Marching Into Spring

If you’re itchin’ to land that trophy trout, drop a fly into the Tuckasegee River (the Tuck) soon. On the two-county stretch from Locust Creek to Bryson City, we’re catching rainbows and browns measuring over 20 inches! To target these lunkers, we’re throwing hefty articulated streamers, and although our strike counts are lower, we remain focused on landing the biggest trout possible. To keep these fish honest, we’ve switched to spinning gear on occasions, using single-hook rooster tails to chase rainbows. This precious mix of warm weather, cold water and ideal floating will be over once the summer heat is upon us, so make plans to hit the Tuck soon while delayed harvest is in full swing!

Last month, a desolate, Washington, Georgia deer camp offered us a rare outdoor experience. No one had hunted the land since deer season closed, and the air was so thick with squirrel scent that Thunder, our World Champion mountain cur, couldn’t get fifty yards without treeing several of these critters. This flat land of leafless hardwoods and pine trees found a special place in our hearts, and by the end of the day, we had bagged 27 squirrels and saw 35—not a bad way to close out squirrel season!

With goose season in the rearview mirror, we’re left with so many memories hunting these birds. For some of us, this was our first time pursuing waterfowl. When the fish weren’t biting, the geese kept us on the water and attentive with a new-found thirst for action. We fell in love with the rich, earthy taste of goose meat and discovered several different ways to prepare this delicacy. We already miss our buddy Matt’s scrumptious goose jerky—a unique treat that’ll sustain us on many future adventures in the woods and on the water. Now, it’s time to clean and oil our shotguns in preparation for turkey season in April!

At the moment, the Tuck is rolling at 6570 cubic feet per second (cfs), much too dangerous for floating, but we expect conditions to improve in the upcoming week. In the meantime, please book a fishing trip with us! And keep in mind that Katala Outdoors offers gift certificates, too!

Keep your oars and hooks in the water while the trout are still biting!

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Our 2023, So Far . . .

We’re only a month into the New Year, and Thunder, our prizewinning mountain cur, already earned second-place finishes in two squirrel-hunting tournaments. Faceoffs between top-notch talent often come down to the final seconds, and the Georgia Pro Hunt was no exception.

“We’re competing against the best squirrel dogs there ever was,” says Jim Lambert, Thunder’s owner and handler. “We’ve set down eight dogs in the past two weeks. That’s four dogs in each hunt to get to the finals.”

Jim and his son James, a guide at Katala Outdoors, have spent nearly every day in the woods with Thunder, and those training hours are paying off. On consecutive weekends in Georgia and South Carolina, Thunder challenged impeccably bred, top-tier competition.

“If you win, you fought for it,” Jim says. “But it’s also important to know the rules. And James knows them like a preacher knows the Bible.”

Squirrel hunters pay hefty fees to enter these tournaments. If for some reason, a handler’s dog can’t compete on the day of the hunt, the owner is still responsible for ponying up their share of the prize money unless they’re lucky enough to sell their spot to someone else.

“When you hunt for money, the competition is fierce,” Jim explains. “Ain’t nobody givin’ you nuthin’. You gotta get it all yourself.”

Looks like Jim, James and Thunder are off to a great start this year!

Here’s to more success!


I witness Thunder in action at Big Laurel, a desolate, wooded area choked with rhododendron where squirrels abound during the fall months. Today, these critters are hanging out in their dens, nursing newborns and avoiding the frosty drizzle raining down from the heavens. James and I proceed up a steep trail adjacent to a gushing brook, climbing for what seems like a mile or so. Our slog up the mountain reminds me of Pain Dance, an infamous hill in Blowing Rock’s Moses H. Cone Memorial Park where I ran cross country ages ago.

Gulping air, I stop at the brook for a drink of ice-cold, crystal-clear water. Once we cut Thunder loose, he suddenly disappears into the dense, barren hardwoods for several minutes only to resurface a quarter mile ahead where he crosses the trail and vanishes into thick foliage. When we trot to that spot, we find ourselves facing a tight, interwoven tapestry of branches and brambles—a vegetative fence with no gate, obscuring a landscape of fallen trees covered with slick luminous moss and leaf litter.

