I've always wanted to go hunting. While it isn't for everyone, I'm a willing meat eater who likes to make things from scratch. How much closer to the beginning of a dish can you get than sitting in a deer stand at 5:30 in the morning, waiting for a good shot? This fall, I had my chance. Lo and behold, I ended up with a freezer full of venison on my first try.
I carefully consider what I eat and what I feed my family. This was the main reason I wanted to try hunting: If I hesitated, I was ready to sincerely reconsider my stance as a meat eater. Although I don't plan to kill everything I eat, I needed to know that I was comfortable doing it. It seems fair.
Second, I love the taste of venison, a treat bestowed on us by generous friends and neighbors in the past. As a cook, I wanted to work with every part of the deer. Beggars can't be choosers, so getting my own deer seemed a logical choice.
Finally, I'm no athlete, but I'm pretty good at yoga, and I can shoot iPhone photos, without a flash, in very low light. The secret? Zeroing in on the photo subject and holding completely still in the moment you take the shot. Shooting a rifle is more or less the same thing, just a little louder. Target practice is a blast (ha!), but I wasn't sure it would be as much fun when the rifle was pointed at a deer.
To make a long story short — and we hunters love to go on, so feel free to ask for more — I got really lucky. I was invited to hunt with a friend's dad, an experienced hunter who puts safety first and cares about doing things the right way. His wife is an avid environmentalist, and that's good enough for me. Besides, the fee for my hunting license goes to South Carolina's Department of Natural Resources, a major player in conservation efforts.
We sat in a deer stand in the dark, early in the morning. It was cold, but not uncomfortable. As the light started to come up, I settled in to think. Having been promised hours of peace and quiet — a treasure for any parent — I was a little disappointed with what happened next, but only for a moment. A decent sized buck walked out of the woods, not 50 feet from where we sat. He bent down to inspect the ground, offering a perfect shot, and that was that. I felt fine.
Before the hunt — if you can call twenty minutes in a deer stand a hunt — I was sure I didn't want a picture of myself with my kill. Sorry, y'all, but I don't think it's very respectful when you put pictures on Facebook of dead animals. Not all of your Facebook friends are into seeing it, and it just doesn't feel right to me. In the moment, though, the two seasoned hunters with me were so excited, as was I, that I decided to snap a picture, just for friends and family who asked to see. (If you are the sort of person who likes to see these things, you are more than welcome to view it on Snapfish. It's not too gory, as far as these photos go. Be forewarned: I am not wearing makeup, because the scent can pose a problem. I did take my hair down and swipe on some lipstick just before the picture, but I made sure my hunting buddies did not see me. I also took a picture of the deer, after he was loaded onto the truck.)
Would I go hunting again? Absolutely, if someone invites me and there's room in my freezer. Rather than adding to our food supply, the venison from my deer has replaced any meat we would have bought. As a cook, I'm really enjoying experimenting. So far, we've made burgers, Girl Scout Stew, tourtière and, most recently, venison Wellington.
I also traded some of the venison for a friend's wild duck, and made confit with it. (Yes, I felt pretty cool.) I recently started rendering my own lard, and was excited to try my first Wellington with homemade pie crust. The recipe I found called for a layer of chicken liver pâté, which I didn't have, so I substituted a layer of puréed duck confit. (The deer's liver is in the freezer, fodder for pâté, as soon as I have time. Got any tips? I would love to hear them!)
→ Get the recipe: Venison Wellington on BBC
The BBC recipe is a good one and the Wellington turned out as well as can be expected, given that it was a first effort. The meat was cooked perfectly and the Wellington held up well, but wasn't as pretty as the one in the picture, ergo the photo accompanying this post. Let's focus on the gorgeous Laguiole carving set, a wedding gift from my husband's French family, and the pretty Limoges platter his mother gave us. Aren't they lovely? And the Wellington, made totally from scratch, was delicious!
Have you ever gone hunting? Would you? And please hit me with your best venison recipes, because I still have quite a bit of tenderloin, two large roasts and a few pounds of ground meat.