Proper field care makes great game dinners

Last week, I treated myself to two evenings of fine dining.

Those wonderful dinners, however, weren’t in some fancy, expensive restaurant.

Each meal was prepared in my kitchen, and I served as my own personal chef. The first entree was fried striped bass fillets dusted with Old Bay seasoning and celery salt. The other was venison steak seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic powder and olive oil and then grilled rare. Both recipes were simple and quick but so delicious.

I dearly love eating most wild fish and game. A fine meal with fish or game as the main course is a perfect way to celebrate a successful hunting or fishing trip with family and friends.

The striper fillets I ate last week were the product of a two-day fishing charter in southern Maryland last summer with my brother, his wife and daughter. As I enjoyed each bite of that juicy, white fish, I also reflected on those spectacular summer sunrises on the Chesapeake and the excitement of watching my family members bringing those great gamefish to the net.

The venison steak was the last package from the previous deer season. That dinner evoked deep personal memories about the eight-point buck that I downed with one, quick shot when it leaped across the logging road on the steep ridge I was still-hunting on the last Friday of the season.

Most of the game birds and animals we hunt nowadays have the potential to provide some special meals. Some folks, however, have an aversion to eating wild game. Sometimes, that is an emotional response to the thought of eating a wild animal rather than a domesticated chicken, cow or pig.

Others simply dislike the more robust and distinctive flavor of game compared to domestic meat, which tends to be somewhat bland by comparison. The worst case is those unfortunate folks who are turned off to wild game after being served something that was not handled properly in the field and was, quite frankly, not really fit to eat. Unfortunately, that situation happens far too often and results in not only the waste of a great game bird or animal but also a wrongful impression of its eating qualities.

Every hunter should remember that once you have pulled the trigger and the animal or bird is down, it becomes food and should be treated that way.

No one with any common sense would buy a package of fresh chicken, beef or pork in the morning and then carry it around all day in a backpack or leave it unrefrigerated in trunk of their car, much less eat meat that had been treated that badly.

Sad to say, however, that some hunters treat their game just that way.

Because I consider a few meals of wild game each fall such a special treat, taking extra care of game in the field is a must to ensure the meat is top quality when they arrive in the kitchen.

Small game should be dressed out as soon as possible and the meat allowed to cool. To accomplish that, I keep what I call my “cutting kit” in my vehicle during the hunting season.

It includes several of my favorite skinning and boning knives, all well sharpened; a pair of medium-sized side-cutter pliers for snipping wing and leg bones; zipper-seal plastic food storage bags in assorted sizes; a roll of paper towels; and a small cutting board.

All of those items fit nicely into a deep plastic container that I can fill with clean water to rinse off the meat once I’ve processed it. I also bring a gallon jug fresh water for that purpose. For obvious reasons, never wash meat you intend to eat in a stream or other natural water source in the field or woods.

Finally, I bring some plastic garbage bags to take away the carcasses for proper disposal. No landowner likes to have the family pet drag home the carcass of some critter discarded by a hunter.

If you’re planning to hunt most of the day or during unseasonably warm weather, bring a cooler with some ice or those reusable freezer packs to keep meat cool. Another great benefit of taking a few minutes to process game in the field during the hunting day is there is little to do after you get home.

Usually that means just rinsing the meat once again or wrapping it for the freezer.

One final tip for getting the best quality from your wild game is to never, but never, soak it in salt water.

I’m not sure why so many folks persist in doing this, but the practice is a sure recipe for leeching the flavor from the meat, making it tasteless and unpalatable.

Nobody would ruin a steak, pork chops or chicken parts by marinating them in salt water before cooking. Don’t treat your hard-earned wild game that way either.