Off in the distance, Thunder barks.

James glances at the GPS display.

“He’s three hundred yards away,” he says, tilting his head at the web of vines and briars. “Welcome to the real Pain Dance.”

Thank goodness we’re traveling light—no guns, just a small knapsack between us. But we’re about to penetrate a resistant natural barrier that pushes back.

Thunder’s urgent barking applies deadline pressure. His rhythmic hollers create a haunting soundscape as icy drizzle soaks our hair and clothes. Thorns rip skin. Green branches slap faces and heads. When I’m not tripping over logs and runners, I’m sinking ankle-deep in mud. And despite the late-morning chill, rivulets of sweat roll over fresh cuts and scratches. My skin oozes pink, my lungs burn. Starving for air, I lean against a hardwood to catch my breath.

Twenty yards ahead, James consoles Thunder who wonders what took us so long.

“Kudos on your first tree,” James says with a grin. “Ready for another one?”


One unforgettable January pleasure was cruising down the Tuckasegee River (the Tuck) in the bow of a Hyde hard shell—the drift-boat equivalent to a limousine. On that lovely day, our buddy Matt’s scrumptious goose jerky enlivened the mood even more. His unique seasoning blend put this tasty snack in the gourmet realm.

Up ahead in the sky, I spotted a gaggle of geese heading toward us.

James looked me in the eye. “I’ll tell you when to shoot. Go ahead and put that third shell in the tube.”

I inserted another round into the Winchester 12 gauge and shouldered the gun as the birds, in formation, dropped down several yards into what appeared to be shooting range. I pointed the barrel just in front of them and fired three shots. The birds, still in formation, headed upward. Echoes of the shotgun’s deafening blasts seemed to push them further into the sky. Moments later, two additional shots rang out from Matt’s boat.

James wore a befuddled expression. “Did you drop acid this morning?”

“No,” I muttered. “Why?”

He shook his head. “Those geese were seventy yards away. I doubt we’ll see another one today.”

An hour passed. No geese.

I grabbed a fishing rod and casted while we drifted toward the final bend. Nothing struck any of my spinning lures, so I was certain I scared the fish away, too—until Matt reeled in a shimmering 19-inch brown trout using a Double Gonga streamer.

For the third time in a row, I got skunked hunting and fishing. But salt entered the wound as we approached the take-out. On the riverbank, just across the Bryson City line, hundreds of Canadian geese stared at us amidst a backdrop of residential homes. Those geese had learned a thing or two. They outsmarted us.

“Me and Matt slayed ‘em last week,” James said with a wry smile. “I’ve got goose breasts in the freezer. We’ll smoke ‘em tomorrow, see how they turn out.”

James Lambert’s Smoked Goose Breasts

Who says waterfowl ain’t better than beef?

Preparation Time:  6 to 7 hours 


Goose breasts
Yellow mustard
Pepper Palace Nashville Hot-n-Spicy Chicken Rub
The Gourmet Collection’s Kickin’ Chicken Finger Lickin’ Spice Blend


Coat both sides of the goose breasts with yellow mustard.

Cover the mustard binder with the chicken rub and spice blend

Smoke breasts on the grill at 180 – 200 degrees for 5 to 6 hours until the meat’s internal temperature reaches 145 degrees

Wrap breasts in foil and allow them to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes before serving

Note:  These goose breasts can also be enjoyed with horseradish sauce or stone-ground mustard and a side of Lambert Family Taters

Bon Appétit!
Patrick Ambrose

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Chasing Thunder

We all need a mental break once in a while. The accumulation of twenty-first-century deadline pressures, technological distractions and information overload is enough to compromise anyone’s neural circuitry. For therapy, I slip into the woods to restore my connection with the natural world, opening myself up to nature’s unexpected surprises. The reward is priceless whether I’m alone or with friends, but my buddy James Lambert, a guide with Katala Outdoors, convinced me that the ultimate outdoor experience is hunting squirrels with a dog.

