Eating Wild Game: The Best Part

There’s a very simple rule about eating wild game and all four-footed creatures whether we hunt them or buy them at Bob’s Thriftway: the most tender meat is higher and to the rear. The lower you go, and the farther forward you go, the probability is for less tender meat.

As we all know however, any animal can be tender from the tip of its tail to its front toenails. Or the opposite. But most wild animals—and commercially raised animals– tend to follow the rule. It’s why the whitetail tenderloin always disappears first.

Want the bad news? Higher and rear-er is also less flavorful.

Now rules are fine, but there’s personal preference as well. I like a variety of meats and cuts in the freezer: steaks, roasts, ground venison and sausage. Last year we cooked a lot of venison burger recipes, other years its venison pot roast recipes that rule. This year I didn’t make enough sausage, so as I’m butchering wild game this fall, that’s what I’ll have in mind.

So number one: that means we won’t be making steaks from the front quarters even when the animal is tender from tail to nose.

And number two? We’ll be cutting larger pieces where possible from the hind quarter. That saves time, but it also gives us pot roasts and nice dry roasted rumps for weekend grazing and hosting our hunting friends.

We started with the two antelope I just shot in Eastern Montana, a buck and a nice fat doe.

Eating Wild GamePreparing Wild Game for Eating

The first step: It’s always easier to trim sinew from larger pieces of meat, so do that before you start cutting steaks and roasts. Trim the stuff you can’t see through; leave the stuff that you could read fine print of your iPhone contract through.

butchering wild gamePreparing Wild Game Meat

The thigh meat makes a large roast, even on a small animal like an antelope or whitetail doe, so I like to bone the femur out of it, and have one big piece.

Starting either at the top of the femur (bottom of photo) or the knee (mid-right edge), point the knife down and slice through the top of the thigh meat until you touch bone. Slice the meat from the sides, then under the femur. Cut each end of the roast, one end from the knee out, and one end from the top of the femur out. Once you can see from either side of the roast, free the rest of the meat from the bone. One big piece.

Preparing Wild Game Meat

Now take the meat from the upper calf. Set it aside for stew.

I used to take it all, but the farther you go down on the leg, the higher the percentage of hard connective tissue to meat. A certain percentage of that can go into soups and stews without hurting flavor, but now that we all have Instantpots, it’s tempting to put more of that stuff in than your taste buds will appreciate.

Preparing Wild Game Meat

Finish trimming the rump roast. Fat, opaque sinew, dried meat or blood. If you took a rutty old mule deer buck or bull elk, and you’ve taste tested him and found the meat a bit gamy, trim the fat and sinew with more care. That gamy flavor sits in the sinew and only gets worse as freezer time adds up.

Tie the roast. Take a longer than usual stretch of freezer paper, set the roast toward one end. Roll the roast in the paper snugly once, then a second roll, so it is double-wrapped, press the air out on each side and fold against the roast, like wrapping a Christmas present. Tape, it shut then add a label. Antelope Doe, rolled rump roast, 10/23 for instance.

Since we both hunt, we use names to make it easier to separate animals taken the same day, presidents and first ladies for the last few years. In these photos, Liz the Antelope is named after Elizabeth Kortright Monroe, wife of President James Monroe, our fifth president. Since we started with George and Laura Bush, that means we’re running out of presidents.

Preparing Wild Game for Eating

Would you like steaks instead? Here’s a different hind quarter, but showing how to cut steaks. The femur is the dividing line. You’ll get the bigger steaks from the back of the leg, but depending on the size of the animal—mature elk and moose for instance—the front can provide a very nice steak as well.

For more details and photos of butchering and after-the-shot tips, Taste-Testing your game and other game handling science facts, check out Slice of the Wild: it not only has 100 great venison recipes—for elk, moose, whitetail, mule deer— it starts with 60 pages of bullet to fork game care and butchering.

When you’re cooking commercial meat, all you really need is a recipe. But take the animal yourself, and you need more information: like cooling the carcass, when and why to skin in the field, aging, and cutting. The best wild game cookbooks take responsibility for that pre-kitchen counter prep work, and Slice of the Wild offers all that plus choices: at our house I don’t always know which way my taste buds will take me, and that’s important when I’m cutting up game meat in the fall. It’s one reason these large rump roasts are handy. Plus, they’re versatile. Six months from now I may need more ground whitetail. I can still do that. Had I ground up that rump, there’d be no going back to satisfy a pot roast urge.

And larger pieces of meat fare better in the freezer than smaller ones.

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