Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Spring Gobbler: Preseason

In just over 2 months the Spring Gobbler season will open here in PA.  The 2012 season was spotty for many of us due to the extraordinarily mild winter, and the incredibly early green-up.

So how can you make your 2013 campaign better?  Start today with a few easy little activities that will get you ready, and will get you pumped up to chase them Toms!

It's two months out so you can be pretty aggressive with your scouting, so don't be afraid to go knock on their bedroom doors.  Even if you bust a turkey or two they've got a long time to forget and forgive.  This is particularly useful if you can get out after one of our late winter snowfalls, and find some tracks.  Tracks are easy to see in the snow, and are a tremendous indicator of the size of the flock.  Using their own trails you can uncover a pattern of use, which you may have missed before.  Depending on how harsh the winter has been, you'll probably still find mixed flocks.  The young of 2012 haven't been run off yet, and the Toms intermix with the Hens, in order to make foraging easier for everyone.  As the weeks progress, the flocks will break up into males and females, and both will set their pecking order for the upcoming mating season.  Large boss Toms will assert their authority and position by challenging and sparring with other Toms.  The winner of these skirmishes will get priority on breeding rights.

Next, dust off those calls.  Whether you choose mouth calls, box calls, pot n peg calls, or any of the wide variety of turkey calls on the market, they all need to be reconditioned for the season.  Then practice practice practice.  Look up one of the many recordings of live turkey calls, available online, then use them to perfect your calling techniques.  Do some calling outside so that you learn what volume you need to break through the woods.  One note of caution here: I'm a firm believer that turkeys can and do learn the sound of calls.  Your call is like a hen's voice.  Just like in the wild each call, and each caller, will sound unique.  So if my goal in the season is to pretend to be a hen ready to mate, I want to be cautious of how often I use that call in the woods during the preseason.  How many times will that Tom try to find that certain hen he hears, before he gives up?

Finally, turkey hunters are notorious gear hounds.  Manufacturers make vests with dozens of pockets to carry a myriad of gear into the woods.  In the next several weeks the large catalogs will begin to feature their turkey gear.  Make sure you check it out, and replenish your vest as necessary.

Happy Hunting,
Scott M

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Little memories

It's the little things in life that matter the most.

Cliche? Yes. Truth? You decide. Think back to your most favorite memories. Your go-to stories. The thoughts that cross your mind when you encounter a specific smell, or return to a specific location. I'd bet the vast majority of those memories revolve around something simple, or unplanned.

Sure, I have lots of memories of a wonderful roadtrip my wife and I took through Ohio and western PA back in 2011 on our honeymoon. Yet, it's the smallest things that we talk about the most. In Columbus, OH there's a restaurant called Thurman Cafe. It's down in German Village, and it has been made famous by an enormous burger they call the "Thurminator."  We had an amazing time one dinner there, but right next store is a diner that probably didn't have 11 booths, called The German Village Coffee Shop.  Had we not gone to Thurman Cafe, we never would have seen it, but the next morning at that diner we had the best damn breakfast we had that whole week.  To this day Jennifer raves about the pancakes, and she's a connoisseur.

We go to my uncle's cabin 2-3 times a year.  We've hiked for miles on the trails. We've driven to amazing nearby places. Yet one of the first things Robert, Jen, and I always look forward to is filling the hummingbird feeder and watching those amazing little birds show up as if on que We've spent an embarrassing number of hours sitting on the porch swing, trying to be still enough for them to come back and really feed for a while.

I find campfires incredibly enjoyable. The meditative relaxation of gathering wood, constructing the fire, then the stretches of quiet and conversation in between the slow and steady maintenance of the fire.  The picture above was a fire I built at my uncle's cabin after a day we had spent playing and riding 4 wheelers with Jen's parents.  After the kids roasted marshmallows, cleaned up, and were tucked into bed, Jen, her mom and dad, and myself posted up around this quiet little blaze, and talked for hours.

I've mentioned before that my camping experiences growing up were more about cabins owned by relatives, and less about public campgrounds. So my first experience taking the boys to a public campground, I was less then happy to find this campground was really more of an RV park, than a cozy wooded campground. So imagine my further disappointment the first morning when I realize I haven't packed a spatula for the grill. Never fear, I've got beer and a metal fork.  The picture above shows my yankee ingenuity, which is a story we've told and retold several times since this originally happened three years ago.

