BRING IT: A CAST IRON PAN
If you find yourself in the woods this Thanksgiving, hope you brought along a Dutch oven to make my holiday favorite, Son of a Gun stew. My favorite pots and skillets are made by a company called Lodge, which has been in the Appalachian mountain town of South Pittsburg, Tenn., population 3,300, since 1896. If properly cared for, a good cast iron pan or pot can last for generations. When it comes to Dutch ovens, camp versions are usually footed, so they can sit above the coals (though they also can hang from a tripod), and have a flanged lid where coals nestle. This allows heat to cook the food from above and below. The reason so many camp cooks, including this veteran, swear by cast iron is that these pots and pans distribute the heat evenly. You can cook slow and steady, which really brings out the flavor in everything from grouper cheeks to venison loins. Cooking with coal, or charcoal briquettes, is an easy way to get started. Just place one-third of the coals under the pot and two-thirds on the flanged lid. Then walk away, come back an hour or two later and enjoy a tasty one-pot meal.
GOBBLE GOBBLE: WILD TURKEY
Florida's resident wild turkey, the Osceola, is one of five subspecies found in the United States (the others are the Eastern, Rio Grande, Merriam's and Gould's), but it is perhaps the most sought-after one because it can only be found in certain areas of the state. The National Wild Turkey Federation and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission generally recognize wild turkeys taken within or south of Dixie, Gilchrist, Alachua, Union, Bradford, Clay and Duval counties to be Osceola. Eastern turkeys and hybrids are usually found north and west of these counties. Male turkeys spend the night roosting in the trees, and at first light, they fly down to collect their hens. The best way to find a turkey is to "call" one. And that's where Ransom, the "gobbler," comes in.
One hundred years ago, this bird was on the brink of extinction. By the time of the Great Depression, wild turkeys in the United States numbered fewer than 30,000. But strong conservation laws and a federal tax on guns helped raise the money needed to protect these birds. Today, there are more than 7 million wild turkeys in the United States, and Florida's hunters (as well as nonresidents who come to target the Osceola) enjoy fall and spring turkey seasons. Besides keen eyesight and exceptional hearing, the Osceola can run up to 25 mph and fly up to 50 mph, according to some estimates. So to be successful, a hunter must remain quiet, well-hidden and ready to fire with little notice.
Many turkey hunters spend years trying to bag a gobbler. But most don't mind. It's the journey, not the destination, that matters.
DAY TRIP: PADDLE THE LITTLE MANATEE
One of the best-kept secrets in Central Florida, this sleepy little river north of Bradenton is one of the best day trips in the state. The tannin-stained river has plenty of sandbars to pull over and rest as well as many good access points. Look for turtles and otters in the water and birds of prey soaring overhead. The trail ends on the south bank at Little Manatee River State Park, which has full-facility camping. The Canoe Outpost in Wimauma is full service, but plan early because the river gets crowded on weekends. (813) 634-2228. thecanoeoutpost.com.
NIFTY GIFTY: HEAD LAMP
Looking for last-minute gift for your favorite outdoors lover? Consider a head lamp. Count on spending $30 to $40 for a model that will work in the rain. A quality head lamp is not the type of thing most folks will splurge on, so you will probably get a heartfelt thank-you for your thoughtfulness.