We hunt for a number of reasons. Some of us hunt for the challenge, the enjoyment of pitting ourselves against nature. Others hunt as a way to remember their past, to feel that ancient connection we once had with all the wild things of this world. Hunters hunt for trophies and for sport. There’s bowhunters, rifle hunters, trackers, still hunters, and stand hunters, and everything in between. Yet, no matter why you hunt or how, there is one thing that unites all hunters: meat. Providing for our families, sharing our harvest around the table, is what drives us. Meat is the reward for our efforts.
Like everyone else, when I first I started hunting, I treated backstraps as if they were gold, and everything else as secondary. But as I grew as a hunter, I began to expand my views—and my palate. I came to understand the reality of hunting. It’s not just about adventuring around in the forest, it’s also about taking an animal’s life, and that is not something that any hunter should take lightly. We owe it to the animals whose lives we take to make sure we utilize everything we can from their death. This is a point of pride for many hunters, many of whom use everything from the antlers and capes of the animals they harvest to teeth and hooves. Yet many of these hunters are still just taking the prime cuts of meat and leaving the rest of the carcass in the woods or throwing it away. This is tragic because not only are these hunters wasting part of the animal, they are denying themselves some of the most delicious meals wild game has to offer.
Hunters often overlook the animal’s organ meats, which are some of the best eating in any animal. The heart, for instance, is comparable to backstrap in tenderness and flavor. It can be sliced thin and fried, broiled, or tossed on the grill. Anyway you cook it, wild game heart is a true delicacy. Liver is similar, though it does have a stronger flavor. Still, nothing embodies comforting home cooking quite like pan-fried liver and onions. Kidneys, while often looked down upon in the United States, are quite commonly consumed in other parts of the world. Try them deviled or thrown in a steak-and-kidney pie.
Caul fat, which is a layer of webbed fat that surrounds the stomach and other organs of all ungulates, is another component often overlooked by Americans. A staple in French cooking, caul fat can be used as a substitute for lard, or as a flavor enhancement for sausages or on leaner cuts of meat. Tongue is excellent, though a bit chewy. If prepared properly, tongue almost tastes like roast beef. Finally, we have the testicles. One of the first things I remove from the gut pile, testicles are somehow both delicate and hearty in flavor and one of my favorite foods in the world when dredged in flour and fried.
Aside from the organs, there are many general cuts of meat that hunters tend not to utilize. When they butcher an animal, many hunters simply remove the backstraps and the front and rear quarters, then call it a day. Yet there is so much more meat to be had. Neck meat is often looked at as tough and gamey, but when cooked with care, it can make for some of the finest roasts and stews you can imagine. Ribs on wild game are largely ignored, too. Aside from being picked apart to add to the burger bowl, game ribs can also be removed whole. When slow roasted or smoked, game ribs can be pull-apart tender and make a great addition to any game supper.
Don’t forget to use the bones. All game bones can be used in cooking. Whether you’re boiling them in a pot for making stock or slow roasting them in the oven to crack open later for the marrow, bones should never just be thrown away. Bone marrow is one of the tastiest things on earth. When it’s mixed with butter and rosemary, then spread on a frying piece of backstrap, it’s so good it can bring tears to a hunter’s eyes.
Hunters today are a special group of people. They are men and women who still have the capability in this modern age to be self-reliant. Hunters can ignore grocery stores, providing for themselves and their families by gathering what they need from the forest. Yet there is a trade-off in being a hunter, for unlike wandering the meat aisle at the grocery store, hunting comes with responsibilities. We are responsible to the animals we hunt in that we must use every part of them we can, and we are responsible to ourselves in that we must be willing to step outside of our comfort zones and make sure we enjoy all the fruits of the hunting world—even if some of those fruits are actually testicles.