Guns, Gear, and The Great Outdoors

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Kitchen Calamity

No great story is complete without a healthy dose of conflict woven into the narrative. Whether you believe in a higher power, cosmic karma, or plain-old blind chance, it is undeniable that this conflict always seems to find its way into this novel we call life. Thus in life, as in every great novel, while this conflict may create a fair amount of discomfort, it is an essential ingredient in the creation of something worth reading (or living for that matter). That being said, allow me to tell you a story….

Rob was an adventurous young man. He loved trying new things and quickly became disinterested with repetition. For that reason, he was constantly learning new skills, taking on new challenges, and existing in a constant state of metamorphosis in retaliation to the day-to-day blasé. It was for this reason that Rob decided to take on a series of 30 day challenges. As he sat staring into the stale January air one evening, pondering what to craft for dinner, a thought drifted into his head like the pungent smoke of a corn cob pipe. He apprehensively opened the freezer door and peered into a jungle of forgotten morsels. “Why do I make four or five trips to the grocery store each week while this food piles up and slowly degrades into useless crystallized nothingness?” he pondered as the frozen mist cascaded down onto his wool socks below. Thus the idea was born. He vowed not to buy food for thirty days; to live off the bounties of his current possession and reap the rewards of frugality and culinary creativity.
A week into his embargo of groceries, things seemed to be moving smoothly. Several delicious meals had been prepared and the freezer was already beginning to look more organized. Rob’s cellphone chirped on Thursday afternoon, reminding him of his commitment to a skiing trip for the weekend with his family. He gathered his cold weather gear, his trusty camera, and a small travel guitar destined for its maiden voyage. Gear packed and house secured, he and his girlfriend headed off to the mountains just as a blizzard began raining down fluffy piles of winter enjoyment.
After three days of visiting with loved-ones and pure outdoor euphoria, the happy couple returned home. Katie headed down the driveway to retrieve her tiny chihuahua pups from their stay at le spa de grandparents with a promise to return later. Rob had been brainstorming foraged meals all weekend and, after a short hike to check the whereabouts and well-being of the local whitetail herd, headed to the freezer. He instinctively reached for the top shelf, which was the resting place of a giant porterhouse steak that had been dancing in his head all weekend. A grill hunkered outside, patiently waiting for a large helping of charcoal and mesquite and the chance to craft this tender piece of art into medium-rare bliss. As his hands drifted over the tightly packaged meat, something felt horribly wrong.He quickly withdrew his hand from the icy depths as a red tinted drop of liquid escaped his fingertips and splashed on the linoleum like the first drop of a springtime shower. A cold chill ran down Rob’s spine as he gingerly reached back into the freezer. Every item on the top two rows was completely defrosted. Packages on the door were barely below room temperature. He couldn’t believe the devastating sight. Defeated, he reached for a garbage bag under the sink and began sorting through the devastation. Forty pounds of discarded carnage and three weeks remaining in the challenge left Rob temporarily paralyzed. As he sat and pondered the potential annihilation of his month-long project, a glimmer of hope rang through the darkness. With a full pantry and chest freezer remaining, “this just adds another layer of challenge” he smirked. “This might be fun”. emtyfreezer

~The preceding tale was based entirely on actual events~

Freezer Foraging

IMG_0390Abstaining from grocery shopping for an entire month seems rather simple at first. As the days turn into weeks, however, creativity will undoubtedly need to increase in order to prevent shriveling up into a malnourished raisin. For now though, scavenging the freezer, refrigerator, and pantry has been pretty simple. For the first gourmet ensemble, I dug back to the infant years of my cooking experience. Though I have cooked professionally in the past, the roots of my culinary know-how were planted by my father. When I was a young boy, Dad and I would often have bachelor nights in which we were left to our own creativity in what, when, and how we would feed ourselves. From these nights came my first cooking lesson. Dad would layer the bottom of a deep baking dish with carrots, celery, and potatoes. A plump venison roast would be placed on this vegetable platform, followed by a braising liquid (usually wine). The roast was then baked until it reached the desired internal temperature. This recipe was simple enough for an eight-year-old to understand, remember, and master, yet it produced results that any preparer of food would be proud to display.
Thus, the nostalgic theme for my first grocery bill-free meal. Rather than the baking dish mentioned above, I decided to utilize the one kitchen tool that is rarely used in my home. Being a very hands-on type of cook, passive means of food preparation rarely appeal to me. However, for this dish, a slow cooker fit the bill perfectly. By cooking this recipe low and slow, not only do you gain the traditional pot roast initially, but the leftovers create a hearty stew much like bourguignon. The recipe was tweaked a bit more as noted below
  • 2 LB Venison Sirloin Roast, coated with fresh coarsely ground black pepper
  • 4 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1″ pieces
  • 3 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 4-6 green cabbage leaves
  • 1/4 cup of dry red wine

