Every year, the approaching autumn stirs the memories and dreams of Buckeye deer hunters. The sportsman begins to dream of the deer he is soon to harvest and the venison he is soon to eat. He looks forward to the many sights, sounds, and feelings associated with the hunt itself: the spooky sound of deer snorting and blowing in the predawn woods; deer appearing from out of nowhere, like apparitions, out of the foggy bottomlands on a misty morning; the nervous, adrenaline pumping moments as deer slowly wander within range under the tree stand; an arrow striking true and the deer bolting as it jumps, kicks, darts, and crashes into the brush.
Solitary though it can be, deer hunting is also a communal sport, where cohorts gather annually for deer camp, coworkers share experiences and tactics with each other around the water cooler, and the best deer jerky is shared with a select group of friends. Long-time deer hunters know well their buddies’ tales of exultant conquest and bitter defeat. Also valued are the lessons learned and time shared with family and friends, and the excellent, bountiful table fare that venison provides.
This is all illustrated when Ohio huntsmen share their stories and deer recipes, capturing the essence and flavor of deer hunting and down-home game cooking. Baltimore’s Joel McCreery hunts several days of the week during deer gun season on his family farm in Fairfield County. The farm includes a u-pick strawberry patch, pigs and heritage poultry on its 53 gently rolling acres of prairie grasses — excellent game cover for McCreery to hunt.
McCreery’s interest in natural history and his love of the outdoors is what draws him to hunting but putting nutritious, wild game in the larder is also an important part of the hunt for Joel.
“I am definitely a meat hunter and not a head hunter. I pretty much rely on venison for my red meat. I enjoy getting venison for the health benefits of having low-fat protein in the freezer. I like the flavor of deer meat and I like the idea of providing my own meat. I prefer that to getting it at the store,” McCreery said.
Harvesting game meat is part of McCreery’s philosophy of self-reliance and ties to his ambition to have a connection to the food that he eats.
“Many years ago, I became convinced that I did not want to rely on others for my food. That led to my raising chicken and pork — partly for ethical reasons. I want animals to live well until harvested and I want to know what is being fed to them. And partly, I do it because I like the self-reliance and knowing how to provide for myself. Gardening and the canning and storing of food stuffs follows the same path,” Joel said “Hunting plays into the same feelings for me. I know where the meat is coming from. I’m being self-reliant, and I get to enjoy the outdoors. Maintaining the prairie grasses on our farm is perfect for my philosophy of providing good habitat for fauna, keeping the soil intact and enriched for small scale agriculture if needed, and it provides basically unlimited opportunities for harvesting game from squirrel to deer.”
From a culinary standpoint, McCreery uses as much of the deer as he can and he enjoys cooking fresh organ meat soon after the deer is harvested.
“When I don’t shoot the deer clean through the heart, I will use the heart in a couple of different dishes and I will also fry the liver up with some onions,” Joel said. “A very simple and surprisingly good way to prepare liver is to cut it in strips, and cook it on a stick over campfire coals until medium rare. The heart lunch meat recipe is really good — it has the consistency of and tastes like bologna.”
Deer Heart Lunch Meat
- Soak heart in salt water overnight
- Cover heart in salted water in a pan
- Add 1 small onion (minced), 2 cloves garlic (minced), 2 bay leaves, 1 tablespoon peppercorns
- Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 2 hours.
Let cool and slice thin. Serve on crusty bread with mayonnaise.
Deer Heart and Noodles
- Soak heart in salt water overnight.
- Peel silver skin and valves on the inside of the heart off.
- Slice heart into 2-inch long strips, dredge in seasoned flour and fry in oil. Put to the side.
- Cook noodles in chicken (or venison) broth. Add heart strips after noodles are cooked in the broth.
Greg Leasure, of Pleasantville, is an avid bow hunter. One of his favorite places to be in the fall and winter is high in a tree stand. Leasure appreciates having time for quiet thought in the deer woods and
likes the opportunity to observe animal behavior in the natural environment. Many of his favorite deer hunting memories involve chasing deer in western Pennsylvania with his Dad and Grandpap.
“My Dad and I once shot two does within 5 minutes of each other from stands about 30 yards apart. We got to watch each other kill the deer. Maybe my best memory was when I killed my first buck with my Grandpap on top of a mountain on the Pennsylvania/West Virginia border when I was 12,” Leasure said. “My Dad and Grandpap are both getting older and have slowed down. Neither of them hunt much anymore and it is good to have those memories of hunting with them. When I was a kid, as soon as I’d get off the school bus, we were gone and off into the woods and up in a tree, bow hunting.
Another major aspect of the hunt for Leasure is the large amount of venison that he puts in his freezer; Leasure harvests three to four deer each year and venison is the staple meat on his dinner table.
“Deer provides a lot of freezer meat, which is a big thing for us. I do my own butchering and I save the back straps and a couple of roasts and grind the rest. I have never bought ground beef from the grocery store, ever,” Leasure said. “I have a simple, but very delicious crock pot recipe.”
Greg’s Crock Pot Venison
Cut a back strap or roast into steak slices and place in the cooker. Then, add 1-2 brown gravy packets, 1 package of fresh mushrooms, one sliced onion, and 1 can of cream of mushroom soup. Cook it for 8-12 hours on low. Serve with mashed potatoes. For deer burgers, combine 1 pound of ground meat, 1 egg, 5 tablespoons Worchester sauce, 1-2 tablespoons liquid smoke, Cajun seasoning, and 1 cup bread crumbs. Make into patties and grill to your liking.
