Fresh ways to cook up your hunting harvest
By Kate Rader • Photos courtesy of August Nemec
The first time August Nemec’s father took him goose hunting, he was only three years old. “It was a way we could sit together and talk,” he recalls, of the special moments he got to spend with his dad in those first hours of the morning just after dawn. At age seven, he harvested his first rabbit, and at nine, his first deer—memories that fostered a tradition he now shares with his son Augie, and a group of longtime friends whom he hunts with five or six times a year.
The pandemic sparked renewed interest in hunting, as people had more time at home and an interest in finding ways to be self-sufficient. Interestingly, the surge has helped with conservation management and tracking the spread of wildlife ailments. Departments of Fish and Wildlife across the country depend on license fees and taxes for funding and have begun to focus on improving access to training courses and recruiting non-traditional hunters like women and urbanites.
August spends about 35 days per year hunting deer, rabbit, boar, wild hogs, bear, elk, goose, duck, squirrel, pheasant, grouse, and raccoon. He eats what he harvests and gives the hides to a friend. Last year, he put close to 900 lbs. of meat in his freezer.
But it’s the stillness of the outdoors that keeps him coming back year after year. “I love the benefit of the meat and the excitement, but I feel closest to God when I’m out in the woods and can think to myself. I think about the things that deserve the attention they don’t get when I’m at work or at home and distracted. When you climb up a tree and sit for that first hour in the dark and are quiet and take in your thoughts—it’s a great time to solve some of those problems.”
HEATING UP THE FLAVOR
August’s father may have introduced him to hunting, but it was his grandmother who nurtured his interest in cooking.
“She was exceptional at cooking wild game. My dad’s mother grew up on a dairy farm and there were a lot of deer there.” Eventually, he began looking online for recipes he could adapt. “Anything with beef I started to try with venison. Generally, it’s a lot leaner than beef and you have to be conscientious of where you harvest it from. A deer from a swamp will have a different flavor profile than from a farm.”
After years of experimentation, August has mastered the art of cooking game. His favorite cuts? “Hindquarters are good for steaks, and backstraps are like the filet mignon of the deer,” he says. But his favorite bite is the size of a pepperoni strip—the inner loin.”
Whatever cut you plan to cook, he emphasizes the importance of proper preparation in ensuring the best flavor. “It’s all in the preparation,” he says. “The biggest hurdle is making sure you skin the animal and cool the body down as soon as you can. I aim for mid-30 degrees or below to make sure the meat doesn’t spoil. Keep it dry and cold.” He says it’s also important to meticulously remove the silverskin and glands as they can affect the flavor. August marinades particularly gamey cuts in a Ziploc bag with Dr. Pepper or root beer. The combination of sugar and acid works to make the meat more tender and take the gaminess out.
With food costs rising, August says, hunting and cooking wild game can be really rewarding. He also likes that the animals are hormone free. “I think it’s something that anybody can enjoy and do. Going from harvesting an animal to putting food on a plate and feeding your family—it’s really cool.”
AUGUST’S GAME RECIPES
PULLED ITALIAN VENSION SANDWICH
This recipe won August a “best tailgate food” award.
Roast backstrap cuts in a crockpot with one pack of powdered au jus mix, one pack of powdered Italian dressing mix, 10 pepperoncini, 2 tbsp. of minced garlic, and a stick of butter on low for 8 hours. Shred the venison and pepperoncini onto a loaf of Italian bread (sliced in half). Top with garlic butter, sauteed mushrooms, provolone, and mozzarella cheese, then bake in a 400-degree oven until the cheese bubbles. Slice and serve.
FRIED Coconut Rabbit
Cut skinned and dressed rabbit meat into chicken nugget-sized chunks. Rinse the meat and pat dry. Prepare pancake batter mix using dark beer instead of water. Dip the meat into the batter then roll in sweetened coconut flakes. Fry in peanut oil at 375 degrees for 3–4 minutes until browned.
CROCKPOT BOAR BARBECUE
Use a thawed picnic or shoulder roast with or without the bone for this recipe. Cook in a crockpot with 1/2 can of beer or sweet soda on low for 8 hours. Remove bone, shred the meat, and add 18 oz. of your favorite BBQ sauce before serving.
STUFFED VENSION BACKSTRAP
Carefully slice the meat lengthwise and “unroll” to create a long, flat, butterflied piece. Cover with plastic and tenderize with a hammer. Cover both sides of the meat in your favorite dry rub. On the top side, spread 2 parts cream cheese, 1 part shredded cheddar cheese, 1 part smoked gouda cheese, then roll up into a pinwheel. Smoke at 225 degrees for 3.5 hours or cover with a few strips of bacon and bake in an oven, keeping it covered so it doesn’t dry out. Slice and serve.
FARMERS AND HUNTERS FEEDING THE HUNGRY
According to the Feeding America website, more than 34 million people, including 9 million children, in the U.S. are food insecure. Many households that experience food insecurity do not qualify for federal nutrition programs and visit their local food banks and other food programs for extra support.
Since venison is low in fat and naturally nutritious, it can be a perfect substitute for other meats, which are expensive and harder for food pantries to consistently provide. Additionally, most venison donations go to feed the hungry in the county where the deer was harvested.
Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry works with meat processors nationwide to facilitate a way for hunters to donate their field-dressed harvest to feed people in need, free of charge. Vicki Burger says her family’s three-generation farm in Williamsport, MD, has participated in the program for many years. At Sunnyland, they process about 400 lbs. of deer annually into frozen deer burger, which is then distributed to food banks, churches, and more in Washington County.
Josh Wilson, the executive director of FHFH says that the nonprofit organization raises money from donors and grants throughout the year to cover the cost of processing, so there is no charge for hunters who donate deer and other livestock from farmers. Last year, hunters donated 39,000 lbs. At an average weight of 40 lb. of meat per deer, that provided 156,000 servings to people in need.
For a current list of participating meat processors by state and county, visit:
Farmers & Hunters Feeding
Hunters Sharing the Harvest
Hunters Helping the Hungry