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Recent entries



5 Year Anniversary at Heartland Outdoors

Fri, January 08, 2016

A bit longer read than normal, so grab your favorite drink, get comfortable by the wood stove and digress with me………

I had always planned for a life in the outdoors, I was 9 maybe 10 years old, and my summer’s spent fishing with my family in Northern Minnesota.  My Grandpa, an Illinois farmer, often talked of retiring and buying a resort up North and I’d of course guide fishing trips and eventually have my own fishing show much the likes of Babe Winkelman, Jerry McGinnis and Billy Westmorland. 

The problem with this plan was Grandpa had Parkinson’s disease and died in his mid-sixties, never really retiring and I didn’t fish well enough to be competitive in local tournaments more less guide regularly or have a television show.  The beauty of fishing though is you don’t have to be great to enjoy it and you shouldn’t wait until retirement to do it.  A few good lessons learned there.

I continued in the outdoors through High School much to the dismay of my folks (they were not hunters). They had put their foot down about owning a gun and really weren’t fond of a compound bow or game animals in their house.  My how that has changed.  I bought my first Bear Whitetail hunter from our schools custodian and my first single shot, shot gun from the Principal. I would practice over lunch hours while mom and dad were at work.  Weekends I’d sneak my gear to the woods, only successful at seeing a few deer and taking a couple squirrel.  I really thought I was living the outdoor dream.

There was no stopping me, hunting and fishing were all I thought about, I was consumed. Mom and Dad finally gave in and allowed a few overcooked tree rats on the dinner table.  Running out of arrows and unable to afford more they finally showed some mercy giving me a .22 Marlin rifle for Christmas my junior year of High School.  I had a Ford Ranger with a topper, a shotgun, rifle and bow, what else does a guy really need?

My time in school was consumed by thoughts of hunting, fishing and football. When asked in English class to write a journal it was always about the sunrise of the deer woods or experiences revolving around that.  My High School English teacher told me those were not suitable topics, I argued, “it’s my personal journal and we have the freedom to write anything of interest”!!  Except hunting or football she told me!

I remember it like yesterday, she said “There is nothing to be gained in writing about trying to kill a deer”.  I hear this in my head every month when I cash my Heartland Outdoor check, in fact my first dollar earned with Mr. Jeff Lampe is framed in my game room near my favorite deer heads.  Writing for Heartland Outdoors is one of my proudest accomplishments. I was told from age 17 I couldn’t do it.  I was marginal in English, squeaking by with a C- most often (as you can probably tell) but getting the occasional A in college.  I told my English professor of my goals and desires.  She said “straight A students usually lack interesting topics to write of anyway, get used to proof readers and red ink, keep after it”.  Keep after it I did.

I have hunted, fished, filmed, followed many, spoke to even more and tried everything I can within and sometimes past my means and feel I’ve put together a great network or outdoorsmen and woman as friends.  I wrote article after article to several Whitetail magazines and never a reply, finally I called one and insisted on talking to someone in the editorial department.  I was told “your articles probably aren’t even getting read, you have to know someone to get noticed”.  A harsh reality in life, but sadly true.  The better half of the outdoors industry doesn’t hold a candle too many of the outdoorsman and women I’ve met along my journey.  Failing to be deterred I decided to write for myself, start my own blog, why not, it would be short stories, pictures, how to comments and just generally sharing other’s adventures.

Less than one year in to the Flatlander Outdoors Blog I met Mr. Lampe through a mutual friend and he said, “I use to organize Prairie State Outdoors (as if I didn’t know who he was; everyone knows Jeff and his work writing and reporting) and I’m starting my own venture, I’m taking over Heartland Outdoors Magazine and developing a blog, do you want in?”  Yes I want in, Sir! I said, with the upmost respect!  I asked who else was on his blog, he said Nate Herman, Tim Walmsley, and an awesome deer hunter from over my way that goes by “Back 40”- John Soehn.  I had known Nate since he was barely shaving regularly and I’d heard of Tim, who was known for starting the original Illinois Deer Classic.  Now getting to know and become friends with John also I realized I was completely outclassed, Lampe let me write anyway.  Later meeting others on staff such as Gretchen, Kevin Chapman, Kevin Hahn and many more I realized what a great well rounded team, as knowledgeable as any group of outdoor writers and photographers in the business.

It’s not the journey that I had expected as a young boy, folks don’t line up to give you new trucks, boats and shotguns.  You don’t earn enough to get rich and live a carefree life, it’s not as glamourous as one might think.  It is hard work, often writing while at family gatherings or on break at the regular 50 hour a week job.  Sometimes it’s a collection of thoughts from a treestand on the thirtieth day of being skunked. Try and muster up something encouraging to say after that stent?! Not easy at all.

You may get harassed by other hunters, maybe even the game warden, and treated as if all this hunting comes on a silver platter.  In reality it opens you and your hunting spots up for encroachment from others. You probably won’t make enough in a year’s time to pay for all you hunting permits and licenses.  You will likely spend more writing than you make doing it, why do it you ask?

