Tag soup, as it’s known in the hunting community, is what a hunter is left ruefully sipping on instead of savoring a choice piece of backstrap or turkey leg when they fail to fill their tag.
It’s a common recipe, served frequently at the end of most hunting seasons. Although tag soup has gotten a bad rap for its palatability—some really struggle to choke it down—it’s a misunderstood dish, one that should be more fully appreciated for what it represents. See, most hunters view it only for what it is not: a medium-rare cut of venison or slow-cooked grouse breast, for instance. But there’s merit in this paper-based consommé: mainly that it leaves the diner with only a season’s lessons and experiences to savor, undiluted and pure.
See, reaching the end of hunting season with an intact tag or two is not failure. Would punching your tag have made the hunting season markedly more fun or enjoyable? Often, the most memorable hunting seasons are those spent with friends and family, or those where you challenge yourself to try something different—explore some new, distant place; pursue new quarry; or attempt a different technique. The success of a hunt is seldom contingent upon the size or amount of game you bring home.
It’s easy, particularly if you’re competitive by nature, to fall into a trap of wanting to shoot the most birds or the buck with the biggest rack, to be viewed as a superior hunter by your compatriots. But the most mature and experienced hunters in any camp are often those who are comfortable going home without taking any game. They’ll pass on a shot simply because they don’t feel urgency to fill their tag, or are able to savor the experience without the need to pull the trigger.
Obviously sustenance hunters have a different perspective: Filling a tag may be essential to their survival or way of life. But for many of us, whose freezer space will be taken up by frozen pizzas and vegetable medley if not wild game, filling a tag is a pleasant side affect of hunting, but not an essential outcome.
Eating tag soup helps remind us that “hunting” doesn’t always mean “getting.” There are no guarantees, and even when you do everything right—meticulously plot your route, hike the extra mile, or wait in the stand an extra hour—you may still come up empty-handed. And that’s OK. The game is won by merely playing it, not by what you harvest. As long as you’re satisfied with how you comported yourself in the field—with integrity and mercy—and the experiences you gained, you should have no regrets when the season concludes.
Best of all? You can rest easy knowing those unfilled tags weren’t wasted. Every license you purchase puts money toward conservation efforts and the preservation of public lands, ensuring hunting opportunities will remain available to future generations.
Tag soup may not be filling, but there’s dessert to follow. It’s a heaping helping of humble pie—a dish we could all benefit from eating more frequently.