If you eat meat, that meat has to come from somewhere. When Scott and Tiffany Haugen started working as teachers at Point Lay, Alaska, that somewhere wasn’t a modern supermarket.
“If you wanted to eat, you had to get it yourself,” says Scott. “It’s still a subsistence culture up there.”
Fast forward to today. The Haugens are now well-known experts in hunting and authors of books on gourmet game cooking. Scott also produces and hosts Trijicon’s The Hunt. And while they now live in Oregon instead of Alaska, they still hunt for meat.
“We wouldn’t hunt if we weren’t going to eat the stuff,” Scott says.
The Haugens’ seminar at this year’s NRA Convention focused on “Wild Game Cooking: From Field to Table.” And while skill and art play big roles, science factors in as well.
Different factors affect how flavorful meat will be, including the time of the year, abundance of food, and climate. Late in the season, for example, animals are likely to have more fat.
Drought, in contrast, can cut down on animals’ food supply and lead to tougher meat.
Shifts in seasons can also affect hunting. Scott plans to head out on a bear hunt soon after the convention ends.
“Due to this spring’s early arrival out West, the bears have emerged from their dens early,” he notes. “And with the grasses greening up, bears spread throughout their territory, quicker than on normal years.” While there aren’t fewer bears, the fact that they spread out sooner will likely make them harder to find.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says extreme weather events like droughts will happen more frequently with climate change. Similarly, earlier warming has led USDA to shift the hardiness zone designations used for planting. Based on these facts, I’d guess hunters might see climate impacts out in the field more often.
Whether the catch is bear, antelope, elk, or something else, though, getting good meals from game starts long before it gets to the kitchen.
“The preparing of wild game starts the minute you pull the trigger,” says Scott.
Once an animal is killed, the hunter’s field dressing work begins. The sooner a hunter can start breaking down an animal and cooling its meat, the less chance there is for cell damage to occur and for bacteria to grow. And the more likely the meat is to taste good instead of gamey.
That goes for any animals, says Scott. “You need to get the hide off them and get them cooling.” Think Food Safety 101–but out in the field.
Doing that in the field requires a good grasp of basic anatomy. And while it’s not something I’m likely to do, the method Scott showed with a video at the seminar had less blood than I remember from some butcher shops when I was a kid.
Care in handling continues for the Haugens back at home. They wrap and label different cuts of meat. Then it typically goes into the fridge or freezer.
“Aging is a big deal,” says Tiffany. “The meat is going to become more tender, and the flavors are going to neutralize.”
“Always defrost your game and meat in the refrigerator,” adds Tiffany. Otherwise cells can expand and absorb liquids. That would make “your fish fishier and your game gamier.”
Even though I don’t hunt, I may try some of Tiffany’s cooking tips in my own kitchen. One of her hints is to try coconut milk in place of water in the crock pot. That sounds like it could make a delicious stew.
Their talk gave me a lot of food for thought too.