By DAVID RAINER, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
If your hunting season has gone well and you have plenty of wild game to prepare, you may be looking for new ideas on how to put the best dishes possible on the dinner table. Or you could be a novice hunter getting ready to prepare a meal with wild game for the first time and looking for helpful resources.
With that in mind, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) website, Outdoor Alabama, has just what you’re looking for in the new Wild Eats page at www.outdooralabama.com/WildEats. The page features a list of tasty recipes for a variety of wild game.
“The culmination of a hunting or fishing trip is food,” said Billy Pope, ADCNR’s Communications and Marketing Director. “We wanted to provide a platform on Outdoor Alabama that gives everybody the opportunity to cook wild game with unique recipes and a place for everybody to share their recipes.
“We’re asking people to submit their unique recipes for wild game and fish. We’ve already had submissions for stir-fried duck and collard green soup with venison.”
Pope also said ADCNR realizes many late-onset hunters are pursuing wild game with a different mindset from who grew up in a hunting culture.
“People being introduced to hunting or wanting to learn to hunt are doing it for a different reason,” he said. “They want to harvest their own meat, so they know where it comes from. They want sustainable, healthy protein for their families.
"More and more people are interested in wild table fare, which has made learning to hunt a priority. ADCNR's Adult Mentored Hunting Program has been able to fill the void and introduce new hunters to the art of field-dressing and butchering wild game."
Justin Grider, ADCNR’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division R3 Coordinator, said the process of placing tasty wild game dishes on the dinner table starts well before the hunt.
“Before it’s time to hunt, you need to become proficient with whatever firearm or bow you’re using,” Grider said. “You want to make sure it is shooting where you’re aiming so you can make a good, clean, quick kill. You owe that to the animal as a hunter to make that as quick and painless as possible. When you are proficient with the firearm or bow, it leads to a better end-product when it comes to putting it on the dinner table.”
When the hunter makes a quality shot, it leads to a quick recovery of the animal, and the processing of the animal can proceed without delay.
“The quicker you can get those internal organs and entrails out of that animal, especially deer, and get that body cavity cooled down, the better,” Grider said. “You’re fighting three things – heat, moisture, and dirt. You’re trying to avoid all three.
“Most days in Alabama are relatively warm, so if you don’t have access to a skinning shed, grab a couple of bags of ice from the nearest gas station and throw it into the cavity so it starts to cool down that body cavity. Make sure you get the ice between the hip joints. There’s a lot of heat down there. When you get that cooled down, it will delay any bacteria growth and meat spoilage.”
Grider said when you’re able to get the animal field-dressed in a reasonable amount of time, it allows you to move to the next step in providing that quality wild game for the family.
“I like to let my deer age for seven days,” he said. “If you have access to a walk-in cooler, you can let it hang and allow that deer to go through rigor mortis. That whole product will start to break down and become more tender. If you don’t have a walk-in cooler, which most of us don’t, you can quarter the deer and age that animal in a 55-quart cooler.”
The key to using an ice chest/cooler is to keep the meat elevated above the ice by using some type of rack or baking sheet to keep the meat from coming in contact with any water from the melting ice. Refresh the ice often to maintain the proper temperature.
“That will accomplish the same result as if you had used a walk-in cooler,” Grider said. “That’s going to lead to your best-tasting product. Any time you can age that meat for seven days, that’s kind of the magic number.”
After the aging process is complete, Grider starts with the hind quarters. He debones the quarters and separates the muscle groups. He trims as much of the connective tissue as possible and decides whether to use the meat for roasts, steaks, jerky or ground venison.
“I start from the back of the animal and work my way forward, all the way up to the neck,” he said. “I save that neck roast for slow cooking to break down the connective tissue and make it really tender. Of course, it depends on your needs. Later in the season, after you’ve got some steaks and roasts set aside, you may just focus on grinding the whole thing, so you have plenty of ground meat for the year.”