For Trent Ball, of Logan, the fall deer hunt is a family affair where priceless memories are made and paternal wisdom and humor is imparted. This is shown when Trent reflects about youth hunting
adventures in his following story about “Mist-a Buck.”
“This past bow season was the first time my son had ever gone deer hunting and, unfortunately for him, it was also his first experience with buck fever. When his first deer walked under our tree stand, the excitement of the moment got the better of him and he totally missed his mark,” Ball said. “To say my son was disappointed would be an understatement, so I told him about my first deer hunt in hopes of making him feel better.
“Deer gun season in Ohio is a special time and a rite of passage for many young men and when I was 13, after years of hounding him to let me go, my dad finally relented and agreed to take me deer hunting for the first time. Unlike my son, I was a very hyperactive and excitable boy who had messed up a few small game hunts with my inability to stay still, so looking back, I can understand Dad’s hesitance.”
After a fruitless morning’s hunt on a snowy opening day, Trent’s hunting party decided to put on a deer drive in the afternoon, leaving him posted up for deer alone in the woods. After being told repeatedly about where to stand, shoot, and to “make sure it’s a deer you’re shooting at” by his father, Trent was left at his post and eventually became bored and started daydreaming.
“All of the sudden, I was snapped back to reality when I heard some brush snap in the pine forest out in front of me. I moved a little closer towards the pine forest to get a better look. Then, I heard the brush crack again, and with my heart beating so fast I could hear it in my ears, I knelt down to look under the limbs, when a small button buck came through at a dead run right at me! I nearly jumped out of my skin and by the time I got the gun shouldered and got the safety off, the deer was so close that it had to jump to get by me—practically jumping over my legs. Even though the deer was so close I could have hit it with the gun, somehow my first shot missed, as did the second and third shots,” Ball said.
Pretty soon, the rest of the hunting party came out of the woods to find the 13-year-old agape.
“My dad looked mad after first seeing what he must have thought were snow angels in the middle of the road. It was only after hearing my story and seeing the deer tracks run right up to the imprints that my floundering had created, that he and the rest of the hunters started to laugh so hard they had to wipe the tears out of their eyes. I was embarrassed enough as it was, but my face turned red enough to melt the snow when my dad suggested that instead of naming me ‘Mr. Buck,’ from now on I would be known as ‘Mist-a Buck.’ This, of course, brought on a whole new round of laughter and back-slapping from the others, all at my expense,” Ball said. “The story brought a smile to my son’s face and his mood started to brighten. I told my son that even to this day I still take the occasional ‘Mist-a Buck’ ribbing from the guys that were on that hunt. My son told me he would have probably never gone deer hunting again and I agreed and said I might not have either if it weren’t for a similar talk I had with my dad and the fact that later that evening I shot my first deer. Both went a long way in soothing my bruised pride.
“My story and a little food must have made my son feel better because after getting a bite to eat my son agreed to go back out with me that evening for another hunt. No sooner did we get settled when a six-point buck walked under our tree stand. My son’s shot put the buck down almost where it stood and as soon as the deer fell, my son forgot about the morning hunt and had a smile from ear to ear the rest of the night.”
“Mist-a Buck” Summer Sausage
5 lbs Ground Venison
¼ cup Morton “Tender Quick” curing salt mix
2½ tsp. Mustard seed
1½ tsp. Garlic Powder
2½ tsp. Course black pepper
1 tsp. Liquid smoke
1 tsp. Hickory smoke salt
Mix thoroughly, cover and chill. Each day (for three days) mix by hand, cover and chill. On the fourth day, mix and roll into 2”x 3” logs. Place on broiler pan and bake for 1- 1½ hours at 300 degrees. Let cool and enjoy.
These Ohio hunters who pursue this state’s only big game animal, the whitetail deer, understand what President Theodore Roosevelt was talking about when discussing blood sport and the “cult of the strenuous.” As Roosevelt once said, “In hunting, the finding and killing of game is after all but a part of the whole. The free, self-reliant, adventurous life with its rugged and stalwart democracy, the wild surroundings, the grand beauty of the scenery, the chance to study the ways and habits of woodland creatures — all these unite to give to the career of the wilderness hunter its peculiar charm.”
The wild hillsides and forests of Ohio offer hunters prime opportunities to put some fresh, lean game meat in the freezer. The deer herd is healthy and robust in most parts of the state and the hunting season is a long one. Part of the reason for deer hunting’s popularity is, as outdoor writer George Mattis says, “the whitetail appeals to every type of outdoorsman from the rugged still hunter of the back country to the occasional gunner in the densely populated areas…whether you pursue the sport alone or are a member of a congenial group that prefers a social hunt, the whitetail fills your requirements.”
This year’s archery season opened on Sept. 30, 2017 and runs through Feb. 4, 2018. Youth gun season is on Nov. 18 and 19, 2017, while the statewide deer gun season runs from Nov. 27 through Dec. 3, 2017 and Dec. 16 and 17, 2017. For those who hunt with a smoke pole, muzzleloader season will be Jan. 6 to 9, 2018.