Tag Archives: venison

Perpetuate the sanctity of the harvest.

It’s been a long morning, and it isn’t even close to over yet. The light dusting of snow has made the world brighter, yet you know that it is far to early to get out of the truck and venture forth into this frigid November day in pursuit of your intended target. Venison! You look over at your partner in crime, this time it is your oldest boy. You know it was the right decision, being 13 and all, he has already reaped the delicious rewards of hard work and dedication, and he deserves it again. Taking a short swig of scalding coffee from the thermos you steal a glance at him. He’s a good-looking kid, smart, caring, every parents dream. You know that soon enough he will be away at college, and you will be all alone on these early morning voyages. But even that doesn’t pardon him from a little ribbing from Dad. “Get your eyes off that damn phone, and pay attention to what’s going on around you. I know it’s early but that doesn’t mean theres nothing to see, If I wanted to babysit I would have brought your little sister along!” He flashes back a smile, and turns the screen off on his phone. Conversation’s carry on like they always do, school, grades, sports and girls, spoken softly to pass the time. “You know”, you pause as you start one of those “Dad stories” you promised yourself you would never tell… “I wasn’t that much older than you the first time I met your mother…” “Dad wait, did you see that?” he questions you intently. You shake your head, signaling that you had not. You try to focus your attention without getting tunnel vision in the early morning gloom. You remind yourself to look for movement more than anything else… Out of the corner of your eye you finally see it. “That’s our boy right there” you whisper to your son as you nod out the left side of your snow covered windshield. In an instant he is trying desperately to open the passenger side door, power door lock have a hell of a way of  reminding people they have to stay patient. You take a look at your watch 9:25 A.M. “5 minutes kiddo then it’s game time.” As clockwork always does, the last moments crept by the slowest, then in a second everything changes, the lights come on, and neither of you can control your excitement. Both doors fly open in an instant, looking like mouse traps wired in reverse. The cold wind tears at your previously warm checks and the snow obscures your vision. You try to keep your footing on the icy ground, and make your way quickly and quietly toward your intended prey. As you silently slide into position, you ask your son if he is ready? “I been waiting for a whole year Dad, I’m definitely ready for this”. You smile, knowing exactly how he feels, and in one quick motion you open the door and you are greeted by warm air and the smell of curly fries. Arby’s has the Meats, and for a limited time… The Venison too!

Before you instantly hit that back button on your web browser, thinking that this a shameless plug for a fast food chain and wondering why you waste 15 minutes of your Sunday pilfering though my nutball half-baked theories about how rifles are more accurate than shooters, my love for 10 round ar-15 mags, and my infatuation with snow, hear me out. The Montana Wildlife Federation (WMF) has written a letter to the corporate offices of Arby’s expressing their displeasure with Arby’s decision to sell “Wild game” sandwiches. In case you didn’t see it last year, Arby’s broke ground in the overpriced not good for you food market by selling venison sandwiches in a few select (read 5 states, 17 restaurants) locations, that they believed were “prime” for such a sandwich. Problem was the demand was much larger than the supply, and they sold out quick! So being a caring company, (sorry I just gagged on sarcasm) Arby’s decided to re-release the sandwiches this year on October 21st in 3,300 locations nationwide, and if you are lucky enough to live in the states of  Montana, Wyoming or Colorado there is also an elk option. So why does Montana give two rips if Arby’s sells a wild game sandwich you might ask? Well first of all it’s not “wild game”, “wild game” cannot be sold in the United States, only “farm raised games animals” can. But they doesn’t have the ring of “wild game” does it? “This runs counter to Montana’s fair-chase hunting values by encouraging the commercialization of a public wildlife resource.” thats a direct quote from the letter, seems pretty solid to me. So where does this “venison” come from you may ask? Well it would be almost IMPOSSIBLE to procure enough deer meat from domestic markets, in so Arby’s has this “farm rased game meat” sent in from New Zealand. (outsource anyone?) Another fear of the department (which is why the community voted in the year 2000 to make new commercial farming of wild game animals illegal in their state) is “concerns about unethical captive shooting activities and the spread of disease”. (Which makes sense, wild birds don’t have salmonella, only domesticated birds do.) And as to “unethical shooting activities” I think we can all find a commen ground in undestanding that “some people” are so intoxicated with the idea of  their name in a record book, that they may be “persuaded” into pen raising an animal, filling it with whatever they can in order to promote giant horn growth, and harvesting it, only to later claim it as a potential State or World record. Some peoples kids right?

