Wild game foods motivate hunters

Squirrel, it’s what’s for dinner.

You won’t find it at the meat counter in JayC or Walmart. You won’t find it on the menu at Seymour restaurants.

The trick is you have to go get it yourself in the woods, shoot to kill, then prepare and cook it yourself.

Brad Herndon, 78, and wife Carol, 75, of Brownstown are perhaps the biggest local proponents of squirrel meat. Brad, who calls the pursuit of squirrels to harvest “my favorite hunting,” also describes them as “delicious to eat.”

There is nothing for the palate quite like fried squirrel with biscuits and gravy, he said.

In early America, wild game meat was the staple of the home dinner table, first in the East, for longer in the West. Deer, elk, wild turkey, bear meat, rabbits, whatever the bounty of the land offered, hunters sought to feed their families.

Long before she was famous as a show sharpshooter, Annie Oakley was a meat hunter, both to serve her family and to sell to nearby restaurants.

For those such as Oakley and millions more, hunting was all about eating. As society evolved and manufacturing became more developed, Americans chose the convenience of grocery store shopping over fending for themselves.

Still, millions of Americans hunt in the 21st century for the pleasure and excitement of it and to fill the freezer to treat their taste buds.

“We eat deer at least once a week,” said Seymour hunter Doug Arthur. “Ducks and geese. I like goose barbecue. I make jerky out of goose and duck. I enjoy the food. I do like wild game. There’s something about knowing that you harvested the animal, processed it and cooked it. It gave you life.”

Nutritionists say wild game is a good source of lean protein and has lower fat and cholesterol than store-bought meat that is farm-raised. For those who don’t hunt or who live far from appropriate habitat, online sellers make available venison and elk, but also ostrich, alligator, goat and bison.

Only a certain percentage of hunters hunt solely for trophies, to seek record-book-sized antlers or the like. Many hunt to harvest the largest animal of a species but also to obtain the largest amount of meat from the kill.

Many hunters experiment with their own recipes over time.

“I’ve always eaten the meat,” said Brownstown hunter Jeremy Steinkamp. “I do all my own butchering (not relying on a processing plant). It was cheaper, and I wanted to be sure it was my deer.”

Rick Zschiedrich, a Seymour hunter, said he, his parents and brother together used to harvest three or four deer annually for food.

“I loved the backstraps,” he said. “We would grill those.”

His mouth still waters thinking about squirrel dishes.

“I never forget us eating all the squirrels in the pot with gravy,” Zschiedrich said.

Field Spradley, 11, who participated in the youth hunt at Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge with his father, Seth, in late September, has adventuresome tastes.

“This little guy will eat anything,” his father said.

The younger Spradley has tried groundhog. Asked what it was like (and aware of the running joke about many types of game tasting like chicken), Field said, “Like pulled pork.”

Squirrel is often a main course at the Herndons and is definitely on the menu each year when they host their Pioneer Dinner, a tradition in Brad’s family dating back 64 years.

Herndon inherited the dinner from two generations of cooks who were game for anything. Deer, turkey, rabbits, quail and other species also grace the Herndons’ table. Hunting keeps them in good condition and is a less expensive way to eat.

“With the price of meat today, it saves you a lot of money,” Brad said.

Plus, he likes the health benefits.

“There’s no question about it,” he said. “With squirrel, there’s no fat on it. Turkey is all white meat.”

The Herndons are about as fond of bluegill as of squirrel and said together, they fish limits of 50 in a day.

In time-honored American sharing tradition, the Herndons regularly give extra wild food to neighbors and friends.

“We eat what we want and give it away to people,” Carol said.

There are philosophical disagreements between hunters and vegetarians over diet, but Carol’s outlook about the schism is straightforward.

“I like meat,” she said. “I don’t care if vegetarians like their vegetables.”

Carol Herndon is an avid squirrel hunter.

Submitted photo

Brad Herndon and wife Carol of Brownstown are big local proponents of squirrel meat.

Submitted photo