Monday, October 17, 2011

Venison Stew

I just ate last nights venison stew left overs.  It was terrific.
Venison stew is a delicacy of the first order. It's only comparison is moose stew but I prefer venison stew  to moose stew.  Moose steaks and roasts are better however than venison.
In Europe only the aristocracy was allowed to eat venison, peasants being predominantly vegetarian, having weekly chicken and the occasional pig.  The Kings and Queens, Lords and Lairds owned all the deer stock  because all the hunting rights in all lands was privately owned.  Poaching was the illegal taking of private game and punishable by imprisonment and even death.
To make venison stew you must first have venison.  Ideally you shoot the deer yourself.  Farmed deer isn't the same as wild mule deer.  Gifted venison is a delight but never as good as venison you've harvested yourself.
To that end you should obtain a firearm, ideally a long rifle. I've hunted deer successfully with bow and arrow but rifle is the way I most commonly obtain venison.
To own a rifle  in Canada you need a Possession Permit. To obtain this you have to demonstrate on an exam that you know rifle safety.  Most people today take a course in firearms before taking the exam.  The course in firearms costs a couple of hundred dollars while the test costs about fifty dollars.  The license then costs another fifty or so dollars and requires good reference and a police check.
I challenged my rifle test without taking the course but then I'd received my first firearm safety diploma by the age of 16 years old.  My Dad enrolled my brother in hunter safety courses at the local hunting club we belonged to as a family. Back then before the rise in fuel costs, vehicles and cost of skyrocketing beaurocracies and government debt to pay for them, hunting was a relatively inexpensive past time for the few who were skilled and proficient.
Once you have a firearm license you can buy a rifle. I shot my last deer with a Mossberg 30:30 but most of the deer I've shot with a Browning 30:06 or a Ruger 30:06.  I hit a deer with a black powder bullet once but the bullet bounced off and deer, rather startled, made a quick exit.
Most good deer rifles new cost about $500 to $1000 but second hand can be bought for a few hundred dollars.  High end rifles run tens of thousands of dollars.  Ammunition for deer guns is often anywhere from fifty cents to $2 a bullet.  Targets cost a dollar each.  One exmilitary hunter told me he didn't think hunters should be hunting unless they shoot a thousand rounds a year at targets.  I usually shoot dozens of shots at targets to sight in my scope each year but do most of my target practice with a 22 rifle or my 223, light load shells, the first not for hunting deer and the second which can be used for hunting deer. Both have inexpensive shells, 22 long rifle can be pennies a shell where as 223 can be 20 cents a shell.  Hunters often stockpile shells because you can get deals as good as a tenth of the standard prices when stock is on sale.  I probably target practice a hundred or two rounds a year and think I'll do more. My friend Richard though admits to winning awards for target practice but finding it very difficult to hit game.  Buck fever refers to the moment before a shot when a hunter can become so exciting their rifle starts to wave about the air. My older friend Bill taught me always to use a rest, lean gun or self against something, before a shot, if possible, to steady oneself.  Forget about what Hollywood shows and watch the Discovery Channel instead.
Once you have a rifle and have target practiced with the rifle so you can hit bulls eyes consistently and your pattern of shells is consistently in a tight grouping an inch or so apart at most at 100 yards you're ready to  do the CORE program. This is a course on wildlife and hunting safety. It's designed to help you recognise game, not kill cows or horses or your neighbour.  The course is alsa a couple hundred dollars with an exam that probably most pass right off if they take the course.
Increasingly there are women gun owners and women hunters.  In addition immigrants from eastern Europe and other areas have like some Canadians been raised on hunting and firearms so are attracted to the great wilderness in Canada.
You will need in addition to a general hunting license a tag for hunting mule deer, about $25 and a tag for hunting white tail deer, the same price.  There is a limit of 1 or 2 deer of each species throughout British Columbia except on one of the islands. Bow hunting season usually opens a week before rifle season. Mostly you're only allowed to shoot mature male animals. The Wildlife Conservation folk keep track of the numbers of deer in an area with a variety of spotting and counting and estimating measurements which result in the limit setting for each region each year as well as the numbers for the lottery for limited entry hunting.  Three of us won a moose lottery at $20 a ticket but none of us shot a moose this year in the area and days designated.
Once you have a firearm license and hunting license you can obtain the Hunting Regulations. These almost require a lawyers assistance in deciphering. They tell you what game, what age of game, what gender of game, where the game can be hunted and how many of the game can be taken in any specific very limitted area, and time. Sometimes an area will only open for a week of hunting, other areas are open for three months. Most deer hunting starts late August and ends in December.    Some areas bucks are allowed whereas other areas a few miles away only 4 point antlered bucks are allowed.  It's necessary to have an area map and follow the outlines of the hunting districts to know what is legal when in your hunting district.
