During the twelve years that I’ve spent writing professionally about wild game and the hunting lifestyle, I’ve received hundreds of inquiries from hunters and hunters’ families asking how to keep wild game from tasting gamey. For the most part I’ve played along with these requests. I’ve stressed the importance of harvesting animals with an eye toward flavor and tenderness instead of just trophy quality. I’ve urged guys to promptly gut their animals and keep the meat cool and dry. And I’ve instructed people on how to properly wrap meat for the freezer.
While all of the above things are certainly helpful when it comes to putting up quality wild game, there’s one culprit for off-tasting game meat that I’ve always been afraid (or too polite) to mention: Us.
That’s right, us. More than any other factor—more than rutting hormones, more than heat, more than old age, more than poor field care—Americans are to blame for the fact that some of our wild game is off-putting.
Of course, it’s not entirely our fault. We’ve been duped by an over-engineered and industrialized food system into thinking that red meat should taste like the pale, flavorless, fat-infused, grain-fed trash that they mash into a paste and form into things with names that remind you of overweight professional wrestlers: Whopper, Big Mac, Baconator. And we’ve been fooled into thinking that birds shouldn’t taste like anything at all except whatever spices and saline solutions that processors pump into them in order to make every single one taste exactly the same way—across the world, and throughout time.
After a life of eating such offerings from restaurants and grocery stores, it’s no wonder some folks detect something “funny” tasting when they bite into the meat of an animal that lived in the wild and developed the strength and wherewithal to run, jump, evade predators, compete for mates, and otherwise fend for itself on an unmanaged and natural landscape. What I’m saying is this: When we complain about gaminess, we’re actually complaining about the very thing that is most inspiring about our precious wild game resources: wildness.
Instead of just complaining about this, I’m going to suggest a solution. As hunters, we do all kinds of things to make ourselves better practitioners of our discipline. We do pre-season workouts, we shoot at the range in the months leading up to season, we invest money and time to make sure our gear is in top condition. In addition to these things, there’s something else that hunters should be doing throughout the year. We should be eating the wild game we harvest, no matter the particular attributes of the animal’s flesh. Until it’s completely gone, our wild game should be the only protein in our freezer. The goal of this is to recapture our ancestral sense of normalcy. We should learn to taste the rutty buck and appreciate it as something novel, not something flawed. The fish-eating diver duck should be an unusual break from grass-fattened Canada geese, not an abhorrent derivation from feedlot cattle. I’ll know that we’ve succeeded in this when I get the following e-mail: “Dear Steve: I need some help with a problem I’m having. Whoppers have begun to taste funny to me.”
I look forward to the day.