Double Standards and Roadkill Deer

10# of Roadkill sitting in a brine...

10# of Roadkill sitting in a brine…

I may have crossed the line with wild game. Nothing illegal, nothing immoral but still a socially questionable action. I cooked, ate and enjoyed road kill. Now this is not the first time I have done this, but is it certainly the first time I have ever eaten deer.

Let me back up a little…

I went for a run a few days back, a simple little 3 mile thing. I ran up through the Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge parking lot and when I made it to the main road entrance the road starts down a hill. The run was proceeding well, and then my dog bolted ahead of me to sniff something in the burrow pit. It was two dead deer.

Normally a single dead deer along the road is road kill, open and closed. But two deer, lying next to each other, made me suspicious. I stopped my run, called Idaho Fish and Game poaching hotline and reported the dead deer.

Shortly after the IDFG officer called me and we spoke over the phone. He said it was a case of the “double tap” with a fawn following mom and both getting hit. He said since it was not a case of poaching that if I wanted either of the deer I was welcome to them. The larger doe was clearly distended – her belly was a great deal larger than it should be. The fawn looked fine.

It had been cold, 1° outside, so I figured the meat would be just edible. With a little trepidation and a printed “road kill” form from IDFG I went back and grabbed the fawn. It was about the size of my Labrador/ Ridgeback dog. Roughly 100lbs.

I tossed it up on the gambrel in the garage and skinned the hind legs. Then I when I got the stomach section funky things started to happen. The smell of gut-shot game became very prevalent. That bitter stomach acid smell, then the stomach lining under the skin started to turn green. I stopped skinning the animal. I lurched a few times – and feared I would lose my breakfast.

I reexamined the deer. Now totally thawed the front legs felt like mush. Both shoulders clearly broken and the poor things head was caved in. Classic broadside road kill. Wanting to finish what I started quickly I pulled off the backstraps and then cut the hind quarters off the carcass.

The rest of the fawn went into a large trash sack – the smell of the stomach acid turned me off the whole project. I brought the meat into the house and deboned it. I honestly could not shake the gut shot smell from my nose. Each time I smelt the meat it would seem sour to me. My nose said it was turned, my brain knew otherwise.

It was flat impossible for the meat to have gone bad by the time I had gotten to it. The doe and fawn were hit the night of Dec 31st, I found them at 9am the next day. No way had the meat gone bad. But the smell still stuck in my nose.

The only thing I could think to do was corn it. I can make leprous yak meat taste just fine with some pickling spice and salt. So I tossed the meat in brine for a solid week, basically a version of this recipe. The Insta Cure #1 turning the meat a nice pink color. (Both hide quarters and the backstraps weighed in at 10lbs!)

A week later I boiled the leg meat for a solid 3 hours. When it was done cooking it was moist, tender and full of that nice corned meat flavor. I rubbed the backstraps in black pepper and smoked them. They came out way to salty, but fixable. The boys and I enjoyed a dinner of corned venison and cabbage soup.

Now I have several pounds of meat that was free to me, at the cost of a deer’s life. I feel good about having done an honorable thing; turning sadly taken life into food for my family. But I am not free of social norms, like only some redneck from Idaho would pick up and eat roadkill. I guess if the shoe fits…

Antelope Solomo

Best served on crusty bread with olives, roasted red peppers and olives.

Best served on crusty bread with olives, roasted red peppers and olives.

Historically, large sheep populations in Idaho have been managed by Basque immigrants. In fact, Idaho hosts one of the largest Basque populations outside of the Basque homeland. Basque food and culture have been embraced and celebrated by Idahoans for generations. In this spirit, I have adapted a traditional Basque pork dish, solomo for use with antelope.

Antelope Solomo

1 antelope sirloin

½ cup olive oil

½ cup sweet paprika

¼ cup garlic powder

1/8 cup fresh basil, chopped

1/8 cup fresh sage, chopped

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Mix oil, paprika, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper in a bowl. It should come out as a thick paste. Rub the paste on the sirloin and let sit in refrigerator for no less than 24 hours. Re-apply rub as needed to keep the whole roast covered.

1 onion, sliced

2 red bell peppers, cored, seeded and sliced

20 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 small jar pimentos

10 green olives, pitted and quartered

1 baguette, sliced and grilled

Fresh cilantro

Olive Aioli

½ cup mayonnaise

¼ cup green and black olives

Preheat oven to 375˚F.

