For most hunters in North America, spring means turkey time.
But that's not necessarily true for all hunters, especially those who enjoy heading north of the border with a bow and arrow in hand.
For those hunters, springtime – and even into early summer – means it’s time to chase black bears, especially in the bruin-rich provinces of British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan.
In fact, during any given spring, Ralph and Vicki Cianciarulo, the Illinois hunting couple that host The Choice and Archer's Choice television programs on Outdoor Channel, hunt black bear in British Columbia and Alberta.
The same goes for Outdoor Channel personality David Holder, the lead host of Raised Hunting; he’s been known to head to Canada, such as Saskatchewan, to chase bears with a goal to bring back a pumpkin-head Pope & Young-size bruin to his Iowa home and maybe a shaggy hide for his taxidermist to turn into a rug.
As with any wild game meal, a good table experience featuring black bear meat will start with proper butchering in the field and even a bit of aging and tenderizing of the cuts before any actual cooking occurs. (Photo courtesy of David Holder)
But all three bowhunters also are eager to bring back a YETI or Mammoth super cooler full of bear meat, one of the more unusual freezer-filling wild meats available to hunters each year.
Bear meat? Yes, indeed, say all three, especially if it is cared for properly after harvest.
"For the best-tasting bear meat, you need to get the hide off the bear as soon as possible and get the meat cooled down," said Ralph. "Bear meat is a dark and grainy meat, so if you are able to let it hang to age a few days, that can help to tenderize a cut of meat."
Vicki, who has spent years turning bear meat into tasty dishes for her family, notes as with other wild animals, age is a chief consideration when hoping to put wild meat on the table.
"A younger bear will be less gamey tasting than an older bear will," she said. "And the smaller the pieces of meat that you use in a recipe, the less gamey the bear will (tend) to taste."
When handled and prepared properly, bear meat can serve as the main ingredient of several interesting recipes found below.
Editor's Note: Before cooking bear meat, please note the preparation safety information found at the end of this story.
Karin Holder: Italian Bear Sausage Breakfast Burrito:
"Here is the list of ingredients that you'll need," says Karin.
- 4 to 5 small white potatoes
- 1 pound of Italian bear sausage (either prepared at home or made by a local meat processor)
- 6 to 8 whole eggs ("This is what I use to serve just Warren and Easton," laughs Karen. "But I have to add 6 more eggs for David!")
- Olive oil
- Seasoning of your choice
- Shredded cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese
"Once you have the ingredients together, then splash the bottom of your skillet with olive oil," adds Karin. "Then cube the potatoes into small, bite-size pieces. After that, sauté the potatoes until they are golden on the outside and soft in the center. Then set them aside."
Karin also adds the potatoes can be seasoned to taste as they are cooking.
"Next, you want to brown the bear sausage in the same skillet, being careful to do so until it is fully cooked, but not so much that it gets dried out," she said.
"Then you want to mix all of the eggs in a bowl, add salt and pepper to taste. Then add in the eggs to the cooked sausage and mix it all completely."
After the bear sausage and egg mixture is fully cooked and is ready to serve, Karen then sprinkles the shredded cheese onto the top of the meat and eggs.
"Then I'll heat up a warm sun-dried tomato tortilla-style wrap in the microwave or the oven, then laying the desired amount of bear sausage and egg and potatoes on the wrap before rolling it up and serving it," said Karin.
With a hungry crew always rolling through her Raised Hunting kitchen, Karin notes: "This is a great meal to make the day before a hunt or a day spent in the outdoors. Pre-make all of the burritos, wrap them in foil, refrigerate them overnight, then reheat them in the microwave (without the foil) the next morning."
This is a protein-packed, healthy meal that will “stick to your ribs” for a few hours making the morning hike to your favorite hunting spot all that much better!"
For more information on the Holder clan (David, Karin, Warren and Easton) and their TV show Raised Hunting, visit www.raisedhunting.com.
Vicki Cianciarulo: Breaded Bear Backstraps
While Karin Holder's recipe is a great way to use bear meat in the day's first meal, Vicki Cianciarulo's recipe for black bear backstraps is a good way to finish off the day's good eating.
