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Leysath's Better Venison Cookbook
Tired of the same old venison dishes? Have an itch to do a little more in the kitchen or at camp with your roasts, tenderloin or shoulders? Bank on the years of knowledge - hunting and in the kitchen - from Scott Leysath, The Sporting Chef, in his new "Better Venison Cookbook!" Leysath takes you from prep to table with great information and recipes you and your family or friends will enjoy.
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The Ethical Hunter
Alaskan Congressman Don Young has introduced a bill — H.R. 3142, The Wild Game Donation Act — that would make hunters who donate meat to food-based charities eligible for a tax deduction for the processing cost of the game. Additionally, the legislation would provide a tax credit for processors who take part in this program. Of course, it requires that all animals are killed in accordance with state and local laws and by the individual making the charitable contribution.
This bill might be a tough sell during the current political climate, but Young has stated he believes the measure will eventually pass.
What’s your take? Do you think its a good idea, or would you prefer Washington stay out of the meat-donation arena?
In my previous post, I made the argument that there is no taste difference between young bucks and old bucks. Predictably, some readers have argued the point. I stand by my statement that most "gamey" tasting venison comes from handling techniques and the amount of fat and silver skin remaining on the meat.
Regardless, I do not argue the fact that some venison needs a little help. For those of you who find yourselves in this situation, first remove every bit of non-muscle fiber from your cuts. Then try this:
I was recently turned on to this sauce by a co-worker. It really does have a unique flavor that lands somewhere between BBQ sauce, ketchup and chutney. And it is perfect for wild game. The secret ingredient seems to be currant juice. I still haven’t put a deer in the freezer this fall, but I have tried the sauce on goose and pork loin. It was excellent on both. I can’t wait to slather it on a venison roast.
Today at work we had a discussion about what makes some venison taste better than other venison. It’s an age old discussion; do corn-fed deer and swamp monsters taste different? Do fawns taste better than old bucks?
Probably a little. Each individual animal might taste a little different. But the truth is most pallets can’t discern those subtle differences.
Yes, fawns are more tender than older deer, but that is because of physical differences in the muscle fibers. Basically, the fibers are smaller and have less collagen holding those individual fibers together.
The truth is, most differences in the taste of individual pieces of whitetail venison stem from handling and cooking the meat. While the fat and silver skin of beef and pork might taste just fine, whitetail fat and sinew are off-putting. The key to really good venison is carefully removing all of the extras.
Cooling the meat quickly to prevent the growth of bacteria is also important.
Also, if you can drop the deer on the spot, it will not work those muscles and build up lactic acid in the muscle. Lactic acid is formed when the muscles are extremely active and the deer is not taking in enough oxygen to supply the movements. Inside the cells, sugars such as glucose, fructose and sucrose are converted into cellular energy and the metabolic byproduct lactate. This is referred to as anaerobic cellular respiration. If the animal were to live, the lactic acid would eventual dissipate. However, when the animal dies, the lactic acid becomes locked in the cells. It produces a sour taste.
The truth is, properly handled, carefully trimmed venison from ANY deer tastes great, whether that deer is an old swamp buck or a young corn-fed fawn.
This week on D&DH TV we detail many whitetail oddities, including the life of an incredible albino buck.
In whitetail herds, there are white deer and then there are albinos. True albinos have white coats, plus pink eyes and pink noses. These deer lack the ability to produce melanin, a pigment in the skin and coat. This condition results from a recessive gene that is found in less than 1 percent of the whitetail population. It is also commonly associated with other genetic defects, including poor hearing, vision and physical disabilities.
These deer are genetically inferior, are even often shunned by other whitetails. Yet, some states, including my home state of Wisconsin, have regulations that prevent shooting albino deer.
Biologically speaking, these rules are simply illogical. Albino whitetails hurt the overall genetic health of a herd. These protections are simply born from human emotion, and they aren’t new. Many Native American cultures revered albino animals, and many still believe these animals should be protected. Yet, so much of the human/nature experience is aesthetic. And white deer have certain aesthetic appeal that can’t be denied. Despite their faults, they enrich our world.
So, I ask you: Should we protect albinos?