Reapply rub to the loin. In a roasting pan add the onions, garlic, red peppers, pimentos and olives. Place sirloin on top of the onion mix. Roast in the oven until the loin reaches 120 degrees at the thickest spot.

Mix mayo and olives together in a small bowl. Chill and reserve.

Remove roast from oven and it let rest in the pan for about 10 minutes. Slice thin and serve with the onions and peppers, grilled baguette, olive aioli, and cilantro.

Antilope Sirloin, whole roasted.

Antilope Sirloin, whole roasted.

Elk Meatballs

Fivespiced Elk Meatballs

Fivespiced Elk Meatballs

The elk made their way up the ravine in a single file. It was a death trap for them, really. The ravine was steep on both sides, bordered with buck brush with a small game trail running down the middle of it. No way to turn around in a hurry. My brother had spotted the elk a few days prior following a predictable rout. Eat the alfalfa in the farmers’ field, make their way up a ravine and bed in the timber. They were like clockwork.All four of us had cow tags and were waiting behind a rock outcropping opening morning. We heard the elk first. The sound of one hundred and twenty hoofs is not mellow. The tension rose as the noise grew louder and louder until the lead cow came into view. The chill morning air was coming out of her nose in a white cloud of smoke. Behind her was a precession of antlerless elk, and one lone spike. They created a misty cloud in their wake.

When the herd was in shooting distance we all lined up on elk. Scopes on brown fir and safeties off; we all fired. Four elk fell to the ground. All hell broke loose with the rest of the herd. Elk clamored over each other, turning and spinning in confusion, before finally sprinting up valley.

We waited for a little while, making sure we had a vantage on any wounded elk, and then made our way down to the bottom. My elk was dead as a doornail, my .270 was more than enough. About 15 yards away from me I heard a loud crash and an “Oh, SHIT!”

The elk my neighbor Dick had shot was now standing in the buckbrush, just off the trail. One jump and she was in the middle of the ravine. Next she started to run – right at me. “Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!” was all I could hear as I sidestepped the elk charging me. Her side and my chest made brief contact; she left some blood on my shirt. After she passed I pulled up and let a round fly – I missed at about 20 feet. (I vividly remember the dumbfounded feeling of missing at that range. I literally saw only fir in my scope at that distance.)

I tried to cycle another shell and my gun jammed.

I turned around to look at the rest of the group. All standing directly behind me, guns in the ready position but no one was able to shoot. I was making a much better door than a window, as I was standing directly in the line of fire. The very nature of the ravine that led to success blocked all follow up shots.

I tagged and gutted my elk. With help we propped her up to drain. We had to find the wounded elk now. It really only had one direction to go, thankfully. The blood trail was also very heavy. Unfortunately we humans were not the only ones on the trail. Two small-ish bears (5 footers at best) had decided to trail our elk. When we arrived the elk had passed, thankfully. But the bears were sitting on their haunches looking at the carcass. They started “barking” at us as we approached, but eventually fell back to about 40 yards. They waited.

We tossed them elk bones for snacks and to try and scare them. It is unnerving to have that much dangerous company so close by, especially covered in elk-blood. But the bears would not give up easily for they knew the truth about elk. They are delicious.

Recipe –

As a wild game chef I frequently get asked how to use more ground meat. On game animals it is often the case that up to 50% of the meat ends up in the grinder. An elk only has two backstraps after all. If it can’t be roasted or cut into steaks the butcher will often toss it in the grind. Not there is anything wrong with that, it just leads to a lot of taco meat in most houses.

Variety is vital to eating an elk over the course of a year. It is a lot of meat for a normal family. One easy to accomplish method is the meatball.

Balled up and cooked meat is a staple around the world. Italians, Chinese, Japanese, American, Swedish, Turkish (often on sticks) – name the culture and it almost certainly has a ball shaped ground meat dish. Why? It is a cheap and easy way to use up what would otherwise be tough cuts of meat.

I am a personal fan of the Chinese/Thai mash up of Five Spice flavored meatballs with a sweet chili sauce. Lots of flavor and very filling. I like to serve it with white rice and a green bean salad.

Just remember – a recipe is just a good idea someone had and wrote down. They should always be played with. Like garlic, add more. Don’t like ginger, do add any. Have fun with food!