Hunting is done in the country.  I suspect you could take a bus to get to the hunting area but you couldn't bring your dead deer back on the bus. Canada, unlike olden Mexico, doesn't allow for dead carcasses or live chickens on the bus.  So most people who hunt have a car or truck.
A 4x4 car or truck is the favoured machine though increasingly off road motorcycles and all terrain vehicles are the ticket. I've horse back hunted once with aboriginal friends and loved it. Today I love my Polaris 500 cc Sportsman ATV.  Most of my hunting though has been done in my Ford 4x4 Broncho II, or the Volkswagon Vanagon, the Astro 2 wheel drive Van, the Toyota 4x4 Truck, the Ford 4x4  Ranger truck or the Ford F350 Diesel truck.  All the 4x4 vehicles served to get me to and from work as well but I bought them knowing I'd be using them also in the back country. The Vanagon went amazing places but it's real advantage was that it had a heater and bed.  Lots of hunters like trucks with campers so they can get as close to where they are going to hunt, park and walk from the campsite.  I've done that mostly.  This year though I hauled an RV into the backwoods and returned to luxury at the end of the day of hunting. Other times I've stayed in cabins I've rented in the backwoods or towns close to where I've wanted to hunt.
I hiked all over God's half acre and carried deer on my back miles to the road. I 've quartered game and hauled it out. I've dragged a deer all day to get it back to a road. where I could bring my truck in.  Shooting deer is for most of us hunters is considered the easy part.  There's a brief 'rush' and  satisfaction in the 'kill' but it's far from hollywood. Once the game is down the real work begins.
Before I shot my first deer I was an accomplished back woodsman.  I knew all about survival and living in the woods and living off the land. I'd been a cub scout and a boy scout and was raised Canadian style by my hunter father having spent time on my grandfather's ranch as well.  Knowing animals and birds and stars and tracks was just part of my childhood. We camped every summer and hiking with Dad and my older outdoorsman brother, Ron,   was one of the great pleasures of my childhood.  I brought to hunting generations of knowledge and experience from childhood.  I then as a teen ager began hunting upland game birds and ducks with my father as well as belonging to Outdoor Hunting clubs and Gun clubs.  Eventually I'd do wilderness medicine as well but that's a whole different story.
4x4 vehicles are more expensive than standard city cars for purely functional purposes. The backwoods puts tremendous stress on these vehicles. When I lived in Kitsilano I noted almost everyone had a 4x4 but mine was the only one that had been taken off road into logging trails. You can tell by the 'bush burns' on the paint job.  Driving along these trails the bush rubs the sides of the vehicles.  Break downs and paint jobs can add a whole other dimension to the cost of hunting. I blew an engine in the Broncho II when I was swept downstream in a torrential rain storm.  I broke an axle on another vehicle and ripped a hole in an oil pan on another. That's besides all the dints.
Today just the price of gas is prohibitive. I spent nearly $500 in fuel costs for one hunt recently, just the fuel to get to the spot and then to drive around the territory. The advantage of ATV's is that the wear and tear goes to the lesser costing machine and the fuel costs of travel from base camp are significantly reduced.
Hunting for a city boy is a very costly sport. My friend who lives in the country shoots deer out his back acre the way I used to shoot rabbits and pheasants in my back yard when I lived on Vancouver Island.  Just to get to a likely area where hunting is possible around Vancouver involves at least a 100 mile drive for most of us.  In the country guys usually just shoot a deer on the weekend and rarely have to take significant time off work for deer hunting.  There's often an annual moose hunt when deer can be shot as well but the city hunter often has to take days off work to off set the travel time and cost involved.
Once you have the rifle license, ammunition and hunting license and deer tags, regulations and a vehicle to get you to the hunting grounds it's usually days or sometimes weeks of hunting before you are individually successful. Prospective hunters often prefer to hire a guide or stay at a hunting lodge, either costing usually $1000 to $3000 a day or thereabouts.  A week of hunting at a good lodge for $5000 is a very good deal in British Columbia.  $10,000 a week is reasonable. The guide knows where the game is spending their time, year round following the game.  They guaratee a shot.  That's essentionally what a thousand dollars buys. Guides don't guarantee a 'kill'.
I had several of what a guide would reasonably call a 'shot' this year and missed them all.  It was a bad year for misses despite my high accuracy with targets and coca cola cans.  Other years I've hit nearly every bird or animal I've shot at.  The guided experience has a lot to say for it and British Columbia has some of the finest guides and most impressive hunting lodges in the world.  It's a major aspect of BC Eco tourism.  People come from all over the world to shoot mule deer or white tailed deer in British Columbia, hunting magazines carrying countless stories of the great hunts outsiders have known here.
