Hunting sage rats in Eastern Oregon

Shooting and pizza proves a tough combination

By Gary Lewis / For The Bulletin

Published Apr 23, 2014 at 12:06AM

Camp Chef has a new pizza oven on the market. If you know anything about the Utah-based company, you know they are all about food as food relates to the great outdoors. And nothing screams pizza louder than sage rat shooting in Eastern Oregon. That’s how we came to have a pizza oven along.

The instruction manual provided some helpful hints on how to make an artisan pizza out in nature. The instructions state, and I quote, “You will want a large, clean bowel to make and hold the dough in.”

One wonders if there was a spell-check error in the editing of the instructions, but nevertheless, it seemed like good advice.

We met up with Tim Titus, the owner of No Off Season, near Crane, which can be located on the map south and east of Burns. Titus’ focus as an outfitter is to bring hunters in from out of town to deal ballistically with rodents.

Gathered in the parking lot were a half-dozen clients from places not infested with vermin such as can be found in the alfalfa fields in these parts. Four guys hailed from Eugene/Springfield and two were from Central California, where there is more concrete than dirt.

We were assigned a field to the south where we could cook off our hoarded ammunition and destroy artisan pizzas to our hearts’ content.

Steve McGrath from Camp Chef and our mutual friend Jesse Riding set up shooting benches and cooking gear while I dug out my weaponry.

One of my oldest rifles is a Savage pump built in 1907. Long ago, someone installed a tip-up peep sight on the tang, and this antique is capable of landing long shots when it is fed the kind of tasties it prefers: hollow points.

Out in the alfalfa, well beyond 100 yards, stood that havoc of the harvest, that porter of the plague, a sage rat. My first shot, which I considered fair warning, landed a bit beyond him, signaled by a plume of dust. My second shot fell a bit before him and the third one, while he gobbled down the rancher’s retirement, landed on target.

It was time to put another rifle into the game.

Sometime last year I installed a new 4-16X Alpen scope on my CZ bolt-action, then I neglected to sight it in. That was a mistake that cost me some time and a lot of potential as I plinked and adjusted elevation and windage dials. Many wasted rounds later, I connected on a long shot and began to make up for lost time.

The long winter off the shooting bench didn’t do much for my performance. I missed and missed, connected and missed again. The wind didn’t help either. I couldn’t help but notice that the two Utahans were shooting better than me.

Perhaps lunch would help.

McGrath and Riding hauled out the new Camp Chef Italia Pizza Oven. It is built of double-walled stainless steel and has a ceramic pizza stone, ventilation and a built-in thermometer. Fueled by 1-pound tanks or bulk propane, it heats to a maximum 750 degrees.

McGrath started with prepackaged Rhodes pizza, sprinkled flour on wooden peels and pulled and shaped the dough. “You don’t want to roll it; with artisan pizza, we like to leave little air pockets in the crust,” he said.

We started with Lyon bread, an artisan cheesy pizza. Breakfast pizzas were next, with cheeses, prosciutto and potatoes, topped with an egg and maple syrup. And then it was on to a sausage pizza interpreted with peppers and Parmesan.

When McGrath announced the chuckwagon, I had to help. I pulled and pushed but couldn’t make the pizza round and had to settle for a pie shaped like Bolivia. On top went tomato sauce, green peppers, pulled pork, pineapple and mozzarella.

Titus appeared after all that pizza was down the hatch and tried to call shots for me.

“One hundred fifteen yards, at your 2 o’clock. Missed him.”

It turns out that artisan pizzas do not enhance a person’s ability to engage multiple targets in a productive manner. Perhaps pizzas are better suited to piscatorial pursuits. Maybe we’ll take the pizza oven fishing and find out.

— Gary Lewis is the host of “Frontier Unlimited” and author of “John Nosler — Going Ballistic,” “A Bear Hunter’s Guide to the Universe,” “Hunting Oregon” and other titles. Contact Lewis at www.GaryLewisOutdoors.com.