Bear hunters, who always hope for a tracking snow, were disappointed this year - again.
Nevertheless, by the last day of season -this Wednesday - there might well be another record harvest. There is a healthy population of black bears, and they need to be harvested. Thinning the population is about all that will help the bear complaints that plagued everyone this last summer.
If you stood my friend, Ed Figart, of Claysburg and me in a lineup and then asked folks to select which of us was the hunter and which of us is a specialized cook and baker, almost everyone would get it wrong. Based on outward appearance alone, dressed in street clothes, I'm told I don't "look like" someone who hunts. Figart, a former biker with the stocky build, big gray beard, leather hat and booming voice would not be thought to be the one who would turn out wonderful pies and rolls and jellies and chili that will knock your socks off.
When New Hope Baptist Church in Duncansville held a wild game dinner a couple of years ago, the undisputed game dish of the evening was a huge pot of bear stew. Master minded by Figart, he was immediately besieged by requests for the recipe. No voice was more incessant than mine, asking him to write down the recipe so I could share it with you folks.
It was quite a task to get that recipe. Like many cooks he didn't have a recipe. He just threw it together. So one evening at another church dinner, I grabbed a pen and notebook, sat down beside him and announced he could not leave until he told me how to make that bear stew. When someone makes a dish out of bear meat and people are still nagging for the recipe a year later, you know it is something special. (See related item.)
Since acorns are scarce this year, bears will no doubt be lurking near corn fields. If I were hunting bear, which I am not this year, I'd find an uncut corn field and then hunt a mountain ridge nearby. Bears will travel 20 miles or more in their hunt for food, so for them to bed down in the thick stuff a mile or more away from their food source is not unusual.
Figart's bear stew
Begin with 2 pounds bear meat, cut into small pieces. Brown it in oil with a large onion. After meat is browned add a 32 oz. can of beef broth to the meat and bring to a boil. When it boils, add one package of McCormick's Stew Seasoning, turn the heat down and let the meat cook until it is tender. Set aside to cool. When cooled, skim off any grease from the top and discard.
As the meat cooks, cut up 6 large potatoes into small pieces along with some carrots, celery and green pepper. When meat is nearly done, throw the vegetables into the pot with the meat along with a second package of stew seasoning and salt and pepper to taste. When the vegetables are almost done, add a package of frozen peas.
When stew is done stir in a mixture of flour/cornstarch and water for thickening until stew is consistency you desire. Let stand until it cools completely, during which all the flavors blend. Refrigerate it until next day, then reheat and serve.
Recipe notes: this stew can be made with beef or venison. If you want to make a larger batch, then double or triple ingredients.
According to the best bear hunter I ever talked to, I'd get high on the mountain, find a likely looking bear escape trail and post along it, watching the wind. Bears have a keener sense of smell now than even deer, so not letting a bear catch your scent is vital.
Bears, kicked up by other hunters or by a gang making drives squirt on up to the top of a mountain, attempting to cross the top and escape down the other side.
Hunters who are successful in the upcoming deer hunting seasons are encouraged by the Pennsylvania Game Commission to consider participating in the state Hunters Sharing the Harvest program, which channels donations of venison to local food banks, soup kitchens and needy families. This program is recognized as one of the most successful among similar programs in about 40 states.
Using a network of local volunteer area coordinators and cooperating meat processors to process and distribute venison donated by hunters, HSH has really helped to make a difference for countless needy families and individuals in our state. Started in 1991, HSH has developed into a refined support service for organizations that assist the Commonwealth's needy.
Each year, Hunters Sharing the Harvest helps to deliver almost 200,000 meals to food banks, churches and social services feeding programs. This program defines the generosity of hunters and their desire to help make a difference. After all, what is more gratifying than helping others in need?
As part of the program, hunters are encouraged to take a deer to a participating meat processor and identify how much of their deer meat - from an entire deer to several pounds - that is to be donated to HSH. If the hunter is donating an entire deer, he or she is asked to make a $15 tax-deductible co-pay, and HSH will cover the remaining processing fees. However, a hunter can cover the entire cost of the processing, which is tax deductible too.
Contact the statewide toll-free telephone number, 1-866-474-2141, to find out where participating meat processors can be found or other general inquiries about the program. To learn more about the program and obtain a list of participating meat processors and county coordinators, visit the Game Commission's website: www.pgc.state.pa.us and click on Hunters Sharing the Harvest in the click box in the right-hand column.