How Wild is Your Game?
By Dan Johnson | Photo By Bill Lubing 3
And then it occurred to me: This deer, like the eagles, was being exposed to the chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides used on this field and the majority of the 320 million acres (an area three times the size of California) of principal crops like corn and soybeans grown across the United States. Unlike domesticated livestock, there was nothing keeping this deer or other wildlife from feeding in or traveling through fields immediately after chemicals were applied, or anytime thereafter. Considering this, the potential for the impact upon wildlife became looming.
It goes without saying that the longest reigning meat influencing the diet of the region we know today as Wisconsin is venison. From the time of the Paleo-Indians 10,000 years ago, to the first European settlers, to Wisconsinites today, the consumption of venison has allowed humans to survive and flourish. For many, deer hunting is as much a part of Wisconsin culture as the Packers, cheese, brats and beer—although, it should be noted that all of these add to the enjoyment and culture of today’s deer hunting experience. And while we may be the badger state, the white-tailed deer is our state’s official “wildlife animal.”
Economically, deer hunting and hunting and fishing in general annually contribute approximately 1 billion and 1.5 billion dollars, respectively, to Wisconsin’s economy, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR). An estimated 450,000 deer are harvested each year from a heard of approximately 1 million animals. To put this in perspective, if each deer provided an average of 50 pounds of meat, the annual deer hunt would provide 22.5 million pounds of venison. For Wisconsin’s 5.5 million residents that would be equal to about 4 pounds of meat per person. Of course among deer hunters and their families, their annual consumption of venison can be several times higher.
Venison is typically referred to as “wild,” “natural” and “healthy” when describing both the source and quality of the meat. It is automatically assumed that because wild ranging game are free from the fences and confines of domestication, that they are less impacted by human contaminates and manipulation and are, therefore, better for you. The meat is about as lean as it gets due to both the genetics and active lifestyle of the deer, and wild deer most certainly do not receive any antibiotics or hormones as domesticated livestock sometimes do. However, is venison truly more “natural” and “healthy” then other meats? Could it qualify as “organic,” a label—unlike “natural”—that is defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and backed by third party verification?