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That wild, gamey taste on your dinner table

Fortunate indeed, are the families of hunters and fishermen who bring home their venison, pheasant, grouse, or the fish they catch. Not all Americans get the taste of the wild. Not all of us like that wild taste, either.

Recipes have been developed in test kitchens that feature the game birds, or cuts of big game like deer, elk, moose or antelope. Wild game meat tends to be leaner than the flesh of farm animals. There is less fat because a deer works off fat by actively working an area to find a supply of grass or farm grains. Pheasants and ruffed grouse must work to find grain, weed seeds, insects and gravel. Pen raised chickens merely hop over to a nearby trough where grains and water are provided.

Wild duck has that "gamey" taste. The breast of a wild mallard is going to be harder, drier, and blacker than the same piece of a domestic duck, available at WalMart or Central Market. Pheasant is remarkably similar to chicken but is usually not as tender as the Tyson chicken breasts so common and popular these days. Ruffed grouse, of course, is a case unto itself. There isn't any wild-domestic comparison. Ruffed grouse, in my opinion, is the finest tasting game bird available -- much better than chicken or turkey. Wild turkey on the family table isn't very common, but many hunters aren't exactly taken by wild turkey, a game meat that is becoming more common as we're taking a lot more of these birds now, than we did in the past.

Pheasant is prepared like chicken, and recipes for each are not changed very much.

Fish, when cleaned and prepared for the table promptly after being caught, provide some of the best table fare available. Sunfish and crappies are actually superior to the cherished Minnesota walleyes.

Panfish can very easily be scaled with a spoon, converted with a fillet knife into two very small pieces of very tasty fish. Rough fish like bullheads and river catfish require a bit more preparation before becoming table ready, but they fry up into great meals.

The deer must be properly handled after the kill, or the resulting venison will not be good. In warm weather days early in our deer season, the deer should be eviscerated in the woods and promptly headed for a cool location. The freezer of your processor is best. When it gets to that butcher shop, you can only hope that it will be refrigerated promptly. Most processors are good about this.

If you take your ducks, geese, pheasants or grouse home, almost at once get them into refrigeration and defeather them promptly. Cut game birds into serving size pieces. Butcher your deer yourself, if you prefer, cutting the meat into sizes appropriate for your family.

Hunting trips to the western states for elk, antelope, mule deer or other big game is usually no problem, as you will have a guide who will take good care of your kill.

Some years ago, I was a member of a crew that made a salmon fishing trip, ten days in the inland passage area of southeast Alaska. While we feasted on fresh caught king salmon and halibut, there was a large container of iced down fish that the skipper of our ship had prepared for home shipment. We enjoyed fresh fish for many weeks.

Wild game from hunting trips is an expensive commodity. It usually requires travel, nowadays lodging, transportation, so the cost per pound is going to be expensive. Even venison, waterfowl, pheasant or grouse taken locally is going to cost. Care for it properly and your family can enjoy that wild taste.

An old friend comes to visit

We were pleased to have Tim Kjos at our dinner table last week. Tim was in the area for the Eddie Jokela funeral in Park Rapids. He looked strong and fit, doing the things he always wanted to do. And that is to build a herd of cattle on his ranch near Kulm, N.D. Tim now owns a section of land, the herd is growing, and there is a house, farm and ranch buildings.

Although North Dakota politics now have his attention, he's kept in touch with our Rep. Collin Peterson. Tim admires the things that Senator Dorgan has accomplished, and says that Hoven will be elected.

Tim said that snow geese are a plague in his area, with lots of deer, some pheasants and waterfowl. His lands are open to hunters who come up to the ranch house and ask permission. There have been no incidents of misbehavior on visiting hunters' conduct. They hail from Chicago, Omaha, Minneapolis and Ohio. Tim said that their presence in quest of game is a welcome addition to the economics of his area, and that is a common appreciation by people in the area.

Brainerd's ice fishing contest

The state's largest, and most successful ice fishing contest began at noon on Saturday, Jan. 23. After an elapse of two minutes, Curt Yess of Waseca pulled up a 6 1/4 pound walleye, the largest fish taken that day. The angler took the walleye in 60 feet of water on a shiner minnow.

Staged on Gull Lake, several thousand anglers participate in the event. The event raised $180,000 for area charities important to the Brainerd Jaycees.

Yess said that it took about two minutes to set the bait to the lake bottom, and he hooked the walleye immediately. It was the largest fish that was taken that afternoon, and Yess went back to Waseca, richer by $10,000.

The CRP in North Dakota

The well-known Federal conservation program was a big thing in North Dakota. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service said that it was at its peak in 2007 with 3 1/2 million acres. The CRP habitat has since shrunk to 2.7 million acres. Farmers opted to cut back the farmlands set-aside in order to plant, mostly corn, with higher prices returning.

Sportsmen are lamenting the reductions. CRP lands provided food and cover for upland birds, deer, small animals and songbirds. Pheasant and sharptail grouse hunters, in particular have been saddened by reduction.

Thousands of hunters from Minnesota made the trip across the Dakotas, where there have been very good hunting trips. The economy of the State was helped to a great extent, with the visitors in need of shells, gas, lodging and restaurant meals. Small towns benefited immensely, and the merchants were appreciative, although some local sportsmen were not as happy to see the visitors from the other forty-nine!

Federal programs are shaping up, and it appears that the Conservation Reserve Program is on a down hill course. The CRP acres of alfalfa, hay and other cover crops were appreciated. Their loss is something that is sure to affect hunting in both Dakotas and other plains states as well.

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