|The Sportsmanís Report
Opening B-zone deer season brings promise of big bucks
B-zone deer season is open tomorrow. With the exception of B-4, B-zone overlaps the A-zone by two weekends (this one and the Sept. 22-23).
Although I have seen some very big A-zone bucks taken this year – many with huge forked horns – the B-zones are known for bigger deer. The coastal black tail variety are generally smaller than those in the Sierra and Warner mountain ranges, however the North Coast has some mule deer influence. Mule deer (mulees) tend to run much bigger, particularly as you move east. The mule deer of Colorado, Idaho, Nevada and Arizona can often dress out to double the Pacific black tail deer in overall weight.
The taste of venison is why we hunt. Their browse has a lot to do with the flavor, particularly if they live in the high desert areas where sagebrush is the primary food source. The tastiest venison I have ever set a fork to is the white tail of the Midwest. I once took a buck in the backcountry of Wisconsin, where the land is mostly flat and deer live in the woodlots near dairy farms. They come out at night and eat the feed corn right next to the cattle. When I field dressed the buck, his stomach was solid corn kernels. My son took his first buck on the same trip; we ate corn fed white tail for two years. The taste was an exotic blend of luscious, high-quality beef and the wild flavor of healthy venison.
I am very careful with my catch, it would cost me more than $1,000 to have a commercial butcher cut and wrap to my standards. My personal philosophy is cleaning, preserving, or storing my catch, be it fish, fowl or meat, is part of the whole experience. So many hunters automatically take their deer and wild pigs to a butcher.
I use very sharp knives to remove all the meat from the skeleton, then cut it into meal-sized portions, store them in freezer grade zip bags and then wrap the bags with butcher paper. I carefully remove all aspects of connective tissue, bone and debris from the meat, then sort it into four piles – steaks, kabob (small steaks), stew (very small pieces) and ribs. I also sort the fillet off the back strap into separate wrappers; this is the best of the best cuts. The double wrap insures long life in the freezer. If you give home butchering a try, be sure to carefully label each package with cut and date to insure proper identification and shelf life. I also add location of the hunt.
When I searched for home butchering books to recommend to you, I found way too many to list. For the most part, I am self-taught, although there are some outstanding books on the subject. The important thing to me is cleanliness and removing all connective tissue so the meat looks like the kind of thing you might buy at the supermarket.
Many people make the mistake of expecting venison to taste like beef, it does not. The best way to prepare a venison steak is to sear it quickly in super hot oil. I use a wok to control spatter. I do not season it at all before cooking, the pan should be so hot that it will burn off seasoning. The hot sear method seals in natural juices, venison has no fat in the meat. The fat layer is between the hide and the muscle and comes off with the hide. I used to hate the taste of venison because most recipes use powerful herbs like juniper berries, whole peppercorn, lots of garlic and wine. The meat ends up tasting like all the seasonings, something you would never do with beef. I tossed out all my ‘game recipes’ and cooked venison as I would lean beef. The difference is night and day. After the quick sear, grate on fresh pepper, sea salt and serve with your favorite steak sauce or fresh aoli as a condiment. You will never go back to juniper berries.
Bill Hanson is a Sonoma County native and a lifelong sportsman. He is president of the Sonoma County Mycological Association. Look for his column in The Community Voice each week.