What do I think? Well if someone lives in an area where they may potentially never get to try deer meat (I don’t know where this place is, and if I ever hear of this place I will avoid it like the plague) or if a person lives in a family where hunting is considered  “savage” and “not needed in this modern civilization” (they probably live in that place where they can’t try deer meat) then I think it is nice that they will be able to try a “tamed” down version of the real thing. If someone has never tried game meat, and after trying these sandwiches they become an active part of wildlife conservation ( Remember the Pittman-Robertson act? The one that guarantees that a 11 percent of firearm and ammo sales goes directly back to that states wildlife management. Fishing and hunting liscences go directly back into the state too.) then thats also great. But it isn’t “wild game”, and it will never have the same appeal as an animal that lived free and was harvested in its own enviroment, with fair chase ethically. If you have never ate a rear inner tenderloin from a deer so fresh it hasen’t hit room temperature yet, you haven’t lived. Chicken is great, but it can’t hold a candle to the flavor of a freshly harvested grouse breast pan fried in a cast iron skillet over an open fire. Last night I made grilled stuffed burritos with cilantro rice, black beans, jalapeno, bacon, and pan seared widgeon and gadwall that I harvested, cleaned and cooked myself. (Don’t tell Chipotle grill, or it may be on the menu next week!) Wild game gains flavor with time, both in the aging process, and in the persuit of the animal. No commercialized politically correct version of “wild game” can ever compete with the real thing, and the memories of hunting with friends and family will far outweigh the memories of eating a damn sandwich. Sorry, its just the facts.

-Grant Willoughby 11/05/2017-

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Like a Boss!

Ownership does not constitute competency. We have all heard it, it doesn’t matter if it is playing a guitar or proficiency with firearms. It doesn’t matter how many you own, if you are not well-practiced and disciplined in your drive for success, you are nothing more than a collector. We talk guns all the time, if im not shooting for sport or hunting, chances are pretty good that I’m flapping my gums, or pounding away at the keyboard about boom sticks and smoke poles. Whether those surrounding me want to hear about them or not. But not this week, no Sir, were going to talk about the really important stuff. Cookin’ and Eatin’!

It still amazes me that for all the people who hunt and fish, (somewhere around 250,000 hunting licences, and nearly half a million fishing licences are sold annually in Idaho alone.) how few of those people know how to cook a meal with the animals they harvest. Anybody can open up a pack of deer burger, smash it between their grubby mits and burn the snot out of it on a barbecue, that’s not what im talking about. I am speaking about crafting home cooked delicious meals with delectable protein that you have harvested, cared for, and prepared correctly. Some hear the word “venison” and instantly turn their nose up, stating that “deer meat is gross”. Well I’ll be damned, I must have always been cooking it wrong, because mine has always been super tasty. Lets break a few things down, and burst some bubbles before we even get into cooking with game and fish. First of all “venison” isn’t deer meat, “venison” is technically speaking any meat that is harvested by a hunter ( Its originates from the latin word venari, which means to hunt or pursue) typically though the term refers to any animal from the Cervidae (deer), Leporidae (hares), Suidae (wild pigs) family’s as well as some of the goats that are traditionally hunted. So pretty much all the things that we hunt with the exception of bears and cats are venison. Secondly, deer meat isn’t gross. Sure, some has more of a distinct flavor than others, but that really has more to do with the care and the handling of the meat than anything else in my opinion. In previous blogs I have given a few recipes for tasty dishes, and a few pointers for insuring that your hard-earned protein is treated with the greatest respect (if you don’t remember, you can go back and read them all again and click the like button, we can always use the positive feedback) But for now I would like to focus more on the cooking aspect wild game.

