Minnesota Outdoorsman - Minnesota Fishing and Hunting Reports
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Flying Prime Rib

By Scott Leysath

Picture a perfectly roasted, thick, medium-rare slab of well-seasoned prime rib. Now, if you're like me and quite a few others, this picture is not complete without a side of creamy horseradish sauce. It's no surprise that U.S. processors crank out about 6 million gallons of prepared horseradish every year. This white root adds varying degrees of bold, spicy flavor to sauces, which makes it an excellent accompaniment to beef, antlered game, and waterfowl.

The pungent horseradish root, with its sinus-clearing, eye-watering attributes, is a member of the mustard family. Prepared horseradish, the variety most commonly found in markets, is a combination of grated fresh horseradish root and distilled vinegar used to stabilize the heat. For a milder flavor, quickly toss the peeled and freshly grated root with vinegar. The longer the grated root stands without vinegar, the hotter it gets.

Peter Berry's contribution to Ducks Unlimited's recipe files is one he calls "Flying Prime Rib," a suitable pairing of marinated and grilled goose breast fillets with a flavorful horseradish sauce that is simply sour cream, mayonnaise, and freshly grated horseradish folded (blended) together. Assuming that the goose has not been overcooked, it is reminiscent, when dabbed with the horseradish sauce, of prime rib. If fresh horseradish is not readily available, substitute a tbsp. or more of either the prepared or creamed horseradish found in markets.

Peter Berry's Flying Prime Rib with Horseradish Fold

Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Marinating Time: 2 hours
Cooking Time: 10 minutes or less
6–8 appetizer servings


  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tbsp. (or more) grated fresh horseradish
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tbsp. coarse salt
  • 1 tbsp. coarsely ground pepper
  • 4 small to medium boneless, skinless goose breasts


1. Fold the sour cream, mayonnaise, and horseradish together in a bowl until blended. Chill, covered, until ready to serve.

2. Whisk the olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Add the goose and turn to coat. Marinate, covered, for 2 hours, turning occasionally. Drain and discard the marinade.

3. Grill the goose over high heat to medium-rare. Remove the goose to a cutting board and let stand 2 to 4 minutes. Slice the goose across the grain into 1/4- to 1/2-inch slices. Serve with the horseradish sauce on the side.

Finding the Range

Take aim at trap, skeet, and sporting clays to fine-tune your waterfowl shooting skills during the off-season

Photo © Mark Tade

By Phil Bourjaily

Illustrations by Mike Sudal


Trap is the oldest and most popular clay target game. Trapshooters rotate among five stations set up in an arc about 16 yards behind the trap house. The mechanical thrower—or trap—inside the house oscillates, launching targets at various angles from the shooter. For handicap trap, shooters stand between 17 and 27 yards behind the house. And in double trap, the machine doesn’t oscillate but throws two targets instead of one.

Most likely you’ll start out shooting 16-yard singles. In that case, load one shell at a time. You can have a live shell in your gun with the action open as you wait your turn. Remain at your station until the trapper or scorekeeper reads your score, then move to the next stand, keeping your gun open and unloaded.

Trapshooters have a reputation for being somewhat standoffish toward newcomers. There’s a bit of truth to that, because the actions of others in the squad can affect everyone’s shooting rhythm, concentration, and score. Just be ready when it’s your turn to shoot and remain quiet until it’s time to say “pull,” and you’ll be fine.

You will, however, need to control your empty shells. If you shoot an autoloader, you’ll absolutely need a shell catcher or a rubber band around the receiver to keep your empties from hitting the person to your right.


Guns and Loads

Shots at trap targets are long, around 35 or 40 yards. Using your duck gun with a modified, improved-modified, or full choke and an ounce or 1 1/8 ounces of size 7 1/2 or 8 shot will break any trap target. Be sure to bring 25 shells, plus a few extras. You’ll also need a bag or pouch to carry your live and empty shells. A hunting vest or a nail apron will work in a pinch.

Trap Tips

Consistency rules in trap. Your routine before the shot, as well as where you hold the gun and where you look for the target, need to be the same every time at a given station. For example, most shooters will hold on or above the left corner of the trap house when they stand at station

This isn’t hunting, so don’t rush to load and shoot. Close your gun and mount it on the hold point. Then get your eyes up off the gun and look into the distance above the trap house. Think a positive thought, and call for the bird. The whole sequence takes about three seconds.

