Whitetail Hunting photo

Don’t get me wrong — I’m all for a fine dinner of gussied-up venison. I love to cook, and I love to cook wild game especially. Spending a long winter’s afternoon braising and caramelizing and marinating makes me a happy man indeed. But for a long time I treated each cut of venison as this rare gift to be approached like a Culinary Arts Institute crash course. My thinking: I needed to honor this animal’s life with time-consuming, creative, Instagram-worthy cuisine.

No longer. Part of my change in approach has to do with the fact that I’m shooting a few more deer each year than in the past (okay, last year was a depressing anomaly). But my thinking also changed to understand that deer meat wasn’t a special occasion for fur traders and backwoods settlers and hunters back in the day. Venison was the manna of the frontier. Dinner for the working man. Everyday meat.

So these days, there are plenty of times when I fuss over a venison cut all afternoon long. But there are just as many when I quick-fry a vacuum-packed steak or sauté chunks of small roast in olive oil and whatever spices I can get my hands on, and call it a good, hot meal. At those times, instead of this satisfying epicurean experience, venison simply gets me through the day, gets me through the chores, fuels another few hours at the plow. I mean the laptop.

But the honor is still there. I worked hard to kill that deer, to gut it and drag it and skin it and butcher it. And so it goes full circle, fueling another hard day’s work, one plate at a time.