• John Thompson

What is wild game

Updated: Jan 17, 2018

What is wild game? Wild game are animals and birds hunted in their natural environments for the purpose of harvesting them for personal consumption. What is a "Wild Game Menu"? Then is the wild game on a Chef's menu the product of the animals he hunted and prepared for you? The answer had better be no! As all commercially sold "Game Meat" has to come from commercially farmed and inspected meat. Why? Well the answer is simply because it is safer for public consumption, as regulated by the USDA, US Dept. of Agriculture, APHIS, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and USFW, the US Fish and Wildlife Services. Due to these various complexities the Chef must then "hunt" for his game meat from approved vendors and distributors. Where do they get their meat?

It depends on the animal and how local the Chef would like his wild game menu to be. For example here in Montana where there is an abundance of wild game animals we are fortunate to be able to source much of these wild game animals from small scale farms as domestically raised animals. These are not the same as a wild animal, but they are the same animal, scientifically speaking.

The two most common wild large game animals in Montana being Bison and Elk. Bison, (not Buffalo) are quite prevalent in Montana and Wyoming. Bison being the proper native name as the term Buffalo was derived from the water buffalo by settlers due to a not very similar appearance. The North American Bison being the largest land animal on the continent is of the same species of animal, Bovidae, as the African and Asian water buffalo but they are vastly different. Having much more massive forward quarters and heads, though smaller horns.

There are about 10,000 wild bison roaming our region, with about 5500 in the YNP alone and around 50,000 privately held bison. Much of your Chef's bison menu items will be sourced locally due to our wonderful approximation to many of these privately owned animals. Many of you who travel from Bozeman to Big Sky, may see some of these animals on the Flying D Ranch, owned by Ted Turner. His ranches are dedicated to the preservation of these animals through strict guidelines establish by the National Bison Association The Code of Ethics of the National Bison Association This group and the Intertribal Buffalo Council are working together to bring increase the total North American Population to 1 Million animals from the total current estimate of 350,000 on the continent.

So you can see there are multitudes of resources the Chef can find commercially harvest bison from as the majority of the population is domestically held and are processed very similarly to our domestication cattle through USDA state and federal processors.

Elk are very different, they are the exact opposite of the Bison, wildly huge populations in the wild and very few domestically held. The difference between these animals is primarily the containment costs and that Bison have adapted better to domestication than have the more wily elk. The North American Elk Breeding Association says there are approximately 70,000 farmed Elk across the North Americas. There majority of these farmed North American elk are more for private trophy hunts, than they are for commercially available meat. There are a few that produce commercially available meat such as Frontiere Meats and Western Buffalo. The wonderful exception to this is the very well established New Zealand import market of the same species elk both, wapiti and red deer.

New Zealand elk began back in 1905 when then US President Teddy Roosevelt gifted 20 North American Wapiti which were but a few of the many introduced Deer or Cervidae species to New Zealand. Red Deer from Scotland and England were also introduced and since they are close relatives the two began to interbreed and proliferate. To clarify on the New Zealand terminology the Elk term refers to pure breed Red Deer, and Wapiti to the cross-breed, Rocky Mountain Elk/Red Deer. As you can see in the photo above from,, there is a body resemblance to our elk and the wild antlers of the red deer. The photo is name Lord of the Nazgul by Ian Scott. New Zealand elk are raised in open grasslands and because their habitat is free of the North American diseases such as Chronic Wasting Disease, or BSE ( Bovine spongiform encephalopathy) they are easier to bring to markets. Since the 1960's when the population of the elk herds were being seen as more of a 'pest' the New Zealand government sought to find methods for dealing with and establish guidelines for the exportation of farmed meat product. They now export approximately $38 Million over 4,000 tons to the US alone, second to Germany. Deer Industry New Zealand

Besides Bison and Elk, there are many other North American "wild game" options for our

Chef. Such as game birds; Pheasants, Quail, Duck, Geese, or perhaps larger animals such as the more exotic Ostrich. No Ostrich isn't native to North America but can be found on farms here in North America. Perhaps our Chef wants to include rattlesnake? Sure, those are

available as well! Speaking of snake, and perhaps thinking more of a predator and prey menu item our Chef may want to include Rabbit as well. Those are also commercially available. Here in Montana we can locally source duck, geese, turkeys, and occasionally pheasants. Other items on a wild game menu might also include the aforementioned ostrich, quail, guinea hens, turtle, frog legs, camel, wild boar, alpaca, kangaroo, iguana, and crickets.