Shoot just before or as the target peaks. Waiting too long, as many new trapshooters do, means you’re shooting at a dropping target that’s slowing its rotations, making it harder to break. It probably means you’re aiming, too, and trying to double-check to make sure you’re on the target. Trust your eyes and hands—and shoot. 

What You’ll Learn

With its shallow, going-away angles, trap resembles jump-shooting more than it does any other kind of waterfowling. If you stalk ducks in sloughs, this is the game for you. 

Trap also teaches fundamentals, including one a lot of waterfowlers have trouble with: keeping your head on the gun. Heavy duck and goose loads generate a lot of recoil, and many hunters develop a subconscious lift of the head to get up off the stock and away from recoil. Trap shooting punishes head-lifting mercilessly, causing misses over the top. You’ll quickly learn not only how to diagnose the miss but also how to correct it by keeping your head on the gun all the way through the shot—because if you do stick your head up to watch the target break, you’ll surely miss.


Skeet was invented as hunting practice by two grouse hunters in the 1920s. There are two trap houses, a high and a low house, and eight stations on a skeet field. The first seven stations are aligned in a semicircle from the high house to the low house, and the last station is in the center of the skeet field, midway between stations 1 and 7. Skeet targets fly at the same height and angle every time, passing over a crossing stake set 21 yards from the stations.

Skeet is a more sociable game than trap, and conversation between shots is usually fine. If you shoot a break-action gun, cover the breech with your hand to catch empties, and stash them in a vest pocket or pouch. With pumps and autoloaders, let the empty cartridges fly and pick them up after the round is over.

Guns and Loads

Guns for skeet should have open chokes such as cylinder, skeet, or improved-cylinder. Serious competitors use size 9 shot to increase the probability of a hit, but 8s and 7 1/2s are also good target loads for this game. Competitive skeet is shot with everything from a 12-gauge to a .410-caliber shotgun, and all the targets are in range of small-bore guns.

Skeet Tips

In skeet, as in all clay shooting, finding the right hold point (where you start your gun) and look point (where you pick up the target with your eyes) makes the game easier. Although it’s tempting to call for the target with your gun pointing at one of the trap windows, try moving your muzzle several feet ahead, then cut your eyes back closer to the window so you can see the target sooner. When you set up that way, the target comes to the gun and seems to fly slower. 

What You’ll Learn

Although it was invented for upland hunters, skeet actually offers more to waterfowlers. The clay bird on High House 1 is like a wood duck coming in from behind early in the morning. The incomers from Low 1 and High 7 are similar to diving ducks that don’t flare when they see you but speed up and keep coming. And the crossing shots at stations 3, 4, and 5 simulate ducks skirting the decoys.

In addition, the maintained-lead and pull-away methods that win on the skeet field work very well in the marsh too. Keeping your muzzle in front of real birds instead of trying to swing through them lets you move the gun slowly and under control instead of scrambling to catch a departing target.

Skeet competitors shoot with a premounted gun. But if you play the game the old-fashioned way and call for the target with a dismounted gun, you’ll be getting great gun-handling practice.

Sporting Clays 

The game of sporting clays was imported in the 1980s from England, where it was called hunters clays because it duplicated field situations. It has since evolved into a game of its own, with targets that curl, bounce, fall, and shoot straight upward, as well as many that still mimic real birds. 

A round of sporting clays consists of 50 or 100 targets, all thrown as pairs, and there are usually five pairs per station. No two sporting clays courses are the same, and every course changes periodically. Unlike trap and skeet, where perfect scores are common, sporting clays scores are much lower. Depending on the course, you should be happy to break more than 50 percent of the targets the first time out. 

Paired targets come in three types: true pairs, in which both targets are launched simultaneously; following pairs, where one target is thrown shortly after the other; and report pairs, in which the second target is released on the report of your gun. There will be a sign at each station telling you what to expect. The shooting order rotates, so everyone takes a couple of turns as the guinea pig, going first at a new station. 

The most sociable of the target games, sporting clays permits plenty of conversation, joking, and advice sharing as you make your way from station to station. You’ll need a bag to carry 100 shells and some extra ammo. A round of sporting clays will last at least an hour, so you might want to carry along a bottle of water as well. Some clubs rent out golf carts to transport you and your gear around the course, which can be spread out over several acres. 

