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    Stories

    The Lost Art of Canning Wild Meat

    The Lost Art of Canning Wild Meat

    By Hunt To Eat Ambassador Todd Waldron

    4 minute read

    It’s a late-autumn sound that’s greeted in our kitchen with fever-pitch anticipation and a mild dose of relief. A short symphony of vacuum-sealing ‘pops’ as several quart-size mason jar lids do their magic. This annual ritual has secured another batch of healthy, free-ranging, organic wild meat for our winter pantry shelf.  

    It’s one of the primary reasons I choose to be a hunter.  

    My grandmother did it out of necessity. Her and my grandfather raised seven kids, including my mom, on their hardscrabble farm in the Adirondack Mountains. They didn’t have electricity, let alone a freezer. Like many other families in rural America at that time, they had a deep, hands-on connection to their food. Hunting, farming and living off the land was a routine way of life. She canned tomatoes, beans, corn – and meat. Beef, chicken, pork, and venison.

    The art of processing and storing wild meat in wide-mouthed mason jars was lost on our family until the early 1990s. One fall, after a successful Northern Zone hunting season, my dad and stepmother broke out the pressure cooker. They cleaned jars & simmered lids. They measured out canning salt and paved the way for my intense interest in all things canned-venison. I quickly became the only twenty-something in town whose favorite piece of hunting gear was a Mirro 22-quart pressure cooker. Hook, line and sinker.

    Why go through the process of canning wild game when it’s easier and more conventional to just wrap it up and put it in the freezer?

    It tastes damn good, it’s convenient to re-heat and it's versatile from a recipe standpoint. Think of that fork tender, barbeque pulled-pork sandwich you love, only better. Grilled canned venison burritos with a good mole sauce are hard to beat. It’s also my idiosyncratic version of risk management for our most important food ‘asset’ – wild game. There’s no need to worry when the electricity goes out after a big Nor’easter and the freezer isn’t working. Portfolio diversification works for wild meat too, even if your financial advisor never thinks to mention it.

    What cuts or parts of the deer are most suitable for canning?

    Anything you might normally put in the charcuterie, stew meat or grinding pile. My experience is that with a mature northeastern whitetail, you can get enough ‘canning meat’ from one deer to do a full batch of seven-quart jars or up to sixteen pint-sized jars.

    What do I need for equipment?

    • Pressure cooker – there are several good brands out there, pick one that fits your budget and needs.
    • Quart or pint-sized mason jars with lids – wide mouth preferred. It makes it easier to pack the meat. You can pick these up at most grocery stores.
    • Canning salt – follow directions for amounts, one teaspoon per quart jar in my case.
    • Wild game – mule deer, moose, elk, whitetail, black bear, pronghorn.

    How does it work?

  • First and foremost, follow the instructions of whatever pressure cooker you choose to use.
  • Cut or cube your wild game into stew-meat sized one or two-inch chunks or a little larger. They don’t have to be trimmed perfectly – just do the best you can.
  • Brown the meat in a large pan and then let it cool prior to packing into clean jars.
  • Hand-pack meat into jars to approximately one inch below the rim.
  • Add the canning salt.
  • Wipe the rim clean, hand-tighten the warm-simmered lids, and place in pressure cooker with manufacturer’s recommended amount of water in the bottom of the canner.
  • Apply heat and bring pressure cooker up to the necessary pressure.
  • Once it has processed for the necessary amount of time, be sure to allow the pressure cooker to cool off before removing the lid – this takes a long time. There’s a lot of pressure and steam in there. Don’t get impatient and burn yourself. You have all winter to enjoy this meat.
  • Remove jars from the inside of the canner safely by using a canning jar ‘handle’ or similar apparatus.
  • Place jars on a cooling rack and wait for the vacuum-sealing ‘pop.’ If the lids don’t seal for some reason, refrigerate it and eat at your earliest convenience.
  •  

    How long will canned-wild game last in your pantry?

    Urban legends claim it can last for years, but we’ve never let it sit around long enough to find out.

    Recommended resources or books for canning wild food?

    Canning Meat, Fish, Poultry and Wild Game: Canning for Beginners. Kindle Version available on Amazon – by Mary-Beth Stenson

    Canning Guide for Beginners – How to Guide with Recipes: How to can Vegetables, Fruits, Pickles, Salsa, Meat, Fish, Poultry, Wild Game. Kindle Version available on Amazon – by Ben Moore.