Five Spiced Elk Meatballs with Sweet Chili Sauce and Green Bean Salad

Green Bean Salad

1 Pound Frozen Hari co Vert (small green beans)

1 pound frozen shelled edamame

1 can black beans, drained

½ red onion, shaved thin

1 cup Ginger Soy Dressing – Store Bought

Bring a 2 quart pot of water to a boil. Make an “ice bath” – basically a large mixing bowl with a 50/50 ratio of ice and water.

When the water is boiling add the edamame and the Hari co Vert’s. Let stand in water for 3 minutes, stir one time. Drain vegetables into colander then add the vegetables to the ice bath. Let them cool, remove any excess ice and then drain in the colander. Refrigerate until ready to make salad.

When ready toss the hari co verts/ edamame mix with the drained black beans, shaved onion and ginger soy dressing. Serve cold.

Elk Meatballs

1 Pound Ground Elk Meat

1 teaspoon Five Spice

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon garlic, fresh, chopped

¼ cup mayonnaise

½ cup bread crumbs

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

1 tablespoon sliced thin green onions

Salt and Pepper

1 cup Sweet Chili Sauce

Heat oven to 350°. In a medium sized mixing bowl add everything but the sweet chili Sauce. Mix well, by hand, for 2-3 minutes.

Using a small ice-cream scoop make 1 ounce meatballs, you should get about 18 from this recipe. Place each meatball on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes. A little pink in the center is desired.

When done carefully transfer the cooked meatballs to a mixing bowl. Add the sweet chili sauce onto the meatballs. Carefully toss or stir to fully coat the meatballs with the sauce.

Garnish with thin sliced carrot and green onions. Serve hot.

Gear Giveaway and Review

Full disclosure – I was given a FoodSaver® GameSaver® Titanium Vacuum Sealer for review, free stuff affects opinions.

I process and vacuum pack all my game meat and fish – and it saves me time and money. Vital to saving money and not losing game is good quality vacuum pack machine. For those not familiar a vacuum pack machine – they remove air and seal sections of meat (or whatever really) in a plastic bag. This hermitization of the meat from the elements ensures quality and prevents loss from “Freezer Burn.”

When air cannot touch the meat, like when its vacuum packed, freezer burn is basically impossible. I have held meat (accidentally) for about 3 years and it was like I had shot it the month before.

For non-meat related applications vacuum machines work great as well. I have vacuum packed hunting and fishing gear for long pack trips. The stuff that I am not sure I will need but would love to have got sealed up. It took up much less space in the backpack and allowed more room for game to be carried out. A quality vacuum pack machines saves you money, hands down.

For the past 5 years I have been using an off the shelf at Target FoodSaver® V2244. This little guy has put up some serious meat. At least one caribou, six+ deer, an elk, three bears, multitudes of steelhead, countless ducks, upland game birds and rabbits. My machine has never let me down, and that quality of the V2244 is the ONLY reason I agreed to test out the FoodSaver® GameSaver® Titanium Vacuum Sealer.

At first blush I looked at the FoodSaver® GameSaver® Titanium Vacuum Sealer and noted that it was kind of huge. Compared to my other vacuum machine it is about triple the size. Now size does not always buy quality but like my father used to say “If its heavy put it down, it is probably expensive.”  It is heavy.

To test the GameSaver®, I decided to just vacuum pack some store bought pork chops. With vacuum machines I always look for air retention. Basically, if all the air does not come out than the machine lacks the proper amount of sucking power. (In this case sucking power is a good thing) It did not lack for power. The chops all had clean edges and not an air bubble in sight.

Next I looked to the seal on the machine –an improper seal will let air inside the bag. Not good. The model has two sealing methods. Basically one line or two of sealing. This feature intrigued me. I could not figure out the reasoning for two seals.

Did FoodSaver® not trust just one seal? It seemed strange, but the single seal seemed powerful enough. The only reason I could think they would add the additional layer is for moist foods. I know vacuuming fish, with my V2244, often needs an additional seal due to the excess water. The water inhibits the sealing bar from making a line across the entire bag, letting air in and damaging quality. Whatever the reasoning double sealing seems like a strange, albeit sometimes useful, function.

fish-GSBlogAnother feature that I was a tad skeptical of was the roll cutting attachment. Inside the FoodSaver® GameSaver® Titanium Vacuum Sealer is a slot that holds a roll of vacuum bag and across the top is little slicer that you drag across to cut each bag. All you need to do is seal one end and then cut the bag to the desired length. Typically the pre-cut bags are substantially more expensive than the roll cut bags. It is a tradeoff – spend a little time and save a lot of money.