It’s the time of year deer hunters around the country wait for. In most locales, bow season is mere weeks away (if not open already). We’ve put in our work securing land to hunt, scouting, hanging stands, and in many cases, spent hours working food plots to attract and nourish our deer herd.
For those of us that plot, this is can be an exciting time. All that hard work shows in the lush green forage and bustling trail camera activity.
However, it can also be a time of disappointment, when we realize that hard work isn’t paying off like we hoped. Did we fail in our soil prep? Was a lack of moisture to blame? Did we choose the wrong seed?
These are all common problems when food plots fail. But they aren’t the only cause. Perfectly prepared plots with optimal growing conditions can also fall flat. Why? Simply, we failed to realize that food plots are simply meant to supplement natural food. They cannot be a herd’s only source of nutrition.
Over-browsing can destroy a plot before it ever gets a chance to produce optimum forage. If your food plot is failing for no apparent reason, take a hard look at your herd and your property. If deer are abundant, natural forage must also be.
In these cases, quick fixes won’t cut it. Sure you can plant an emergency fall plot, such as winter wheat, peas or quick-growing rape, to help your fall hunt. But that won’t solve your problem. Ethical hunters will take a two-prong approach.
First, examine your herd. Chances are you are going to need to harvest some does. Whether you want to do that early in the season to help protect your plots, or later, to protect your rut hunting, create an antlerless harvest plan and stick to it.
Next, take a hard look at the natural forage on the property. Hard and soft mast are great. But in areas with abundant herds, natural browse is the real key. Early succession forests are the best answer for creating natural browse. If you are short on this type of landscape it might be time to call your local forester and plan a cut.
Whether you are just getting into the fascinating world of wildlife food plots, or you’re a seasoned hand, keep this philosophy in mind when food plots don’t perform as expected. For more insights on food plotting for whitetails be sure to catch this week’s episode of Deer & Deer Hunting TV "Food Plot Payoff" at 9 a.m. Eastern Sept. 10 on Versus.
For even more in-depth information check out our Building Successful Food Plots Hunter’s Resource package.
Recently, I stumbled across an article by Bryan Walsh for Time. Titled "Foodies Can Eclipse (and Save) the Green Movement", it suggests that the current economic and political atmosphere is killing the "green movement," which really was an urban spin-off of the environmental movement. However, Walsh contends that the current "food movement" is starting similar social transformations – in land use, farming, and how we value our environment – from a different and possibly more effective angle.
"Even as traditional environmentalism struggles, another movement is rising in its place, aligning consumers, producers, the media and even politicians," Walsh writes. "It’s the food movement, and if it continues to grow it may be able to create just the sort of political and social transformation that environmentalists have failed to achieve in recent years."
Obviously, this shift toward environmental enlightenment is great. It begets a land ethic, which leads to true environmentalism and land stewardship. Plus, a better awareness and connection to our food helps hunters in many ways. It creates understanding, if not sympathy, for our sport among those who have not been exposed to it. It also generates new hunters, a trend that is likely to increase as foodies seek out new sources of organic protein.
However, could this trend also be changing hunters? Could a new appreciation for food be changing the way we paint ourselves and also honor the animals we kill? I know I’ve become more appreciative of venison as my food tastes have expanded. I certainly value those venison steaks in the freezer much more than I once did.
Has the foodie trend made it’s way into your household yet and has it changed the way you value (and cook) the venison you bring home?
One of this company’s best selling books of all time has been 301 Venison Recipes, a compilation of super-easy, home-cooked-type venison favorites. Recently though, readers have shown a preference for quality over quantity. We produced Venison Wisdom to offer more easy recipes, but with even more flavor.
Should we take this trend farther and produce a high-end, foodie centric wild game cookbook? Are hunters ready to throw down their cans of cream of mushroom soup?
Yesterday, the state of Minnesota released its long-researched management plan that it hopes will help save a northwoods ungulate that has long been an icon in the state — the Canadian moose.
A large portion of the plan is dedicated to controlling deer numbers in moose range.