The next time you make big amazing plans, make sure you leave a little space in there for little memories. I'd bet those will become your favorites.

Happy Exploring
Scott M

Monday, February 18, 2013

Planning your summer wilderness adventures, with some local stops

With the sky-rocketing price of gasoline, more and more people are looking to decrease there fuel bill every month.  At the same time we are all planning our summer get-a-ways.  By staying closer to home we can lower our fuel bill, and take advantage of the local wilderness opportunities that are less than 30 minutes from our front door.  Not only will these local adventures help your personal economy, they will also help to decrease your carbon footprint.

Increased environmental awareness has been all over the news recently, with more and more companies going "green."  Not only has this effected the business world, but it has also begun to reach into our vacation time as well.  Ecotourism is a growing movement, where people are utilizing their personal time to have a positive impact on the environment. 

According to The International Ecotourism Society, an ecotourist aims for responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.  While that may sound like a lofty goal, it can be as simple as driving less during your vacation.  Two local hiking trips, are less than 20 minutes away from anywhere in the city, and are great day trips to experience local wild places.

The first, and shortest of the two would a day trip hiking the Wintergreen Gorge.  The portion of Four Mile Creek upstream from Cooper Rd in Harborcreek is commonly known as the Wintergreen Gorge, and it offers some of the most beautiful scenery, and easy hiking trails, that the Erie area has to offer.  The picture above was taken after Super Storm Sandy deluged the area with rain.  The trail itself dries out quickly, but the creek is amazing to watch for hours, sometimes days after the rain.

To get there take east 38th St past the Bayfront Connector, and Bird Dr.  This is where east 38th St becomes Cooper Rd.  Continue on Cooper Rd and just past the intersection with Shannon Rd there is a bridge over Four Mile Creek .  On the eastside of the bridge is a convenient parking area

For a nice starter hike I would suggest starting from the parking area and follow the primary trail up through the woods.  This main trail follows along the base of the hill for about a quarter of a mile and stays between twenty and fifty yards from the creek itself.  In this portion of the trail there are several areas to cut over to the creek and enjoy the natural beauty of the running water. 

After about a quarter of a mile the trail does divide, with the main branch continuing up hill for another quarter of a mile, heading away from the creek and arriving at one of the back parking lots of Behrend College.  The trail does continue on from the parking lot, and at this point is about the size of a good mountain biking trail.  Approximately 200 yards up the trail from the college's parking lot is an overlook that has been well used over the years, but remains unimproved.  The overlook offers a wooded view up the rest of the Wintergreen Gorge, that is stunning any time of year.  However, when the leaves change in the fall the view is breathtaking.

If I am in the mood for a more rustic hike, I follow the main trail for about a quarter of a mile, until it divides and I will take the trail to the right.  This trail is smaller, and continues to follow the stream as it winds its way up through the Wintergreen Gorge.

As the crow flies, the gorge would be about one and a quarter miles, but since the creek winds back and forth, I would estimate the total hike of the stream bed to be about one and a half miles.   

The second, and most diverse, would be the series of trails that make up Asbury Woods Nature Center.  This 200 acre tract contains wetlands, trails, forests, streams, fields and historic properties.

There is a small network of trails around the Asbury Woods Nature Center on the east side of Asbury Rd just south of W 38th St.  These trails highlight the local ecology, and offer great learning opportunities for school age kids. 

On the west side of Asbury Rd, just across from the main entrance to the Nature Center, begins a large network of trails.  The primary trail system covers well over two and a half miles winding through diverse habitat, crossing Walnut Creek, and eventually working all the way around to Brown's Farm on Sterrettania Rd.  There are several unimproved trails that give access to remote fishing holes and beautiful cliffs along Walnut Creek.

Exploring the entire complex of trails can be done during the course of a day, by utilizing a map that is printable from asburywoods.org.  Of course all of the main trails are well marked, some even contain boardwalk areas in order to view wetland habitat.

As part of being an ecotourist, I want to leave the land better than I found it, so I always carry an extra plastic bag in my daypack.  This way should I encounter any trash along the trail, I can easily collect the trash, and dispose of it properly after my hike.   By committing to driving less while on vacation, and taking advantage of local wilderness adventures, we can all have a positive impact on our environment.

Over the next several months I plan to highlight even more local areas like these.