With the quick roll and the cutting blade on the game saver, I might actually become a roll bag convert.

While testing out the vacuum machine I noted the quick marinate attachment. It is basically a hunk of Tupperware functioning as a vacuum tube. You place meat inside the tub and put the lid on. Then with a little hose attachment you place in the top of the tub you turn on the vacuum and poof, meat under vacuum. They look like this. The meat accepts more marinate under vacuum, you can get a days’ worth of marination in just a few short hours.

I decided to test the Quick Marinador attachment on a rabbit that I cut up like this.

The chosen marinade was Coors Light. Judge me if you want, but Boise State University was playing BYU on ESPN, I needed a stress reliever. Go Broncos! (Marinade Recipe – ½ Cup Cheap ‘Merica Made Beer, 1 Tablespoon Garlic Powder, Black Pepper).

Next I sealed up the marinating tub and tossed it in the fridge. In the morning I breaded and fried the rabbit with this recipe.Freid Rabbit - GSblog

Results? The most tender and moist cottontail I have ever eaten. No really, it was. I could visibly see the absorption of moisture in the rabbit. The legs were larger and so to the loins. Basically, the pours of the meat had filled with beer and garlic – and it was divine. I took off the lid the next morning and measured only ¼ cup of beer left in the container. A solid ¼ cup of moisture was absorbed by a dinky little cottontail. The additional moisture directly results in moister food. I was impressed.

With large animals the bottleneck point in butchering and freezing is the vacuum machine. The meat is ground, the steaks are cut and the roasts are tied. Everything is waiting to go into a bag and be sealed for the freezer. I do not think that this will be changed with the unit. While it has the power, the roll cutting and the double sealing – it does not have the speed I wish for.

In all the GameSaver is a step up in quality, usability and power from the V2244 that I have grown accustomed to. I can’t wait to see how the new unit holds up over the years, if its lower priced brother is any example than it will have no trouble at all. I will use the FoodSaver® GameSaver® Titanium Vacuum Sealer often, I can tell you that much.

Like this Gear Review? Post a comment AND link to this page on Twitter or Facebook and be entered into a drawing on November 15th for a FREE GameSaver® with Bonus Offer.

Learning to Pass

The crosshairs were steady on the vitals of the mature buck. He was dead, if I pulled the trigger. But I didn’t, I couldn’t. Something in my stopped my killer instinct, I lowered my gun, looked to my right and smiled. My son was taking aim, trying to steady his breathing enough to fire off his shooting stick. It was a farther shot than he has ever taken before, I was nearly certain he would have trouble with it. But I watched – heart filled with hope and anticipation.
BAM! The crack of a .243 rang out over the rim-rock. A solid miss. BAM! Another miss, I watch as Noah’s chest pounded, heaving with each breath. I pulled up again on the buck, crosshairs finding fur, but I lowered my gun quickly. The buck slipped into the brush, gone forever.
In past years I might not have let that happen. A legal buck would have simply died, or at least been shot at. With a small inspection of my horn collection it is easy to see that I do not discriminate. As one buddy put it to me “I have yet to find a good recipe for horns.” Legal is dead, simple as that.
But this year I have passed three times on perfectly legal bucks.
My motivation for not shooting this year is twofold. First, I really want a whitetail deer. All the bucks I have passed on were mule deer. I have never shot a whitetail in my life; it feels like this is a problem that needs rectified. I can’t shoot a whitetail with a punched muledeer tag.
The second reason for passing this year is that I really don’t want to shoot more than my family can eat. Both Noah and I have cow elk tags, each cow being ample meat for my family for about a year. Add a deer, or two, and an antelope and my freezer will be fuller than it needs to be. We simply do not need to kill that much food. We would be killing to kill, not killing to eat. I have an intrinsic problem with that.
But I might just be putting the cart before the deer. I am worried about having too much meat before I, or Noah, have even killed anything. It is quite possible the only shot opportunities either of us would get this season have already passed. Maybe I have missed my chance? I might not see another game animal all year long. Who knows?
Even if neither Noah nor I connect on a deer or an elk this year, I will feel better knowing I did what I thought was right by the animals. I wasn’t just killing to kill. Even if my freezer goes a little light this year.

Noah in the Sage