SoCal Pheasant Hunting

Sunday following Thanksgiving we went on our first pheasant hunt here in California thanks to Mendel at Woodland's Hunt Club out in Imperial County. We drove there early on one of about two foggy mornings they encounter all year:

But the fog soon lifted and we made our rendezvous right on time, where we were met by dog-handler/guide Jim and his beautiful blonde English lab, Gunnar, and Mendel with the two German shorthair pointers he seems to always travel with. I can just feel the envy in them here, that we are going to chase pheasants while they have to accompany Mendel on his various ranch errands:

So off we went into the fields. My gun only had one barrel in operation, so Mendel lent me a nice 20-gauge Escort autoloader. It was so nice! Especially having that third shot at my disposal.

  Jim and Hanuman, searching...

Gunnar doing what he loves to do:

We searched crops and desert alike, with quite a varied terrain.

Hanuman was the first to score! Here, a lovely rooster, and his first pheasant:

We crossed over into straight desert in our search, and in case you've never hunted pheasant before, it is 99.9% of this - just hiking and hiking and hiking while you carry your gun and keep your eyes and ears peeled, watching and listening. And following Gunnar. It was WINDY this day, making the hunt very difficult because it throws the scent off for the dog, and birds don't like to flush and fly into strong winds (not to mention it giving you special pause when firing your gun into wind at your face!)

Finally we found a nice valley where a few pheasant were hiding, and Gunnar's persistence paid off: another flushed up right before me - this time, a hen:

We wound up with three birds - two roosters and the hen:

Aren't they beautiful?

I combed through pheasant recipes the whole drive out, but after seeing these roosters my head was spinning with ways to use their splendid feathers to decorate our home.

We were very excited to get a dinner meat that we knew our children would love. Pheasant, while very lean and often dry if even slightly overcooked, has a delicate sweet taste that our kids really enjoy. They have asked for "more" beyond what I have every time I've served it.

We popped them in the fridge before field-dressing them in the yard and cleaning them. I took the roosters to Lyons + O'Haver for a combo mounting (but not before stripping out the meat) because they were just so beautiful! I will update when I get them back in a few months.

The recipe used on our first batch was Pheasant Normandy.* It involves braising (which is the best way to cook this lean bird) in butter and apples and cider, served over mashed with some roasted Brussels sprouts. Don't judge me for the torn skin - I was plucking this bird outside at dusk!

Thanks for looking and Happy Hunting!

The ingredients for pheasant Normandy are delicious. I found this recipe originally in Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking but this version is adapted from Julia Drysdale. The combination of apple, cider and cream with pheasant is always a winner, especially now that cider has become so popular again. It’s an oldie but a goodie and if you have a bottle of Calvados hidden in the house, a splash of that added and set alight (perfect for cooks with pyromaniac tendencies) makes it even more yummy.
Serves 4
■ 6-8 Cox’s apples
■ 2 pheasants
■ 200g (7oz) butter
■ 2 tbsp calvados if you have any
■ 1 lemon, halved
■ 2 large sprigs rosemary
■ 1⁄2 tsp cinnamon powder
■ 1⁄2-1 tsp celery salt according to your taste
■ Ground black pepper
■ 400ml (3⁄4 pint) cider
■ 4 tbsp double cream
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Peel, core and slice the apples into quarters. Brown pheasants all over in 100g of the butter in a flameproof, cast-iron casserole with a lid. If you are using calvados, warm it in a separate pan, pour over the birds and light it immediately. Take care to stand well back as singed eyebrows add nothing to this dish.
Now take the birds out of the pan and stuff them with the lemon halves and the sprigs of rosemary. Tip the pan juices into the cavities too, making sure none spills out; set aside. Now add the rest of the butter to the pan and fry the apples, sprinkling the cinnamon over them. When slightly softened, return the pheasants to the casserole, breast side down. Sprinkle over the celery salt and pepper, then pour over the cider and cream.
Cover and cook for 50 minutes to an hour, until done. Serve with boiled potatoes, chopped parsley and a green salad.


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