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Mind your kill

DOUG LEIER ND Game and Fish Department

As Thanksgiving rolls into December, many hunters have freezers full of mallards and grouse, Canada geese and venison.

When we shared community refrigerators in college, we had fun labeling packages to keep others from “enjoying” our hard-earned game. If you lived in Milligan Hall back in the day and ever snagged a frozen package labeled “Unicorn Saddle” or “Passenger Pigeon,” the meat inside, fried in a combination of bacon fat, onions, and green peppers, wasn’t as rare as you might have hoped.

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

Today’s food show addicts would turn off and unfollow if there was a documentary about wild animal cooking in colleges in the 1990s.

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There’s no shortage of experts and suggestions here and now for preparing wild, prairie-raised grouse. Few would argue that a grouse raised in 1992 is not much different 30 years later. What hasn’t changed, however, is that a frozen pack of venison in 1992 is no better than a vacuum pack in 2022.

You can’t make filet mignon out of ground beef. If you don’t take care of the meat in the field, no amount of spices or cooking methods will overcome the damage done.

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Doug Lyre


Leaving wild animals out in the heat or covering them with country road dust and bugs isn’t going to fix it. Take care of your prey from field to fork. One of the best advances in modern game storage is the payoff for investing in a vacuum sealer. A freezer is still a freezer, but airtight vacuum packaging has changed the game.

What hasn’t changed is the fresher the game, the better. Would you like to bury a taste test between freshly grilled saddle of venison compared to last year’s under a pack of this summer’s zander fillets? Neither do I.

Years ago we didn’t have access to the information that the modern technology age offers. I would venture to surmise that for every cut of meat, or type of fish or game, someone has tried a unique way of cooking or preparing it and probably has a recipe or even an instructional video somewhere on the internet if you want to search for new ideas.

However, as with other internet warnings, you should pause and think before you decide that mashed grouse might be worth trying. Sounds more disgusting than awful to me. Visit the North Dakota Game and Fish Department website at for safer, tried and tested options, some of which may or may not have come from Milligan Hall.

Doug Leier is a biologist with the North Dakota Wildlife and Fish Service.