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They are what they eat

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POSTED October 2, 2011 11:37 p.m.

Corn-fed was a prison guard. In all my life I have never seen a better convergence of a person, a name and an occupation. Corn-fed was built very much like a steer that stood on two legs; he was huge. In his occupation as a prison guard his size was a great asset. The inmates did what he told them to do and didn’t give him any trouble. It was as if he was made for the job.

A while back, I wrote about the benefits of eating wild game and fish. There are no additives like monosodium glutamate and no hormones like diethylstilbestrol. Wild trout from a pristine mountain stream is probably one of most healthy proteins you could ever eat.  In addition to being good for you, it is a delight to the taste buds. Over the years I have had numerous people tell me that they had tried eating wild game and didn’t like the “gamey” taste. Whenever I hear such an opinion, I suspect there are a few factors at work: one is psychosomatic, another is physical care of the meat, and a third is what kind of food your wild critter has been eating.

On the psychological side, there have been numerous examples of someone who was fed a wild game dish, but not told exactly what it was until after dinner was over and the guest had expressed delight with the food. My Mom was like that. I’d go out hunting as a teenager and bring back a pair of pheasants for Thanksgiving dinner. I’d clean and pluck the birds and my Grandmother would cook them. Everyone in the family would comment on how good the meal was, but Mom would go to Casper’s and bring home foot-long hot dogs to eat while the rest of us had pheasant. I’m not sure there is much that you can do to treat the psychological aversion to wild game.

Regarding the physical care of the meat, I suspect that the “gamey” taste people complain of is a function of how well the meat has been handled prior to being served at the table. A butcher friend of mine once told me that if you killed a steer in your pasture and then put him in the back of your pickup and drove around for a couple days before taking the critter to your local butcher, that the beef would taste pretty wretched. Careful handling of your wild game is essential to getting good tasting food. You must clean and cool the animal immediately and get it to a meat locker as soon as possible. If you do, you will be rewarded with some of the best food you will ever eat.

The final factor contributing to the taste of wild game is what kind of food your quarry has been eating. Bear meat from a bear that’s been raiding an apple orchard or gorging in a wild berry patch is great food. A bear that was shot while raiding a garbage dump is going to taste pretty much like garbage. Just like humans, “they are what they eat”. Another great example of this principle is what I call A Tale of Two Pheasants. Several years ago a farmer friend of mine invited me to hunt pheasants with him in a pepper field he’d just harvested. There were broken peppers everywhere we walked, and the pheasants were stuffing themselves with pepper seeds. Logically enough those pheasants had a hot spice flavor to them. In another year I hunted pheasants in a buddy’s corn field. A freak windstorm had hit the corn field just before harvest and knocked about a fourth of the ears on the ground. I think there must have been some sort of message passed along the pheasant grapevine, because it seemed like every pheasant for 50 miles had converged on the damaged cornfield. The pheasant hunting was fantastic, and when it got to the table the corn-fed pheasant meat was wonderful.

If you want great natural food, take special care in handling your wild game, avoid pepper field pheasants, and don’t shoot garbage dump bears.

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