I’d rather you didn’t, for two reasons—one social, one canine. A bigger hunt can overload a young dog. By definition, any young dog will be afflicted with scatterbrains—the billion messages per second from its nose alone are driving it crazy, to say nothing of an incoming flight of mallards and a flurry of shotgun reports. The ability to focus on retrieving a bird from a slough is a layered skill. There will come a time in your dog’s learning curve when being in the heat of the madness in a blind is a logical next step to develop that sort of discipline. For now, give your dog the gift of not putting her in a position she’s likely not to understand. Which brings us to your field manners as a guest. The rule is simple: Don’t inflict any hindrance on a hunt to which you’re invited, much less the massive distraction of a squirrelly dog. Bringing that is the worst possible recompense for your invite. Give your host the gift of freedom to have his hunt unencumbered. You can take her out next week by yourself.
Q. We’re heading over to the Bahamas for some January bonefishing. Suggestions for our days off?
When you need a break from the bonefish beating you to death on the flats, I have a snorkeling idea for you that can yield a good home-cooked meal. Round up a couple of Hawaiian slings and some fins and get to a reef. In case you’ve never used one, a sling is a lovely handmade form of underwater bow and arrow. A simple hand-sized block of wood—or any light material—with a hole drilled lengthwise through it forms the “barrel” for your spear. Tacked on the back side is the hefty rubber band. You, as the underwater archer, slot your spear in the hole, hold the block of wood forward, draw the rubber back, and let fly. Since there’s no actual bow in the arrangement, all the power comes from your arms. Snorkeling with a sling is the only legal form of spearfishing in the Bahamas, and it offers some advantages over scuba. The idea is that you do it in one breath. The benefit of spending a day at this is that you learn how to calm down as you run out of air in the hunting moment. It’s a way of letting the fish and the ocean move your attention away from petty concerns such as your lungs. Call it an introduction to Bahamian Zen: one breath, one shot.
Q. We’ve got a freezer full of venison backstraps. Any ideas?
The Cotton Bowl and the Sugar Bowl—two bowls whose names show the love for Southern crops—are played this season on the same day, January 2. Lay in a few cases of good claret and invite twenty or thirty—or forty or fifty—folks over for a big vat of venison chili on game day. This recipe assumes two to four backstraps per dozen people. Chili aficionados will now declare total war, but hear me out before you shoot: no tomatoes, no chili powder, and no beans in what is to follow, okay? The notion is to put the venison and the many varieties of chiles that will grace your pot in the front of the stew, unmasked. Make a venison stock, and reserve. Rehydrate six ounces each of three sorts of dried chiles—anchos (which are dried poblanos), chipotles (which are smoked jalapeños), and pasillas (which are dried chilacas)—scraping the flesh from the skins, and tossing all skin and seeds. Puree the pepper flesh with cumin and Mexican oregano, and reserve. Now start your stew: Brown a finely cubed mix of backstrap, chopped onions, and a pile of chopped fresh poblanos and jalapeños; add the venison stock and the pureed chiles, and simmer down all day, if you like. To push the chile heat forward, add some chopped fresh serranos. I won’t come to your house and arrest you if you add a can or so of good tomatoes to pull the chiles back. But you don’t need them. Garnish with fresh cilantro and chopped spring onions; serve with saffron rice. The people will first applaud you, then the end-of-season artistry on the football field.