We had plans to hunt with James’s father, Jim, but unfortunately Thunder, their mountain cur, was nursing an injury. So, James and I headed out to the lovely, picturesque community of Alarka, nestled in western North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains, to talk hunting with Jim, an expert who’s won numerous squirrel-dog competitions with James.

On the front porch of Jim’s ranch-style home, shrouded in the mist that gave the Smokies its name, an adorable terrier with a white coat nudges my leg.

“That’s Cricket,” Jim says. “She’s a pet now, but she used to hunt with us.”

Cricket is a feist breed—a petite, athletic dog known for hunting squirrels, racoons and opossums. Feists pursue game by chasing their prey into trees and barking repeatedly to alert the hunter of their location. Jim recalls a crisp fall day roaming the woods with his grandfather and a feist who led them to a treed squirrel.

“I shot my first squirrel with my grandfather’s 12-gauge. It was the most exciting thing I had done. And I’ve still got that shotgun, so I can pass it down.”

The squirrels that Jim and his grandfather bagged usually wound up on the dinner table. The opossums and racoons they shot put money in the bank.

“You could get 3 to 5 dollars per possum hide,” Jim explains with a disarming smile. “Coon hides would bring 15 to 20 dollars. We’d skin ‘em, put ‘em in a bread bag and throw ‘em in the deep freezer. That’s how our buyer wanted them.”

The father-son duo entered their first squirrel-dog competition when James was sixteen years old. The rules for these tournaments are complex and detailed, but the objective is to determine which dog can tree squirrels the quickest. Competitors pay an entry fee, and the tournaments begin with the dogs and their handlers separating into groups of three (casts) who compete for ninety minutes. Points are assigned for first, second and third place for each treeing round. Through multiple hunts and a process of elimination, an overall winner is determined. The dogs wear GPS collars for tracking purposes, and it’s important to mark your truck on the map before the hunt in case you get turned around in the woods.

“Competitive hunting is like gambling,” James explains. “Things can change in the blink of an eye. You have an hour and a half. It’s your dog against two others.”

Despite the risks, the Lamberts have enjoyed huge tournament success. In 2018, they won the World Tree Dog Association’s (WTDA) World Championship with their dog Brandy. The following year, their dog Bubba placed second in the United Kennel Club (UKC) World Championship with Brandy coming in third. Brandy also won the World Bench Show at that tournament.

Jim bought Thunder when the dog was just a year old. At first, the young mountain cur wasn’t interested in squirrels. But the following year, Thunder treed the very first squirrel he encountered.

“A switch flipped on,” Jim recounts. “He became a squirrel dog then. He had the drive and some hum in him.”

Thunder went on to place second in the 2020 UKC World Championship, a nail-biter that came down to the final two seconds. According to Jim, keeping Thunder busy in the woods is critical to his success. He’s also a cold-weather dog who’s prone to heat exhaustion if he’s not adequately hydrated. During recreational and competitive hunts, his handlers must carry plenty of water to sustain him for several hours.

“Thunder’s got two modes about him—hunting for pleasure and competition,” Jim explains. “When you put him with other dogs, he wants to be the first one out. He wants to lead. He wears himself out because he’s so competitive. He’s the most consistent dog we’ve ever had. Once he throws us some locate barks, we head to him. When he’s certain where the squirrel is, he’ll slam the tree.”

Many of the hunting spots for squirrels are also excellent for pursuing deer. And given the overlap between both hunting seasons, it’s necessary to know who’s in the woods. Squirrel hunters generally use shotguns and shoot vertically into treetops. But deer hunters mostly rely on rifles which are often shot horizontally. The potential for an accident increases when hunters aren’t careful and don’t take notice of vehicles parked outside game lands.

“Everyone’s got a license to hunt,” Jim notes. “But you’ve gotta be polite and safe. If there’s vehicles parked outside a spot, but no dog boxes on the trucks, then there’s deer hunters in the area. When we find a safe spot with no deer hunters, we leave the tailgate down so the dog box is visible.”

