Jim Zumbo - Everything Outdoors

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Why Venison Can Be Gamey

Posted by on in Hunting
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     Taste is in the tongue of the beholder. Every individual has personal food preferences. When it comes to venison, all sorts of factors come into play. That's because deer, elk, and other big game animals are wild. Totally organic, never manipulated with feeds, steroids, growth hormones or antibiotics to produce a certain quality of meat.

     Some people have an aversion to venison because they simply are turned off by eating a wild animal, or they might have had a bad meal once and never wanted to try again. I knew a woman whose idea of cooking venison steaks was slapping them in oil in a frying pan and cooking them well done. Salt and pepper was applied. That's it. Most of those deer were old mule deer bucks that were in the rut when they were shot. That woman's children grew up to dislike any venison because of their early experiences.

photo 42     You can blame a variety of reasons for a deer's unique taste. First, venison isn't supposed to taste like beef. It's supposed to taste like venison. Pork tastes like pork, chicken taste like chicken. Venison can be more gamey because it was old, because of its diet, or it was in the rut. Caribou are a good example. In my opinion, a caribou taken in late August with a velvet coating on it's antlers is delectable, similar to veal. But a couple months later, when they're in the rut, the meat is basically inedible. It stinks, even the dogs won't eat it.

     To be sure, there are countless recipes that will make venison taste great. On a humorous note, when I published my venison recipe book, someone scoffed and said there were no recipes needed. He liked venison in it's pure form, by golly, and didn't want it altered. To each his own, I guess.

     But this blog isn't about recipes, it's about the primary reason venison can be gamey, and it's PREVENTABLE. It's all about field care. What you do when the animal expires determines it's quality on your plate. Consider this. When an animal dies, it immediately begins to decompose. The answer to stave off that decomposition is to cool the meat as fast as you can. So that's your job. You must quickly open up the animal, remove the internal organs, and take every step to move the carcass into the shade, hang it in a tree, or better yet, skin and quarter it, put the meat in game bags, and hang them. This chore is exceedingly more challenging when working with a large animal such as an elk or moose.

photo 43

     I think that as soon as you skin the animal, the quicker the carcass will cool, and I also think that by not skinning it quickly in warm weather, you risk losing it. If you can't skin it, you can take steps to help it to cool. The windpipe is first to sour. Always cut it out if you must leave an unskinned animal overnight unless, of course, you want to have it mounted. Another tip is to lay several wrist-sized branches on the ground and roll the carcass on the branches so air can circulate underneath.

     My friend Rick has a portable hoist/winch that he takes along on hunts where he can get a carcass to the vehicle. The animal is hung by both hind legs, and skinned on the spot. Then it's either quartered and put in game bags or large coolers containing plenty of ice.

     Every animal presents a certain challenge. It's up to you to figure out the best course of action, and you'll never regret the extra time and effort it took to properly care for your animal in the field.

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