Red meat: You knew I was going to go here first huh? Why? Because it is the most sought after protein that hunters pursue. That being said, it is also the protein that is most obviously “abused” by hunters who believe that venison is “gamey”. Often times after a successful harvest, a hunter will take the cleaned carcass and drop it directly off at a butcher to have it processed. Just because you have a professional do your knife work for you does not guarantee that you will have better meat, the flavor and tenderness of your animal has as much to do with your post shot practice, than it does with someone’s ability to cut muscle groups apart. I know of more than a few hunters who will have their whole deer turned into jerky and burger, and I guess if that’s all you like to eat that’s fine, but at the same time there is limitless potential with the animal that you have laid before you. Venison is more moist, higher in protein, lower in calories, fat and cholesterol than grass-fed beef or pork. But it can be used in all the same dishes as either. Use your imagination, and learn to make meals that you look forward to preparing and presenting to your loved ones. I personally make quite a few brats out of my deer meat, because I love a good sausage (yes I can hear you giggling) and I own a combination grinder and sausage stuffer. Even at that, I don’t just season them the same and throw them into a bun (I do that also, but im not limited to it). My last batch of sausage consisted of standard brats, jalapeno cheese smokies, and sweet onion teriyaki sausages. Tasty as they were on their own, they also lended themselves well to being added to pasta dishes, stuffings and gumbos, just the same way that I would with any other store-bought sausages, but mine were better, and I never heard once that they were gamey. If you are not big on venison sloppy joes, tacos, meatloaf, stuffed bell peppers and burgers (and you consider yourself a hunter and an American?) then don’t get your animals ground up. Use those same low-fat cuts of meat that you would usually grind, and turn them into something that you like. I personally love a good Reuben sandwich, That sweet and salty corned beef or pastrami, the deli rye, the kraut, and a swiss cheese and coarse ground mustard… I’m drooling on my keyboard just thinking about it, and you can make your own pastrami with venison, and its pretty simple.

Venison pastrami:

Prep process:

  • 3 pounds of venison meat (leg meat works very well, it tends to have less connective tissue and is pretty lean)
  • To make your brine use 2 tablespoons of pink salt #1, a cup of kosher salt, 3/4 cups of brown sugar (or 3/4 cups regular sugar and a table-spoon and a half of molasses), and about 3 tablespoons of pickling spice (if you want to make your own, just add together 2 tablespoons mustard seed, 1 tablespoon whole allspice, 2 teaspoons coriander seeds, 2 whole cloves, 1 teaspoon ground ginger, 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, 1 bay leaf, crumbled and 1 cinnamon stick (2 inches). Just mix it all together and put it into an airtight container. It will yield about 1/3 cup, so you will have plenty to use on future pickling projects.
  • In a stock pot add all brine ingredients to a gallon of water and stir frequently over medium heat until all sugar and salt is completely dissolved. Place brine into a non-reactive pot or crock (let’s be honest though, if you own a crock you probably have no reason to be reading my pastrami recipe) let the brine cool to room temperature (this is an important step because you don’t want the meat to try to boil when it enters the hot liquid, it will give a weird consistency to the outer crust of the meat)
  • Add the meat to the container, making sure that it is completely submerged in the liquid. Cover it tightly (or seal it with as little air as possible in a ziplock bag) and place it into your refrigerator to cure for 5 days.
  • Once the cure process is over, remove meat from the fridge and rinse it thoroughly. Move it to a pan and let it sit for an hour to completely dry. At this point you should cut a small piece off the roast and fry it quickly to check for salt content. If it is too salty just soak it in water for an hour or two. then move onto the cooking process.

Cooking process:

  • Seasoning a pastrami roast varies a lot depending on your personal tastes. A good base rub consists of 2 tablespoons black pepper, 1 tablespoon ground coriander, 1 tablespoon garlic powder, 1 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 tablespoon paprika and 1 tablespoon mustard seed. I personally like a lot more pepper, and I also like to use the 3 pepper medley with white, red and black pepper.
  • cover your roast with your rub, making sure to cover all surfaces.
  • At this point you need to fire up the smoker and get it up to 225 degrees. The internal temperature of your roast will need to register 145-150 degrees before the smoke process can be considered done, so plan accordingly with enough soaked wood chips, and briquettes.
  • Once you have reached desired temperature, remove the roast from the smoker, and place it into a roasting pan with a wire rack that suspends the meat off of the bottom. Add an inch or two of water (or stock) to the bottom of the pan making sure that the meat does not make contact with the liquid. Tightly cover the pan with aluminum foil and place into an oven that has been preheated to 275 degree. Steam your pastrami for an hour to an hour and a half, or until it reaches your level of tenderness.
  • Let cool for at least 15 minutes and slice for sandwiches. if you have a meat slicer this task is much, much easier. You can also reserve half of your roast to make hash for breakfast… but that’s a whole different recipe all together.