    5 Tips for Guiding Youth

    5 Tips for Guiding Youth

    7 Minute Read
    By Hunt To Eat Ambassador Katie DeLorenzo

    Many of us will have the privilege of passing on the hunting tradition by guiding a youth hunter. During these formative years the experiences they have afield can either mean they’re hooked for life or they never want to hunt again.

    In order to give them the best experience possible, I’ve outlined five tips for you to keep in mind while guiding youth.

     

    1. Know their Shooting Ability

    When guiding a youth hunter (or any hunter for that matter) a critical first step is understanding how to set them up for a clean, ethical kill and positive experience. Some simple questions can help you understand where they’re at with weapon proficiency and what kind of shot situation will be within their wheelhouse.

    Ask what their ideal range is as well as their max range. You should also ask what their setup has been while sighting in and practicing. Most hunters neglect situational training where they shoot in various positions and instead practice on a bench, often with the aid of a sled or other stabilizer. While this is great way to get comfortable with the rifle it removes nearly all of the variables that will be present while taking a shot in the field. If your hunter has only practiced on the bench, be sure to review the various shooting positions with them and see what they are most comfortable with.

    For newbies, I prefer a seated position with knees up. It’s easy to get situated quickly and very stable. A trick my sister taught me is to insert your arm into the sling from the outside in, so it’s is wrapped around your arm and grip the stock. In a seated or standing position the sling provides added stability. It also works great when shooting off sticks as you can grip the stock and top of the sticks simultaneously for a rock-solid hold. On hunts where shooting from a seated position is impossible due to high vegetation or terrain, or you have a very young hunter, a field pod like this one from Cabela’s gives the stability of a shooting bench but is transportable and fairly light-weight.

    2. Know Your Prey

    Although most youth hunters won’t be after a trophy, it’s still important to talk through what’s a shooter and what isn’t. Both to make sure you’re on the same page and meet any legal requirements. You may need to consider the animal’s sex or even the size of the antlers or horns so it’s imperative you review the traits you are looking for before the hunt begins.

    Talk to your hunter right away to gauge their level of comfort with identifying animals. Telling a buck and a doe antelope apart might seem easy for the seasoned sportsman or woman but a youth hunter likely has much less experience identifying game, especially under pressure. If you can, watch the game you are after before the hunter has a shot opportunity take a few minutes to review identification. If possible, I’d recommend bringing an extra pair of binos for your hunter so they can participate in glassing, spotting and identifying.

    Remember that shooting situations are stressful for anyone, let alone kids that are being forcefully told what to do by one or more adults. Make sure they know their prey and understand they are ultimately responsible for what happens when they pull the trigger. The bottom line is if they don’t feel comfortable in identifying their target they do NOT have to shoot.

    3. Give Them Ownership

    Give your ego a rest and, when possible, let your youth hunter in on the decision making. I’m not saying throw your knowledge of the animals and hunt area out the window, but there are often overlooked opportunities to engage your hunter in the process. I believe hunting is more about the process and resulting personal development than the moment you kill. If all you’re doing is giving directives, you’re robbing your hunter of the full experience. Allowing them to take part in even small decisions can really get their wheels turning. If there’s a choice to hunt spot A or B with fair chances of finding an animal at either, discuss the options and let them choose.

    4. Honor the Harvest

    What happens after an animal is down is nearly as important as the hunt itself. Teaching the next generation to honor the animal is paramount in my mind. The animal should be handled in a respectful way and the meat should be properly cared for to ensure you can use as much of the animal as possible.

    In addition, how your young hunters represent their hunt with stories and imagery is increasingly important in today’s emotion-driven world of social media. Perception is reality and images with excessive blood, tongues hanging out, unsafe muzzle control, or hunters sitting on top of the animal do not portray hunters in a good light. When possible, I prefer to position my animals in an upright position on the side with the least amount of blood. I tuck in the legs and tongue and sit behind the animal with my weapon pointed in a safe direction. Beyond the traditional grip and grin photos that show the hunter admiring their harvest are among my favorites.

    5. Make it Fun

    Many kids today are growing up in a world of both gamification and immediate gratification. If they aren’t excelling at one activity or game or get bored, they simply move on to something else. As adults with a passion for the outdoors and all that comes with it, we can easily forget that hunting is hard. It can be physically uncomfortable, mentally challenging and often requires superhuman levels of grit and persistence.

