click on the Contact Us link. Fill in your name and e-mail address, and write “Keeping Up With Karen” in the subject field. Then feel free to leave Mitchell a nice little message if you want. Everyone who does this by May 31 will have his or her name in the pot for the chance at one of the six calls.

So spread the word, little birds!

Treat your taste buds (and wild turkey) right, they deserve it

Nothing caps off a long day of hunting better than a heaping plate of stick-to-your-ribs food. Like meat, some kind of starch, with a vegetable or two thrown in to make your momma happy.

Chef James Africano, you had me at goat cheese. This picture just doesn’t do the dish justice (and tells me I need to upgrade my phone). Your eyes are feasting on root beer and jalapeno braised beef short ribs over goat cheese polenta.

If you ever make time to hunt at Vermejo Park Ranch, you’ll find mealtimes are more than pit stops to refuel for the next outing; they are part of the hunting experience. With a menu that includes bison, elk and local produce (including veggies from an onsite garden), Chef James Africano brings the outdoors to each individually crafted plate.

Chef James comes from Colorado but settled in as Vermejo’s executive chef in 2007. He takes traditional ranch meals (meat and potatoes) and turns them into delicious scenery, worthy companions to the amazing peaks, lakes and canyons of the surrounding acres.

He changes the menu weekly, with different specials each night. It’s the perfect plan, because you have the option of digging into the featured item without feeling like you’ll miss out on any of the other ridiculously yummy dishes. It simply gives you something to look forward to the next evening.

Here’s his New Mexico treatment for wild turkey — fajitas! Try it around the campfire or take your skillet inside. It’s a wild fiesta for your mouth!

Grilled Colorado lamb rack. Pan roasted arctic char. Doesn’t sound like your typical hunt camp fare? Tell that to your tummy when you’re finished. I think it’ll beg to differ.

Campfire Wild Turkey Fajitas

Ingredients
1 wild turkey breast (about 1½ pounds)
cut into ½-inch-thick strips
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 yellow onion cut into long strips
1 red bell pepper cut into long strips
1 green bell pepper cut into long strips
2 teaspoons cumin powder
2 teaspoons chili powder
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
salt to taste
1 cup soy sauce
1 cup Worcestershire sauce
3 fresh garlic cloves
juice of three limes
10-inch tortillas (about eight)

Now get cookin’

After cutting the turkey into strips, place in a large container and pour soy sauce and Worcestershire over them. Roughly chop the garlic cloves and add to the soy mixture along with the lemon juice. Refrigerate for four hours.

Warm a 12-inch cast iron skillet over the campfire or medium high heat. Add vegetable oil and wait for it to just start smoking. Remove half of the turkey from the marinade and carefully add to the hot skillet. Brown the first batch of turkey well, remove from the skillet and add the second half of the turkey strips. Repeat the browning process, and add the first batch of turkey back to the skillet along with the pepper and onion strips. Continue cooking for about 8 minutes, until the turkey is cooked through, and the vegetables have begun to soften and brown.

While the turkey and vegetables are cooking, wrap the tortillas in aluminum foil and warm in the oven or over coals from the fire. Sprinkle in the cumin, chili powder and cayenne and stir through. Season the fajitas with salt if necessary. Serve immediately with the warm tortillas and condiments of your choice.

Your wild turkey deserves more than an Old El Paso taco kit in a box. Try this campfire fajita recipe by Vermejo Park Ranch’s executive chef. After dinner, you’ll already be in the perfect spot for sharing the story of your hunt.

My condiments of choice? Sour cream, cheese and a boatload of pico de gallo! Sounds great, chef! Thanks for sharing.

And speaking of sharing recipes, I need your camp favorites for my cookbook project. Hey, if Chef James Africano thinks it’s a cool idea, then it’s a cool idea.

So send them to keepingupwithkaren@nwtf.net.

What’s better?

What’s better than finding a shed elk antler while turkey hunting?

 Finding an entire elk skull!

And what’s better than that?

 Finally killing a turkey!

Thanks to Cally and Annetta Morris for asking me to come along with them to the Vermejo Park Ranch in New Mexico. And a special thanks to Pro Guide Jimmy Wright for hanging with us and working his bahonkus off!

A turkey hunting love story

Spring turkey season isn’t about love. It’s a series of hookups between love-‘em-and-leave-‘em toms and hens stepping up to their motherly duties.

But this week, while hunting at the Vermejo Park Ranch in the mountains of New Mexico, I witnessed a real life turkey hunting love story.

Cally and Annetta Morris invited me to hunt with them at the ranch, all of us guests at the property owned by Ted Turner. And from what I’d heard about the place, the beautiful scenery, the abundant wildlife, I jumped at the chance to be a third wheel.

I’ve hunted with Cally and Annetta of Hazel Creek Taxidermy/Decoys before, and I knew it would be a pleasure (and not the least bit uncomfortable). It seems to me the only thing they love more than hunting is each other. And I’m drawn to that kind of warm fuzziness.

Cally and Annetta Morris LOVE to hunt (and they think each other is pretty special too).

Their relationship is about as far from a turkey courtship as you can get. They’ve been together since before their senior prom, and will celebrate their 23th wedding anniversary this year.