Minnesota’s moose population is down to about 4,900 in the northeastern corner of the state (11 percent lower than last year, and far below the 8,000 animals just 10 years ago). Northwestern Minnesota’s smaller population center is nearly gone, down from thousands in the 1970s to less than 100 today. The reasons for the moose decline are not clearly understood. Climate change could be one cause. A trend to warmer summers and winters gives parasites more opportunity to weaken moose. Also, it is believed extremely hot summers cause moose to expend too much energy and thus enter winter with minimal reserves. Warmer winters also allow deer to thrive farther north, crowding out moose and increasing the risk of brain worm, which whitetails carry harmlessly, but is fatal to moose.
The plan, now open for public comment, focuses on limiting deer numbers in the primary moose range to 10 deer or less per square mile, (most DMUs in the three-county primary range are already at that level or lower) and researching the causes of the decline.
Also included is a ban on recreational deer feeding in primary moose range (baiting is already illegal in Minnesota).
Other measures include improving moose habitat, closing the moose season in any moose management zone where hunter success rates drop below 20 percent for three straight years, and funding research into the causes of moose mortality … including the effect of wolf and bear predation. The state has already reduced its resident, once-in-a-lifetime, bull-only hunting permits from 213 to 105 as the ratio of bulls to cows has dropped.
As a former resident of Minnesota’s moose country and a moose lover, I’ll be happy to do my part this fall when I return home for Minnesota’s gun season to hunt my beloved big woods whitetails.
And if I do get the chance to again bring home some Northwoods venison, I’ll raise a toast to those other monarchs of the North.
Texas is in the midst of one of the worst droughts — in depth and expanse — since the early 1900s. The state has only gotten about 6 inches of rain so far this year, compared the 13 inches it should have by now. There’s no relief in sight. The U.S. Climate Prediction Center said La Nina weather patterns could extend the blistering drought into 2012.
The record conditions have left the state’s natural ecosystems in chaos. Wildfires have swept across the landscape and water holes and streams have dried up. Caught in this devastation are Texas whitetails.
These deer are no strangers to dealing with dry periods. Texas deer managers have long recorded and studied the short-term effects of drought on the state’s whitetail herd. Decreased antler size and spotty distribution as deer concentrate during dry years are commonly seen in years with below-average rainfall. However, the current extended drought could hurt deer populations in the state for years — perhaps decades.
According to Texas Parks and Wildlife, this year’s fawn crop was hit hard. Does already stressed from previous dry seasons abandoned many of their fawns soon after birth. This is a common natural mechanism. Whitetail does innately know when they will fail their newborns nutritional needs. Nature provides them with the ability to abandon the fawns so as to not sacrifice both mother and offspring in a losing effort. However, this can have long-term impacts on the herd by removing a large portion of a single age class from the herd.
“The fawns are not doing real good right now,” Dale Schmidt, a Texas Parks and Wildlife biologist in Llano, reported to the Austin American Statesman. “I’m getting quite a few calls on fawns down, and it’s probably not over yet.”
Trey Carpenter, another TPWD biologist, said the remaining deer have already exhausted food sources that would help them through winter and are now causing long-term habitat degradation. This habitat degradation is the aspect land stewards will face for years after the drought. It is also why, although the population is being hit hard by the drought, Texas is right to continue its deer season. Removing some deer now will further knock down the population, but preserve habitat, allowing the population to recover more quickly.
D&DH Reader Joshua Berckenhoff sent in this photo of a drought-abandoned fawn. It was one of several he found on his Texas property.
For an in-depth look at Texas deer management and drought effects on whitetail antlers, check out Whitetail Racks by Dr. Dave Samuel and Robert Zaiglin. These biologists and hunters are the leading authorities on southern whitetail management.
Following my earn-a-buck post, I expected a lot more comments like the one posted by Ron, basically blasting EAB. Perhaps the majority of hunters just glazed over the whole thing? Or, maybe things aren’t as bad as I believe? Maybe a lot of hunters do understand that deer populations are still too high in many areas. Frankly, I doubt that.
I doubt it because one of the biggest problems with modern deer management is that when deer populations explode, many hunters never see it — especially in the states with the most hunters. At it’s heart is the disparate localized distribution of deer (or clumpiness, as retired Wisconsin DNR deer researcher Keith McCaffery calls it) and land ownership trends.
