Fall Is the Season to Hunt for Your Dinner

Autumn’s celebration of the harvest is the same whether your food came from your garden or Idaho’s forests, fields and streams. Hunters and anglers have long—as in forever—reaped nature’s bounty and used it as fuel for the body and nourishment for the soul.

That transition from earth to table is intimate and sacred for all who grow, gather or hunt their own food, and Idahoans have a rich tradition of respecting and enjoying the process.

For anglers, it’s often a fun day with family and friends that results in a cooler full of fresh fish immediately turned into a delicious feast.

In other instances, it’s catching a brawny salmon or steelhead that returned to Idaho from the Pacific, and a single fish provides a family-sized meal, or it’s frozen for later meals.

For hunters, food gathering is often an arduous process that includes scaling a mountain in the predawn darkness in search of a mature bull or buck or setting out decoys in a frosty field or icy pond and waiting for the arrival of ducks and geese from the next field or flights from the far north. Or the journey might involve following the compass-like nose of a pointing dog across a fresh-cut farm field or along river canyons and bluffs in pursuit of elusive pheasants, forest grouse, quail or chukars.

With any hunting trip, success is never guaranteed, which makes us savor our wild game meals more because they’re backed by the toils, triumphs, failures and memories of golden autumn days.

For nearly as long as I can remember, I’ve experienced hooking, hunting, harvesting, cleaning and cooking fish and game that I’ve caught or shot. It’s taught me to appreciate and treasure the whole process of creating my meal from the water or field to the table, and I enjoy every step of the way.

If you’re a hunter or angler, you already understand this, and if you’re not, understand that the true and proper end of a hunting or fishing trip is converting sweat equity into a delicious, nutritious and 100 percent organic meal.

I like to keep that final chapter simple for a few reasons. First, cooking with the basics highlights the unique and natural flavor of what I am preparing, so my venison tastes like venison. I don’t want to overpower or mask its essence with other ingredients. Second, game is my comfort food, which means “meat and taters,” or maybe fish, rice and a vegetable. Third, simplicity means preparing a meal doesn’t require a trip to the grocery store with a long list of ingredients. I usually have what I need to cook it on a whim in minimal time and with no hassle.

Cooking and eating wild fish and game is more than a meal; it’s an opportunity to relive the experience. I rarely, if ever, have a steak, burger or burrito from the deer or elk without reliving some aspect of the hunt. The flavor evokes a feeling or memory of a quiet, frigid morning, tired legs and back from a heavy pack or experiencing the natural world unfiltered and in real time. I’ve had songbirds land within arm’s reach, a startled squirrel scold me with such fervor it nearly drove me out of the woods, and I’ve had bears, mountain lions and wolves who apparently agreed my hunting spots were fertile ground for game.

When my meal is done, I sit back, full and content, and start plotting my next hunting or fishing trip. I know there’s another steelhead out there willing to strike a fly, another mallard homing in from the north and looking for a landing spot or another buck lurking over a distant ridge—and I know they won’t come to me.

So during fall, you know where I will be.