If you are like me, you probably already have a barbecue, a smoker, a crock pot, an oven and who knows what else that you can use to cook with.  But, how many of you are truly proficient in the use of all of them? I know I sure as hell am not, but I’m trying to get there. I know that it is sometimes hard to work up the gumption to attempt new cooking styles (or even new recipes for that matter), but with hunting season upon us, we have the opportunity to do a little experimenting with our menus. Step out of the norm and you may be surprised at what you have crafted with the amazing protein that you have procured. Turn the cries of “Not deer burger again” to cheers of “can you please make that dinner every night?” With a little practice and some patience you can be feeding your family amazing healthy meals, that they will rave for years about, and commanding the kitchen… Like a Boss!

-Grant Willoughby 9/15/2017-

You have been lied to…

How does that make you feel? To know that people have been feeding you full of lies for years. Maybe it was an accident, and they didn’t know any better. Maybe they had other motives when they intentionally steered you astray? Maybe they thought it was for your own good. I know what you are thinking, “Grant’s back on the keyboard, this is going to be a long blog about guns, break out the tinfoil hats!”. Well if that’s what you were thinking, I’m sorry to inform you that you are wrong (even though I could totally go for a long rant about hunting rifles, effectiveness of personal defence pistols calibers, or the use of light’s and lasers on firearms). But today were talking wild game.

There are definitely 2 sides to every story, wild game is no exception. Some people will flat-out tell you that wild game is disgusting. Deer is too gamey, duck is too fatty, bear too greasy, catfish taste like mud, squirrels are just big mice, and rabbit are supposed to be pets, not your main course. The other side will tell you  “anything with fins, fur or feathers is edible”. That is correct as for North American game, but we all know that just because you can, doesn’t always mean that you should. Take probably the biggest meat-eating, hunting, fishing,  red-blooded American we have walking the planet right now, Steven Rinella, and listen to his Podcasts. He talks about it all the time because people always ask him if a certain animal is edible. To which he almost always replies(and I paraphrase), “Hell yeah you “CAN” eat it, question is if you want to, and how does it taste?” To an extent, I have a little bit of a soft spot for people who fall into the first class, because most times people make such broad judgements about wild game meat from personal experience (often times consisting of a single experience). Any one who has spent any amount of time hunting, and processing game meat knows that you have to treat wild game slightly different then you would domesticated stock. In that you will also get different flavor characteristics, and poorly executed “experiments” with game meat have been one of the leading causes of people’s dislike of game meat all together, and it would be hard to blame them. Imagine if you will, that you had never ate beef in your whole life, and someone offered to make you a hamburger. Not having any experience with burger, that would be your basis of what all beef is like. Now imagine that first burger was overly salted, overworked, and burnt to a crisp. What would your general feelings of all beef be? It’s dry, its dense, and it lacks flavor. You and I both know that a good hamburger is none of those things, they are always delicious, juicy, and tender. Even at that, a hamburger is not the measuring stick of which all beef should be measured. Each cut is different and perfect to be used in different ways to enhance the natural character of the cut. Wild game is no different. Without breaking down every cut from every game animal, I say we address some common misconception’s (read LIES) that I am sure that you have either read or been told through the years.

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  • “Deer is too gamey” : All animals have a distinctive flavor profile wild or domesticated, don’t believe me? Eat a piece of chicken fried steak and a piece a fried chicken back to back (if you are going to cook both in a single day, at least have the decency to invite me over). both cooking processes are the exact same, both coating the exact same, but neither one taste exactly like the other. Why? because beef taste like beef, and chicken taste like chicken. If all you ate was chicken, beef would have a “gamey” flavor, and vise-versa. Deer just has a more pronounced flavor than domesticated beef (and in all reality “beef” bought from a super market hardly resembles what beef use to be. If given the chance try grass finished beef, as opposed to grain finished beef. it is amazing how much more flavor the grass finished beef has over the counterpart. Any one who has had the privilege to having high quality beef knows exactly what im talking about.) Venison does have one thing that most non-hunters are not accustomed to. It is lean (lacking marbling from fat content.), a 3.5 oz. portion of beef has between 150-180 calories, 2-6.5% fat and 22-22.7 grams of protein. Mule deer on the other hand has 145 calories, 1.3% fat, and 23.7 grams of protein. Fewer calories, less fat, more protein, completely grass-fed, completely free-range, non-gmo, what else do people want? I would guess that more times than not, the real cause of overly gamey meat is due to poor handling, improper cleaning, cooling and aging techniques. Don’t stress the animal, clean and cool it as quickly as possible, and I would put money on the fact that you will have delicious tender meat. (And while you are at it, there is no need to cook venison to “well done”, if you don’t trust an eye test, use a meat thermomater and aim for 145 degrees. then let it rest before serving. You wouldnt cook a filet mignon to well done, and I would recommend that you treat deer filet the same way.)

