A Hunters Guide to Becoming a Mermaid

IMG_1493.JPG

Written by Nicky Whitney - (AKA @tennesseehuntress)

Let me tell you…I love hunting. I repeat, I love hunting, y’all. Compared to most hunters you know, I’m still a novice. It’s something that I have only just grown a true passion for over the last couple of years. But I love my little mountain in Tennessee where my tree stand is. I love hating life while waking up at 4 AM to get out there (entirely too early if you ask me) to sit in my stand and wait for my chance to take my shot. I love that I hunt public land (even though trail cams only last about 2.4 seconds in my spot before they’re capturing the views of someone else’s trails). I love that not being able to track their habits through a camera forces me to learn the land and behavioral habits of the deer in order to put food on the table. I like that there are no catchy names like Thunder Dome or Five Finger Frank for deer where I live. If I name one Paul and pass him up one morning in hopes of finding him more matured next season, I could almost guarantee that Paul is filling someone else’s freezer by that evening (if it’s brown it’s down). Yes, I even like that part because it challenges my own personal ethics and makes me really think about the shots I take, even though someone else is probably going to take that shot anyways. I like that baiting is illegal where I live and that I have to do so much of my hunting the “old fashioned” way. I love that I have more embarrassing stories with my hunting sister Ashley Dill (@lethallybonde_) that make me laugh than I do ones that make me sound like a professional. I love all of those things because that is what makes it a gratifying experience for me. It’s hard work with a million different emotions. It can be frustrating, exhausting and disappointing. But I am also proud. I’m super hyped up and possibly/probably crying (don’t judge me). But most of all, I am honored and I am grateful for the people who have been willing to teach me the skills I need in order to experience something so incredible.

 

Are you asking me what this has to do with being a mermaid yet?

 

I may enjoy hunting, but I should have been born with fins. Since the moment I first heard the crashing of the waves, my heart has belonged to the ocean. Being born in Florida, the salt water runs through my veins. I love the suffocating heat, the smell of the air and I even love the sand that gets literally everywhere. After moving away from Florida, to satisfy my waterlust, my dad raised me fishing the lakes and rivers of Tennessee. I’m not going to lie, I am possibly one of the worst cat fishermen you have ever seen (I seriously struggle with the random acts of terrorism that catfish bait wages on me every time I use it), but I do love me some bass fishing. For years I told myself that was enough. Fishing whenever I could, working my butt off to have a successful hunting season and counting down the days until I could go on off shore fishing trips. That has been my yearly routine...fresh water fish, hunt, salt water fish, repeat. But it’s never been enough.

IMG_1571.JPG

 

A little over a year ago, I was introduced to the world of spear fishing by my friend Jake Latendresse of Latendresse Media. He has an eye for all things beautiful (and knew my love for the ocean) so through his encouragement, I decided to experience spearfishing at least once. I started following people like @sharkgirlmadison and @valentinethomas and I couldn’t wait for the chance to get my own fins wet. As it often happens with social media, I discovered Bri. Not only did she have a heart for the ocean, but she spearfished too! Soon the stars aligned and Bri and I planned a trip to spearfish with Valentine Thomas. This was both exciting and terrifying at the same time. I knew I loved the ocean, but I had never tried free diving before. It takes a lot of training to hold your breath in order to dive down and stay down there long enough to find and shoot fish. But, I’ve never been one to shy away from new adventures. Especially ones involving the ocean.

 

IMG_3607.JPG

My first day on the water I kept up a brave face. I smiled as I was instructed on how to relax my body and the proper breathing technique in order to dive. I smiled as I put on the mask and fins while my hands were shaking, all while I was praying that I wouldn’t make a complete fool of myself. I laughed with everyone when I forgot I had my snorkel in my mouth on the boat as I tried to ask our captain a question (who am I kidding, that happened like three times at least). I smiled when we jumped in the water and my stomach was doing somersaults as I tried to calm myself for what I was about to do. Finally, I smiled when I laid on top of the water and relaxed my body and attempted to slow my heart rate. Only this time, for the first time since I started this trip, my smile was completely genuine.

