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Kill and grill with skill

Sarah MausolfVail, CO, Colorado
Special to the Daily/Sarah MausolfMargaret Barry sautees elk filets Sunday in her Eagle-Vail home. They taste best a little rare, she said.
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Sundays dinner marks the summit of weeks of anticipation for the Barry family. Elk steaks sizzle on the stove, filling their Eagle-Vail home with a meaty aroma.Margaret Barry improvises on a recipe she found online, soliciting help from her daughter, 14-year-old Brianna. Her husband, Mike Barry, and her son, 13-year-old Brinton, dig in, knowing they brought this feast to the table.Tonight is more than just a meal, tonight is a memory.

On a warm day in September, Mike and Brinton set out for a father-son hunting trip outside Leadville. They crept through the woods, keeping quiet in their camouflage. Hunting was such a familiar ritual for them, the silence was natural. They didnt even snap a twig.About a half hour before dark, the duo stumbled upon an elk feeding in an Aspen grove. The cow sensed their presence and looked up 650-pounds of suspicion. Mike shot her just below the heart. The bullet from his 0.7-mm rifle made contact, forced the cow to rear up, stumble and fall. It was an exciting moment for Mike because his son Brinton was by his side.Your adrenaline is flowing for sure, Mike said. Its exciting. Its particularly exciting because he was there next to me. He got to see the whole thing.They called some friends, quartered the cow, and packed her out under the moon. They hung her in a yurt in the woods, then butchered her with the knife Mike and his wife used to cut their wedding cake. Mikes father had given him the knife, along with an appreciation for hunting. Growing up in upstate New York, Mike learned to hunt from his father, his uncle and their buddies. When he met his wife Margaret, a Wisconsin native who grew up shooting on a range, she embraced the hobby. Eighteen years later, Margaret is a seasoned hunter who brings a culinary flair to her familys kills. Her life her familys life revolves around wild game. Its a privilege to have our kids growing up on this stuff, she said.

Hunting is Colorado. More than 300,000 hunters take to the woods each year, and while no statistics exist on how many of them cook their own meat, its almost illegal not to.Colorado does have a state law that requires people to use the meat that they kill so it doesnt go to waste, said Randy Hampton, a spokesman for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, the state agency that doles out hunting licenses.Hunting and fishing rake in 1.5 billion in revenue for the state each year and comprise the second-most profitable industry in Colorado, rivaled only by the skiing business, he said. The first of four elk and deer rifle seasons opens Saturday.For hunters, the urge to kill and grill their own meat is often a matter of inheritance. Recipes are passed down from generation to generation, trickling down through family trees and landing on dinner tables in a rugged display of tastiness, rising out of the mists of ancestry to shape lives across the state.



Hunters say wild game has an edge over meat from the supermarket.The animals in the woods have not been packed with steroids, hormones, antibiotics or anything else that might be going on in a lot of the meat you buy commercially, Hampton said.Indeed, many local hunters say they value the pristine quality of the meat they kill. The Barrys say they prefer to butcher their own kills because some butcher shops add pork and food additives to the meat.Its completely pure, Margaret Barry said. Its leaner than most fish.Some people talk smack about wild game. They claim it has a gamey taste. But local hunters say that as long as a chef treats the meat right, it will treat their tastebuds right. Making it taste good really starts right after the kill is made, said Gypsum hunter Eric Whirley, owner of Action Taxidermy Studio.Keeping the meat cold is key. Whirley suggests getting the animal into a meat cooler within six to 12 hours after the kill, depending on the weather. Once its in the cooler, let the meat age for seven to 10 days, he said.It breaks down and its a lot softer and nicer, he said.Thirty-eight degrees is the optimal aging temperature, he said. When it comes time to grill, roast or bake the meat, go easy, hunters say. Cook the meat too thoroughly and it winds up tough. A little pink goes a long way.

In his book Kill It & Grill It, rocker Ted Nugent waxes spiritual. He philosophizes on the spirit of the hunt and expresses appreciation for the animal lives he takes.Rarely do hunters take their sport lightly. They often harbor a deep respect for the animals they kill. Driven by the same aversion to waste that characterized early Native American culture, they use as much of the animal as they can for food or skins.The payoff is hard for hunters to describe in words. I feel blessed and fortunate and thankful, Mike Barry said. I feel priviliged to feed my children something pure.Arts & Entertainment Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 748-2938 or smausolf@vaildaily.com.


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