Spring in Montana brings many incredible things. Hitting the mountains for sheds, the streams for fresh fish, and chasing turkeys are on the top of my list. Sometimes though, the quarry is a little harder to find as it roams the countryside looking to put back on the weight lost during the long winter.
Spring bear hunting is not only an amazing way to spend the weekends and easily combined with the aforementioned activities; it is also valuable preparation for fall. The archery elk season opens here in Montana this week, and this recipe allows me to remember and enjoy my spring bear hunt as I head back into the woods.
This year’s bear harvest was amazing in many ways, including sharing the first 7.5 miles and 1,700 feet of elevation gain with my wife and 2-year-old son, as well as our good friends, MT BHA Chapter Coordinator Kevin Farron and his wife Laura. We saw some amazing country but, as is not uncommon, found no sheds, saw no bears and spotted very little sign. The girls had hiked back several hours before, as the little man needed to get home. Kevin and I extended our long loop to cover more country. After almost 12 miles hiked, I spotted this bear only a quarter-mile from the truck. As we walked next to the creek, with Kevin’s large black Lab joyfully splashing and swimming, I spotted the boar only 70 yards away. We dropped to our knees behind the scant brush separating us. Kevin tackled his dog, who was oblivious to the presence of the bear. Somehow the bear didn’t notice us as we settled in to watch. We waited until we were sure it was a bear without cubs. I laid the rifle across a pack and a short time later we were standing over a beautiful color phase bear with an awesome throat patch.
I was very pleased with this bear, as we were extremely low on wild game in general and dismally low on breakfast sausage. In my opinion, bear sausage is by far the best wild game sausage, and this one yielded a year’s worth. And bear grease is often overlooked, but it’s the real gold medal of the hunt.
This fall I’ll be eating well on cast iron bear burritos. I started making pre-made, vacuum-sealed meals a few years ago because of the ease of reheating in hot water. These burritos are really well suited to this method of rapid reheating. For me, there is nothing quite like a hot breakfast in the mountains when pack weight isn’t an issue. You and your hunting buddies can spend more time drinking coffee and getting your boots laced up rather than scrambling around making a meal. Sometimes I’ll simply put a frozen burrito in my pack to eat the first morning out on a backpack hunt and it is always well worth it.
Cast Iron Bear Burritos
Recipe: Makes 15 to 20 burritos depending on how big you want them. Or you can cut the batch in half or even smaller to your liking.
- 2 lbs. bear breakfast sausage
- 36 fresh eggs (mine come from our chickens!)
- Sour cream (can sub out with anything really creamy to whip into the eggs)
- 4 large or 5 medium potatoes
- 2 packs of flour tortillas
- Cheese (soooo many options)
- Seasoning salt
- Black pepper
- Garlic powder
- Onion powder (unless you decide to add onions to the mix!)
- Chili powder (to taste … I like it spicy)
- Cayenne pepper (refer to chili powder)
- Your favorite hot sauces (for variety)
- One or two large cast-iron pans (a cast-iron griddle would work for some steps)
- Good metal spatula
- Large cookie sheet or pan (with raised edges)
- Drying/cooling racks
- Several large mixing bowls
- Paper towels
- Cutting board
- Sharp knife
- Vacuum sealer/bags
- Public Land Owner beer
This is what I did on this specific batch. There are so many different options that you can add to this! One of the best is to make a bear sausage country gravy instead of just the sausage (it’s very delicous having a little bit of that in the middle)! Sometimes I sauté some onions or other veggies or go with a chorizo and diced cilantro. You get the idea. This is just a simple way to start, so do what sounds good! Also, note that I am working with one large cast-iron pan at this point; ideally you could execute multiple steps simultaneously with a second pan to cut down on time.
- Pick a flavor and thaw out your bear sausage. Throw it into a hot cast-iron skillet and cook all the way through until well done (because of trichinosis).
- Crack all your eggs into a bowl. Add four or five dollops of sour cream. Add seasonings (I like to put about half the seasoning into the eggs) and whip.
- While the sausage is still cooking, set the egg mixture aside and preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Grab your washed potatoes and, leaving the skin on, chop them very fine (about 1/2 inch at the most). I like to have the potatoes very small, so each piece is nice and crispy.
- Remove the cooked sausage and place in a bowl lined with a few paper towels to drain (I don’t like a burrito that drips at all). Leave some of the grease and all the crispy bits in the pan to work some magic. Add some butter into the cast iron and drop in the potatoes.
- Season the potatoes with whatever your go-to seasoning is. I keep it pretty similar with what I put in the eggs. Cover the potatoes with a lid to get them to soften up faster, although they will start to crisp after about 15 min.
- To finish the potatoes, spread them on a large cookie sheet in a single layer and bake at 450 degrees until golden brown and sizzling. When done, do the same as with the sausage and put in a paper-towel-lined bowl. They don’t need to be dripping with grease; they already picked up all the flavor they need.
- Try not to eat too many of these golden nuggets while sipping some Public Land Owner Pale Ale! Very easy to do.
- Once the pan is clear, or if you have another large one, pour in the eggs and put the other half of the seasoning into the eggs and slowly stir. I use the Camp Chef flat edge spatula pointed down and scrape from the outside to the center very slowly and work all the way around. This way the eggs don’t break up into a million tiny pieces but remain in large very fluffy chunks (I think this is important to any good scrambled eggs).
- Combine all ingredients into a large mixing bowl with a modest amount of cheese. Remember, we want this to be fuel for a day kicking butt in the hills, not a gut bomb to start the day or put you to sleep after lunch by eating a bunch of grease.
- Next, lay out your stack of tortillas and start building. You may need to adjust the amount you put in, but I just do two modest scoops with a standard serving spoon.
- Add your hot sauce. This batch I did half with sriracha and the other half with Cholula original. Fold the ends of the burrito in, roll them up and place to the side, making sure to keep them separate if you did different sauces.
- Next, with a touch of butter or oil in the pan or on the griddle (or bear grease if you got some left at this point), place the burritos folded side down in the pan to make sure they stay closed. When they are golden brown flip them over and repeat (I like to do all four sides).
- Now you need to let them cool down completely, so they don’t get soggy in the vacuum-seal bag. Place them on a cooling rack and wait. Maybe eat one while it's hot!
- Next, break out the vacuum sealer. If you don’t have one, get one or borrow one. This is by far the best way to freeze, reheat, transport and pack in your bag without losing a bit of the goodness leaking on your gear. I seal them all individually and label accordingly.
- Make a count and put them in the freezer until they are needed! Try these and make them your own. They are pretty simple, but using quality ingredients while keeping your eggs fluffy and your potatoes crispy turns out a pretty awesome meal to get you going while climbing the mountain with the sun coming up on another great day in the woods.