    For the new hunter one of the best things you can do to help them stick with it is to make it fun. Youth hunters are often accompanied by a guardian. This might be mom and dad, grandpa and aunt or uncle or family friend. Chances are this person is going to be very excited for the possibility of a harvest and might even be a little overzealous. If that’s the case your role is to be knowledgeable, calm and encouraging.

    After coaching competitive youth soccer for 12 years I can tell you that parents yelling at the players to shoot when they’re right in front of a wide-open goal does not help. Trust me, in the heat of the moment your hunter would rather hear an urgent but calm voice saying “Take the shot,” instead of someone whisper-yelling at them and sending them into a buck fever frenzy. And, if they don’t take a shot, you can use that missed opportunity as a teaching moment, rather than getting angry.

    Lastly, pay attention to what they show interest in during your time outdoors and encourage them to find out more. If they like reading sign, then show them some tracks and scat. If they are interested in anatomy, then spend some extra time looking at muscle bundles and organs when you dress the animal. Whatever you do, remember their experience includes so much more than just notching a tag. Regardless of your hunting know-how, do your best to focus on them.

    You can follow Katie on Facebook and Instagram @newmexicohuntress or email her at newmexicohuntress@gmail.com


    Wyoming, Once Again.

    Wyoming, Once Again.

    6 Minute Read
    By Hunt To Eat Ambassador, Cindy Stites

    You can smell it as soon as you open the truck door. The sagebrush is everywhere and it’s a smell that tickles my nose and energizes my senses. This smell is commonplace to westerners, but for me it symbolizes something special, something that I wait an entire year for. It’s like a drug that clears my mind and makes me feel like I belong in this place. And not just for a single week out of a long year, but for all time. Wyoming calls to me, it’s always there in the back of my mind, flashing images of the antelope laden grassland, the winding North Platte River, the rocky bluffs, the deep drainages and yes, the sagebrush.

    Chance and I arrived in southeast Wyoming to the warm welcome of our friends, Dan and Denise. Dan has known Chance since Chance was a wee little boy, and offered up their home about four years ago, in case we ever decided we wanted to give “western hunting” a go. They had moved to their Wyoming cattle ranch from Indiana and told us that we would fit in just fine out there, based on how much we loved the outdoors and hunting lifestyle. The very next winter we were putting in for tags. 

    Shortly after arriving, we made our way up into one of the three buttes that our hosts are blessed to have, so we could take in the sunset, the views of the countryside, and see if we couldn’t glass up a coyote. We never laid eyes on the coyote that had been finding its way too close to the house, but we did find a bachelor group of mule deer that have been passing through the ranch periodically, during the later summer months. Dan and Denise both told us if we wanted to shoot the two large bucks that were hanging around about every third day, we were welcomed to do so. After seeing them on Saturday evening, we were left stunned at their size and just their presence.

    However, we didn’t have to say a word to each other, we each already had our reasons for our individual desire to go elsewhere for our mule deer this year. Chance knew that Tim, a neighbor and dear friend to Dan and Denise, had been watching those deer and had even been out with his bow, hoping to have a shot at one of them. Tim has given us pointers the last few years on where some good public land was located, and this year, where to go and what to look for, for Chance’s attempt at his first antelope. Chance liked the idea of venturing out and exploring as well, but essentially left the monster bucks, out of respect for Tim.

    My reasons were a little different. While I also have respect for Tim and his pursuit of one of these two massive deer, I already had it in my mind that public land was the only option for me, when in Wyoming. 

    For me, there is a certain appreciation for the “suck” that comes with hiking eight or ten miles, through rough, rocky terrain littered with sage, yucca and cactus, while trying to locate a deer, that you may or not ever even get a shot at. I love the possibility of what could be just on the other side of the next ridge. We live at approximately 840 feet above sea level back home. We hunt, hike and climb in an area of Wyoming that is roughly 4,800 feet above sea level. While that might seem minor to the mountain dwellers, I am most certainly a flatlander.

    Part of the “suck,” is when you are gasping for air, and feel your heartbeat in your head as you are pulling that loaded game cart up the monster hill, on the way back to the truck. You feel like you are going to die, and you question why in the hell you do this every fall, knowing that you are going to suffer great discomfort. 

    But you do it because those public lands keep calling you back, they make you believe that anything is possible, they mesmerize you with their beauty, they hold on to you with their mystery. Some people think I’m crazy for passing up an opportunity at a buck of a lifetime, right there, just waiting for me on our hosts ranch. But I say you’d be crazy to pass up the sights, smells and “suck” of hunting on public land.  