Like the original recipe, I layered the carrots and potatoes along the bottom of the slow cooker in order to create an elevated platform for the protein (as any delicious cut of wild game should be held above all other food alternatives…kidding…..but really though…). The roast was placed on the veggie platform, which then got a quick shower from the measured wine portion. Lastly, the cabbage leaves were nestled around the roast like a cozy nutritional blanket. The slow cooker was set to its high setting and allowed to cook undisturbed for four hours. The resulting smells and flavors are best explained by a common phrase used by a hero of mine , Ted Nugent: “Perfect”.

The added bonus of this meal is that the leftovers serve as an additional dinner or two additional lunches. bon appétit!

30 Day Challenge: Take 1

full-freezerOn February 1, 2003, Martin Spurlock initiated a challenge in which he consumed nothing but McDonald’s meals three times per day for thirty days. While he almost died in the process, this idea provides some promise in the way of self improvement and an adventure hidden in the daily monotony that can occur as we set routines for ourselves. To further that idea, a TED speaker challenged his audience to try something new for 30 days. He recommends trying something that you have always wanted to do but never took the initiative to begin. (the link to this video can be found on the previous post: “I’m Back”)

So here we are, February 1, ten years later. It is bitter cold, football is nearly over, and I am bored. Thus the beginning of my first 30 day challenge. How many of you open your freezer and immediately need to dodge an avalanche of frozen peas and prefab meatballs? How many of you have an additional chest freezer that is unusable because every square inch is filled with breads and ravioli and unrecognizable mystery meat? Yet we still go to the grocery store every week. Our pantries fill with pastas and rice, our cupboards with dusty cans of tomatoes and green beans, yet we find ourselves in line at the local food market over and over and over again.

And what happens when the power goes out? On October 28th, 2012, Hurricane Sandy turned the lights out on the ThriveOutside homestead. Two full freezers sat helpless as the protective cold seeped away from the roasts, fillets, and steaks of adventures past. Countless bulk-store purchases withered and were consumed by the darkness. Four days later, the power returned and the loss was evident. So while it is comforting to have a stash of frozen goodies in case of a rainy day, those rainy days could prove to be overwhelmingly destructive.

The Challenge: Prepare, cook, and eat only what is provided by the freezer(s), the pantry, the cupboard, and the great outdoors for 30 Days. No trips to the local grocery store, Sam’s Club, or the convenient mart (except for bud light….lets not get crazy here….) The goal is to not spend a single penny on food. Everything consumed will be provided by the bounties of chez moi and notre mère la Terre. ( ….you’re welcome)

Well, thats it…I’ll keep you posted with pictures and progress as this journey commences. Wish me luck!

I’m Back

Hello everyone. You may have noticed over the last ten months and twenty-some-odd days that thriveoutside fell off the face of the planet. First, allow me to apologize. The very things that I preach about via this blog were abandoned by its author as life threw a few curve balls his way. I stopped enjoying the beauty that surrounds us. I stopped trying new things and going on new adventures. I planted myself on the sofa and became the person that this site denounces…a jaded couch potato. For that, my fellow lovers of life, I apologize. It ends today.

Moving forward, a few new inspirations will soon decorate the pages of thriveoutside. A series of 30 day challenges (inspired by a ted talk viewable here: will allow you to follow along with me as I attempt the impossible by taking on life-enriching trials for an entire month at a time. Being that today is Feb. 1, what better time to start one of these than today. Check back later this afternoon to find out what I will be up to for the next month.
Also to come:
  • Continuation of the Total Outdoorsman Personal Challenge
  • A combination deep-sea / fly fishing adventure in the Florida Keys
  • The creation of an intensive produce garden in the name of self-sufficiency (and how to earn a little cash as a bonus)
  • Seed Saving
  • A backpacker’s review of the LL Bean microlight fs-2 tent
  • lot’s of kayaking, backpacking, and exploring adventures

If you are reading this as a one-time follower of ThriveOutside, thanks for checking back and for sticking with me. If you’re a new visitor…welcome, it should prove to be a refreshing place to visit. Until next time, happy Friday, thanks for stopping by, and get your butts outside and enjoy life this weekend!