With today’s squirrel hunt postponed, James and I figured we’d spend the day cooking the eighty hindquarters he had thawing in the fridge. Squirrel is among the tastiest wild game I’ve ever eaten. With a steady diet of acorns and hickory nuts, these critters have a flavor that’s distinct and delicious. The meat is also a lean, healthy alternative to beef and pork, as well as the primary ingredient to legendary Southern staples like Brunswick Stew and Gumbo. Today, our plan was to fry forty hindquarters as an appetizer and use the rest for Jim Lambert’s Squirrel Gumbo if he gave us his recipe.

Friends, if you need a break from the daily grind, please book a squirrel-hunting trip with us before the season closes at the end of February. And keep in mind that Katala Outdoors also offers gift certificates.

Here’s to a Happy New Year of hunting and fishing!
Patrick Ambrose 

James Lambert’s Fried Squirrel Hindquarters

A perfect appetizer, more flavorful than chicken wings!



Preparation Time:  4 to 5 hours


Twenty or more squirrel hindquarters
Pepper Palace Nashville Hot and Spicy Chicken Rub
3 tablespoons of vegetable oil


Place thawed squirrel in a pot and cover with water. Boil hindquarters for 3 to 4 hours until tender, adding water when necessary.

Place a cast-iron skillet over medium heat and add vegetable oil. Dust both sides of each squirrel leg with Nashville Hot and Spicy Chicken Rub.

Fry hindquarters in vegetable oil five minutes per side until crispy.

Serve immediately.

Jim Lambert’s Squirrel Gumbo

A unique, delectable twist to a Cajun classic!

Preparation Time:  5 to 7 hours


Twenty or more squirrel hindquarters
2 cans of cream of mushroom soup
Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning
1 bag of frozen gumbo vegetables
1 Vidalia Sweet Onion cut into chunks
1 pound of grilled Conecuh sausage
1 pound of cooked shrimp
1 box of wild rice
2 to 4 cups of water


Place thawed squirrel in a pot and cover with water. Boil hindquarters for 3 to 4 hours until tender, adding water when necessary.

When hindquarters have cooled, strip the meat off the bones and set aside

Add cream of mushroom soup, two cups of water, frozen vegetables, onion, and squirrel meat to a slow cooker. Dust the mixture liberally with Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning. Cook for 1 ½ hours on high.

Then add shrimp, wild rice and more water if needed. Cook for an additional ½ hour on high.

Add grilled Conecuh sausage. If necessary, add another cup of water. Cook until rice is done.

Serve in bowls. Top with hot sauce if desired.

Lambert Family Taters

A hearty side dish for wild game!



2 pounds of Idaho potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch square pieces
1 Vidalia Sweet Onion cut into chunks
Texas T Bone’s seasoning
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons of vegetable oil

Add vegetable oil to a cast-iron skillet over medium heat

Add potatoes and onions. Dust with seasoning and black pepper

Fry until crispy.

Serve immediately.

Bon Appétit!

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Fishing and Hunting Report for December 22 to December 28

Multiple flow releases had us floating the Tuckasegee River (the Tuck) at 600 cubic feet per second (cfs) near Sylva where we fished with Squirmy Worms and peach-colored eggs. Our catch included an enormous northern-strain brook trout measuring 17 inches, along with over a dozen nice-sized rainbows.

Downstream, near Bryson City, cruising at a leisurely 2500 cfs, we threw peach eggs and reeled in a 21-inch brown trout. The rest were rainbows with a preference for white eggs and our buddy’s custom Jumpin’ Jack Flash.

In the woods, on U. S. Forest Service game lands, the squirrels led us on a wild chase. Thunder, our prizewinning Mountain Cur, logged a dozen miles, and we put in seven trying to keep up. In the end, Thunder treed 10 squirrels. We saw 7 of these critters and took 5 home.

We’re expecting a bitter-cold weekend. If you plan to hunt or fish, please dress appropriately. And if you haven’t finished your holiday shopping, Katala Outdoors offers fly-fishing gift cards!

Have wonderful holidays!

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Fishing and Hunting Report for December 15 to December 21

Steady rain earlier this week left the Tuckasegee River (the Tuck) flowing at 5250 cubic feet per second (cfs) in the Bryson City area—much too dangerous for floating and too muddy to fish, but the comforting morning sun and a gentle breeze sent us to Lemmons Branch to hunt squirrels.