    For us, hunting is a process. It is an experience that connects us to our food and brings us closer to nature. Telling the stories in a way that inspires others, whether non-hunters or new hunters, to maybe venture out and explore the possibilities of what the out of doors is all about, is important to me and I feel it is crucial to help others open their minds to something they may not be familiar with in the present. We hunt for the challenge. We hunt for the opportunity to explore this country’s public lands. Most importantly we hunt for the food it provides us throughout the year.  

    We went out to hunt public land not knowing what we might find. We not only embraced the suck, but we endured it. Our friend Tim went out on Thursday night and shot a monster buck behind the buttes. We helped him drag it out, I took his photos for him, and I held a leg while he dressed it out. This buck was magnificent, it was stout, it still had velvet clinging to the tips of his antlers. He was everything you dream of, when you think of a Wyoming mule deer.

    But he wasn’t the deer for me.

    The deer for me, was the deer I stalked and waited for, for so long earlier in the week. I couldn’t be prouder of our Wyoming hunt this year.

    I am thankful for the animals, thankful for our dear friends and their hospitality, and thankful for the public lands that made all of it possible.

    Maybe in a weird way, I am most thankful for the smell of the sagebrush, and the year long wait I endure before I can open that truck door, to that familiar smell that lets me know we are back in Wyoming, once again.


    Want to know more details about Cindy’s hunting trip in Wyoming? Check out her full article here.

     

    Change in Daylight: What it Means for Wildlife

    Change in Daylight: What it Means for Wildlife

    4 Minute Read
    By Hunt To Eat Ambassador Jason Norris
    ----

    With winter around the corner, the amount of daylight hours is decreasing. As humans, it means many of us will be spending more time in the dark. But what does shorter daylight mean for wildlife?

    To help put it in perspective, Hunt To Eat Ambassador Jason Norris tells us about his resident deer, Larry.

    Larry.

    Meet 2-and-a-half year old Larry. He’s reliable, almost punctual to a fault. Larry is the resident buck on 40 acres, so he rarely travels far. This is largely due to the fact that we provide supplemental feed to him. The feeder goes off at 7am, 10am, 4pm, and 7pm.

    So Larry has begun to understand time, or at least his version of time. Like clockwork, all summer long he was at the feeder no more than 30 minutes after it went off in the morning and evening. Due to Texas heat, his afternoon travel was very limited.

    In Texas, we have the unique ability to watch deer, the same deer all year long. We learn their routines, study their behavior and most often use that to kill and harvest meat. In the case of Larry, he is safe (at least from me). I have such an admiration for these animals that even ones I am not "patterning," I want to learn all about.

    Larry’s Change in Routine

    Recently, Larry began to change his schedule. He now comes to feeders later than in the past. What is it that changed for him? Why get off a schedule he has had for months? Does daylight saving time affect deer? 

    The short answer is: Larry is not reacting to daylight saving time or any version of our concept of time. He doesn’t wear a watch.

    But he is reacting to what his body is telling him. Larry is sensing the small changes happening each day. Minor changes in the barometer, in humidity and changes to the amount of sunlight during the day give him clues.

    What do these changes ultimately tell him? The days are getting cooler and shorter. He feeds later in the morning and later into the night. He knows his grocery options have changed.

    And, Larry's DNA is telling him to ramp up for the rut. That magical time of year when bucks appear to throw caution to the wind so that he can pass on his genes, or in simple terms, find the ladies. With the rut, his schedule will alter even more, his patterns will become more erratic, something that every hunter is familiar with. He travels more looking for food high in calories, putting on the weight before the rut. His travel and caloric needs determine his schedule now.

    But Larry isn’t Alone...

    Texas Hogs.

     

    Another animal hunted in Texas is also going through a change this time of year. Ever since late May, our wild hogs are almost entirely nocturnal. Pigs are unable to regulate their body temperature and so during the hot summer they must stay in the shade or find a wallow bath. But with a change in daylight and winter on its way, they have to get out in the sun to warm up. The hogs are now finding they can be a little slower after feeding in the early morning hours getting back to bed. They can come out from their thick cover and feed during the day. 

    With the increase in movement of both Whitetail and hogs in Texas, it is a great time to be in the woods. It is the time to Hunt to Eat!