"While we're talking about bear meat in this story, I actually use this same recipe on any game animal that Ralph, myself or our son R.J. shoots," said Vicki. "It’s delicious!"
One thing that Vicki notes is she cooks more by feel and taste than specific numbers: "I don’t use measurements when preparing this recipe," she said.
First, she says to slice the bear backstrap into thin pieces by cutting against the grain.
"Then you want to pound the slices (with a meat mallet or tenderizer of some sort) to make them a bit more tender," she adds.
"Then you want to place the slices into a bowl with a mixture of milk and egg. Let it all sit in the mixture until you are ready to cook."
In a separate bowl, Vicki places a mixture of flour, Italian breadcrumbs, salt, pepper and garlic powder.
"Then slice a yellow onion into thin strips," she said. "Follow that by heating up a frying pan and placing olive oil – just enough to coat the pan – and some of the sliced onion into the pan."
At that point, she will take a slice of bear backstrap out of the milk-egg mixture and dip it into the flour-breadcrumb bowl.
"I'm going to cover the backstrap completely with the mixture," said Vicki. "After that, place the strap into the frying pan and begin to cook it.
"When the meat and the breading start turning light brown on the bottom, then turn it over," she added. "Once the second side is browned, then remove it from the pan and place it on a plate with a paper towel on it."
Vicki adds she will then add more olive oil and sliced onion to the pan and cook up the next piece of backstrap, continuing the process until the supply of meat is ready to serve.
"A great compliment to this meat is a peppercorn gravy and potatoes," she adds.
For more information on Ralph and Vicki Cianciarulo and their son R.J., visit the website for their two TV shows at www.archerschoicemedia.com.
Vicki Cianciarulo is one of spring bear hunting's most ardent enthusiasts. And when she or her husband, Ralph, are fortunate to take a bear, the result is some fine eating back home in Illinois. (Photo courtesy of Vicki Cianciarulo)
Vicki Cianciarulo: Italian Bear Steak Chunks
While bear backstrap is one way the Cianciarulo family enjoys the black bear fruits of their spring hunting labor, Vicki admits they have another dish they love, especially when it becomes the main ingredient for a hearty stew.
"Start by taking some bear steak cuts, then cube them into smaller pieces," she said.
Once that step is taken, Vicki then assembles the remaining ingredients of Italian dressing, chopped green peppers, chopped onion, sliced mushrooms, chopped garlic cloves and some butter.
"In a bowl, I'll mix the bear pieces and the Italian dressing, letting it sit for 24 hours in the fridge," she said. "When I'm ready to cook, I'll heat up a frying pan and cook the meat in the Italian dressing until it is done. Then I'll remove the meat from the pan."
At that point, Vicki will melt the butter and sauté the garlic in it. Following that step, she will sauté the remaining vegetables in with the garlic before adding the cooked bear meat back into the pan.
At that point, the steak chunks are ready to become the main portion of a stew recipe. Or they can be served in another couple of ways.
"You can either serve this with a (baked) potato or (over the top of cooked) rice," said Vicki.
Going spring bear hunting? Then remember that the meat is as much a trophy as the hide and skull are. (Photo courtesy of David Holder)
Bear Meat Safety
Described by some hunters as being similar in taste to either venison or perhaps even beef, bear meat is actually more like wild hog in its physical texture.
And like wild pigs, bears can sometimes harbor the tiny parasite Trichinella, which can bring about a nasty bug called trichinosis when infected meat isn't cooked thoroughly.
Because of this, it's vitally important to always cook bear meat properly, thoroughly and safely.
How can one do that with either wild bear meat or wild pork? By following this advice from the U.S. Center for Disease Control's website:
"Whole cuts and ground meat from wild game animals should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160°F. A meat thermometer should be used because color is not a good indicator of doneness for game meat. Some methods of cooking, especially microwave cooking (which is not recommended), do not cook meat evenly. Smoking, freezing, or curing game meat does not kill all Trichinella species. Low –temperature smoking will not kill Trichinella, either." (Source: U.S. Center for Disease Control)