Tag Archives: Venison

Mark your calendar!

March 28, 2011

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A sure sign of spring happens this week. It’s the annual Northwest Sportshow, which takes place March 30 through April 3 (Wednesday through Sunday).

Even though the weather has been feeling more like February than late March, walking through the doors of the Minneapolis Convention Center will make you feel better by turning your thoughts — and dreams — toward the upcoming fishing sesaon, not to mention the turkey season just around the corner and, later on, the fall hunting seasons.

Walking the numerous and spacious aisles of the main auditorium is always fun for me, as I have made this an annual adventure. In addition to looking at lots of gear and trip destinations, I have been able to find some good prices on stuff. For example, about two or three years ago, I saw a Nikon Pro Staff scope at the Reed’s booth for $99. It normally sells for $139. So, I bought it for my son’s 20-gauge.

Nikon makes excellent scopes and this one has performed well. This year, we went to the gun range to sight in the shotgun with the Nikon scope. My son, Andy, took three shots at 50 yards to see if the scope was still on (it’s very important to check your scope every year). All three shots — with two different brands of ammo, no less — landed in the bullseye. In fact, they were all touching!

That’s the kind of performance you want in a scope, and the price was great. In fact, I don’t think I have seen a price that low on this scope since then. Some companies offer great deals at the show, so it’s worth looking. My advice would be to price items you are interested in buying, then check the prices at the show to see if there’s a deal to be had.

The show also features numerous seminars dealing with a wide range of topics, including fishing and turkey hunting. Most of them are designed for beginners, so keep that in mind when you’re trying to decide which seminar to attend.

Often times, more advanced tips can be found by talking to people who work in the booths. One of my favorite booths is Ammo Craft, which sells primarily hunting gear. The owner, Ron Becker, is an avid turkey hunter, and he has carried on the tradition of the store’s previous owner, Don Parsons, in supplying a wide array of stuff for turkey hunters.

About two years ago, I bought a push button call from him called the Pro Push Pin Yelper made by Quaker Boy. It’s a great call that is very easy to use. It makes the softer calls like clucks and purrs that can help bring a gobbler into gun range.

Ron recommended the call and I have used it a lot over the last two seasons. It’s my go-to call when I’m trying to get a tom to come those last few critical yards. I have a lot of confidence in this call, and I highly recommend it. Other companies make this type of call, called a pushbutton call. The funny thing is, these calls are so easy to use that they are often overlooked by hunters.

I think what happened is that, when they first came out, they were marketed to hunters who had a tough time using other calls, like box, slate and mouth calls. But, let me tell you, I am proficient with all of these calls, yet I still like my Pro Push Pin Yelper for the soft calls. And, make no mistake, soft calls are very important in turkey hunting, though you hear lots more about the basic mating call of hens in the spring — the yelp.

I remember going to the show way back when I was a preteen. It was held at the Minneapolis Armory, and one of my favorite booths to visit was one run by a guy who called himself The Rat Man. He made a series of jointed wood lures that can best be described as sexy in the water. These lures had more gyrations than the scantily clad women you see on Dancing with the Stars.

Funny thing is, I have never caught a fish on one of these seductive lures. Maybe I didn’t use them often enough. But, that didn’t matter. The Rat Man, complete with his black eye patch — probably used primarily for dramatic effect — was one of the most entertaining characters at the show. And, quite frankly, there has not been anyone like him since he vanished from the scene a number of years ago.

That’s OK. I still like going to the show. I’m fired up about the upcoming turkey hunting and fishing seasons, and I’m fired up about making my annual trip to the Northwest Sportshow.

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Hangin’ tough

December 30, 2010

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After being pushed back because of bad weather, my annual trip down to Red Wing and Cannon Falls to wish landowners a Merry Christmas finally took place this morning.

I always enjoy the chance to visit landowners in person to give them a small gift (venison summer sausage) and let them know how much I appreciate being able to hunt on their land. What’s nice is that they are almost always home and not very busy at this time of year. That means I get to hand them their gift in person, and we actually have some time to talk.

I’m a little old-fashioned in that I prefer to talk to people in person and give them hand-written notes of thanks, rather than sending out an e-mail or mailing a typewritten letter. The way I see it, if I can take the time to drive down and hunt on their land, I can take the time to drive down and say thank you. I feel this kind of personal touch goes a long way toward maintaining a good relationship and, hopefully, securing hunting privileges for the future.

While on the road, I spotted numerous wild turkeys out scratching and scrounging for food. I watched a hen digging in a picked corn field, and marveled at how creatures like this find a way to fill their bellies. No matter how severe the winter, there always seems to be plenty of turkeys in the spring. In my mind, they are one tough critter. Hopefully, the deer will prove just as resilient and resourceful as the turkeys.

The most notable visit on this trip was the one I didn’t make. Just two days before Christmas, the home of Paul and Karen Doyle burned down. They have been very good to us over the years in letting myself, my kids, my friend, Bernie Schwab, and his kids hunt on their land. I feel bad about what happened, and have been praying for them since getting the news.

I am confident God will take care of them. The Doyles have let us and many others hunt on their land over the years, and I believe God will reward them for their generosity. Someone once said that you cannot outdo God in generosity. I think that’s true. I sure hope it is in this case.

