Nothing Wasted: The many sides of eating what you kill

Perhaps the most annoying misconception about hunting is that it is “a waste of animals”. Sometimes even hunters fall for this fallacy, especially when the conversation is about trophy hunting or any other type of hunting where a lot of birds and animals are taken in a short period of time. Let us assure you – “waste” and “hunting” don’t as a rule go together. Most animals that people hunt get consumed, one way or another. In fact, you’d be surprised to learn what some hunters dare to eat!

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But first: WARNING! You aren’t six months old any longer, so don’t chew everything you can grab. Some wild meats are actually bad for you. The liver of polar bear, for example, is poisonous, and could be even lethal. Beware of parasites, too. The worst of them is perhaps the Trichinae, found in bears and wild pigs: it is very difficult to kill even by long and thorough thermal treatment, but may kill the eater instead. In some parts of Siberia almost 100% of bears are infected; in others, only a limited percentage of animals have it. Guides and preserves who offer hunting these animals usually have means to test the meat for it, and won’t treat you to anything that would be bad for you.

The rule of thumb, as usual, is do as Romans do and listen to the guide or outfitter – they usually know best and it’s their job to keep you out of harm’s way. Admittedly, blind faith here might backfire, if the other person is prone to pranks. For instance, be careful with biltong, dried meat popular in Africa – especially on April 1. In some places on the continent it’s considered to be an acceptable joke to make biltong out of some really unappetizing creature, such as baboon, and have a newcomer eat it. The victims universally claim it was the worst gastronomical experience in their lives.

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On the other hand, some game that is usually considered inedible may, with a bit of know-how, be turned into a delicious meal. For example, cormorants, seagulls and some diver ducks who feed mostly on fish acquire strong fish smell to their flesh as well.  However, waterfowlers in Scandinavian countries such as Sweden eat them with relish. The trick is, first, to shoot only young birds. Second, having skinned the bird, dip it for about half a minute in a pot of boiling water. This would dissolve the under-skin fat – the part that actually smells fishy – and take the odor off the flesh. Then you can cook it any way you want to, but Scandinavians prefer stewing.

Most people would never dream of eating zebra. That has probably to do with the taboo on eating horseflesh, prevalent in Europe and Middle East since antiquity (horses were simply too valuable to be just eaten). But for many nomads of Central Asia, inhabiting the modern Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, a horse is a food like any other – and for some it’s the mostly prized food. So is zebra – many hunters who tried it now swear by it. There’s just one thing that you must bear in mind. Most animals require a bit of ageing before their meat tastes best. With members of the horse family, it’s the other way round – the fresher they are, the better they taste.

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You’ve heard the one about people who don’t like cats just haven’t tried one cooked the right way, right? Well, we’d say it depends on what cat, too. Some hunters tried bobcats, leopards and lions, and according to their experience, leopard is crap: dry and tasteless (we asked one hunter what does a leopard taste like, and he said “Protein”).  Lions, however, had a rich fatty taste that many found quite appealing. There might also be something about the mystical appeal of the animal; many native people of Africa hope to gain the predator’s strength and courage by eating its parts, and in some tribes only the chief is allowed to eat a lion’s heart.

Speaking of hearts, and also liver and kidneys, they are inexplicably ignored by a few American hunters, even though they make a wholesome and delicious dish. To this day, no driven hunt in Eastern Europe is complete without the end-of-the day meal of the kidney, liver and heart of the kill, fried with potatoes, shared by all hunters and washed down with slugs of ice-cold vodka. In feudal Europe, the gamekeepers who killed game for their lord’s table could keep the liver, kidney and heart for themselves, an incentive known as “hunter’s share” – perhaps for early American colonists throwing the intestines away was a sign that they didn’t have any barons any more? Another thing that works against internals is that they decay rather quickly – so more the reason to eat them at once. Elk kidney kabobs, cooked over coals next to the bull harvested miles from civilization, would be not only delicious, but give a boost to your strength, much needed for carrying the quarters to the truck.

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Even if the hunter won’t eat any part of the animal they harvest, it doesn’t mean the meat is lost. In most regions of North America, the law prohibits leaving the animal rot in the wild, and though the hunter can’t sell the meat they don’t want, they can donate it to charity. This year, tons of venison was given to victims of forest fires and the firefighters in the US and Canada, for example.

In Africa, the residents of local villages will quickly line up to share the meat of any animal, be it giraffe, hippo or elephant, and very soon not even a bone will remain. In Europe, proper disposal of game is an essential part of any hunting operation. All animals harvested by hunters will be professionally butchered, packaged, and sold to specialized stores and restaurants. The same goes for birds – even when they’re shot by a hundred, as in large-scale driven “shoots”, not a single one is lost. Special teams of “pickers”, with well-trained retrievers, take care of that.The proceeds will not just help offset the cost of the hunt. It will help save the few remaining patches of wilderness left in Europe from being used for more profitable business – e.g., an amusement park.

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The motivation of hunters can be mixed. Some may go out primarily to “feel one with Nature”, others to complete a “slam” for a trophy hunting club, but there’s invariably more than one reason why they hunt. And the most ancient reason – food – is always there. So is the respect for the animals whose lives they take. In short, hunters are the last people to “waste” a head of game, and anyone who does so does not deserve the name of a hunter.

Feeling hungry for game now?

GO HUNTING WITH BOOKYOURHUNT!

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