Cooking our hard-earned wild game after the harvest means much more than just turning on the grill. As outdoorsmen and women, we often like to reflect on the gathering of wild game (any wild game, including fish) as an experience that is highly spiritual in methodology and thought. One great phrase that we love to use is, "groceries don't come from the grocery store" which is simply meant to verbally share the fact that feeding ourselves is work that we love and strive for. It is said that eating is a celebration, and no one knows that more than the millions of hunters and fishermen that routinely take from nature, knowing full well how important that bounty is and what it means to protect it for future generations. Simply said, we don't take our wild game for granted.
As sporting outdoors people, we love a good steak or piece of chicken just like anybody else and just want to know that the big farms and ranches are looking after their product with an eye on quality - a quality that is difficult to obtain - like that which we can harvest for ourselves in the woods and fields of North America. Once we have acquired that wild game, we love to care for it long after the hunt to make sure that it is not only enjoyed as table fare, but respected as the life of the animal that it was.
After the Harvest
In "The Hunter's Way" I wrote: "The harvest is personal and comes with a range of emotions, sometimes diametrically opposed to each other - one moment sharing reverence for an animal, the next in utter anticipation of taking its life. The meal before him cannot utter its own version of the story, so the hunter feels responsible for discussing the hunt's implications."
It is a big deal to take from nature and we only mean to care for our wild game properly before placing it on the table in front of our family. Since the days are long gone of actually eating our quarry on the spot where it expired, we surely have the time and the attention to detail to care for the meat, it's just that sometimes we get a little lazy.
The fact is, we have come a long way in our hunting culture and prowess to the point we can afford to treat our harvest with the respect that it deserves. With proper planning and the specific ingredients, a meal of wild game meat has gone from good eating to the celebration that it truly is meant to be.
Zen and Cooking
Without going into a long discussion of Buddhism and the Noble Eightfold Path, we just want to say that cooking much like hunting is a transformation. When we prepare to hunt, we change into that which makes us a predator by the way we think, the way we compose ourselves, and the tools that we choose. We may relax in a tree, in a blind, or with our back to a rock wall but we have come to learn that patience is a big part of waiting for wild game to show. We must deal with heat, rain, snow, and other elements all the while having a hope of what is to come; if the plan will work out. We are at the whim of nature whether we like it or not.
Much is the same for the way that we cook our wild game.
We use heat and water to cook, along with the patience to wait out our ultimate prize. It seems like we work as hard to prepare the food as we do on the preparation for the hunt. And we love it just as much. We may watch the pot, but we still get distracted by our surroundings, only to return to the work at hand after some time of reflection.
The Wild Game Bounty
This is the time to slow down and make sure that you've done some reflective thinking. You're going to want to remember what it took to prepare, fool, and take this game so don't get in a hurry now. Consider well ahead of time what the meal prep means and take charge of it. You took the time to do your homework before you left home to gather this game meat, so make sure you have put everything in its place when it comes time to cook it. This is now the time you will want to perform a little "helicopter" cooking strategy since wild game is quite low in fat and it should have your constant attention.
This is the gladdest of moments where the hunter will share his or her bounty of jerky, wild game kabobs, or a simple piece of bird for your canine hunting partner. Maybe most importantly is that which we share with the children, as one taste of this precious meat will have them licking their chops and dreaming of their own hunt.
Meditation and Appreciation
It is not just a time for the memory of the successful hunt that filled these plates, but for the work after the fact. When we kneel down to field dress a deer in a genuflecting way, it has all the passion of a prayer to the universe for the life of the animal, and that's not all. We're thankful for the carrots, potatoes, and the cabbage that goes with it because someone somewhere worked hard to grow it. Many of the nomadic native Americans invented some of the best ways to cook and preserve food by building smokehouses to address long term use of wild game meat, even making types of sausage long before you and I knew what it was. Their efforts, even when handled by individuals, were communally minded. This is the way of the hunter and something we should all strive to memorize.