Sometimes in life you find a calling, a deep down burn inside that you are to do something. No matter how hard or tough a calling is, it’s who you are.  Some folks are great hunters and you never hear their tales, some tell tales and probably couldn’t start a fire, skin a critter and survive a night in the woods.  I guess I hope to land somewhere in the middle. Sometimes you just know what you’re supposed to be doing

I Believe it was 2004 or maybe 5 I was watching an old mature dark horned buck for several weeks, he’d covered a seven mile stretch of fields, never going to the woods, keeping does pushed away from other bucks and cover. He wasn’t huge in fact on the downhill of his prime, yet he was a fighter, beaten and battered.  I had crawled out to him in a muddy field, water standing in the low spots just on the brink of freezing. 

Knowing no one else would be dumb enough or dedicated to belly crawl through this freezing slush I set out to get him. Having to get in the mind set to lay down in the water and crawl close to five football fields.  I got within 195 yards, he stood with his doe and looked my way not liking the large ball of mud coming his way, putting the first mil-dot of my Bushnell Elite scope on his high shoulder and dropped him in the mud. Upon dragging him out I crossed a knoll where a herd of does flanked me at 125 yards, I shot the big lead doe.

Having checked in and hung my deer in dad’s shed, I headed back out the next morning with one remaining tag.  Sitting the same field under a loan tree I had two gut piles with in site.  A dark coyote came trotting by shortly after sun up, putting the crosshairs of the muzzleloader on his nose I squeezed of a 250 grain bullet from the .50 cal. piling him up some 80 yards away.

I brought him back to the base of my tree, skinned him out, put him in my pack and poured a cup of black coffee.  I sipped the hot brew that frigid morning thinking what an amazing 24 hours it’d been when a lone doe came over the hill in to a 100 yards or so and turned broadside, sniffing the coyote’s odor or mine with the coffee, she wasn’t going to stick around.  One more thump of the muzzleloader and I now had three deer and one coyote skinned out in dad’s shed.  He came to look in his once wood shop, now locker plant/hide tannery and said “I guess you have a knack for this”.  I guess I do and wouldn’t have happiness doing anything else.

Thanks to the Lampe’s, fellow writers, and most of all you die hard outdoorsmen and women who also have a story to tell, thanks for reading along…….

God Bless,
Matt Cheever ~  Flatlander


Duck Tsukune

Thu, December 31, 2015

To all those faithful H.O. readers that wanted something new, something different in the recipe department, here goes:

Duck Tsukune is basically a flattened poultry meatball, it could be goose or pheasant or whatever kind of flying object you like to shoot, cook and eat.  It may sound complex and it certainly looks complex but it’s as simple as any deer camp meatball or grandma’s ole meatloaf recipe

First you’ll need some duck breasts ground up, then some preferably beef suet ground up, mixed about 60/40 or 70/30 duck to beef.  I prefer beef in this case as you won’t be cooking these well done, medium at most!  (If you are going to use pork fat, chicken, pheasant etc. you’ll want to cook well done)

after mixing the duck and suet, grind again for a more uniform mix

Here is what you’ll need:

Ground duck and beef suet (basically fat, trimmed off of ribeye’s or whatever, see your butcher)

You’ll want to add an egg and oatmeal for a binder, if the fat content is low (I skipped the egg as I had plenty of suet in the mix, I also like to grind the oatmeal in to a powder as well)

Fresh green onion (chop the white end for meatball, green tops for garnish) fresh garlic, ginger (fresh or powder)

Season with soy sauce, black pepper, Veri Veri Teriyaki sauce, sweet chili sauce, rice wine vinegar, sake (if available, beer works too) and a few spoons of olive oil.  There are no exact amounts just use a little of each, if you like more Teriyaki use it, if more soy use it just go easy on those two as they are powerful and salty. 

Mix about 12-24 ounces of sauce per 2lbs. of meat adding only enough to raw meat to flavor it, save rest for Tare Sauce (dipping or drizzle)

Next run the onion, garlic and ginger in a food processor making a slurry, add it to the meat mix with some of the sauce.  Mix it well with hands, let sit for a few hours to a few days.  Let those flavors work in to the meat.

In a sauce pan heat up the remaining sauce and add enough brown sugar to make the salty mix a little sweet (honey or molasses works too but I like the brown sugar)

Grill on skewers or on their own, flattening the meatballs just slightly on two sides.  Glaze with Tare sauce as you are almost done grilling (cook til medium at most) and again right before serving or as a dipping sauce with the dish.  Garnish with chopped green onion and sesame seeds.

This dish goes well on top of grilled eggplant Parmesan, grilled Portobella mushrooms, or even a nice rice dish. They work great on their own as appetizers also.