 

The thing I love most about hunting is the challenge (yep, we are back to that, but it ties together I swear). Learning where to find your game, figuring out shot placement, having the right equipment (and knowing how to use it) and being able to blend into your surroundings so that you don’t scare away what you’re attempting to hunt. Spearfishing is just as much, if not more challenging. But in the very best way. Learning to do breath holds (Bri and Val apparently just breath underwater), breath ups and relaxing your body is really a huge mental thing. Like hunting, being in the right head space means everything when it comes to making an ethical shot. Having bowfished, I thought for sure I’d know exactly where to aim while spearfishing. Nope. It’s not the same y’all. Being completely submerged underwater (and trying to stay down there) and remembering you can’t just breath like you do topside all while holding an odd mix between one of those rubber band guns and a cross bow...I realized quickly that mastering my shots is probably going to take some time. But what is hunting without having to train and learn. 

IMG_1782.JPG

 

My spearfishing experience was nothing short of incredible. Not being able to hear anything but the sound of my heartbeat and the calming sound of the ocean. Not being able to see anything but the ocean floor and the marine life that existed below me and knowing that I had found another way to provide for my family. I knew the moment I felt my that first genuine smile that this is what I’ve been missing. This is what I was made for. Even before I made that first 30 foot dive successfully and even before I heard all of my friends’ cheers as I topped the surface, I knew. I’d never go back from this. I’d never love anything more than diving and I’d never work harder at anything in my life. 

IMG_5871.JPG
 

Wild Turkey Larb in Cabbage Cups

IMG_2638 copy.JPG

Turkey season is upon us and there is nothing like getting outsmarted by a creature that has a brain the size of a pea! Ha! Ha! Ha! Well, I’ve sat in the field waiting for that beautiful dance from a Tom to occur a couple times this season so far, but have yet to harvest one. As you know, I’m picky on what I take. I want the oldest coolest dude in the bunch! And he hasn’t appeared quite yet. Maybe it’s because mother nature is a bit bipolar and can can’t make up her damn mind this season. She’s hot then cold, warm then a chance of snow flurries, what the heck mother nature can’t you just stick to one and go with it?

But I will admit that Turkey season is seriously delicious! There is something so wonderful about sitting for hours up against a tree watching the sun rise and calling in a gobbler. Am I right?

After you have been successful in the field preparing your turkey can be equally as fun. There are so many options you can do with turkey. But let’s first talk about the difference of wild turkey verses farmed turkey. Farmed turkey has been bred to have the subtle taste that it does. It has also been raised on a diet that is not natural for a turkey. A wild turkey would never be eating GMO Enhanced feed, which is what store bought large farmed turkeys have been fed on. Granted there are small farmers who are raising turkeys the right way, so not everyone is doing this. But our palette has adjusted to what I call a flavor lackluster. Meaning we have diluted the real taste of our animals. What you taste from a store-bought turkey is not how turkey is supposed to taste. It’s been made by man so to speak. So, for some when they get their first taste of wild turkey they might be put off by it. It’s definitely not the same in taste as store bought. Plus, wild turkey has not been pumped with water like store bought has. So, it can have the tendency to be very dry when not cooked properly. So, to counter act that there are a few easy things you can do to ensure a delicious wild turkey meal. 

IMG_2647.jpg

Brine: If you plan to eat the turkey breast and legs as is, meaning not grinding the meat or anything, a brine will be your turkeys best friend. A brine will add more water and salt flavor into the meat, so you have less chance of it drying out on you. Plus, a big reason I love brining is you can impart more flavor into the meat. As a Chef, I try to add more flavor into a dish everywhere I can.

Simple Brine Recipe:

4 Cups Water

½ Cup Kosher Salt

½ Cup Brown Sugar

1 TBS Black Peppercorns

2 Sprigs Fresh Thyme

3-4 Bay Leaves

1 Head of Garlic Sliced in half

2 Lemons, juice squeezed into mix and rinds tossed in as well

Bring everything to a boil so that the sugar and salt dissolve. Once the salt and sugar have dissolved. Remove from heat and let come to room temperature. Then chill in the refrigerator. When the brine is completely chilled then add the turkey whole or in pieces and brine for 24 hours.

Grind: In the case of this recipe coming up, I used ground turkey. I like to grind the meat myself, because I can add fat to it to ensure its nice and moist. I like to add chilled duck fat to my grind and I usually do a 90% turkey 10 % Fat ratio.

With all that said I hope you are excited to enjoy your spring harvest! So, if you decided to go with ground turkey, here is a beautiful fresh recipe for Wild Turkey Larb. Larb is a Thai dish that I absolutely love! It’s easy to make and has the most beautiful bright yet intense flavors, something I really love about Thai cuisine.