Do not load your gun until you have stepped into the shooting cage and your muzzle is pointing downrange. The first shooter gets to call for a “show bird” from each trap at a new station. You can look at the target and point a finger at it, but don’t point your gun unless you are in the shooting cage.


Guns and Loads

A 12- or 20-gauge duck gun with an improved-cylinder or light-modified choke is a good all-around choice for sporting clays. Although some shooters bring a variety of shells to accommodate different target distances, an ounce to 1 1/8 ounces of size 7 1/2 or 8 shot will cover all the bases. Choke changing is permitted before you shoot at each station, but once you start shooting, you must stick with what’s in the gun. 

Sporting Clays Tips

Watch the show targets all the way to the ground to get a clear idea of how close or far away they are, and what they are doing in the air. Make a plan. For example, when shooting a true pair, decide which target you will break first and where you will break the targets. Sporting clays is like pool, in that you want to plan your first shot so it leaves you in a good position to shoot the second target. 

Also determine where you will look for the birds and where you will start your gun. There’s a point in the flight of most birds at which they look big, fat, and easy to see. That’s the spot where you should plan to shoot it. Stick to your plan if it’s working, as you’ll have to execute it five times in a row to shoot the 10 birds. If your plan isn’t working—change it. 

Whereas all the targets move at the same speed in trap and skeet, there are fast and slow birds in sporting clays. Pay attention to target speed and move your gun in time with the bird. 

Start your muzzle where it won’t block your view of the target. For most birds, that means pointing below the line of flight, but it can also mean holding to one side of a bird like a springing teal, which goes straight up. 

As with skeet shooting, you’ll have a hard time breaking long crossing targets if you try to swing through them from behind. Start your muzzle away from the trap and never let the target pass it. Stay in front of and below the clay bird.


What You’ll Learn

Sporting clays presents almost any waterfowling situation that you can imagine, from high overhead passing shots to long crossers to ducks dropping into the decoys and then flaring out of them. Unlike trap and skeet, however, sporting clays is harder to get grooved into because the targets are always changing. You need to learn to read the line of flight and put the gun in the right place, just as you do with unpredictable wild birds. 

Because every station presents a double, you have to make the most out of both shots, a skill that serves you well when a flock of ducks or geese comes into the decoys. The fact that you can shoot without premounting the gun is another great advantage of sporting clays. 

Some sporting clays stations have nothing to do with field shooting. If you’re there solely for preseason practice, go ahead and shoot only the stations that simulate the type of hunting you do. That’s the best way to find the range on the types of shots you’ll see come duck season.

Shotgunning: Patterning Makes Perfect

Follow these seven tips to pattern your shotgun for waterfowl


By Phil Bourjaily

Patterning a shotgun is one of the essential chores that we all should do during the off-season. It's not fun, but neither is missing and losing birds. Testing your shotgun and load will tell you if the combination delivers enough pellets on target to make clean kills, and whether the pattern is broad enough to easily intercept flying birds. Skip patterning, and you're firing blind when you shoot at a duck or goose.

Here are seven things to keep in mind as you search for the perfect shot pattern for waterfowl.

1. No Two Patterns Are Alike

Like snowflakes and fingerprints, no two shot patterns are exactly the same. In fact, there's a surprising amount of variation from one to the next. Therefore, you need to shoot more than one pattern with each gun, choke, and load combination you are testing. Ammo manufacturers take an average of 25 shots, although there's a diminishing return after 10. 

2. No Two Shotshells Are Alike

If you're interested in figuring out percentages, you need to know exactly how many pellets your shotgun shells contain. Open up five cartridges from the same box, count the pellets, and figure out the average. Pellet counts, and even sizes, can vary a great deal among different lots of the same ammunition. 

3. There Is No Such Thing as an Even Pattern

The mythical "even" pattern doesn't exist. Patterns are denser in the center and sparser at the fringes of a 30-inch circle, which represents the maximum effective spread of a shot pattern. Within the bell-curve distribution of pellets in a pattern, you will find clumps and gaps. All patterns have them. Changing chokes is one way to reduce the number of gaps. At close range, many chokes are too tight,  leaving gaps in the pattern fringe. At longer ranges, a tighter choke may put more pellets in the pattern, closing some gaps. 