I often hear how folks don’t like duck and it’s tough to work with, let me tell ya, it doesn’t get any better than this.  Tasty, simple once you get your ingredients, can be made in many variations and will convert any non-duck loving consumers to enjoy your wild game!

It really is a 5 star cuisine that would cost you a fortune in a New York City fine dining atmosphere.

Duck Tsukune

Brad Poppe of Lexington, IL with a nice brace of ducks

Happy New Year and God bless,
Matt Cheever ~ Flatlander


60 seconds

Wed, December 16, 2015

Reflecting on the 2015 deer season leaves me with mixed emotions, it’s been a roller coaster ride as usual.  You might be thinking that there is still a month left why the wrap up now?  Well indeed some of the best hunting is yet to come as you can read about in my January Heartland Outdoors magazine article.  For me though the deer season is pretty much over.  I have reached my doe harvest goals for each farm I hunt and have my families need’s met for meat in the freezer.  I have also tagged two nice bucks so in essence my season is over.

I will likely hunt some in the late season just to see what comes in or to maybe thin the coyote population if opportunity presents itself.  I am fairly certain I won’t shoot another doe and can’t shoot another buck but would still like to have a few more sits in the treestand.  I wouldn’t have thought I’d be saying that just two weeks ago! A lot can change in 60 seconds. 

I started off the season knowing time was limited; coaching my son’s football and working a lot of hours but there is always time for hunting if one makes it a priority. I had encounters with two shooters during the October lull (for me a shooter is a 3.5 year old or older buck and 125” rack or better, but I’m not hung up on score, more on age).  These encounters were rare, the second of the two afforded me a shot at my best bow buck to date.  I was literally inches high and through the no zone (what some consider a myth, but I assure you it’s not).  The arrow stuck out both sides as I saw the buck run off breathing out the two arrow holes.

This was the highest of high! Followed by the lowest of low, losing a deer. We tracked it a mile and three quarter and praise God for cool landowners that allowed the tracking but the blood ended along with my hopes.  Two weeks later an old school mate and neighboring hunter arrowed the buck as it was chasing a doe, back to the highest of high! Thrilled for him and that I hadn’t wasted a deer’s life and he got a great buck! I felt relieved.

I have put in over 300 hours in the stand and contrary to what I hear from others heckling I don’t have the golden egg of hunting spots, I have some decent to mediocre fringe areas that see some run off or satellite bucks with the occasional giant every four to five years.  No shooter bucks showed in all these hours of rut hunting including six all day sits.  The lowest of low, I was beyond discouraged but also knew as I grow older and gain experience (grey hair/no hair) that it can happen anywhere in any stand.  Good fortune has a better chance of showing up in the worst stand location than it does in the warmest bed or comfiest couch.

One weather extreme to the next

Thank goodness for the ole bologna sandwich to get me through the long days

The first gun season came and went, I struggled to put a tag on a doe but did get one nice plump doe.  Second season came and went without a single deer sighting in three days, not even a shot heard, was it really even gun season I thought to myself?  Then in just a few seconds a buck, doe and button buck came rushing in.  Two shots, rapid reloading, gear thrown about and the blink of an eye I had a buck and doe on the ground.  With a hurried photo session, quickly but safely gutting the deer and hanging them up, I was still able to make it to church (walked in at 10:01, sorry Pastor) but exhausted and blessed giving thanks to the One that gave it all to me. Amazed, the highest of high, in just 60 seconds.

Muzzleloader season looked to be promising as I was going to travel to hunt and I hadn’t been on this farm since Halloween but had seen some shooters then.  Going in on a high note, nothing had shown itself in the balmy hot weather as of Sunday morning.  My buddy and I were leaving camp at 9:30 deer or no deer, I was losing hope, not even the flick of tail yet, and then as I look over my shoulder I see antler tips in the dense thicket a hundred yards away.  Through a single six inch hole I had to poke a shot, the muzzleloader ignited as almost an extension of my arm or maybe through telepathy the bullet left, smoke hung, bullet struck.  The buck with a thud, hit the mud as hard as the bullet had struck him, dead in his tracks and in another amazing 60 seconds! I was then as rattled as I’d ever been, not at the size or score of the buck but by how it all was orchestrated.  Amazing!

Hunting South Central Illinois is vastly different than where I live, instead of 80/20 food to cover it’s 80/20 cover to food and with record warm temperatures, seeking food sources wasn’t the deer’s priority in the daylight. Tough hunting to say the least

Had I slept in either one of those mornings or had I opted to shave 120 second of hunting off the 300 plus hour season I’d still be hanging my head low and grumbling about Illinois deer. It can all change in 60 seconds, sometimes less. The point is you have to be out there, every season, every year, every chance you can.  Those that consistently succeed consistently put themselves in that position, those that don’t might be short changing their chance of success; besides, you know the old saying, a bad day hunting is still better than a good day at work right??

Until Next time, have a Merry Christmas, great hunting and…
God bless,
Matt Cheever ~  Flatlander


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