There’s nothing like roaming the Tsali Recreation Area with Thunder, our prizewinning Mountain Cur, who logged 8.5 miles seeking the main ingredient for our delectable gumbo. Our canine comrade treed a baker’s dozen of these critters; we wound up spotting 9 of them and took 4 home.

By the weekend, the Tuck should provide ideal floating and water clarity. With highs in the mid-40s, the river should be perfect for trout fishing. We’d suggest sticking with Girdle Bugs, eggs and Squirmy Worms.

Have wonderful weekends!

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Fishing and Hunting Report for December 8 to December 14

Now’s the time to fish the Tuckasegee River (the Tuck) where the water is up and the trout are hungry! We’ve floated all week through steady rain, and although the showers have stained the water, its iced-tea color hasn’t hampered our success; browns and rainbows have struck an array of flies from black Woolly Buggers to Micro Streamers. The fish don’t mind the rain so don’t let showers in the forecast stop you from dropping a hook in the water!

On a first cast, we landed a 16-inch brown trout using an articulated Micro Streamer (#8). We’ve had our best luck throwing these petite flies under strike indicators while Squirmy Worms and eggs have also tempted many fish. Most of the trout we’ve caught have fallen within the 12- to 14-inch range.

The Tuck is currently running at 3330 cubic feet per second (cfs) which means comfortable floating between effortless put-ins and take-outs. With rain likely this weekend, keep an eye on flow levels. Hunters, gun season for deer ends this Saturday, December 10, but you’ve got till the end of the month to bag a whitetail using a bow.

Have wonderful weekends!

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Fishing and Hunting Report for December 1 to December 7

‘Tis the season for awaiting that target eight-point buck while younger ones traipse past the blind. In the forest, alone with our thoughts, we’re blessed with nature’s offerings, breathing the seasonal aroma of decaying leaves and other detritus shed by the Smokies’ flora and fauna.

‘Tis the season for chasing Thunder, our reserve world champion Mountain Cur, as he bursts into action near the Tsali Trailhead, pursuing squirrels through miles of naked trees. Visibility is crystal clear on these brisk, late-fall afternoons accompanied by echoes of crunching leaf litter and still silences, broken by our buddy’s frenzied excitement while we lumber along behind him. Thunder lives for these moments. He can’t get enough of them. Neither can we.

‘Tis the season of the unexpected when the Tuckasegee River (the Tuck) rolls at 5570 cubic feet per second (cfs)—much too perilous for floating now, but hopefully the upcoming weekend will offer safe cruising and clearer water.

‘Tis the season of priceless rewards from treasured outdoor pastimes.

Have wonderful weekends!

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Fishing and Hunting Report for November 24 to November 30

This week the Tuckasegee River (the Tuck) rewarded our angling efforts with a couple of humongous brown trout, each measuring 23 inches! We caught the first fish on a frigid early-morning float in Bryson City where evening lows left frost-covered banks. Upstream in Dillsboro, another brown with a 12-inch girth struck later that afternoon. The only item on the menu was Girdle Bugs which also tempted scores of rainbows over 13 inches. Trout thrive in gelid water, so we’ve got to face the wintery weather and meet these fish in their abode!

Fallen leaves made the squirrels much easier to spot in the barren woods. While roaming U. S. Forest Service game lands, Thunder, our reserve world champion Mountain Cur, treed 9 of these critters, and we bagged 5 hearty ones. Better visibility improved our shooting, and Thunder—always the affable host—seemed proud to accompany us!

This weekend pack a rain jacket if you plan to hit the water or woods. We’re expecting afternoon highs in the low- to mid-sixties, and for trout fishing, we’d suggest sticking with Girdle Bugs, eggs and streamers.

Have wonderful Thanksgivings!

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Fishing and Hunting Report for November 17 to November 23

Replenished by much-needed rain, the Tuckasegee River (the Tuck) offered favorable floating once again. In Dillsboro, we cruised a steady 700 cubic feet per second (cfs) and landed more than a dozen brookies and rainbows feasting on Girdle Bugs, eggs and streamers. Further downstream, the flow rate more than doubled in Bryson City where the water color resembled sweet tea. The fish didn’t seem to mind. We caught several trout measuring 15 inches or more.

