One byproduct of increasing numbers of hunters in Alberta has been the frequent inquiries I receive both before and after last hunting season for suggestions of books dealing with field-dressing, butchering, and cooking wild game.
Obviously these inquiries come from persons new to hunting, who have taken it up as a recreation and a possible a way to some superb organic protein short of yogurt, tofu and pulses, but were worried about what you do next about a big game animal — a deer, say — that you have finally managed to harvest.
When I started hunting deer 40 or so years ago, I was uneasy about the field dressing procedure, should I ever manage to down a deer, and was totally confused by the scant stuff in print in those days. One big help was when the Red Deer Fish and Game Association actually had an animal field-dressed by an expert at one of their meetings. There wasn’t room in the hall for all the people who came to see how it was done.
Hunting alone, I finally took a fat fork horn mule deer one September evening, managed the field dressing, failed at dragging the carcass the short way uphill, reversed down to the long drag on a creek-side trail, off which my deer slid into the creek. So in I went with him, and we both washed up ashore, near my vehicle, soaked and chilled, and me worried sick about the standard and stupid warnings in the books of those days about never washing or wetting the carcass.
When I went to pick up my cut, wrapped and frozen meat in Rocky Mountain House, the butcher, Tom McMahon, asked if I would I mind telling him what I had done with my deer. “Probably everything wrong,” I started, and told him the story. Tom was kind enough to say that he asked only because he had never seen a cleaner carcass and that icy water would have taken the body heat out quickly, the key to sweet venison.
Never have I enjoyed better venison, and many times since then I have immersed a field-dressed carcass in a cold stream (and one antelope in an artesian spring) to cool and clean it, much to the pleasure of various butchers and samplers of the meat.
To get back to answering the question: there are few current books that cover it all, the field dressing and butchering, plus give good, practical recipes that don’t involve finding a soupcon of saffron, or a handful of arugula, etc.
The best book that does it all is Dressing and Cooking Wild Game from The Hunting and Fishing Library. This one is unique, in that it has superb step by step colour photographs of field dressing a deer, including clearly dealing with the delicate parts, the . . . ahh . . . dual exhaust pipes, by the tying off and coring method, but it does recognize the splitting of the pelvic bone method, or a combination of the two. It uses the splitting method on the sternum, or breast bone, but truly skilled surgeons remove it completely by severing both sides where they attach to the rib cage.
The Hunting and Fishing Library is one of the finest outdoors series ever done, particularly for their fine photography. Favourites of mine in this series are: Fish Cookery — Cleaning and Cooking Fish, The Art of Fly Tying, The Art of Fresh Water Fishing, and Trout.
Many of Dressing and Cooking Wild Game’s recipes are among my favourites, including one for excellent small-batch venison breakfast sausage patties, quickly made in a food processor. What you do is trim the gristle and fat from a pound of deer, moose, elk, even antelope (half thawed from the freezer is ideal) and cut into half-inch cubes. Add six ounces of lean slab side bacon (double-smoked, if you can get it) in half-inch cubes. Mix venison and bacon in a bowl with ¾ tsp salt, one tsp dried sage, ½ tsp ground ginger and ¼ tsp ground black pepper, mix, then chop to the desired consistency in an old fashioned meat grinder, if you have one, or a food processor if you don’t. Shape into small patties about a half inch thick and fry and nicely brown the patties on both sides.
The absolute best pure cookbook (nothing on gutting and butchering), in my opinion, is The L.L. Bean Game & Fish Cookbook, by Angus Cameron and Judith Jones, published by Random House. My favourite venison chili recipe is from this one. It is difficult to think of anything Manitou made that this book doesn’t tell you how to cook, including, several beaver recipes, but, mercifully, not a word on porcupine.
These classics are currently out of print, which is not the problem it once was, as I found most of them readily available at great prices, simply by Googling their titles and ordering from the various internet markets that come up, such as amazon.com
Bob Scammell is an awarding winning outdoors writer living in Red Deer.