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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