Off-river, Thunder led us on a 6.1-mile journey through National Forest Service game lands and treed 18 squirrels. But those wily critters weren’t easy to see in late-fall foliage and ankle-deep leaf litter, so one hunter put his gun aside and became a dedicated spotter. In the end, we left with 15 squirrels to add to a holiday feast of fried hindquarters, gumbo and Brunswick stew.

Be sure to bundle up this weekend. The water will be cold due to low evening temps, but the days should be sunny with highs in the mid-forties. With water levels up, you’ll cover more of the river floating, and the trout should be hitting Girdle Bugs, eggs and streamers. Hunters, dust off your rifles. Gun season opens for deer on Sunday.

Have wonderful weekends!

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Fishing and Hunting Report for November 10 to 16

For unrivaled outdoor adventures, there’s no place like the Great Smoky Mountains! This week, trout swarmed the Tuckasegee River (the Tuck) for eggs and Girdle Bugs, in addition to expressing a keen interest in olive Woolly Buggers when we fished them like streamers. At the Dillsboro headwaters, brooks and rainbows kept us busy as we drifted a lethargic 250 cubic feet per second (cfs), but downstream at Bryson City, a more favorable flow brought us into the company of 30 fish, all rainbows.

While roaming National Forest Service game lands, Thunder, our canine comrade, treed 22 squirrels, though nearly half of these stealthy beasts stayed hidden, leaving us with 14 for the day. Later in the week, we returned to a forest of brilliant afternoon sunlight and striking autumn colors, accompanied by a husky racoon snoozing in a tree. This evocative scene inspired Thunder to lead us on an eight-mile trek that left precious little time to enjoy our surroundings. That day, our buddy treed 14 squirrels and although several of these creatures remained invisible in the foliage, we bagged 7 of them. Finally, enough squirrel meat for gumbo!

This weekend, we’re expecting rain on Friday with possible showers on Saturday which could bring the water up and affect its clarity. If you decide to fish, keep an eye on water levels and stick to egg patterns.

Have wonderful weekends!

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Fishing and Hunting Report for November 3 to November 9

Memories were made on the Tuckasegee River (the Tuck) during our float from Webster to Dillsboro where we landed 25 northern-strain brook trout! One fish measured over 14 inches with the rest falling in the 10- to 13-inch range—far beyond the size of our native Southern Appalachian brookies. All along, these wild fish seemed spellbound by our double-nymph rig—an olive Zebra Midge and white egg thrown under a strike indicator. Low water had us creeping along at about 100 cubic feet per second (cfs) and although we got stuck a few times, we left the river with stories for our grandchildren.

Later in the week, flow releases brought our floating up to 800 cfs on our cruise from Grumpy Bear Campground to Deep Creek. Our buddy’s custom fly—a Jumpin’ Jack Flash—was a big hit with the rainbows most of which measured 12 to 13 inches.

Off-water, we wandered the picturesque rolling hills of Brush Creek with Thunder, our canine companion who ran us ragged chasing a squirrel for 350 yards. In the end, Thunder treed four of these wily critters whose moxie kept them well-hidden by the dense foliage. We saw two of them and bagged one—nowhere near enough for Brunswick stew, but a start, no less.

We expect the Tuck to be crowded this weekend around the Bryson City area which was stocked on November 3. Hopefully, evening flow releases will result in better floating. Daytime temperatures will be in the mid- to high-seventies and with showers in the forecast, you’ll want to pack a rain jacket.

Have wonderful weekends!

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Bowhunting with James Lambert

One hundred yards up from ground level, I spotted the deer blind nestled in the edge of a steep slope. Halfway there, my legs turned jelly-like and my breaths shortened to rapid staccato gasps. Unfazed by the climb, my buddy James Lambert—a hunting guide with Katala Outdoors—stopped to spray a tree with doe urine.

“Take your time,” he said. “These leaves are slick and you don’t wanna slip and tumble. It’s a long way down.”

