November 2005 Newsletter
Dreams of Duxbak Days
If somehow I could be transported a half century or so back in time, a day like this would find me rushing home from school to take to the squirrel woods rather than sitting in front of this computer and hoping maybe to get away in the final hour of the day for a bit of time in a deer stand. When I reached home I would grab a snack—maybe a baked sweet potato left over from the previous day, or perhaps a chunk of cold cornbread and a cold onion—and hurriedly change clothes. My attire would always include items of Duxbak clothing, and thoughts of that wonderful old hunting wear forms the subject of this month’s coverage.
I’m not even certain that the various types of sporting clothing manufactured by Duxbak even exist today. If so, a bit of research on the Internet didn’t make the fact clear. There are offerings bearing the name, but they come in various camouflage patterns, fancy names such as “brush breeches,” and the like. The Duxbak wear I knew came in only one color, brown, and only one fabric, tough, resilient, and stiff as a board. My suspicion is that this wonderful company from the good old days has gone the way of so many others—either absorbed by an international textile giant or driven into oblivion by cheap foreign labor.
It doesn’t really matter, for my Google
search did make one thing quite clear—lots of other folks share my
warm memories of the delights of Duxbak attire. When I was a
youngster, anyone who ventured into the woods to hunt squirrels
pretty much felt that a pair of Duxbak pants, along with a vest made
of the same material, exchanged for a coat when the weather got
colder, was standard attire. A Duxbak hat or cap completed the
standard bushytail hunting outfit.
My earliest hunting recollections include Duxbak memories. Initially there were hand-me-downs that Mom had somehow tailored to fit my small frame, although how she ever managed to work that rough, thick cloth remains a mystery to me. Then when I was in my early teens, Dad located a jacket that fit me, likely with the help of either Doc Woody’s sporting goods store or the mail-order wonders of Sears & Roebuck, and what a treasure it was.
There were capacious side pockets where you could store all sorts of things—shotshells in the loops provided to hold them, a pair of gloves, a hunk of rat cheese or an apple or two for when hunger pangs hit, and any other accessory that I wanted to carry with me. But it was the game pouch in the back that was really special. It held three or four rabbits or a limit of squirrels without any trouble, although toting a bunch of cottontails for hours could be quite demanding.
The jacket lasted throughout my high school years, and I’m pretty sure it’s still stored away in the attic somewhere, although the ravages of time in the form of added pounds would mean it would no longer fit me. As an accompaniment to the hunting coat, each Christmas brought a new pair of pants, and not a bit too soon. As tough as Duxbak was, endless encounters with briers would eventually find the front of the lower legs fraying then wearing away. Mom would take cloth from old ones to extend their life, but about the best I could get out of a pair was a year of use.
I wasn’t the only one who wore Duxbak—most everyone did, and those who hunted a lot would have felt almost naked going afield without it. In the storehouse of fond memory my mind’s eye can still see a boyhood buddy with the wonderfully Southern name of James Lee coming about as close as one could to the description “natty” while sporting a new Duxbak cap. Or there’s an image of another friend who was a great high school football player wearing a pair of pants that were ripped, torn, frayed, or otherwise bedraggled from the bottom to the belt line. The reason was simple. He viewed a seemingly impenetrable brier patch or a thicket laced with saw briers the same way he looked at defensive lines of opposing football teams—an obstacle to trample, run through, or otherwise penetrate. I never saw him leave a day of hunting rabbits without a scratch somewhere on his face, neck, or ears, and he punished his Duxbak britches unmercifully.
My most powerful Duxbak memory, however, looks back to a fruitless day of grouse and squirrel hunting with my partner on countless days of trout fishing and lots of time in the woods as well, Bill Rolen. That day we hadn’t flushed a single bird or seen so much as a twitch of motion from a fleeing bushytail. That meant we hadn’t fired a shot, and in the eagerness all too readily associated with boyhood, one or the other of us proposed sailing our hats through the air as a target and an excuse to shoot. For me, the proposition proved to be a singularly ill advised one.
