Enjoying the Harvest

Missouri offers outstanding hunting, and hunters enjoy millions of days of recreation each year pursuing a variety of wildlife species. Hunting seasons also produce, for the lucky hunters, a tremendous source of high quality meat. For example, the result of a typical Missouri deer season is 13 million pounds of venison.

Taking Care of the Game

Some people turn their noses up at wild game, often because of a bad previous experience in which they were served an awful-tasting piece of "gamey" meat. Usually the bad taste results from improper processing or cooking. The series of events from before the shot is taken to the table determines the palatability of the game.

What can you do to produce the best wild game meat? We can take some lessons from the domestic meat industry, which has developed handling procedures that produce marketable and high quality meats. Most of the following deals specifically with deer, but it also can be applied to other game.

Before the shot-The quality of the venison may be affected by the sex and age of the deer you take and what it had been eating. No doubt a young-of the-year deer produces a more tender cut of meat than one that is older. Does this mean that older deer, especially that old buck or bottle-nose doe are not edible? Absolutely not!

People often say, when a hunter brings in a big buck, "You better grind that one up into sausage." It is true that as deer get older, connective tissue-that tough stringy material that attaches muscle to bone-becomes more prominent. Muscle cell walls also become thicker, making the meat a bit tougher. In addition, the meat of rutting bucks may have a "stronger" flavor because of the stress of breeding season and a buck's production of strong glandular secretions.

There also is evidence from the animal sciences industry that diet affects flavor. For example, grain-fed cattle have a better flavor than pastured cattle, and the same could hold for deer, although in wild game the differences may be subtle.

Any sex or age of deer can produce fine venison, if you are flexible in your cooking methods. But if your primary goal is to put the highest quality meat on the table, you should select a younger animal or, if older, a doe.

The shot-A quick and clean kill is the next step in ensuring quality meat. A variety of chemical changes take place in the