There’s a certain sadness that sets in when hunters see winter approaching and realize their favorite season is drawing to a close.
The flip side to this, however, is that many of us have put up a good store of game. And the months ahead are the perfect time to reap the rewards of our labor—and show a final gesture of respect to the animals we’ve harvested.
While gamebirds add variety, venison is king of the chest freezer. My aim in the next few columns is to give hunters a few new kitchen tricks to try. And to put to rest those wrongheaded notions about venison being tough or gamey. But, before we get into the business of backstraps, steaks, roasts, and burger—which I’ll handle in future installments—let’s bullet point some basics of venison cooking.
Hunters know that pursuing game is a challenge. That’s what makes success so rewarding. Maybe that’s why duck hunting—doubly uncertain because these birds are both wary like all game animals and here only briefly—can be some of the most addictive of all hunting.
Add to that the fact that Badger state hunters can enjoy fast wingshooting in habitats ranging from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River to secluded inland marshes for more than a dozen species of waterfowl. It doesn’t hurt that the state’s official dog (the American water spaniel) is a duck dog, and that we have a rich heritage of decoy and skiff making dating back more than a hundred years.
Did I mention eating? Perhaps, slow-roasted goose with sauerkraut and apples. Quick-broiled teal seasoned with nothing more than butter salt and pepper. And then there’s mallard breast seared in a white-hot cabin skillet that’s juicy as any steaks. How about savory soups like duck with barley and mushrooms?
Wild duck can be singularly delicious. But it can also be strong and gamy, tough and leathery. The good news is that it’s easy to make a memorable duck dinner, and avoid common cooking pitfalls. Just follow these simple tips, and you’ll be able to do justice to these fine-feathered friends:
Hunting season begins at different times for different people.
For some that’s Saturday of the 9-day gun deer season, while for others it’s the start of pheasant, grouse, duck, or bow. And for many NWTF members, it’s not really hunting season until their turkey permit says so.
While these may be openers for traditionalists, a host of migratory gamebird seasons begins September 1. These seasons give hunters additional opportunities. And surveys show that hunter opportunity is key in a world of plummeting license sales, where only enhanced recruitment, retention, and reactivation can save the day.
Mourning doves, teal, and Canada geese—the legal species that open on September 1—may seek out different habitats and may carry with them different hunting strategies and regulations. But these gamebirds, which are largely local-raised and young-of-the-year, have one thing in common: they make for great eating.
Another unique opportunity that presents itself during the warm, waning days of summer is fresh garden produce. Ripe tomatoes and piquant peppers. Crispy green and wax beans. Sweet corn. Fresh herbs. And then there are apples, pears, raspberries, and blackberries waiting to be made into pies, cobblers, and sauces.
As with many things in life, the motto “simplest is best” also applies to game cooking. For teal and mourning doves, that means a quick plucking or breasting followed by a one-hour soak in cold salted water to draw out the blood and shot.
There is a great debate among turkey hunters as to which wild game recipe is number one on the list of best turkey recipes. You’re either team deep fried or team turkey popper. I decided it was time for both these groups to finally come together, and this recipe is my solution to end the war of the meal. So the next time you’re at turkey camp and the battle for dinner begins, pull out this recipe and enjoy a great supper as your relive the day’s hunt.
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“But love of the wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the earth which bore us and sustains us, the only home we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need – if only we had eyes to see.” – Edward Abbey