Bill threw his headgear, a standard Duxbak cap with a bill sweeping back to cocked panels over the wearer’s ears, and I missed it as cleanly and completely as I typically missed grouse. Then it was my turn. I didn’t have a cap but a full-brimmed hat of which I was, as Grandpa Joe sometimes put it, “passing proud.” Alas, it sailed beautifully, only to lodge on a tree limb. Without so much as a hint of mercy, Bill put a full choke load of #6 shot through it. He didn’t just add air holes; he shot the whole top out of my treasured topper!
Those innocent days of Duxbak doings have now become the stuff of dreams, but my guess is that anyone who hunted in the period stretching from the late 1930s through the 1960s has Duxbak memories of their own. Indeed, regular eBay listings for Duxbak pants, coats, and vests, invariably featuring descriptions such as “vintage,” “traditional,” or “retro,” tell the tale. Two generations of hunters can look back on this durable gear from yesteryear with the bittersweetness that forms nostalgia’s main stock in trade.
Even as the above words were being written, my wife was doing one last round of proofreading on a cookbook that will go to press shortly. Entitled Field to Feast: The Remington Cookbook, it is a celebration of Remington’s rich history and the way Big Green’s guns and ammunition have helped generations of American sportsmen put meat on the table. Here’s a sampling of recipes from its pages, which will be beautifully illustrated with art work from the Remington collection featuring the efforts of masters such as Lynn Bogue Hunt, Bob Kuhn, Tom Beecham, and others. The book will be published in both a regular edition and a special limited, numbered one. If you would like to reserve a copy of either (or both), please contact me and I’ll put your name on the list. Meanwhile, here’s hoping that you have, or will soon kill, the essential ingredients for the recipes that follow.
Sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides of steaks and set aside.
Combine cracker crumbs, l cup flour, baking powder, black and red pepper.
Whisk together ¾ cup milk and 2 eggs. Dredge steaks in cracker-crumb mixture, dip in milk/egg mixture, and dredge in cracker mixture again. Push steaks into crumbs to cover thoroughly.
Pour oil into a large cast iron skillet and heat. Have oil hot and fry steaks quickly. Turn only once and brown on each side. Keep steaks warm in a 225-degree oven.
Leave 4 tablespoons oil (and browned bits) in pan. Add 4 tablespoons flour and cook about 1 minute until slightly brown. Remove from heat and add 2 cups milk stirring constantly. Return to medium heat and stir constantly until thickened.
Serve gravy with steaks and mashed potatoes. Sprinkle with parsley, if desired.
Tip: Serve with garlic green beans and hot biscuits. Leftover steaks make good sandwiches.
SQUIRREL OR RABBIT BOG
2 squirrels (or 1 rabbit), cut up
Sprinkle squirrel (or rabbit pieces) with salt and place in Dutch oven with enough cold water to cover completely. Add onion, celery and pepper. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover and simmer until squirrel is tender and readily separates from the bones. Remove squirrel, saving broth. Let meat cool and then remove meat from bones. Measure broth back into pot. It is not necessary to drain onion and celery. Add water if necessary to make 4 cups liquid. Return squirrel to pot. Cut smoked sausage into ¼-inch slices. Add to pot along with rice. Stir and add additional salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer about 30 minutes or until most of the broth is absorbed into rice or until the grains are fluffy and tender.
Tip: Bogs (as they are called in the Carolinas—they are pilaus, pilafs, or perloos elsewhere) are traditional dishes that are versatile and utilize many types of meat beside squirrel or rabbit. This recipe can be used with chicken, venison, wild turkey, or doves.
2 rabbits, cut into serving-size pieces
Place rabbit in Dutch oven with a small amount of water and simmer until tender. Remove from pan and place in a casserole dish. Pour margarine over rabbit and season to taste. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Gravy can be made from remaining water and pan drippings if desired. Serve immediately.
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