IMG_2638.JPG

Wild Turkey Larb served in Cabbage Cups

 

·      1 # Wild Turkey, ground

·      1 Chili, Sliced

·      ¼ tsp Sugar

·      ½ TBS Fish Sauce

·      2 Limes, juiced

·      3 Shallots, diced

·      3 Cloves of Garlic, minced

·      1 TBS Lemongrass, minced

·      1 TBS Ginger, minced

·      Cilantro

·      Mint

·      Green Onions

In a cast iron skillet add about 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil to the pan. On medium high heat add the ground turkey, season with a dash of salt and pepper. Once the turkey is about half way cooked add the chili, sugar, fish sauce, lime juice, shallots, garlic, lemongrass and ginger. Then finish cooking till the turkey is cooked through.

At the very end add torn mint leaves and chopped cilantro and green onions to the mixture. Serve in green cabbage cups and enjoy!

 

 

I'm not a real Hunter?

IMG_6559.JPG

I’m not a real Hunter?

 

 I’m sure anyone in the hunting industry can understand the feeling of getting attacked by anti-hunters and understand the feeling of getting bashed and even death threats for the thing we love most.

 

But who here has experienced being attacked by fellow hunters?

 

Well I have! Which actually saddens me that I am writing about this right now, but I feel it’s necessary. I have been scrutinized because I don’t post many so called “trophy pictures”. You know the ones you take after your hunt and your sitting there with your big antlered buck or whatever it is you may have been hunting. I have noticed that when I do post a so called “trophy” picture I do get more “likes” from hunters as opposed to the picture that I actually think is the trophy, the meal on my table. You see while others may think that the trophy is a buck with big antlers to me that’s not my trophy. Just because I don’t post the obligatory trophy picture does not mean I am any less a hunter. And the fact that fellow hunters would call me out as not being a hunter is not helping us band together to keep our tradition alive.

 

So, let me tell you what the real trophy is to me. The trophy of a hunt to me is the meal on the table. Its seeing all of my hard work being enjoyed by my family and friends. Its seeing all that practice, research and hard work nourish the bodies of the ones I love. The trophy is the memories I created while out in the field. I’ve witnessed the most stunning sun rises and sunsets while hunting that I will never forget. I remember the best times made giggling with friends in a layout blind or sending hand signals to another while in a tree stand. It’s the goofy moments that occur that make you laugh all over again just thinking of it again. Then it’s the memories I make in the kitchen cooking with my family. It’s the memories of laughing while we enjoy my delicious harvest at the table together. Its changing the mind of someone who once thought wild game was terrible. Its showing people what real food should taste like. These are all the trophies to me! These are all the reasons I hunt. I don’t hunt for the trophy picture to post on Instagram. I don’t hunt for more likes or followers. I don’t hunt to try to be someone I’m not. And I certainly don’t hunt to be a star. I simply hunt to eat and the trophy of hunting is all the memories I create while doing it.

IMG_8351.JPG

I come from a background of being an anti-hunter. I wasn’t raised hunting as a kid with my dad. I stumbled into this lifestyle in my quest for pure organic food. I respect my harvest, it was a life taken from this world. My harvest had a face, it felt love from a mother it romped around and enjoyed its life.  Hunting is actually a love hate relationship for me. In order to eat we must hunt, in order to hunt we must take a life. And that life should be respected! That life should not be taken just for a photo opportunity. Its death shouldn’t be slathered across your social media pages in silly poses. I try to show the utmost respect for any animal I harvest. I always feel a sting in my heart when I see my harvest on the floor. So, I take that sting and vow to cherish every part of that animal. I’m grateful for the life I took and I try to show it respect from the moment I take its life. I harvest it myself, I process it myself and I cook it myself I take part in it all. It’s kind of like when a pet passes away some owners can’t be there when their pet is on their death bed and needs them the most. Even though it is hard to watch you owe it to them to be there. That’s how I view my harvest, I took its life so I owe it to that animal to show it the utmost respect even after the harvest.

 

In my opinion, this is how every hunter should view their harvest. But if thinking this way is wrong, then I’m okay with that. I stand by my views and will not stray from them. But as hunters we shouldn’t bash a fellow hunter because they don’t do things the way you do. If we keep this up we won’t be able to hunt anywhere anymore. We face hard times as it is being hunters. We are constantly battling for public land, battling against those who think we are evil and now battling to keep our guns so that we can go hunting. With all this battling going on the last thing we should do is battle each other because we have different reasons why we hunt.

 

Let’s stand together and be #hunterstrong