By Tim E. Hovey
WON Staff Writer
As we move through the hunting season, my mind starts shifting to what kind of dishes I can prepare using the wild meat I’ve harvested. Many of my favorite dishes have come from already established wild game meat recipes, but a handful have come from just experimenting with different ingredients.
Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or a brand-new hunter, part of the joy of gathering your groceries in the wild, is getting to prepare that harvest for your family and friends. Here are my top five favorites.
1 – Dove poppers
To me and my hunting friends, the dove opener in September kicks off our hunting season every year. If we scout our spots correctly, and shoot straight, chances are high that we’ll come home with a cooler full of dove breasts. For many years we simply served up our late summer haul by preparing the standard dove poppers. This was essentially a chunk of dove meat nestled in a hollowed-out jalapeño, filled with cream cheese. The popper was then wrapped with a half-strip of bacon and cooked on the grill. About a decade ago, I decided to try something different.
De-boning all the meat, I run it through a meat grinder. I add this mixture to a pan of already cooked diced bacon. I simmer this until the dove meat, that really resembles ground burger is cooked. I then serve this with finely diced jalapeños, a vat of whipped creamed cheese and the best cracker known to man; Chicken in Biscuit. My family will absolutely devour this wild bird feast.
2 – Rabbit leg casserole
Cottontail rabbit meat is white and strongly resembles chicken when cooked. In all honesty, you really can’t mess up rabbit. It soaks up any sauce or marinade you cook it in and always tastes amazing.
After a successful rabbit hunt, to make this simple dish, we part out the rabbit, by removing the front and back legs, as well as the back straps. Despite the name of this dish, we also add the boneless backstraps to the recipe. After gathering the meaty parts, we dust them with salt and pepper and pan fry them until golden brown on the outside.
Using a glass saucepan, I dump in two cans of cream of mushroom soup. The browned rabbit legs are added to the mixture and cooked in the oven an additional 20-30 minutes until done. I like to serve this dish over white rice and its simple prep makes it one of my favorite small game meals.
3 – Deer tacos
Years ago, I started prepping my big game meat to match how we consumed it. As it turns out, my family eats more ground meat than just about anything else. Once I realized that, it really didn’t matter what big game animal I killed, most of the meat of the animal was deboned, cleaned and run through a meat grinder.
I would then parcel out the wild ground into one or two pound amounts, vacuum pack it and toss it in the freezer. We’d turn this ground wild meat into hamburgers, meatballs, chili and tacos. A crowd favorite in my family are deer tacos.
Most wild game meat is relatively lean and will need a bit more seasoning than your store-bought meats. Seasoning the deer meat to taste and adding a can of chili, we’d cook this in a skillet until the deer meat was cooked. Served up with the standard taco fixings, and flour tortillas would bring my family running. Even today, if you asked my daughters what their favorite wild game meal would be, they would invariably state, deer tacos.
4 – Wild pig sliders
Wild pork is a challenging meat to cook with. If it’s not handled properly, it can taste very gamey. Despite being a whiter meat when cooked, I’ve found that this game meat can also benefit from being ground up after processing. It’s also a good idea to add beef or pork fat to any ground pig dish to keep the meat from drying out.
Once the ground meat is prepared, I like to add a pork sausage seasoning, mix it in well and let it sit in a glass bowl overnight. The next morning I’ll press the meat into smaller patties and toss them on the grill to brown. I’ll them pull them off the grill and finish them in the oven until the pork meat is cooked. Served with small slider buns and all the condiments, the sausage seasoning and the wild meat mix to give a unique and tasty flavor. I will always cook wild pork this way.
5 – Smoked wild turkey
I’ll admit it. With the exception of smoking big game fish on an electric smoker back in the 90’s, I never really got into the smoker craze that seems to have taken over meat cooking in the last decade. That is, until a good friend gave me a brand new Trager Scout. Tasting the flavor of my first ever smoked tri-tip roast changed everything for me. Now, if it’s meat, I usually opt for smoking it.
Wild turkey meat is a lot different than the butterball bird you thaw out in the sink for thanksgiving. Wild bird meat is tougher and can be a bit gamey unless handled and cooked correctly. If you plan to simply cook or grill your wild bird, you’ll want to investigate a suitable brining method to enhance the flavor and to make the meat less tough. Or you can smoke it.
Last turkey season I was lucky enough to kill a nice tom. Back home, I breasted out the bird and let the large white meat steaks chill overnight. The next day I slathered the chilled turkey meat with our regular pre-smoking glaze and wrapped the breast meat in bacon. Using the chicken setting we smoked the wild turkey for three hours. The result was moist, delicious and easily added to my favorites.
In a lifetime of hunting, I’ve eaten bobcat, crow, rattlesnake and javelina. In my opinion, if you prepare and handle any wild meat correctly, and add the right ingredients, they will make a meal. The above list represents my favorites for a couple of reasons. First, they require very little ingredients to make them delicious, and are very easy to prepare.
Second, my family loves them and often requests them when they know I’ve had a successful hunt. To me, preparing wild game is part of the hunt and an extension of why I like the pursuit of wild game.
This story appears in the February 17, 2023 print edition of Western Outdoor News. To get early access to every info and feature-packed issue of the West Coast’s biggest and best outdoor sporting newspaper, click here.