Do Rutting Bucks Really Taste Different?

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Recently, a Wild Chef reader e-mailed me with a good question, and I'd like to ask for your help answering it. Chris killed an old buck during last fall's rut and he found the meat to be "not really appetizing." This is a story you hear from deer hunters quite a bit, though I've rarely experienced "gamey" game meat.

During Nebraska's rifle season last fall I killed the buck in the photo and two does, which all had a musky odor when I cleaned them. The meat smelled strong, too, but the flavor wasn't horrible--just different. And the first deer I ever killed came back from the processor virtually inedible (for which I blame the processor). Other than that, every deer I've tagged, whether it be whitetail or mule deer, rutting buck or young doe (with the exception of yearling fawns, which taste like veal), have pretty much all tasted great.

However, I'm betting Wild Chef readers have some strong, and varying, opinions on this subject. As well as some great ideas for helping Chris turn his unappetizing venison into some delicious dishes. Read Chris's e-mail and my response, then post your comments below.

I have a question for you: Do you have a lot of experience with meat from old, rutting bucks? This past year I took what was hands down the oldest deer of my life, and it was during the peak of the rut. The meat has a smell and taste that is not really appetizing. I've generally always taken does and the meat was fine, but then I've generally always taken them to a processor too. Last year's buck was the first one I've really worked up on my own, start to finish, so I'm wondering if I did or didn't do something that might have contributed to the smell and taste. I've always heard that an old, rutting buck won't taste good, but I hear a lot of things, if you know what I mean.
Thanks,
Chris

My response:
There could be a number of factors at play here: the deer's age, the rut, the butchering. Did the meat or the deer smell rank when you were cutting it? I shot a buck and two does last fall in the peak of the rut and they all had a strong "rutty" odor to them (yes, even the does). It was the first time I had encountered that. While the meat does have a distinct taste, it's not too off-putting thankfully. However, it's not the sweet meat I'm used to eating. You might try soaking the meat in milk or buttermilk before you cook it up. That might help the taste. Jerky or sausage is another way to make use of less than desirable cuts. Good luck.