I was fortunate young to meet Bill Mewhort here in BC.  He was a guide when he was younger but we just met and became friends and hunting buddies. He taught me some of the greatest basics of deer hunting as well as some of the secrets.
One simple thing is that deer come down to drink at night and go back into the mountains in the morning. That alone helps one figure where the greatest likelihood of finding game relative to water is at what time of day.  I've seen Bill call deer in and almost had wild animals eating out of his hands.  His skill as a hunter is legendary. The pictures he has of hunts he's been on and the game he's killed is reminscent of an earlier century.  Today we'll lucky to see bucks and even luckier to shoot them.
I am thankful to my father and to Bill that I've been fortunate enough to shoot usually one big game each year of the last half century I've hunted big game.
Once you find a buck and shoot it, you have to gut it and field dress it. This is a skill. Bill taught me on site but my Dad had shown me how to skin a deer he had hanging in the basement. He insists it was in the garage but my brother and my friends remember that deer hanging in the basement.
The internet has some very good you tube videos showing how to gut a deer, core the anus and pull out the bladder without spilling urine. The gutting of the deer is removing the stomach and intestines so the enzymes don't spill on the meat and taint. The same goes with ensuring the urine doesn't spill in the cavity.  I've only gut shot one deer and regretted it since it was a poor kill, a mess and I had to do a lot of cleaning to salvage the meat.  All the other deer I've shot in the heart or chest or head the places where  it's best to shoot deer.
How well field dressed game is, how clean the carcass is kept defines how well the meat tastes. Though sometimes when a person says they had 'gamey' meat it reflects what the animal was eating most often it reflects how the meat was cared for and later how it was prepared.  I heard of a guy last year who shot a deer in late august, hung it for a day or two and the meat was rancid by the time they got it to the butcher.  In the heat flies lay eggs in the carcass.
The idea once the deer is field dressed is then to get it back to the camp.  Some people throw deer in the back of truck bed where there's been grease and oil and what not and wonder why the meat doesn't taste sweet. I always use a clean tarp.  I hang the game and skin it and try to avoid leaving hair on the meat. Sometimes if I'm transporting the game I put the carcass in cheese cloth to protect it. If I'm not getting it to a butcher that day I hang it. If it's warm weather I get it to a butcher that same day. In cold weather I've hung the carcass a day or two, high, so wolves and bear don't get at it.  Mostly though I've taken it out to a wild game cutter the same day. This time I used Johnston's Meats in Chilliwack.
I've butchered a half dozen deer my self but prefer the professional game cutter. I like the labelled brown paper packaged cuts better than my rougher butchered cuts.  I started out in surgery but there's a lot to be said for professionalism in any field, practice and the right tools and space.
Venison stew requires cubed meat.  I've marinaded all my wild game at times in the past in a mixture of half red wine and half soy sauce with a tablespoon of honey.  I don't tend to do that these days and rarely marinade stew meat. Instead I sautee onion and garlic in a frying pan, put that in a pot, then sautee the venison cubes in the same pan. I use a combination of virgin olive oil and butter for brazing the meat.  Then I put this in the pot.  I commonly use canned crushed tomatoes. I've done everything from scratch and grown my own vegetables in the past but  I like Italian canned tomatoes just as much so now often just add one or two fresh tomatoes. I often boil potatoes and cut them up in small bite size bits adding this and the potatoe water to the stew.  I usually add a stalk of celery. I almost always use carrots, usually green peas and sometimes corn.  This is a base and then I add whatever vegetables, sometimes, nuts, and other things I have around. If I have beans I'll add these and tend the stew to a chilli. If it's going to be a stew I then add salt, pepper, rosemary, oregano, basil in teaspoons or a tablespoon amount in my palm. I taste it as I go along simmering and stirring.
There are some great books on cooking wild game. I generarlly tell seasoned chefs to cook it like lamb or goat.  It's that kind of meat.  If I want it hotter I add some cayenne pepper.  I'm adding spices from the time I begin brazing the meat.  I always add a tablespoon of honey and soy sauce.  I like tabasco sauce as well. Each stew is a unique experience and decidedly medicinal for me. It reminds me of the concoctions I made years back in chemistry and biochemistry labs. I 'm cooking and praying and generally making food for the heart and soul.  It's a sacred and divine matter, cooking wild game you've killed yourself.  Alot of essence happening.
There are some great recipe books specific to wild game. Karen gave me one one year that was the best of it's kind but I've not got it here to know the name. I usually peruse them to see if they're making stews in the ball park that I am and find out if they have any other neat ideas.  I've used olives, corn, almonds and as I've said whatever I have lying around.
