These days Christmas lunch comes all but ready prepared. All you have to do with your turkey is stick it in the oven. But once upon a time, men hunted down their supper. Swide looks at how you can hunt your Christmas lunch.
Tired off buying the plucked and cleaned bird from the butcher’s? Not only does the farm-reared fowl taste of not very much, you might have issues with the quality of life they lead. Some people are opposed to hunting, but it’s beyond debate wild animals have a better quality of life than farmed animals…. And they taste so much better. Swide has the low down on how to be a real man and bring home the bacon this Christmas.
The turkey is a native of North America, so it’s mostly hunted in the United States, but it is also done in Mexico and Canada. It’s one of the more leisurely hunts, but it can be difficult to get permission to enter private property to hunt the delicious turkeys. A shotgun (firing pellets or shot) is usually used to hunt then, but in recent times it’s become fashionable to use a bow and arrow. To hunt these birds you need to wear full camouflage, the turkey is slow and stupid, but it those beady eyes have excellent sight and can spot you from a long way off. The meat of the wild turkey is tougher compared to the farm-reared version, but the flavour is a bit stronger, gamier, but not too gamey.
The numbers of these birds has exploded in recent years so there’s plenty to go round. They have adapted very well to human environments and can be found on private lands such as golf courses, who tend to cull yearly. Calling the geese is a particular skill that can take years to master even if you buy the very best geese calls. The idea is to imitate the sound of the goose and attract them. Canadian Geese are notoriously wary so while hunting them you have to remain extremely still and quiet, sometimes for hours at a time, which if you’re up to your knees in freezing water my not be the most enjoyable experience. If you’re successful though, it’ll all be worth it, the meat is good. The legs are probably the best part as it’s quite a fatty bird, you can make good sausage from the breast too.
Pheasants usually fly out of their long grass habitats about two hours after sunrise and then return in the late morning and then out again in the early after noon. They’re creatures of habit, so if you survey the area well you can get to know their habits from a distance and time it right to nab them. The start of the hunting season is probably the best time to get young, cocky, inexperienced birds who haven’t learned to be overly careful yet. A dog is usually used to flush the birds out and another to retrieve them. When you aim for a bird, you have to shoot ahead of the bird, so he flies into the shot and only ever shoot when the bird is above human head height so as not to inadvertently hurt one of your party. Pheasant is one of the best tasting game birds there is. It’s very gamey and strong and not too bony either, it’s perfect for stews and casseroles.
Red Grouse hunting season usually starts on August the 12th, known in the UK as Glorious 12th and many of London’s top restaurants will race to get the first grouse of he season on their menus. It is found on the moors of England and Scotland and to hunt it usually a team of flushers will beat the heather to rouse the bird, it’s then shot at. It is a spectacular fowl in terms of flavour, it’s usually roasted, but the traditional style is on a croute spread with its own cooked liver, bread sauce, crab apple sauce, game chips and a little gravy. Absolutely delicious.
Probably the best hunt for the inherent danger it poses. Especially popular in Italy, hunting Cinghiale is one of the most popular sports of any kind. The indigenous boar was hunted to extinction but in the early 1900s the larger Romanian Wild Boar was introduced and subsequently thrived. Boar hunting will typically start at 6.30 am with trackers heading out to find some traces, they will then return to confer on the strategy with their fellow huntsmen and a group of 20 or so will then head out with a group of about ten dogs. During the hunt, the postaioli form a horseshoe shape and flushers beat the bush in order to drive the boar towards them. The hunter is only allowed to shot directly in front, even if he sees the boar before the hunter in front of it does. This is to minimise the danger of accidentally shooting one of your party. The meat is about as good as game gets. The traditional method of cooking is Cinghiale in Umido which is rich and succulent.
Some do hunt deer with bows but in general you’ll need a rifle, a .243 calibre and larger. Deer are much faster and agile than us humans so the best method remains finding a sport where deer are known to frequent, meadows, watering holes, make yourself a tree stand or camouflage hut and wait. That means staying absolutely still for as long as it takes. Deer are so flighty and wary that the slightest move can scare them off. Make sure you sit down wind, that is, with the wind in your face or you’ll be waiting for days. Venison is supple and strong meat that is totally unique… it’s so good that the name itself is derived from Venus, the goddess of love. Never shoot at a running deer, it usually results in a wounded animal that is never recovered, as in all hunting, wait for the shot that you know you can make, the animal deserves that at least.