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Doug Leier: Taking proper care of wild game in the field is essential to the final product

Leaving game in the heat, or letting it get covered in rural road dust and insects is unfixable. Take care of your kill from the field to the fork.

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If you don’t take care of the meat in the field, no amount of seasoning or any style of preparation will overcome the damage done.
Contributed/North Dakota Game and Fish Department
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Doug Leier is an outreach biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. Reach him at dleier@nd.gov.

WEST FARGO – As Thanksgiving fades into December, many hunters have freezers stacked with mallards and grouse, Canada geese and venison.

In college while sharing community freezers, we used to have fun by labeling packages to keep others from “enjoying” our hard-earned game. If you lived in Milligan Hall back in the day – a dorm on the campus of Dakota College at Bottineau, as it’s known today – and ever snuck a freezer-wrapped package labeled “unicorn backstraps” or “passenger pigeon,” the meat inside fried in a combination of bacon grease, onion and green peppers was not as rare as you might have hoped.

Truth is, we didn’t have YouTube to search for new recipes for deer (unicorn) or grouse (passenger pigeon). The fact that it wasn’t drowning in cream of mushroom soup made us feel worthy of the mislabeled “rare” game we were cooking.

Today’s food show addicts would tune out and unfollow if there was a documentary on college wild game cooking in the 1990s.

Here and now, there’s no shortage of experts and suggestions for preparing wild, prairie-raised grouse. Few would argue a grouse raised in 1992 isn’t much different 30 years later, but if you don’t take care of the meat in the field, no amount of seasoning or any style of preparation will overcome the damage done. Leaving game in the heat, or letting it get covered in rural road dust and insects, is unfixable. Take care of your kill from the field to the fork. One of the best advances for modern game storage is the payoff for investing in a vacuum sealer. A freezer is still a freezer, but airtight vacuum packing has been a game changer.

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What hasn’t changed is the fresher the game, the better. Want to try a taste test between freshly grilled venison backstraps compared with last year's straps buried beneath a package of this summer’s walleye filets? Neither do I.

Years ago, we didn’t have access to the information the modern age of technology provides. I’d venture to guess that for every cut of meat or species of fish or game, somebody has tried a unique way to prepare or cook it, and they probably have a recipe or even an instructional video online somewhere if you want to look for new ideas.

However, like other internet cautions, you may want to stop and think before you decide grouse puree might be worth a try. Sounds more gross than grouse to me.

Check out the North Dakota Game and Fish Department website here https://gf.nd.gov/recipes for safer tried-and-true options, some of which may or may not have originated from Milligan Hall.

Doug Leier is an outreach biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. Reach him at dleier@nd.gov.
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