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall” ~ Confusius


Leatherman Skeletool: A Review

With my birthday rapidly approaching, I realized it was that sacred time again in which I get to pick out my traditional “gift-to-me item.” This year, I decided I needed more firepower in my pocket. For the last two years, I have carried a Spyderco folding pocket knife as my utility tool of choice. While it served it’s purpose gallantly, it was clearly time for an upgrade. After a bit of research and some quality time with, I decided on the Leatherman Skeletool (pictured right). The text that follows is my first impressions and use review after five days of regular carry.

The Good

  • Size – the skeletool is almost exactly the same size as my folding knife (see picture at bottom), and weighs just a bit more.
  • The capabilities – The skeletool includes only the essential tools you will need on a regular basis, unlike the more traditional Leatherman multitools that were the equivalent of McGuyver’s knife on steroids.
  • The knife – the knife blade is easily deployed with one hand without opening the rest of the tool. This feature makes the blade just as convenient as a traditional folding knife. As an added bonus, it is RAZOR sharp out of the box.
  • The bottle opener – now you have an excuse to carry the single most useful tool in your pocket without feeling like a weathered booze hound.

The Not-So-Good

  • Screwdriver bits – Total time it took me to loose my first bit: Three Days. The interchangeable bits are very handy, except that they are a unique size. This means that every time you loose one, you can’t simply run down to the hardware store and spill 25 cents. Leatherman does offer an expanded driver set that is compatible for around $35.00…..I see many of these being purchased in my future.
  • No file – The one tool that I found myself using repeatedly on my traditional multitool was the metal file. I used it for sharpening fishing hooks, removing burs, and many random metal-forming tasks all the time. I realize that few people would use this tool consistantly enough to add the required weight to the skeletool, but I will miss it.

The Bottom Line

Whether it’s your birthday, a holiday, or just a day that you feel you should do something nice for you, do yourself a favor and go pick this little hotrod up. You won’t be sorry (You may actually catch yourself searching for an excuse to pull it out of your pocket.

Skill 227: Hold a Shotgun Tenderly

Whether you enjoy beating the bushes in hopes of flushing a covey of quail, hiking through the opens plains in search of cackling ringnecks, or simply enjoy transforming fluorescent flying disks into fluorescent flying powder, you can do it better by getting your grip right. The manual relates the proper grip to the way you handle a common household item. Using the grip pressure instructed, this is what I noticed:

  1. The gun shouldered in the correct position naturally
  2. My usual sight tremors disappeared
  3. It seemed much easier to sweep the target and continue with my follow-through.

The moral of the story is this: after taking the book’s advice, it became clear that I have been holding my shotgun wrong for twenty years.

Sighting down browning gold

Skill 186: Teach a Bird Dog to Point

Bird Pointing Perfection

For the sake of dedicated journalism, and to provide you, the reader, with an all-inclusive reading experience, the obvious way to complete this skill was to rush out and buy the first pointer puppy I could find…

This is mistake number one that people make in the pursuit of bird dog perfection. Sure, skills can be taught…to a point. A key aspect of a rock-solid hunting dog, however, is rock-solid genetics. Don’t simply glance in the classified ads until you stumble upon a batch of puppies that will work. Do your homework, ask the gun dog community, and set yourself up for success.

This is one of those skill challenges that you only get to try out every 10-15 years (hopefully). That being said, my father’s two-year-old German shorthaired pointer, “Nikka” (pictured above), provides a means for me to evaluate her training against the tips suggested in the Total Outdoorsman Manual (TOM).

As I just stated, step one of our process was locating a quality breeder. Nikka came pre-packaged with a long list of championship bloodlines and a guarantee from this breeder. Step One….check.

Aside from genetics, the rest was up to us. When comparing the steps we took in creating the Michael Jordan of bird dogs to the ones that the book suggests, the approach was very similar.

[At this point, it’s a good time to let you, the reader, know that these posts will be a review of the tips discussed in the book, not a summary of them. As much as I would love to tell each and every one of you exactly what I am doing, I have this sinking suspicion that Field and Stream, as well as the authors would define me doing so as plagiarism. Since their lawyers are probably much more robust than mine, I’ll leave it up to you to buy the book if you really want to follow along. I would recommend doing this anyway, as the book’s pictures and asides from the author are worth the purchase price alone, not to mention the wealth of useful, intriguing, fun information]

To put our strategy into a few short path marks to ensure you are moving in the right direction: If your pointer puppy is less than a year old, is familiar with the sound of a .22, a 410, and a 20 gage, has tasted feathers, and you are familiar with the concept of positive reinforcement to encourage desired behaviors, your headed in the right direction. For a more detailed, step by step guide, check out the TOM and give their method a try.

