Just a few years back, some friends (including Field & Stream Editor-in-Chief Anthony Licata) and I butchered several Sitka blacktail deer on the deck of a boat anchored off Alaska. If you’ve never laid your hand on a Kodiak Island blacktail, you’d be surprised at how stout those little deer are. Much of that girth, at least on the ones we killed on that trip, came from a thick layer of fat. This was in mid November, and the deer had spent the summer and fall packing on pounds for the brutal winter months to come. And when I say thick layer, I mean up to two inches of the stuff covering their hind quarters.
As I cut the fat off of the deer and tossed it to the ever-growing flock of seagulls (and occasional bald eagle) following behind us, I remember thinking to myself: This fat has to taste good. It was white, not yellow, and didn’t smell. Yet, I didn’t think to try it because conventional wisdom has always been deer fat tastes bad. But is that really true? Thankfully, Hank Shaw has answered that question on his blog.
“Here’s what I know about the science and composition of fat in venison, and hopefully this will help you decide whether you want to keep the fat on your deer or trim it off.
“Let me start with the obvious: Deer, elk, antelope, caribou and moose are all separate critters, with different diets among species compounded by both regional differences—the menu for an Arizona cous deer is nothing like that for an Iowa white-tailed deer, for example—as well as individual differences; one buck may love acorns, while the one eating next to him prefers grass. Given this, any universal ideas about the flavor or composition of deer fat should be taken with a grain of salt. Being wild, variability is the name of the game.
Nevertheless, all our “deer” are cervids, ruminant cousins of sheep, goats and cattle. And ruminants tend to have a narrower range of flavor differences than do animals with a less intense digestive system and/or a wider diet. Ruminants all eat grass, other plants, nuts, and only rarely animal protein; there’s that oft-quoted story about deer eating baby birds or eggs. Contrast that with ducks and bears and wild pigs, which can run the gamut from abominable to sublime depending on what they’d last been eating. A salmon-eating bear is foul, a berry-eating one fantastic. Deer are deer, with real but more subtle differences in flavor.”
Shaw goes on to list a few rules concerning what types of fat are good and what you should know to make your own decision on whether or not to save it as you process your animal. I think back on several deer and elk I’ve killed over the years that had thick layers of fat, including my Nebraska bull shot out of standing cornfield where he lived through the late summer, and realize I should have left some of the fat attached. What about you, do believe deer fat can taste good?