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  • Writer's pictureSteve Sorensen

That “Gamey” Taste. What Is It?

You might love venison, or you might hate it. And if you hate it, maybe you've said it has a "gamey" taste. Do you know what you mean by that? I don't.

Read my January 27 column (below) and see if you can say what you mean by a "gamey taste." And by the way, if you cook your venison until the pink is gone, you've overcooked it.

My bi-weekly newspaper column, "The Everyday Hunter," appears in the Forest County News Journal (Tionesta, PA) and the Corry Journal (Corry, PA), both part of the Sample News Group. If you'd like to see "The Everyday Hunter" in your local newspaper, have your editor contact me.


To access more of my writing on hunting topics, go to the home page of my blog, Mission: Hunter.

That “Gamey” Taste. What Is It?  

Steve Sorensen

Maybe it’s not wise to ask a question I can’t answer, but I’ll take that chance. I’ve heard the word “gamey” all my life, and I don’t know what it means. So, I went to Merriam-Webster and found this definition: “having the flavor of game, especially: having the flavor of game near tainting.” That’s like saying “warmth” is “the feeling of being warm.” Webster must not have had the English teacher I had, or they’d know better than to use the word being defined in its definition.


I’ve never detected a taste I would describe as “the flavor of game” among wild turkey, goose, wild pig, black bear, all the deer species including moose, and much more. I’ve spoken at many sportsman’s dinners where wild game is served, so I’ve eaten plenty of it. If “gamey” means having the flavor of game, wouldn’t the taste of all these game dishes have some similarity?


I’ve also eaten squirrels, pheasant, and grouse. Just the other day I ate turtle and beaver at a sportsman’s dinner. I’ve eaten plenty of rabbit, wild and domestic. When I was kid, I hunted rabbits, and also raised them. I see little difference in taste between a rabbit I harvested with a shotgun and a rabbit I butchered in the barn. And the wild rabbits usually spent 15 to 30 minutes running in front of a beagle before meeting a load of sixes. Wild rabbit might be a little drier and the texture might be a little denser, but its taste is very similar to the taste of a caged barn bunny.


I’ve also eaten mountain lion, coyote, rattlesnake, and other less common wild meats. “Gamey” would not be in the descriptive lexicon for any of them. They taste like what they are, good or bad depending on how they were prepared.


What about “near tainting” in the Merriam-Webster definition? That’s meaningless too. I’ve home butchered many deer. All of them tasted like venison, and none of them were near tainted. Many were in the freezer or on the plate within a day. Even those that hung for a week at under 40 degrees weren’t “near tainting.” And the moose I shot in Alaska, which took us a week to recover at daytime temps around 50 degrees, was delicious.


You might ask, “Doesn’t venison taste different from other meats?” Yes, of course it does, just as catfish tastes different from walleye. And peas taste different from carrots.


For a variety of reasons, one deer can taste different from another. That’s true. No federal or state agency makes the rules and inspects the processing of venison, so no standard practices exist for butchering wild game. Every hunter or venison butcher handles a deer differently based on what he has experienced or learned through family traditions. For these reasons, and certainly others, a deer butchered in my garage might taste different than a deer butchered in my neighbor’s garage.


Many factors affect flavor. Was the deer field dressed promptly and cleanly? Was the deer skinned within a couple of hours so it could cool quickly, or did it hang with the skin on for a week? Was the silver skin (the “fascia”) removed from the muscles? The silver skin will break down under slow cooking, but cook on the grill and it will be chewy. Was the fat trimmed? Venison fat tastes terrible—it’s tallowy, it coats the inside of your mouth, and it doesn’t enhance the flavor or add moisture the way beef fat does.


Modern people have certain preferences and prejudices earlier generations didn’t have—and couldn’t afford to have. We are dependent on grocery stores and prepared foods loaded with additives for flavor and preservation. Most commercial food comes wrapped with appealing photographs on the packaging. A deer is packaged in a fur coat and has big brown eyes, so we’re bound to think differently about it. Perhaps that fact creates a deep-seated suspicion of wild meat.


When I was growing up, we ate a lot of venison. My dear mother cooked it like beef because it was red meat. The result was often dry because venison has no fat in the muscle, and overcooked because Mom was suspicious of meat if it was pink inside. Venison cooked that way is never the best.


Let’s stop using the word “gamey” when describing venison. Venison tastes like venison, so let’s accept venison for what it is, the leanest, healthiest, highest quality meat to ever satisfy a person’s palate.


When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website,


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