The short version is this: Deer are wild animals that go where they want to go. Today’s hunters are limited by property constraints that are increasingly narrowed. Thus, some hunting groups frolic in over-abundant herds, while other hunters, (guys like Ron) sit in woods with few or no deer.
Although game departments are charged with managing deer populations for the public as a whole, they have little control over individual private properties. State managers break up their tasked areas as best as they can, often into deer management units that cover county-sized areas in the range of 500,000 acres. This is partially because it takes a large sample size to produce a reliable count, and partially because of limited resources. So, for a statewide manager, that’s a tiny area to localize regulations to. But a hunter limited to just 40 of those 500,000 acres might find that "his herd" doesn’t match up with the over-goal lands around him.
Deer & Deer Hunting editor-in-chief Dan Schmidt often uses this example in his lectures: Think about the square mile around your hunting area. That is 640 acres. If the deer population goal for the area is 25 deer per square mile, each 40 acre property would be allotted roughly 1.5 deer if they were distributed equally. However, if you were to see 10 deer on one 40-acre soybean field, that only leaves 15 for the remaining 600 acres.
Deer do not distribute evenly. Land management, agriculture, as well as hunting practices, all influence deer distribution.
"I have rarely argued with a hunter that claims there are few or no deer where he hunts because his claim could be true," McCaffery said. "This can especially be the case if he or she is attempting to hunt a 10- or 40-acre ownership."
Even when expanded to square-mile blocks, deer populations are clumpy. For example a recent aerial survey in the CWD zone of Wisconsin found counts ranged from zero to 147 deer on individual square-mile survey blocks. Of course, not all deer were probably seen and counted. But it shows the problem inherent for managers.
Managers such as McCaffery cite cover and food as the main causes for deer clumpiness. Hunting pressure also makes a difference. Huge clumps of deer exist within urban zones where hunting is restricted. Baiting, food plots and selective harvest patterns can also increase clumpiness.
What’s the answer to this problem? How do we manage a disparate population, keeping hunters happy with full freezers and our forests healthy? This is probably a game manager’s most difficult task.
For our part, ethical hunters must be both understanding and steward-minded. If we happen to fall outside of a "clump" we must recognize that some areas might be temporarily "over-shot," as McCaffery puts it, on occasion to protect those lands and a multitude of other interests. He reminds us that "forests are far more threatened by over-abundance of deer than scarcity."
Hunters within those clumps of heavy deer distribution can do more. These are the hunters who must kill more deer than their current harvest threshold allows. This is land stewardship. Plus, in a round-about way, reducing populations within high-density areas will help spread the wealth of venison to hunters outside the main clumps by allowing managers to reduce harvest goals over the broader management area.
So as you might have noticed, the Deer & Deer Hunting site has turned to blogs for a lot of its fresh content, including this one. I think we have some great information for any category of hunter with insights from our editor in chief and deer expert Dan Schmidt, our gear review blog, the everything-whitetail rubline blog, our hunting gear bargain blogger and this space. But the web is full of great bloggers and if you’re looking for more insightful content from ethical hunter/gatherer types, I suggest checking out these great blogs:
A Mindful Carnivore is where you can find vegan-turned-hunter Tovar Cerulli’s thoughtful posts on wildlife consumption, hunting and conservation.
Hank Shaw’s Hunter Angler Gardener Cook is more for gastro-geeks. It features some of the best wild game recipes you will ever see. But it is also has some invaluable resources for beginning hunters. Experienced hunters will also find themselves learning a pile about other wild edibles they commonly pass in the woods.
Chef and author Georgia Pellegrini takes a similar approach, but from a girl hunter’s perspective. Again, if you’re into cooking what you kill, you have to check out her recipe section.
For women who want more hunting info and a little less high-end cooking (though she has some good recipes, too … notice a theme here?), Holly A. Heyser’s NorCal Cazadora is a great read. Guys will find some good info, too. She has some amazing insights on hunting’s place in a green society.
Another 21st Century forager can be found at Langdon Cook’s Fat of the Land. Again, there’s more food in the wild than just venison.
Yep. There goes your Friday afternoon.