Skip to main content

A Brief History of Venison

Before there was an America, there was America's meat

A Brief History of Venison
A Brief History of Venison

The first European explorers in the New World came face to muzzle with astonishing numbers of “stag” that met them just beyond the Atlantic dunes—and they greeted the game early on with blasts from their muskets. Plymouth pilgrims and Wampanoag natives ate venison at the first Thanksgiving, saying grace over the whitetails that staved off starvation. Pioneers, fur trappers, priests—the quest for New World freedoms, riches, and souls was fueled by the flesh of whitetail deer. And long before these settlers arrived, whitetails formed the very sinew and soul and sustenance of the first Americans—Ojibway and Shawnee, Seminole and Creek, Santee and Tuscarora.

I don’t want to overstate the case, but that would be difficult: From the beginning, venison made America. Back in the day, if you wanted to eat, you ate a highly processed form of acorns and persimmons and chestnuts and greenbrier. You ate the very fabric of the forest. You ate deer.

You no longer have to, of course. Your local grocer stocks the flesh and bones of cows, pigs, goats, sheep, chickens, ducks, geese—some of which, praise be, are raised free of chemicals and confinement and are nearly as free to romp and roam as, well, a whitetail deer. Yet despite all of this, some of us still choose to kill a deer, disassemble its limbs, fuss over freezing methods, and trade recipes with hunting buddies like ladies planning a church bazaar.

Why? Because venison is low in fat. Because it can be obtained relatively cheaply. Because it is free of the pharmacological stew of growth hormones, antibiotics, and antifungals fed or injected into commercial livestock. Because venison resonates with the current slow-food movement, and locavorism, the hip new mantra of community-based consumption that short-circuits the burning of fossil fuels. Eat a deer, save the planet.

But there’s more to venison than a mouthful of healthy protein. There are qualities to deer meat that can only resonate with the person who’s shopped for groceries with a finger on the trigger. Killing a deer is a kind of acceptance of the interconnectedness of life. Dragging a deer from the woods is sweaty work, but work salted with the knowledge that your family will say grace over your efforts for a year or better. And sitting down to a venison supper brings it all back—the shot and the sweat, sure. But also the wet smell of dawn in the woods, the crunch of frost underfoot, the bobcat dozing in the sunlight at the base of your tree. Good seasonings, those.

Some of the best chefs in America understand this innate connection between whitetail deer, the wild places where they live, and the plate. Even nonhunting chefs share the satisfaction gained from gathering one’s own food. And they certainly understand that, for all its positive attributes, venison’s taste just might trump them all. That’s why the five chefs we’ve featured here serve venison from their own kitchens. And that’s why they’ve agreed to share their best venison recipes with us.

So forget apple pie. There is no food more fundamental to this nation than a haunch of deer.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

Recent Videos

The Team is back and ready for action at Kudzu, looking to make the most of an early December rut. Turns out, running la...
Hunting

Work and Play: Merriam's Turkeys in Wyoming

The Team is back and ready for action at Kudzu, looking to make the most of an early December rut. Turns out, running la...
Gear

Winchester Waterfowl Loads

The Team is back and ready for action at Kudzu, looking to make the most of an early December rut. Turns out, running la...
Gear

Winchester .400 Legend

The Team is back and ready for action at Kudzu, looking to make the most of an early December rut. Turns out, running la...
Guns

Browning A5 in the Long Anticipated 20 gauge

The Team is back and ready for action at Kudzu, looking to make the most of an early December rut. Turns out, running la...
Guns

Streamlight SpeedLocker

The Team is back and ready for action at Kudzu, looking to make the most of an early December rut. Turns out, running la...
Gear

Winchester AA Shotshells

The Team is back and ready for action at Kudzu, looking to make the most of an early December rut. Turns out, running la...
Gear

Streamlight TLR-7X

The Team is back and ready for action at Kudzu, looking to make the most of an early December rut. Turns out, running la...
Guns

White Flyer Eco Flyer

The Team is back and ready for action at Kudzu, looking to make the most of an early December rut. Turns out, running la...
Gear

Leupold Mark 4HD Riflescopes

The Team is back and ready for action at Kudzu, looking to make the most of an early December rut. Turns out, running la...
Guns

First Look: Savage Arms 110 KLYM

The Team is back and ready for action at Kudzu, looking to make the most of an early December rut. Turns out, running la...
Gear

First Look: Savage Arms Impulse KLYM

The Team is back and ready for action at Kudzu, looking to make the most of an early December rut. Turns out, running la...
Hunting

Ground Level Bucks at Kudzu Bluff

Game & Fish Magazine Covers Print and Tablet Versions

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

Buy Digital Single Issues

Magazine App Logo

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Game & Fish App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Game & Fish stories delivered right to your inbox every week.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Enjoying What You're Reading?

Get a Full Year
of Guns & Ammo
& Digital Access.

Offer only for new subscribers.

Subscribe Now