- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 7, 2003


On a day that began windy and wet, I was again reminded of the uncertainties that seem to be the staple of deer hunting. Murphy’s Law applies with indifference to man or beast. Nothing is sure, even if you have a wild woodland deer that has never seen a four-lane highway in your line of sight.

It happened on the opening day of the Maryland firearms deer season. With a strong southwest wind whistling through leaf-bare oak and gum trees and me ensconced in my German-style deer “Haus” — 12 feet off the ground, pitched roof, padded chairs and all — I didn’t think it would turn out to be a fruitful day.

However, the experts are wrong when they say that whitetailed deer are prone to sit out noisy, windy days because they can’t hear approaching danger. No one bothered to tell the smooth-coated doe and buck that suddenly emerged from a forest edge. The time was 7a.m.

The doe began to feed on clover and other juicy grasses, but the buck, his antlered head erect, strutted slowly along the field’s edge, stopping every two or three feet, raising his dark nose high, “tasting” the air, picking up familiar and unfamiliar scents. To be sure, he never relaxed.

At a distance of 100 yards or more, a standard 12-gauge shotgun slug isn’t a projectile of unerring accuracy, so I tried to coax the buck a little closer. I used a grunt call, a call that simulates the exhaling of air by a broadchested, large male walking laboriously kind of like fat humans who emit all sorts of breathing noises when they put one foot in front of the other. The grunt call sounds hollow and raspy. It is wise not to overdo the calling. Stick to a couple of short, muted blasts, the makers recommend.

Rrrrrup, rrrrrup,” the call sounded off.

Bingo! The buck turned straight toward me and came closer. I raised my gun and, well, in the end things worked out very well. As Audrey Alley Gorton wrote in “The Venison Book,” back in 1957, “On the hoof, it’s a deer; at your feet, it’s venison.” That’s what I came after. I now had a 170-odd-pound, eight-point buck that might yield 90 pounds of venison — some of the finest low-fat, low-cholesterol red meat one can imagine.

After field-dressing it, checking it in and having my license verified and county tag punched, the buck was hung up with a spreader and rope hoist in our backyard. It was skinned, allowed to cool a while, but then the meat-cutting began. I carefully cut out the tenderloins from the inside of the body cavity. It’s the same tender cut of meat you find on the small side of a T-bone steak, while the other side of the T-bone would be the top loin, part of the saddle, or as deer hunters call it, the backstrap.

Then the shoulders were removed, the meat cut into cubes for goulash or vegetable venison soup. Hindquarters were separated into bottom-round and top-round roasts that could be cooked whole later or could be sliced into boneless steaks. The lower leg meat was put aside to be ground into hamburger. The two backstraps, the aforementioned saddle, were gently cut and pulled away from the upper end of the rib cage and backbone. The backstraps’ “silver” skin, a tough membrane, was removed with a razor-sharp knife, the meat then wrapped in four separate pieces and put into the freezer to be sliced later into wonderfully tasty medallions, each about the size of a beef filet mignon.

Let the eating begin — In the Mueller household, onion-smothered venison steaks with vegetables, a salad, maybe a baked potato and a glass of red wine, is a favorite. We prefer to use disks of sliced venison backstrap, or hand-sized, boneless rump steaks.

Salt and pepper the steaks, dust them with flour, then put them into a hot, oiled skillet. Let the meat brown while in another pan thinly sliced rings of onion are being sauteed. When the venison is browned on one side, flip them over and continue cooklng but now spread the fried onions on top of the steaks. You can squirt a couple of shots of red Burgundy wine (do not use seasoned cooking wine) onto the steaks, or simply use generous shots of Worcester sauce. Either method gives the venison a nice added flavor.

Do not overcook the steaks. They can be pink inside, which is fine. Remember, the hunter who brought home the venison has already killed the deer. It doesn’t need to be killed again.

Fine venison cookbooks “Wild Bounty,” by Jim and Ann Casada (North American Hunting Club, Minnetonka, Minn.), is an all-around wild game cookbook with a strong accent on venison recipes, but it also features small game cooking. Beautifully illustrated, with easy-to-follow recipes.

“Wild About Venison,” (Stoeger Publishing, Benelli U.S.A., Accokeek, Md.), is all about venison, but it’s pretty much loaded with upscale recipes. Lots of Grand Marnier and cream sauces, creamy brie treatments, etc. However, if you’re willing to do the cooking, I’ll eat any of the book’s venison treatments.

“The Venison Book,” by Audrey Alley Gorton (Stephen Greene Press, Brattleboro, Vt.), is probably out of print, but you might find one in a used book shop. It’s my favorite because it follows the process, from deer hunting to dining on venison with many plain, easy recipes. It even has sketches that show how to cut up a deer. Terrific.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column every Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected]

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