4. Altitude and Weather Affect Patterns

If you pattern your gun in Portland, Maine, near sea level, and then take a goose hunting trip to Colorado's Front Range, the thinner air at 5,000 feet will cause you to shoot slightly tighter patterns. On the other hand, dense, cold air tends to open patterns. If you hunt in single-digit temperatures, your gun will shoot a slightly more open pattern than it does when you test it on an 80-degree summer day.

5. Pattern at the Same Distance You Shoot Your Birds

Everyone wants to shoot 90 percent patterns at 40 yards, but what does that choke-load combination look like at 25 yards, where you shoot your birds? At that close range, chances are you'll see a tight clump of pellets in the center and a sparse pattern along the fringes, which provides little margin for error. If that's the case, open your choke or go to a load like Federal's Black Cloud Close Range or Winchester's Xpert, which often shoot more open patterns than other shells.

6. A Pattern Is a 2-D Picture of a 3-D Phenomenon

Shot clouds have height, width, and depth. A pattern on a piece of paper shows only the spread of the pattern, not the length of its shot string. That said, shot strings with hard, round steel pellets are fairly short. "Shot stringing," or the lengthening of the shot column, therefore becomes a factor only when you take long, 90-degree crossing shots that cause some pellets to arrive too late to hit the target. The majority of shots at waterfowl, however, are taken at closer ranges and at less extreme angles.

7. Pellets Kill, Not Percentages

Pattern analysis can be as statistical as you want, or as simple as counting holes. Generally speaking, if your choke and load combination puts 90 to 100 pellets inside a 30-inch circle, that's enough to ensure vital hits on large ducks. For geese, you want to see 55 to 65 hits, and for small ducks about 130.

Basic Patterning Materials All you need for patterning is a roll of paper at least 36 inches wide, a 4x4-foot sheet of ply-wood, and a staple gun. You can make a crude compass with 15 inches of string and a felt-tip marker for drawing 30-inch circles.

Sporting Clays for Waterfowlers

Bag more birds this fall by breaking more clays over the summer


Photo © Chris Jennings

By Curtis Niedermier Illustrations By Mike Sudal

Skeet and trap are fine for summer shooting practice, but sporting clays is the best way to tune up for duck season. On any sporting clays course there are stations set up to mimic decoying mallards, overhead geese, springing teal, and other types of shots commonly encountered while waterfowling. By learning to hit these targets consistently on the course, you can improve your chances on wild ducks and geese in the marsh.

Keep in mind when you practice that even sporting clays cannot exactly replicate the flight of wild birds. Waterfowl sometimes approach from unpredictable angles and can change speed and direction in flight. Clay targets are much more predictable and always decelerate once they leave the trap. But you can prepare yourself for the variability of real-world hunting by becoming a more experienced and instinctive shooter. "Practice as you would hunt" is always good shooting advice.

Following are five of the most common waterfowl shots that you can practice on the sporting clays course, as well as advice from expert shooters on how to break these targets and improve your wingshooting skills.

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How to Smoke Fish & Three Easy


Smoking is one of the oldest methods of preserving fish. Long before there were refrigerators and freezers, our fishing ancestors learned to use a combination of salt and smoke to keep fish from spoiling. Today, smoking fish is no longer necessary, but it remains a popular method of preparation to add flavor to fish such as salmon, tuna, trout, sturgeon and catfish.

smoked salmon

Large batches of fish can be smoked, refrigerated and used in a variety of tasty recipes. photo from Food Network
In pre-refrigeration days, smoked fish were heavily cured and smoked fairly dry for storage at room temperature or in a cellar. Today's cures are lighter, so most forms of fish smoked at home need to be refrigerated until use. You can freeze smoked fish for even longer storage.  

Today's cook has a variety of smokers from which to choose, and all can be used to prepare excellent smoked fish. Many cooks prefer inexpensive, vertical charcoal smokers such as Bass Pro Shops Smoke'n Grill Charcoal Smoker Grill. These utilize a water pan inside for moist cooking.  

Smokers that run on propane are popular for use in fishing camps and at home. The Masterbuilt Extra Wide Propane Smoker, for example, has a push-button ignition and features 1,333-square-feet of cooking space, adjustable gas controls and full-range thermometer in the full-size, locking door.