I wasn’t carrying much. Just a crossbow and a small backpack containing water and a jacket. We’d have only one shot at a whitetail, and James wanted me to take it.

Further ahead, a rope dangled from a tree adjacent to the blind, freefalling down the steepest part of the hill where the grade shifted straight up to the plateau, our final destination. I’d have to pull myself up without losing my crossbow and pack in the process.


Deer survive on their sense of smell with around the same number of nasal receptors as a bloodhound—almost 300 million. Humans possess only 5 million of these receptors. A whitetail’s brain also contains a section for analyzing scent that’s way more sophisticated than a human’s, storing memories of threat-related odors, resulting in olfactory capabilities 500 to 1000 times more powerful than ours. Although there’s no way to mask all of your human scent, you must eliminate as much as possible to have a chance at even seeing a deer.

A week before we met in Bryson City, James gave me the preparation details which mostly involved covering my scent. This required washing my hunting clothes in a special detergent and packing them separately from what I would normally wear. Three days before the hunt, I bathed nightly in scent-killing body wash and relied on a similar deodorant during the day. Three hours from entering the woods, we took showers and aired out our clothes which were sprayed multiple times with another odor-killing substance.

This was my first time using a crossbow. I practiced several shots at James’s place where he used a digital range finder to measure off sixteen yards—the exact distance from the blind to where the deer would step out for a clean shot. Once I got comfortable with the weapon, we suited up and headed out to the blind made of camo netting strung between trees with an incision for shooting.

We settled down behind the cover and waited.


I’m just your average outdoor enthusiast with limited hunting experience. But like most, I’m happy spending time in the woods or floating a river, wading a stream. Even when I get skunked pursuing fish or game, I welcome nature’s nurture and protection from destructive industrial noise and the stultifying routine demands of daily life. I’m at peace in the natural world, enveloped in its beauty, molded into something much more significant than me. I’m awash in the unique, unrivaled comfort of still silences with sudden interruptions of breezes rattling leafy branches or the scampering pitter-patter of wild game.

I barely moved for the first two hours. Tense with anticipation, I didn’t want to ruin our chances of bagging a deer.

“You know, you can stretch your legs if you want,” James chuckled, handing me a candy bar.

We saw falling leaves and acorns. We grooved on hoot-owl sounds. We ate beef jerky and drank ice-cold well water. James occasionally broke the silence with buck and doe calls. Soon, bucks and does appeared in the distance—just mirages, though they seemed authentic at the time.

“We’re in their space,” James noted. “And this breeze isn’t helping us. It’s carrying our scent in the same direction the deer travel.”

When the air stilled, James’s demeanor reflected the wisdom and optimism of the late, great Andy Griffith.

“We’ll get you one soon enough. We just gotta be patient.”



Please come join us soon!
Patrick Ambrose

James Lambert’s Venison Backstrap

When it comes to deer meat, venison backstrap is the most prized cut—a bona-fide filet mignon equivalent, no less. There’s a variety of ways to prepare and cook backstrap, but simpler is best so not to override the meat’s inimitable earthiness and tenderness. James had two cuts, so he grilled one and fried the other.


2 venison backstraps
Texas T Bone’s seasoning
Weber’s Montana Steak seasoning
1 cup of flour
2 eggs
½ of a Vidalia sweet onion cut into half-inch chunks
½ teaspoon of black pepper
½ teaspoon of salt
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil


First, cut each steak into slices half an inch thick.

Grilled backstrap:  Dust each side of the venison slices with the seasonings. Grill covered, 3 -5 minutes per side without drying out the meat. Serve immediately.

Fried backstrap:  Place a cast-iron skillet over medium heat until hot. Add a tablespoon of vegetable oil and sauté the onion until soft.

Add black pepper and salt to the flour. Whisk both eggs in a mixing bowl. Dip each venison slice into the egg wash, then smother in flour. When the onions are ready, fry the venison slices with them until crispy golden-brown. Serve immediately.

We enjoyed our backstraps with a side of Taters made with fried potato and onion chunks, seasoned with salt and black pepper.

Bon Appétit!

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