Happy Exploring!
Scott M

Thursday, February 14, 2013


The new day dawns to new opportunity.  It is only after we quit, when the opportunity to make things better, truly ends.

I've posted about sunrises before (I'm a sucker for a sunrise), but today's really struck me.  Coming out of the side door of my house; Coffee, lunch, a 2 year old tripping over his blankie, and a 7 year old dropping his backpack, all in tow. I looked up to see this sunrise dawning over my neighbors house and realized that each day is an opportunity to make things better. 

Now I tend to be snarky and sarcastic in my daily life, but deep down I know we all need to press on and fight through our struggles, and finding that motivation can be difficult.  It's easier to throw your hands up and quit.

This applies to everything.

If you're a parent: These thoughts need no explanation.

If you're an outdoorsman: We all know it's easy to throw in the towel, instead of sticking it out with that stubborn Tom.  The fish aren't always feeding, so casting away to endless hours on a stream isn't necessarily the most delightful thought.

If you're a spouse:  Well many times we do throw up our hands and quit.  I'm not going to sit here and tell you how to live your life, but I will say this: have the fight you need to have, because once you've said your piece, the relationship will be stronger, or will be gone.  Either way you can step forward into the new day ready to embrace the opportunity.

Hold the one's you love today.  Be willing to fight for the people who are willing to fight for you. Embrace each opportunity as they present themselves.

Happy Valentine's Day
Scott M

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Winter Birds

After Christmas dinner at my Aunt Nancy's house I was quickly taken in by playing with my new Olympus e-pm1 and several of the lenses I had brought with me.  My aunt had several bird feeders placed near windows of her house, so all the hungry birds were easy targets for my camera.  Plus, photographing the fast moving birds was great practice for capturing pictures of other wild animals on future trips to the woods.

Cardinals are a great photograph during the winter.  Easy to attract with nearly any brand of food, their red plumage stands out in stark contrast to winter's blanket of snow.  This guy was a bit bashful and tried to keep his head behind the feeder, but I did manage to capture this nice photo.  The 14-42 lens that came with the Olympus worked flawlessly capturing the cardinals colors.

Here several chickadees were being much more cooperative for their portrait.  All four positioned themselves well and the picture was easily framed.  Leaving the 14-42 lens in place and switching to the full auto mode, the quick chickadees were captured as if they posed for the shot.

Finally, I broke out the telephoto lens.  I haven't purchased a proper 50-150 specifically made for my Olympus's Micro 4/3's platform, but I was able to find an adaptor to make an old 50-200 Pentax fit on the camera.  Works great.  Biggest downfall is the e-pm1 doesn't have an optical viewfinder, so you are stuck using the LCD screen to tell if you're in focus or not.  In the photo above I was able to capture a little woodpecker hanging on a suet feeder.  I wish the sky wasn't so overcast, because the focus on the bird is very nice, and on a brighter day I think the bird would have popped more in the photo.

All in all I'm still thrilled with the camera, and for an outdoorsman, and a family-man, I really think that this camera will suit my needs for several years to come.

Happy Exploring
Scott M

Monday, February 11, 2013

Further adventures in German Cuisine

I've mentioned it before, and I'll continue to sing its praises today because The German Cookbook by Mimi Sheraton is an invaluable resource if you plan on diving into authentic German cooking. 

Schnitzel recipes, are typically made with a veal cutlet, and if you've delved past sauerkraut into German cooking you've probably come across Weinerschnitzel, and possible even Jagerschnitzel.  Now I have nothing wrong with cooking with or eating veal, but for my money if I'm going to bread and pan fry, or cover in gravy, the meat I'm cooking with, I find nothing wrong with substituting a pork cutlet from the narrow end of the loan roast.

In German, Jager means hunter, so as a simple dish Jagershnitzel (recipe below) is meant to warm up and fill up a hunter after a day in the field.  Since we were dumped on Friday, I broke out this recipe for my family's Saturday night dinner. 

I served the Jagerschnitzel next to a pile of my homemade Spaetzle coating both with the rich brown gravy created with the dish.  The pork was fork tender and the gravy complemented each part of the dish.  I could easily picture German immigrants sitting down to a taste of the old country in their cabin in PA's north woods.  Maybe that's just where I want to be in my head, but either way this dish warmed my spirit and fed my imagination. 