What makes this couple so special is that they’re together all the time — and they like it. They’ll log about 8,000 miles going to about 7 states this spring alone, hunting and filming for promotional DVDs for the company, giving seminars and spreading general goodwill.

With all that togetherness, surely they know each other inside and out. I decided to put them to the test and have them answer a few Newlywed Game-style questions. Of course, they had to answer them separately. No cheating here.

Let’s see how they stacked up.

What is the exact date of your wedding anniversary?
Annetta: May 18, 1989
Cally: May 18, 1989

(That’s a promising start.)

What was the first game species each of you killed?
Annetta: Cally’s was probably a deer in Missouri, perhaps a doe, since I remember his first buck. And he probably took it with a gun, since he would’ve been pretty young at the time.
          He said: My first kill was a cottontail rabbit when I was 9. That was the first year I was allowed to have a .22 rifle.
Cally: Hers was a turkey. It was the most wonderful day of my life, and I’m not talking about the turkey hunting… (wink, wink). She was 17. We started dating in May, and she killed it that October.
          She said: A fall turkey in Missouri. But he should remember, because he took me on that first hunt.

What would you be doing if you weren’t traveling the county hunting all the time?
Annetta: He would probably want to spend time at the beach.
          He said: I can’t even fathom not hunting, but I would probably be working on our farm and taking Annetta to the beach.
Cally: She would be training her horses and doing girl stuff.
          She said: I would hang out at the beach for a month.

What’s the one song you crank up on the radio when you hear it riding down the highway?
Annetta: He always turns up “Good Girl” by Carrie Underwood (because he knows I can’t stand it).
          He said: “Shotgun Rider” by Dallas Davidson. I crank that one to the roof!
Cally: She’d crank up “Texas Was You” by Jason Aldean.
         She said: “Springsteen” by Eric Church. But he’d probably pick a Miranda Lambert or Lee Brice song for me.

What would be your dream hunt?
Annetta: If money were no object, Cally would get his desert ram, because that would finish his slam.
          He said: I’d want to shoot a 400-inch bull elk with my bow. A close second would be a 190-inch big horn ram.
Cally: Anything by Prada. Just kidding. She’d want to shoot a 40-inch Dall sheep.
          She said: A Dall sheep in the Northwest Territories.

If you were keeping score, Cally had the most right. But it goes to show that if you spend every waking hour together (and those hours start before sunrise), there’s still so much to learn about the love of your life.

But I think Cally and Annetta would agree that’s part of the fun.

How to decoy the right way

If you follow me on Facebook, you already know I’m at the Vermejo Park Ranch in New Mexico, hunting turkeys with Cally and Annetta Morris, owners of Hazel Creek Taxidermy and Decoys. Of course, we’re hunting over their lifelike creations, hoping to draw a gobbler or two into gun range.

Cally and Annetta have been in the business of preserving hunting memories for more than 20 years. Cally started mounting birds in high school to make extra money, and Annetta jumped into the biz as soon as they said I do in 1989.

Decoys are a more recent offshoot of the Hazel Creek brand, having been around for a decade or so. For Cally, decoys add to the fun of hunting.

Cally Morris of Hazel Creek Taxidermy/Decoys gave a seminar on calling and decoy placement for the turkey hunters at Vermejo Park Ranch in New Mexico. How will his rules change your decoy setup?

“There’s nothing like the challenge of bringing in a gobbler to within 10 steps and shooting him with a bow,” he said. But to be successful when hunting with decoys you have to know how to use them the right way.

Here are five rules from Cally on proper decoy set up whether you tote a bow or a gun:

  1. Toms most always approach a gobbler or jake decoy from behind, sizing him up to see if he can take him. When shotgun hunting, I set them up facing me for that reason, or broadside, but never facing away. If I’m an archery hunting, I set them up quartering away from me, which presents a good quarter shot.
  2. Don’t place decoys straight out in front of you. Place them at 10 o’clock or 2 o’clock from your setup, especially when hunting the edge of a field or food plot. The goal is for him to reach the decoy setup first, within gun range. He’ll be more preoccupied with the decoys, which will allow you to move on him without getting spooked.
  3. If you only take one decoy out, make it a hen. But be prepared to romance her. You’re in for a slow show. Add a jake to the setup for more of a high-action hunt. It’s like a high school dance. The gobbler is a jock and sees a pretty girl standing alone across the room. He’s wondering if he should go talk to her. Then you put a dweeb (jake) into the mix. It’s going to challenge that jock to swoop in and take her.
  4. Turkeys are claustrophobic. You can’t get a turkey to walk between two turkeys. Instead, it will circumnavigate a setup. Don’t place decoys too close together. Put the gobbler in your kill zone, but keep the hen in your sights.
  5. Shooting sticks are essential when bringing in turkeys close with decoys. They keep your gun steady, at the ready and you from spooking the game. They’re critical for new hunters but still a good idea for experienced hunters who like to bring ‘em in close.

So the next time you carry decoys to your setup, try these tips from Cally. And Cally hopes you give his Hazel Creeks a try. Click here to learn more.