• Venison, the smart choice

    Rifle season for local whitetail deer has come and gone. Reports from many of my outdoor companions suggest that the weeklong season produced plenty of deer for hunt camps and individuals alike. A productive rifle season is important to many local hunters, as it may be their only chance to take to the field during the fall. Getting the opportunity to place a tag a on deer during the fall hunt means the family freezer at home gets stocked with nature’s finest red meat….venison.

    Like many hunters and meat-eaters, I enjoy eating venison. Deer I harvest each fall rank right at the top of the list when it comes to my appetite for fine meats. I am not alone in this thinking; plenty of hunters and non-hunters alike also find venison to be one of the finest red meats our earth has to offer. Yet, on a regular basis I find myself discussing the merits of eating venison with people who either do not hunt, or have not tried it. Occasionally I even meet people who seem to think that the meat they eat is grown on a shelf in the grocery store.

    I rarely have to defend why I hunt, but when the discussion comes about it pans out like this. With the price of gas, clothing, licenses, firearms and ammunition, the idea of hunting to save spending money on meat is ridiculous. I hunt for the greater respect it provides me for nature, for a greater understanding of animals and habitats, and I hunt because it teaches me how to be self-reliant. I enjoy the sport of it all, the chase and pursuit of creatures that are far more equipped for survival than our species seems to be these days. I also hunt because it provides me with some of the finest tasting and beneficial sources of meat I can attain. Nothing comes close in my world to feasting on the harvest after a successful fall deer hunt. The meat of a single deer will supply my red meat demand through the winter and a portion of spring and summer. The deer I kill will feed my significant other and also end up on the table of a few non-hunters who always rejoice when I drop off a venison steak or two.

    Eating venison is a smart choice. That is not to say that eating beef is wrong, not by any means, and I am a huge supporter of Canadian raised beef. But one only has to look at the benefits of eating local, wild deer to see how good for you it really is.

    Lets start with taste. Many people who turn their nose at eating venison have often had a bad experience in the past. A deer, fed throughout the year on local cropland, apples, and grasses is one fine piece of meat. If a deer is killed and field dressed properly, chilled and butchered without a hitch, the meat is premium. Studies suggest that under blind taste tests, venison is often the most enjoyed piece of meat in comparison to beef and lamb. Venison is not “gamey”, instead it is considered “rich” in flavor. There is a reason why venison graces the menus of many fine restaurants across North America; because it has so much flavor without the fat. Often, poor tasting venison is the result of negligence after the kill. Either the animal hung in a warm area; or the meat was soiled in the field and not cleaned properly. The biggest factor in a good tasting piece of venison is care for the harvested animal before it goes in the freezer. Also, care during the cooking process is important to achieving a product that is pleasurable to the pallet. A prime backstrap venison steak cooked to boot-leather on the grill sure isn’t a pleasure.

    When it comes to the health benefits of eating deer, the whitetail reigns supreme. In comparison to beef, deer have less fat. The meat of a wild deer has very little marbling, unlike farmed raised beef. Three ounces of the average farm raised beef has 247 calories and 15 grams of fat, compared to 134 calories and 3 grams of fat in the same portion of venison. Similarly, wild whitetail deer has significantly lower levels of saturated fats than beef. A meal highlighted with a cut of venison also provides you with a higher beneficial mineral and vitamin count than beef. Lacking iron? Try a venison backstrap steak next time you start the barbeque. In terms of raw protein, venison has more than beef. The only related category in which venison doesn’t beat beef is total cholesterol, and in this case, beef has less but only by a minimal amount.

    Without knocking Canadian beef producers lets consider a few things. Look at the life of a cow, raised solely for the purpose of slaughter. Do you know what your T-bone producing cow on your dinner plate was fed? Where did it live? How was it’s quality of life? The deer I consume are free-range animals, without inoculations, processed feed or captivity. I know the plants that the whitetail in my freezer fed upon. I know the woods it lived in, and they did not resemble a stockyard, barn yard or slaughter house. Free-range cattle are a popular choice in fine restaurants for a reason, as this is an attempt to mimic a wild fed animal. Popular demand suggests free-range and organic is the rage, does it get any closer to a whitetail?

    In terms of health and safety, beef recalls seem to be in the news more often than not. Stories of E. Coli contaminated beef grace the pages of papers and are becoming more common through alerts from food agencies. A locally killed whitetail that is properly field-dressed, butchered and chilled is possibly one of the safest forms of meat you can ingest. Keep a clean butchering area and strive to make the field-dressing activity as clean as possible and you can control bacteria growth on your meat. I like being in charge of the health and safety standards of my food, not task it to someone else who may turn a blind eye to improper protocol at a meat plant. I take pride in the condition of my venison from the moment it is harvested, to the time it gets wrapped in butcher paper by my own hands. I know exactly what I am eating and how it got there.

    When it comes to bringing throngs of dinner guests to their feet in applause for fine tasting venison, the thanks should go directly to the animal. Venison is rich tasting meat. With proper cooking techniques, the taste of the animal can be highlighted without producing what many call a “gamey” taste. There are thousands of online resources that provide plenty of excellent recipes if you are looking to serve up deer. I have a shelf in my bookcase devoted to perfecting the cookery of game. I have attended and hosted a number of wild game cookouts where the overall crowd pleaser is venison backstrap steaks grilled to perfection on the barbeque.

    So, as a starting point for those out there attempting to cook some venison this year, here is a simple and incredible recipe from a close friend. Owen Sound resident Jason Holyome was a cook and chef by trade in the past. He is also an avid outdoorsman who always seems to come up with an excellent way to make Mother Nature’s creatures taste fantastic. His simple steps to produce the best tasting venison steaks on the planet should be noted by any carnivore looking to dine on Bambi.

    2lbs of whitetail (venison) back-strap loin steaks, 1 inch thick
    1 fresh stalk of Rosemary
    1 fresh stalk of Thyme
    One bulb of fresh garlic
    Quarter cup of olive oil
    1 tablespoon of cracked black pepper
    1 tablespoon of course salt

    Strip leaves off thyme and rosemary, finely chop and crush garlic. Combine rosemary, thyme, garlic, salt, pepper and oil in a ziplock bag. Place steaks in the bag, toss to ensure all are thoroughly coated, and marinate for one hour. Sear steaks on hot grill at high heat. Turn barbeque down to medium low and cook for less than 7 minutes or until medium rare.

    Just a reminder, Holyome says “don’t over cook your venison, as it lacks fat and cooks quickly. Medium rare venison is perfectly safe and holds the taste of the meat. This recipe is simple, and there is no reason to over-complicate the cooking of wild game, as the flavor is delicious”. Happy eating!
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