Happy Cooking
Scott M


4 pork cutlets
2 tbsp bacon fat or butter
1 tbps minced carrots
1 tbsp minced onion
1 tsp parsley
1 tbsp minced mushrooms
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
1 cup water or beef broth

Pound out pork cutlets to be about 1/4 inch thick, sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Add bacon fat (or butter) to the pan and fry cutlets until golden brown.  Remove meat and add carrot, onion and parsley to the fat in the pan and saute until onion is translucent (mushrooms are a nice addition here as well).  Return cutlets to pan add butter, once melted add flour, mix well to incorporate.  Add water or beef stock to pan mix well to incorporate.  Cover and simmer slowly for 15 to 20 min. 

*The picture above the jagerschnitzel is served next to a bed of pan fried spaetzle.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Erie RV Show

Officially now called the Erie RV, Camping and Powersports Spectacular opens today at the Erie Bayfront Convention Center and will run through Sunday.

This is my favorite show of the convention season.  All the area dealers are there to represent whatever the RV industry has in store for the 2013 season.  And let me tell you the tastes vary widely.  This show will have models open to walk through of every kind of camper you can imagine.  From traditional pop-ups to the newest micro tow behinds, all the way to the massive six figure motor coaches, and even park models.

It's the accessibility that makes this show my favorite.  All the models are open for you to walk through, sit on the chairs, look in the closets, or open the cabinets.  This convention is a one stop shop to find out what the camper industry has to offer, and where your tastes lie.  The show is also useful if you're trying to learn the pricing for the RV market.  Perhaps you were thinking used, but could in fact afford a new model.

The other part of the show that makes it so worthwhile is the station after station of campgrounds that are represented.  Each one has a handy brochure so you can learn about their campsite, and each station is staffed by either the owners of or people who work at the campsite, so no question goes unanswered.  This is a tremendous way for you to discover new places to visit. 

In addition to the campsites represented there will be other organizations there to promote their own cause.  PA Route 6” is one such organization that I didn’t know existed until I visited their booth 2 years ago.  Their goal is to promote tourism across historic US Rt 6, which crosses the northern tier of PA.  Their brochure is filled with towns to visits, with interesting restaurants and interesting historic spots to visit.

New for this year, and of particular personal interest, is the motorcycle pavilion.  This is a fantastic addition to the convention.  While Erie has a tremendous motorcycling population, we still do not have a show where new models can be showcased under one roof.  While motorcycles could have easily been added to the auto show, I think they fit perfectly at the RV show, because many motorcycle dealers also sell 4 wheelers, and snowmobiles, so they have been coming to the RV show for years.

Weather is a toss-up, but after all this is February in Erie.

Happy Exploring
Scott M

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


I'd love to sit here this morning and tell you how amazing my kids are, and that I never get frustrated, and that the frustration doesn't get the best of me sometimes, but I'm not going to lie to you.  I'm not perfect.  I lose my cool.  I snap. 

I'm not embarrassed to tell you that because I know it just means I'm human.  I also understand that the frustration stems from the desire to have things run smoothly, and to give my boys the best life they can possibly have.

I recently read a blog post from Backcountry Geezer about Kids in the backcountry: Getting them ready, which really helped to remind me of the one thing I truly need more of in my life: Patience.

When we venture off into the woods Aiden, my youngest, is actually the easiest of the bunch.  Once he sees the red pack he knows we're going for a hike.  Even if he doesn't want to get in the pack initially, a hundred yards down the trail, and he'll be ready.  Yes it's an extra 30lbs on my back, but that is better than a cranky toddler that you're basically dragging because he doesn't want to walk anymore.  Robert on the other hand is too big to be carried, so we've got to make some concessions on his behalf.

First, our hikes are limited to less than 5 miles.  I've got years and years of woods hiking experience, so 5 miles is hardly a warm up.  Yet, for little legs, and a 7 year old's attention span, 5 miles is just shy of an eternity.

Second, the hike has to have something interesting.  As adults my wife and I know where to look and how to pay attention to see animals, new plants, or a great view.  Robert's daily life is filled with video games, and cartoons.  Even as a second grader he has been introduced to computer based learning.  So at first glance the woods aren't as captivating as some of the things he sees day-to-day. While on hikes we make sure we are constantly communicating.  Look at this plant, doesn't it look like a ___. Look over there at the ___ walking through the woods.  That way he's learning to watch for interesting things. 

