October 19, 2011
How to prepare wild game, and how serving it and telling wild hunting stories go hand in hand.
Someone asked me the other day why I eat meat. I detected a tone of righteous vegetarianism in the question.
I answered by explaining that I like to give my food a fighting chance. "I consider it unethical to eat anything that can't run for its life," I said. "Think about all those poor salads just lying around until someone comes along and eats them. How fair is that? At least my food has the opportunity to outwit, outsmart or outrun me, and usually it does."
I got the distinct impression that my answer was not well received, so I went home and ate a steak. I felt much better after that.
In hindsight, I suppose I could also have pointed out that a number of recent medical studies have demonstrated that red meat, in particular lean red meat from wild game, reduces the risk of heart disease. My own family physician verified this not long ago after sending me for some routine blood tests.
"Your cholesterol count is a bit high," he announced, holding up my chart.
"What do you prescribe?" I asked.
"Go shoot a moose," he said. "And don't forget to bring me a backstrap."
Who am I to argue with medical science?
I admit it, I am an unrepentant carnivore. I like meat. I like the flavor and aroma. I like the sound my steaks make when they are sizzling on the grill over a bed of hot coals. I like to slice into a thick slab of venison seared on the outside but still red and juicy in the center. I even like the anticipation when I go to the refrigerator to sneak a quick look at the steaks that I have marinating in oil, vinegar and fresh garlic, and sprinkled generously with a variety of herbs and spices.
But perhaps most of all, I take pleasure in the simple knowledge that the food on my plate is there because I either stalked it, lay in wait for it, or tracked it down. Maybe that speaks to some sort of primal longing inside of me -- a throwback to the hunter-gatherer lifestyle of my forefathers. (My father and his father before him were also hunters.) Or maybe I've just discovered that I have more fun picking up my bow and walking a trail in the bush than I do pushing a shopping cart along a grocery aisle. Whatever the case, I have found that the hunt itself enhances the overall culinary experience.
An old proverb says, "He who chops his own wood is twice warmed." That may be true, but I would better that by adding, "He who grills the meat that he has hunted over coals from the wood that he has chopped is both warmed and filled."
On the wall of my study, right beneath a framed photograph of me posing with a recently deceased 6x6 bull elk, is a Biblical quote taken from the 27th chapter of the book of Genesis. The words, originally spoken by the patriarch Isaac to his eldest son, Esau, have since been repeated in some form or another by countless others down through the years, who, like the hero of old, have appreciated the opportunity to sink their chops into a good steak. The verse reads, "Take your bow and a quiver full of arrows out into the open country, and hunt some wild game for me. Prepare it just the way I like it so it is savory and good, and bring it here for me to eat."
Granted, the dialogue is taken directly from a story of rivalry, deception, trickery, and lying -- none of which draw a parallel to any archery hunter with whom I am acquainted. But despite this discrepancy, it seems to me that these ancient instructions must not be ignored. I can assure you that I, for one, will not be accused of showing disregard for a clear Biblical directive. If the Bible tells me to pick up my bow and arrows and go chase down some wild game, that's exactly what I'm going to do!
I have also found that I enjoy introducing others to the savory delights of wild game. Recently my wife and I donated a dinner party to the annual charity auction that is put on by my church. The meal was advertised as a wild game barbecue that we would host on our back deck.
It was a great success all around. A good price was fetched for our chosen charity, and the eight people who together made the purchase -- five of whom had never before parted their lips for a piece of meat that had not been domestically raised -- left with a new appreciation for the succulent flavor of well-prepared game. They started off a little tentatively, but within a short while were lining up for the kabobs, chops, and steaks that were coming off the grill.
To create the right atmosphere, and to ensure that our guests would have the full experience, I had hung a couple of whitetail mounts on the corner posts of the deck. I was worried at first that I had made a strategic error, as I began to hear whispers of, "They're so cute." But once the meal began not much was heard other than the smacking of lips, brief words of approval, and a smattering of incoherent phrases that seemed to indicate gastronomic delight.
As the evening progressed, the conversation naturally began to shift from eating wild game to hunting wild game. This took surprisingly little prompting on my part. Having been primed by the fine meal and a few glasses of wine, they were now eager for the main course -- a full and detailed account of some of my most memorable hunts. For the next hour, as I toured them through my trophy room, I entertained them with tales of my accomplishments and left them with the general impression that my skill and cunning as an archery hunter border on the legendary.
To those with an untrained ear it may have sounded as though I was bragging, and perhaps even embellishing some of the details as I told my stories. But to everyone else it was obvious. Of course I was bragging! Unabashed, shameless boasting is one of the foremost rites of those who hunt.
The evening could hardly have turned out better than it did. Our guests headed for home with their appetites satisfied and their ears ringing with some of the juiciest hunting folklore that has ever been told. As they were leaving, they told me that next year they would outbid anyone for the privilege of coming back for more of my food and my lies.
How good is that?
And just to set the record straight, I do eat my vegetables. (I've been told that they're good for me.) But until broccoli develops the stealth of a whitetail buck and peas learn to keep up with a speeding antelope, they will never be served as a main course on my table. And until a head of lettuce grows a body, some legs, and maybe a set of antlers, it will remain a lowly side dish.
Anything else just wouldn't be right.
The author, a resident of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, has written several humor stories for Bowhunter.