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  • “Duck is just to fatty for me”: This may very well be true as to domesticated duck which is around 4.25% fat, but wild ducks tend to be less then half of that at around 2% fat. No they are not as lean as domesticated chicken (at around .7% fat) but what they pick up in fat, they also gain in flavor. Wild duck meat is surprisingly dark and muscular. To quote the writer Jim Harrison ( The author of “legends of the fall”) “it is a crime against God and man to skin a game bird…” In truth, duck breast that has been boned out, with skin plucked and left attached is truly one of the greatest gifts from mother nature. The skin crisps quickly, and seals the juices into the meat. I tend to go with my “6 minutes or 6 hours rule” meaning I will sear them quickly on a grill and eat them medium rare (I know what you are thinking “Pink center bird meat! Your gonna get salmonella.” but in all actuality, wild ducks, having never been domesticated, carries almost no chance of salmonilla.) or I want to slow cook them all day. Waterfowl tends to toughen up when cooked too long (say to “medium well” doneness). But, much like beef brisket, if you cook water fowl for extremely long times at very low temperatures, the meat fibers will break down and become tender again. Smoked pulled duck sandwiches anyone?

  • “Catfish taste like mud” : If I have heard this once, I have heard it a thousand times. Yes sometimes catfish do have a muddy taste, and sometimes they taste as clean as could be. Until lately I never knew why, it turns out that the sometimes muddy flavor that you get from catfish is mostly held in the belly meat and the fat of the fish. So how do we guarantee that we will have better tasting catfish? Firstly stay away from the belly, or any meat that takes on a yellow tint. Secondly, when processing out catfish fillets you will notice that there is an area where the back  and side meat come together that will often have a look of light purple or red (kind of looks like a bruise that runs the whole junction between the two parts) that is the area where a lot of the fat is stored, remove it and you will have removed most of that muddy taste. Keeping the fish in ice-cold water before trimming will also help you more easily trim the fat away from the fillets, as well as clean the fish. Then all that’s left is to do is start-up the fryer, mix up the hush puppies, and get prepared for a wonderful non-muddy catfish fry.

  • “Bear meat is greasy”: Well lets look at that observation a little bit. We have all heard that bears are closely related to pigs… Turn out that isn’t true either. (now you can bust out that aluminum foil hat) pigs belong to the Suidae family, and bears belong to the Ursidae family. Pigs are actually closer related to deer, camels, giraffe and cattle. Bears on the other hand are closer related to dogs, seals and skunks. Now that I can take my Carl Linnaeus (considered to be the father of taxonomy) members only lab coat off, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty about bear meat. Bear meat should be handled and cooked like pork, both tend to (depending on the time of the year) carry a bit of fat, the animals can both be cooked in similar manners (I have a friend whose father makes wonderful bear bacon), and any recipes that calls for pork, you can substitute bear meat into. Bears and pigs both share one more thing… Potential for trichinosis, or a round worm like parasite that can infect you if you do not cook the meat up to spec. Best way to deal with the potential risk is to cook all pork and bear the same, get it up to 165 degrees and rest easy knowing that you killed what ever parasites were inside. Bear meat is tasty, but the way that it is prepared is the usual reason why people believe that it is greasy. Most people (under the advise of their butcher) make bear into pepperoni sticks and summer sausages. Both of those products are incredibly greasy to start with. If you ask a knowledgable butch (or better yet a hound hunter who pursues bears) most will recommend getting the shoulders turned into hams and roasts. both are super tasty and a fun way to better experience your game. Slow smoked bear roasts finished in the crock pot make for one of the better pulled style bbq sandwiches, or enchilada fillings that you could ask for. Neither will be greasy in the least.

When it comes to wild game we have all been misled, misinformed, or just been the victims of crappy cooking. What is important is to not perpetuate these mistakes. Each time a new person tries wild game and finds it tasty, we add another friend to the cause. Meals created solely from food that we have harvested are made wonderfully special, and are a great way to come together not only as families, but as sportsmen. Next time your buddy starts hassling you about getting home late from hunting and how your  spouse is going to make you eat crow, just tell them you have recently visited crowbusters.com and come to find out they have a dozen recipes that don’t look to bad.

-Grant Willoughby 05/21/2017-