Doug Baum grew up fly fishing, saltwater fishing and freshwater fishing, but he didn’t start hunting until about five years ago, first with his dad and then with his son, now 12.
“At first, Ben just came out in the field with us bird hunting,” Doug explains. “Then it was his idea to learn how to bowhunt for deer.” Bowhunting is the only option in our county, where deer overpopulation is a serious problem because they eat virtually all shrubs and plantings and because they spread Lyme disease.”
Doug’s parents have 7 acres in a nearby suburban village, so he and Ben have their own private reserve in the late fall.
From September to March, bird hunting takes them a little farther up the Hudson Valley to bag pheasant, quail and partridge and to Long Island blinds from December to January for wild duck (Doug’s favorite). The morning we spoke, the father-and-son pair was returning (empty-handed) from hunting turkey, another wild population that has come back in force in our ex-urbs.
The Hungry Locavore can’t get much more local than the game Doug and his family love to eat as much as to hunt.
“When we head out to hunt, we’re thinking about what we want to eat,” says Doug. “That’s our family rule; we only take what we’ll eat.” He avoids bucks and very young does and he points out that, when it’s a good acorn year, the venison tastes even better.
Apparently, only sea ducks don’t taste good, perhaps because of the muddy wetlands that they feed in. Doug’s daughter, Maiya, favors “ribeye in the sky,” or Canada goose, which also pose a serious nuisance and even a health threat on area waterfronts, golf courses and parks. Doug says the breast meat looks just like roast beef.
Late this winter, Doug’s wife, Heather, urged four pheasant on me and four chukar partridge breasts, along with a few beautiful venison chops, stew meat and a steak (the little beauty pictured here on my barbecue grill), her favorite cut. I was also lucky enough to receive a number of hints for barbecuing; venison cooks very quickly and will be tough if overcooked.
Heather keeps her preparation easy, using Chinese hoisin sauce or bottled salad dressing for the marinades.
“With the full flavor of these natural, non-processed meats, I use very little seasoning,” says Heather. “We have never had to tenderize the meat to enhance its flavor because Doug chooses the right timing [pre-rut, October], the right age and gender.”
A very traditional marinade for venison includes red wine vinegar, red wine or dark beer, onion, black pepper, bay leaf and juniper berries, which suggest the woods where deer live (and also are responsible for the characteristic taste of gin). The spices you might use with lamb works well for venison, too: French: oil, red wine, rosemary and garlic; Moroccan: cumin, onion, cinnamon and a little cayenne; Greek: oregano, lemon, olive oil and bay. I’ll wrap the small bird breasts in good bacon, sear them quickly and then finish them in the oven or grill them carefully so they don’t dry out. Any game is good cacciatore too: quickly browned and then simmered in tomatoes, onion and garlic until very tender.
When animals — especially overpopulated species — are hunted with such respect and care, when they are appreciated for eating and enjoyed as a family, I support, even applaud hunting, and enjoy the result of it, too.