You see our chef has many options available to him for his 'wild game' menu but what is not an option is for him to directly source the product from the wild and sell it in a commercial restaurant for profit. Sourcing his product becomes the challenge and the chef will want to work with his known suppliers for existing products in order to source them.

While as discussed above with reference to bison and elk, the commercially available options are not the same as an animal harvested in the wild, it will be very close and scientifically speaking, the same. The upside will be is the Chef will also have a consistent product that has been safely harvested, inspected and humanely sourced from reliable markets.

Chef will be able to find bison, elk, quail, duck from his largest food suppliers, such as Sysco, FSA, US Foods, and so on. They will be sourcing their more common products from larger producers from across broader markets, so our Chef probably will not know for certain where it is coming from. He does however have some more local suppliers, such as Summit Distribution, Western Montana Growers Cooperative, Prairie Harvest, Butte Produce, Montana Meat Company, D'artagnan for example to be able to source a more local product from. These smaller distributors work closely with local producers and can tell our chef more about the animal husbandry, where it was raised and sometimes source more unique and harder to find cuts. This can make a great difference in setting our chef apart from all the other menus in his area offering wild game. His menu will now ready more like this:

Smoked Rainbow Trout Dip from Paradise Valley MT, Trout Culture

Moullard Half Roasted Duck from Ryegate MT, Golden Valley Colony

Bison Flank Steak from Gallatin Gateway MT, Flying D Ranch

Rocky Mountain Elk Tenderloin Grilled to Perfection

*He most likely sourced the Elk from Sysco who sold it under the brand of Western Buffalo or Frontiere Meats.

Marinated Montana Rabbit Stew - Superior MT

*Hopefully his menu will also be a little more elaborate as well!


So now that our Chef has developed his 'wild game' menus and has sourced his products through his various suppliers. How will he prepare his products? Unlike their more domestic proteins such as Beef, Chicken, Pork wild game meats have not been genetically bred to be as marbled and fat. That does not mean that they are not full of flavor! Wild game meats will be richer and more robust in flavors. They will pair well with exotic rich mushrooms, creamy dense lentils, acidic cherry and huckleberry demi glace', and velvety mashed potatoes or au gratin.

Our Chef will be focused on how to bring out the natural flavor of the meats and all the awhile prepare them so they are tender and delectable. In order to do so Chef will consider some options;

For the rabbit, a very lean and delicate flavor meat he will probably choose to a moist heat method such as braising or a stew, to add additional flavor and tenderness, a marinade will help. Rabbit is besides being a darn cute animal, is very high in protein, and low in cholesterol, a healthy alternative to chicken or pork. Also rabbit is very sustainable, a single rabbit can produce 6# of meat from the same amount of feed and water to a cows single pound! Modern Farmer

Smoked Rainbow Trout- pretty obvious here that Chef is going to smoke the trout for this appetizer, but he could have also used it for an entree and grilling it or pan searing it, hot and fast. He could have also done it en papillote or basically steamed it in parchment paper. Trout is a great source of protein, high in omega fatty acids, low in cholesterol. Trout is a very healthy item so long as it is not too slathered in butter.

Bison Flank Steak - Just like its relative the beef flank steak, Chef will want to marinade it and grill it fast and hot, then cut it thinly across the grain. For this and many bison steak meats it is recommended that they be cooked to no more than Medium, Medium Rare in order to maintain flavor and tenderness. As mentioned earlier our game meats will not have as much intramuscular fat of that of beef, so cooking it more will only make it tougher.

Elk Tenderloin - Grilled, same as the bison flank steak, however being that it is the tenderloin he may be able to still cook it more well done to the customers liking and still have a tender product, although not recommended. Another cooking option Chef could have chosen, especially when serving large groups of people all at once, would be elk wellington. Wrapped in parchment this moist heat will produce a very tender and flavorful entree.

In summary, our Chef, when cooking most game meats will use more moist cooking methods, or hot and fast. Remember we are dealing with meat that has little to no fat! Another trick is to blend in some beef or pork fat, wrap it in bacon! Game meat is a flavorful, nutritional, heart healthy, alternative to other domestic proteins such as beef, pork and chicken. All game meat will present new learning experience to your restaurant's teams, new flavors to pair with wines and other hopefully locally sourced side dishes and a new experience to your customers who'll now have a new more memorable experience.

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