Time for a Deer Hunting Photo Essay

They refer to it as knife season, or the time of year that hunters walk around with knives on their belts. (And they do.) But I’m pretty convinced that deer hunting weekend revolves around the table: the meals we share around it and the future roasts/sausages/pâté centerpieces that the hunters run around pursuing.

In fact, I’d say that for those who like to eat, this weekend is like a collective tuning-in. Setting something wild on the table gives even the most jaded eaters pause. And the hunting feast itself—flush with venison, venison liver pâté, and whatever wild thing I have in the freezer: wild duck saltimbocca, grilled hearts with garlicky chimichurri—feels like a rustic, ancient, Thanksgiving.

At the very least, it is Thanksgiving’s pre-party. It seems to magnetize our dearest and most far-flung friends and draw them in to our house. This year we were thrilled to pull in friends from both coasts and Wisconsin, in addition to friends who drove up from Minneapolis.

I don’t hunt myself, but I’ve spent the past five consecutive years of deer camp installed in front of the stove playing camp cook, and last weekend was no exception. Over the course of the three days of hunting I pulled together some stews, some simple lunches, big pots of wild rice, countless batches of strong coffee and, to cap it off, a grand venison feast for 15-20 people, which began with an incredibly fresh pot of venison liver pâté, well-lubricated with bacon, butter, and booze (the three b’s that give venison liver its unique palatability).

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The above pan of apple cider scone cake (which overflowed so sweetly onto my oven floor) was a scene-stealer, or would have been if our bellies hadn’t been so drum-tight. A bowl of the moist, crusty cake atop the cider caramel beneath made a good breakfast, too.

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Trimming venison is putzy work, and Brian and his brothers Todd and Darrin were up early, getting to it. The fat and the gristle don’t have good flavor, so we trimmed every bit of each.

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Oh! Hank in his orange vest. He was by turns photographer and videographer throughout the weekend.

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Cubed venison and pork sits in the porch-fridge (around 30 degrees F), awaiting the grinder.

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By our estimation, we made 80 pounds of venison sausage this year: a ruby-red merguez, an all-purpose sweet Italian, and a kicking hot Italian. And we did not even fight over it.

(For more, here’s deer camp 20082010, and 2011.)

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