In the meantime, I am glad that today’s rain melted at least some of the snow. That should make it easier for the wildlife to find food. I would like to see the deer and turkeys come through the winter in fine shape. That’s one of my wishes for 2011.

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Venison tips

December 2, 2010

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For most deer hunters, the season is over. There are a few diehard archery and muzzleloader enthusiasts yet afield, but many of us who like to chase whitetails now have some meat in the freezer.

So, this is a good time to talk about how to enjoy it. I offer the following tips for preparing and cooking venison:

Don’t thaw too fast. The best way to thaw your meat is in the refrigerator. This protects the venison from dangerous bacteria that can grow if it reaches room temperature. Many people pull steaks from the freezer and place them on a plate in the kitchen to thaw at room temperature. Experts do not recommend this. I have done it on occasion without any harmful results, but it’s best to be safe by doing it in the refrigerator. Generally, it takes about two days, so a little forethought is needed. It may be inconvenient at first, but you’ll get used to it.

Trim, trim, trim. This is a crucial point. Whether you butcher your own deer or have it done at a butcher shop, usually there is some fat, silverskin or other assorted tissue still on the meat. I like to take a fillet knife and trim it all off. My simple rule of thumb is that anything that is not dark red gets cut away. Yes, it’s a putzy job that can seem like a hassle, but this one step alone greatly improves the taste. What some people may not realize is that the gamey flavor that folks complain about is not from the meat itself, but from all of the trim. Once the bad stuff is removed, you’re left with what is actually a very mild delicious piece of meat. Do NOT skip this step.

Tenderizing helps. People often complain that venison is tough and chewy. I discovered a solution to this a few years ago when my son, Joe, shot a large, mature buck. Meat from such deer is notorious for being tough, so I asked Jim Stasny from Stasny’s Food Market in St. Paul (where I get my deer processed) what I could do about it. He recommended — and ordered — a type of meat tenderizer that incorporates 48 small, metal blades that pierce the meat when you push down on the handle. You operate it in much the same way as you would a spring-loaded stamp. It takes very little pressure to push the blades all the way through the meat. Be sure to put the steaks on a cutting board, and run the tenderizer back and forth over each steak at least three times (one side only, no need to flip the steak over and do the other side). This severs the connective tissue that runs through the meat, which causes the steak to shrink and curl when cooked. You will not believe how tender the steaks will be after you cook them. I like to grill steaks, and I have had great results after tenderizing them. I own a tenderizer made by Jaccard and it works great. Research showed that this is the best one on the market and, based on the results I have had, I would have to agree. This tenderizer costs around $40, and it is well worth the price.

Another way to tenderize is using marinades. I have had success here, too. I recommend doing it overnight. And, be sure to look for marinades that have citric acid or vinegar. If you’re looking to tenderize, as opposed to just adding flavor, stay away from the 30-minute and one-hour marinades. One brand I like is Allegro marinades. The company makes several that are good. My favorite is the Teriyaki marinade. All I do is put the steaks in a plastic container and pour the whole bottle of marinade over them, then place the container in the refrigerator. I do this right after dinner, then, the next morning, I flip the steaks to make sure the marinade penetrates both sides. By about 5 p.m., they are ready for cooking. It works every time.

Do NOT overcook. Cooking the meat too long is about the worst thing you can do with venison. Overcooking guarantees that the meat will be tough. Especially when I’m grilling, I will set a timer to make sure I don’t cook it too long. On the grill, steaks take only two minutes a side. Venison cooks much faster than other meats. I like to cook it to medium, not rare. If the inside of  the steak is pink and juice flows out when you cut it, you’ve done it right.

Slower is often better. When it comes to venison, the oven and crock pot are your allies. Use them to cook deer meat and you’ll rarely go wrong. In the oven, I like to make meatloaf and cheeseburger on a stick. In the crockpot, I like to make stew. There are many, many good stew and meatloaf recipes available online and in cook books. If there’s a recipe you like with beef, chances are it will work just as well with venison. I can’t recall a single instance when either a batch of stew or meatloaf has failed. Slow cooking works every time.

Consider the type of meat. In Minnesota, most hunters take whitetail deer. But, some folks also get bear and moose. And others, like me, travel to other states to hunt different animals. Elk is a delicious, mild animal that is tops on many people’s list. Meanwhile, the mule deer is an animal many people like to hunt, but it definitely has a different flavor than whitetail. I find it much stronger tasting. There’s definitely a gamey flavor, even after you trim all the fat and tissue away. Therefore, I almost always either marinate or smoke the meat before cooking. I have an electric smoker, and it has tamed many a mule deer steak and chunk of burger. Just 20 minutes in the smoker with hickory chips works wonders.

Another consideration is the cut of meat. The best cut is the backstrap, which are generally called “chops.” These are tender and tasty, and generally don’t need much help other than trimming. I do tenderize them with my Jaccard, but you probably could get by without it, especially if the chops come from a young deer. The other two cuts of meat are round and sirloin steaks. These come from the back legs, and aren’t quite as tender as the chops. However, with a little tenderizing and/or marinating, they are delicious. I will marinate and grill these, or bake them for a few hours and use them to make a venison meat pie. Both are winners.

Take a little extra time to apply these tips, and you should enjoy many fine meals of your venison or other wild game. In fact, delicious venison dishes are precisely why I consider every whitetail I harvest a trophy.

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