In our case, Nikka participated in the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association’s natural ability test a few days after her first birthday. Not only did she receive a prize I perfect score, but she also pointed a bird in which the judges’ claimed didn’t exist in a wide-open field containing one small tuft of grass. As the judge sarcastically kicked around at the open ground, he chuckled at the notion that Nikka was pointing at nothing. Much to his surprise, a quail blasted out of the grass and did a quick fly-by of his head. He didn’t chuckle much after that.Nikka posing with a beautiful male ringneck pheasant

The Journey

As a fledgling member of the blog community, I can only assume that if you are reading this post, there is a strong possibility that you have watched the movie “Julie and Julia.” However, if this assumption is like a majority of the ones I make, allow mImagee to explain. The 2009 movie, directed by Nora Ephron, features Julie (Amy Adams) who vows to cook and blog her way through Julia Child’s first book “”Mastering the Art of French Cooking”. With each recipe, Julie is challenged to stretch farther, venture deeper, and whisk faster. The end result is a journey that leaves a young woman forever changed. If you haven’t gotten the chance to enjoy this movie, do yourself a favor and check it out. Okay, so now you are asking yourself, “Why is someone who lures me in with talks of guns, survival, zombies, and bush-craft now rambling on about Julia Childs and classic French cuisine?” Well stop thinking so much and let me finish!

For the last eight years, Field and Stream Magazine has been hosting the “Total Outdoorsman Challenge.” People from every crevice of the country compete for $25,000 and the bragging rights of being the baddest outdoorsman (or ourdoorswoman) in the land. Recently, Field and Stream teamed up with outdoor writer T. Edward Nickens to produce a companion guide, titled “The Total Outdoorsman Manual: 374 Skills You Need”. The hardcover gem includes tips for better camping, fishing, hunting, and survival. It covers everything from choosing the right knife to taking the best fish photo, to safely drinking your own peepee. No stone is left unturned in this literary feast for the outdoorsman’s soul. So what does this have to do with Julia Childs, you ask?

This is where my quest begins. The plan is to create my own dirt covered, fishy smelling, fire kindling version of Nora Ephron’s idea. I will complete all 374 “essential skills” that Field and Stream and Ed Nickens tells me I need to know, with some exceptions. Due to the layout of the book and the fact that I am no relation to Michael Waddell, it isn’t feasible for me to hunt bull elk one day and fish for steelheads in Colorado the next. That being said, my goal is to complete each task in a timely manner, and provide you, the reader, with the gory, gritty details. If you are connecting the dots, you are now realizing that at some point, this means I’m going to have to drink my own urine. Yeah, I’m still trying to wrap my head around that one too.

Well folks, there it is…my plan of action. I encourage you to offer me words of encouragement, advice, and a sense of humor along the way. I will definitely need that last one by the end. Oh yeah, and for those of you who think hunting and fishing is a morally reprehensible act undertaken by barbarians and monsters, let me point you in the right direction. I’m sure if you hit your “back” button a few times and type “classic French cuisine” in the search bar, you will find something more to your liking. For everyone else, buckle up. It’s may be a bumpy ride…

What This Site is, and What it is Not

Turn on a television, radio, or computer and a bombardment of crisis will ensue. Europe is on the brink of financial collapse. The middle East is in a constant state of social unrest. Leaders are getting overthrown. Blood runs down the streets like rainwater as protesters are slaughtered by dictators, trying to maintain loyalty the only way they know how. Israel is threatening to attack Iran. The US economy is floundering

like a fish washed up on a rocky shore, gasping for air and barely clinging to life. And if all of that wasn’t enough, soon it will be December 21st, at which time the sky will come crashing down, the sun will cease to shine, and zombies will come to feast on our souls.

With all that is happening around us, it’s no wonder that people are beginning to prepare for the worst. Reminiscent of Cold War days past, Americans are building shelters, hoarding food, and arming themselves for the apocalypse. What was once considered absurdity is now finding its way into mainstream media. Survival shows and preparedness programs such as Doomsday Preppers and Man Vs. Wild are more popular than American Idol. People are preparing for and expecting the worst. That’s not what this site is about.

This site is about doing the things that enrich our lives. It’s about getting up off our butts, going outside, shootings guns, going backpacking, hunting, fishing, practicing bushcraft and enjoying what nature has to offer. It’s about fire-roasted, still steaming hotdogs on a stick. It’s about giving your friends and family an experience greater than all the money in the world could buy, and not spending a penny on it. It’s about doing what we love, and if one day, the information you learn here happens to save your life from a hoard of charging zombies…you’re welcome.