Third, educational challenges.  So many of my friends have a simply atrocious sense of direction.  Even with GPS, and readily accessible online maps, they can't stand where they are and point to where they came from or where they want to go.  When in the woods with Robert, I'll ask him how to get back to the car.  Typically we haven't ventured off the trail, but if the trail loops I'd like him to be able to point directly to the vehicle based on the mental map he has created while walking.  Can a 7 year old do this? Hardly.  Is this a skill that will layer on year after year? Absolutely.

Finally, for us, we make every effort to remain patient.  If we're getting frustrated, it's time to find a log and sit for a minute.  On one very memorable hike we were about two thirds complete, when Robert was showing signs of frustration, and Jen was getting a little winded.  In fairness, Jen was about 6 mos pregnant and I had slightly undersold the actual distance we were hiking.  Be that as it may, Jen sat down to rest, and I found a young tree and taught Robert a lesson my grandfather had taught me about how to make a easy little walking stick.  Three years later, Robert still has that walking stick set aside at my uncle's cabin, for when we visit.

As a family, Jen and I make every effort to give our boys the best upbringing we can.  That doesn't mean that latest and greatest toys.  That does mean time well spent, and experiences that they will carry forever.

Happy Exploring,
Scott M.

Monday, February 4, 2013

My 4th of July BBQ

While I do love winter in all of its snowy glory it feels like it may be time for a more summery food post.  In a strong second place for my favorite holiday is the 4th of July. You see the 4th of July is my holiday, meaning that I jointly host the party with my parents, therefore I don't have to travel.  Believe me I'll gladly cook pounds and pounds of meat in order to avoid traveling on a holiday. 

My two specialties, that get the most requests over the years are my pulled pork, and what we've named "Fireman's Chicken."  The chicken gets its name from both the sauce (recipe below) that it is dressed with and the method by which it is cooked.  Many of the small volunteer fire companies in the county have chicken BBQ dinners as fundraisers in the summer. They often use a vinegar based BBQ sauce to baste the chicken, which is grilled in a clam-shell type grill that can be lifted and rotated over a bed of charcoal.  Between the tang of the vinegar and the smoke of the grease on the charcoal the meat is infused with a deep flavor of summer.

The pulled pork has been an evolution over time to its current state.  A brown sugar based dry rub is used 18 hours in advance, then the meat is given 8-10 hours in my cabinet smoker usually over some type of fruit wood.  Apple is nice, and so is cherry, however recently I have been addicted to pecan.  After hand shreding the meat, a Kansas City style sweet red BBQ sauce is added (recipe below).  Just enough to dress the meat, and extra sauce is on the side, per the guest's taste.  I've served a Caroline style vinegar based sauce as well, but my guests are typically more familiar with the ketchup based sweet sauce, so they gravitate towards that one.

Still over 5 months away, and I'm already dreaming of another 4th of July BBQ.

Happy Cooking,
Scott M

Fireman's Chicken BBQ Sauce

*Enough for about 20 pieces of chicken

2       c vegetable oil
4       c white vinegar
2       eggs
1/2    c salt
2       tbsp poultry seasoning
1 1/2 tsp black pepper
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp onion powder

Place all ingredients together in a large, sealable container (like the plastic jug the vinegar came in).  Shake thoroughly to incorporate.  Even though the main ingredients are vinegar and oil, the eggs that were added will act like an emulsifier keeping the mixture together.  Baste the chicken before you place on the grill, and each time you flip the chicken. 

Your heat source should be direct, in order to brown the chicken and cook thoroughly, but not excessively high, where the chicken dries.  Total cooking time is typically 2 hours.

*This contains raw eggs.  If you raise the chicken to the proper 165 degrees internal temp any sauce on the outside of the chicken will also be safe.  Due to the high volume of vinegar, I personally will dip my chicken into the uncooked sauce and have never had an issue.

Scott Messenger's Sweet BBQ Sauce

*This can be scaled up and down, and it can be processed for canning to be shelf stable for months.

3    tbsp vegetable oil
2    tbsp minced garlic
1    c ketchup
1/4 c water
1/4 c white vinegar
5    tbsp brown sugar
2    tbsp paprika
1    tbsp chili powder
1/4 tsp cayenne

Heat oil and add minced garlic to soften, but do not overly brown.  Add remaining ingredients and simmer slowly for 15 minutes.

* For an interesting twist substitute your favorite honey for the brown sugar.