Electric smokers are great for preparing delicious fish, too, and come in many varieties, from inexpensive basic models such as Brinkmann's Gourmet Electric Smoker/Grill to high-tech products like Bradley's 6-Rack Digital Electric Smoker with advanced digital circuitry that allows you to precisely control the time, temperature and smoke level for succulent results every time.  

If you plan to cook for a crowd, and want to invest in a smoker that will last a lifetime, you also may want to consider some of the big fabricated-steel smokers on wheels such as those available from Horizon smokers found at Bass Pro Shops.

Fish smoking methods vary, but all are based on a few common principles. The following are very generic steps you can use to smoke your own fish. You may want to experiment a little with some different ingredients to create your own brine. Start with the basic brine solution listed under Step 1, then add what you like to it. Additions to try include lemon juice, garlic cloves, rum, soy sauce, onion salt, garlic powder or other ingredients whose taste you like.  

Step 1  Fish Smoking

Place small pan-dressed (gutted, head removed) fish, fillets of fish or pieces of boneless fish with the skin left on one side, in this basic brine solution:

  • 1/2 cup non-iodized salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 quart water  

Stir the ingredients together until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Then place the fish in a bowl, completely cover the pieces with the brine solution and refrigerate. Fish pieces one inch or more thick should be in brine eight to 12 hours. For thinner pieces, six to eight hours is sufficient.  

Step 2  Fish Smoking  

Remove the fish from the brine, and rinse each piece under cold water. Gently pat dry with paper towels, and lay the pieces on a waxed paper to air dry for about one hour.  

Step 3  Fish Smoking

Smoke the fish for two hours in a smoker heated to 200 degrees. Use your favorite wood chips or chunks when smoking. You can cut and dry your own wood or buy prepackaged materials like WW Wood Smoking Chips and Cooking Chunks or Jack Daniel's Wood Smoking Chips. Experiment to find the taste you like most. Good woods for flavoring smoked fish include hickory, alder, apple and cherry. Add more wood chips during the smoking process if necessary, depending on how much smoke taste you want.  

With some types of smokers, you also can add flavor using prepared smoker ingredients such as Jim Beam Smoking Bisquettes or Bradley Smoker Flavor Bisquettes.  

Smoked fish is delicious alone, or can be used in a wide variety of recipes, including those that follow.

Smoked Fish Dip

  • HowTOSmokeFish2

    Smoked Fish Cakes. Photo courtesy of PDPhoto.org
    1-1/2 cups crumbled smoked fish
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup finely minced onion
  • 1 stalk celery, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
  • 3 teaspoons sweet pickle relish
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce 
  • Cayenne, salt and pepper to taste

Put the smoked fish in a medium bowl and add the milk. Cover and chill for 30 minutes to an hour. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Cover and chill for 2 to 3 hours until flavors have blended. Serve with your favorite crackers.  

Smoked Fish Cakes  

  • 12 ounces smoked fish
  • 1/4 cup sweet pickle relish
  • 1/2 cup unseasoned bread crumbs
  • 1 red bell pepper, minced
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh dill
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • Butter for frying  

In a food processor bowl fitted with a steel blade, pulse the fish, relish, bread crumbs and bell pepper until finely chopped. Scrape into a bowl and mix in the soy sauce, mayonnaise, eggs, dried herbs, dill and pepper. Add more bread crumbs, if necessary, to make a firm fish mixture. Form into twelve or so (three inch) patties.  

In a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, heat enough butter to generously coat the bottom of the pan. Arrange the fish cakes, not touching, in the pan and cook until brown on both sides, turning once (about four minutes per side). Cakes should be moist but not mushy inside. Top with a dollop of tartar sauce or your favorite fish sauce.  

Smoked Fish Omelets

  • 12 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • Butter
  • 6 oz. smoked fish, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons chopped red onion
  • 8 tablespoons whipped cream cheese  

Whisk eggs, salt and pepper in a large bowl to blend. Melt two teaspoons butter in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Ladle 3/4 cup of the egg mixture into the skillet. Cook until eggs are softly set, stirring often and lifting the edge of the eggs to allow the uncooked portion to run under, covering skillet if necessary to help set the top. Place 1/4 of the smoked fish on half of the omelet. Sprinkle with one tablespoon onion and top with two tablespoons cream cheese. Fold omelet in half and slide out onto a plate. Repeat with the remaining ingredients to make three more omelets.

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