I simmer the stew for a couple of hours usually.  Venison stew made in a slow cooker crock pot is one of my favourite.  I've also loved pressure cooking venison stew as the meat becomes so tenderized that way. These days living on a sailboat I'm doing one pot cooking on a gas stove.
I then add more spices near the end since the original spices I've added are usually taken up in the meat and such. This last bit of spice gives some zip to the flavour.  Like the French I like to add a table spoon or two of butter to my venison stew.
I serve the stew when I can with fresh baked bread. I used me make my own bread and it was best then.  This year I've had fresh bread from a baker which has really added something to the meal.  I like diet coke with venison.  What can I say? When I drank wine it was cabernet I had but wine tends to blunt the taste more than improve the palate.  We certainly didn't have wine with the venison stew I had growing up. That's still some of the best in my memory.  Admittedly coca cola is better than diet coke but that too is a whole other story most chefs will identify with.
I like the left over stew even better than the first day. I usually make enough so that I can put away several portions for 2 or 3 more meals which I freeze in tupperware.
After a long day of work there is simply nothing like the nutrition and uplifting spiritual experience of having venison stew that has been left out in the day to defrost before re cooking on the stove or taken  right out of the freezer to be microwaved.
There's just something about left overs! I think it's just the time that's allowed for marinading and for the spices to really soak into the food.  There's tenderizing that can go on too. All wild game can be a bit tougher and certainly is leaner because the animals aren't just standing around fattening up for the slaughter.  They're living a full and spectacular life free before they come to the pot.  That's why I used to marinade the meat overnight in a jug in the refridgerator before using it for the stew. This process increased the tenderization.  Now I don't bother, liking the taste just as much though admittedly like the leftovers better, and I've noted I'm lazier now than when I was younger. So maybe left overs taste better because the work that went into the stew preparation is just a memory.
Venison Stew usually isn't given away easily. Rarely are others invited into the homes of hunters.  It's like bankers rarely invite others to see inside the vault.  Rarely is this delicacy shared except among other hunters who appreciate the gift. Why throw pearls to swine.  Why waste the divine on the unwashed?
 City folk who don't know what they're eating from the store and live lives of quiet despiration convincing themselves their faith is well founded in much handled and far distributed food, usually lack the education to truly understand venison stew .  It's like caviar.  At most people might appreciate it for it's rarity and expense but they are unlikely to grasp the full meaning of a home cooked venison meal provided by the hunter.  When I eat my venison stew there's no middle men except sometimes the game cutter.
It's far more expensive than caviar per ounce usually too. Maybe a thousand dollars an ounce begins to approximate the cost.  This year alone I put 20 days on weekends including a week hunting before I shot one deer.   The hunting day starts at 4 am and ends at dusk.  Success comes with dedication, training, stick to itness, and then plain good luck or what we choose to call "God acting anonymous. Admittedly I love the wilderness and outdoors, sitting in silence, stalking silently or putting or roaring around on my ATV.  Most deer I've shot have been in cold wet weather when even a dedicated hunter would rather be inside in the warm.
Golfing in contrast to hunting is for commoners. It's a sport for boys and girls.   Hunting is truly one of the most exclusive of adult sports by comparison.  Golfing being of Scottish descent though redeems it as worthy of adults but barely.
Deer hunting is a spiritual pursuit as well.  I'm not surprised that more women are coming to the hunt especially those who are choosing bow hunting over rifle hunting. I must admit the deer I shot with bow was probably one of the finest tasting deer of all. The noise of the gun is what scares game as much as the bullet. When my arrow hits the deer it can continue to eat before falling over.  The fact is I have had to be infinitely quiet bow hunting and get within 50 yards of the animal.
These days I take my silly young dog with me and we rather cavalierly go for treks about the forest shooting deer only when God decides. Then I like a rifle that can shoot a deer at 200 or 300 yards. Most of my shots though have been around 100 yards.  One deer I got on a hunting trip when it ran in front of my truck as I drove at dawn to the hunting spot I'd planned to climb to. Nothing wrong with roadkill if it's that fresh.
That said there's something special about venison stew and it's even more special shared with someone who can appreciate it's finest qualities.  Too many people have been trained to only like meat if it retains the taste of plastic cellophane from the factory packaging.
This fall Victor gave me some venison before I shot my deer.  It was only a couple of years ago another friend shared some of his venison stew with me. I felt blessed on both occasions. I am ever so thankful to the deer whose death gives me and my loved one life.  I love venison stew.


Anonymous said...

That's a mighty tale!

haykind said...

Thank you! The tuna, salmon and lingcod I catch cost about the same if not more.