THE FIRST MORNING - DEER SEASON 2008
The first morning of the season was cold and wet. A chill wind came from the northwest. Nephew John and I went down from the Ridge Road and worked our way into the upper part of the hollow. We came to old structural pieces of stone and concrete but little else to suggest that this had been a home. An area once open was now spotted with small cedars but some open areas of deep grass. The bucks had been rubbing their antlers on saplings, shredding the bark while strengthening their necks for the fights to come over the does. There was one scrape started, a signpost in the mating ritual. John and I can converse about deer by looking together at sign and not talking. We sat for a short time but we weren’t very serious about killing an animal, which we would have to drag a mile or more. They would have hot coffee at deer camp -- and stories, though no deer.
Ours is a small fraternity of hunters with the experience of years to share. We are good and responsible hunters whose word on shots and distances can be relied on. That morning, they reported a lot of sightings but only one missed shot had been taken. John and I listened, commiserated for a decent period of time, until I announced that we needed to be headed out so that John could get his son to a soccer game. This was about neither a shot nor distance.
Seated in the Yukon, windows up, I said, “We’re going to breakfast.”
“I know,” John said. And so we did. The waitress called me “Honey” as she brought hot coffee, ham, eggs and hash brown potatoes.
THE SECOND MORNING
The second morning, John’s son really did have something, or so John said. SO I went to deer camp alone mid-morning with a large pot of venison stew made without venison but with beef. It was well received on a cold but clear day.
A large doe was field-dressed and hanging. In my jeep was a small assortment of knives sharpened two nights back and a sharpener. The carcass was cold, making the skinning more difficult. The drop point Buck knife with the five inch blade held the best edge, by far. Once the deer is skinned, the first order of business is to remove the loins, called back straps. It was early in the day and the group decided to wait until after the afternoon hunt to cook the straps. I wasn’t going to be there to eat even though I would hunt till dark. Fresh loin done over campfire coals is why this hunter will endure the time, expense and discomfort of the hunt.
The carcass was hung hind legs up and splayed on what looks like a large and heavy-duty coat hanger. With the Buck knife sharpened, a cut is made down the side of the vertebrae to the shoulder on each side. The meat is loosened from the rib cage by making a cut keeping the knife in contact with the ribs the same length as and parallel to the backbone cut. The cuts should be made as high up and close to the pelvis as possible.
Under the circumstances, however, some larceny was in order. I cut across the loin about four inches lower than usual, below that part of the loin called the sirloin, and removed the somewhat shortened strap, by loosening and then pulling it free. After removing and bagging the rest of the meat, I announced that I would just cut off the few remaining scraps to use as stew meat. Among the 'scraps'were the two sirloins.
And that is how I came to get away with two beautiful four-inch pieces of sirloin. I cut one in half to make the following:
BACON-WRAPPED VENISON FILLETS
2 venison steaks (elk, moose bison may also be used)
1 clove garlic, split lengthwise
2 thick slices bacon, preferably smoked
2 tablespoons each of:
About 1/2 half cup dry red wine
About 10 juniper berries (optional but if used, scorch them first in the iron skillet and roughly mash; set aside; don’t clean the skillet)
Coarse-ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (enough to cover the bottom of the skillet)
1 teaspoon arrowroot
Rub each fillet on each side with garlic. Discard garlic. With the fillets on a flat surface, circle each with a bacon strip and secure with toothpicks, using enough to firmly secure the bacon to the fillet. Mix all the liquids in a flat bottomed bowl or casserole large enough to hold the meat with about an inch all around to spare. Place fillets in the mixture, the liquid should come up about one-third to one-half way, if not add more wine. Let stand for thirty minutes at room temperature turning once at fifteen minutes.
Place oil in an iron skillet and bring to high heat so that water pops if sprinkled in the oil. Remove steaks from liquid and pat dry with paper towels. Pat with pepper and place in skillet. Cook five minutes on the first side. Turn and cook four minutes on second side, for the last minute turn heat to low. This is venison and should not be cooked to done much less well done. When in doubt, make a small cut to check color, it should be rare to medium rare. (Pink center is as done as it should be.)
Remove fillets from skillet and pour in the liquid. Add the mashed juniper berries if used. Sprinkle in the arrowroot while scraping bottom of the skillet. Let cook until thickened. Pour the thickened liquid (at this point, feel free to refer to it as a 'wine reduction sauce') onto warm plates, put the meat on top and serve.
Honor the hunt, the kill and the meat with a good story, a better wine and if you are as fortunate as your author, proper companionship. The wine might be one of those great Pinot Noirs coming out of Oregon, or, better still that great Bordeaux you’ve been protecting. No advice here on the selection of companionship but him or her, as the case may be, will be impressed.
~ Enjoy, JW