When my friends in the Netherlands recently told me about their delicious holiday feasts serving up venison and wild rabbit, I thought: why not here? Although I aspire to be a vegetarian, I am nostalgic for the wild game we serve at home. It should not too hard to find some good venison here to eat, should it?
After all, the woods around our house are infested with deer. We sometimes stumble over Bambi and her family in our back yard. Day and night our dog takes off barking at what our neighbors call “rats with antlers.”
It turns out that I am an optimist. Even though this is a trigger-happy country, and the targets are underfoot everywhere, it’s almost impossible buy or sell wild venison. If you want to hunt deer, the gun legislation is very strict. It is strictly forbidden to carry a gun with you. The deadliest weaponry is permitted bow and arrow, and that only a few days a year and only with official authorization.
If you play by the rules and sneak through the woods as a counterfeit Native American, you are required to wear a fluorescent orange suit so bright that the potential quarry can spot you coming from miles away. Thanks to all these rules there are very few deer who are actually hit in New Jersey. Once those few dangerous days in the hunting season are over, the deer in our forest breathe a sigh of relief and go back to their normal business of munching our flowers.
It does not help to find a local hunter either. Even if they have stashed away quartered deer steaks in their basement freezers, selling them in New Jersey is strictly prohibited. It is easier to buy an assault weapon designed to kill people than it is to sell venison, which can get you arrested.
Andrew, a friend of my son, shares my astonishment. He has just moved from the Deep South, a part of the country where every pickup truck comes equipped with a rifle hung in the rear window and a hunting dog in the back seat. Andrew received his first rifle from his father on his sixth birthday.
“During hunting season, I just bring my gun to school,” he says, “where I put it in my locker. And Sunday I took it to the church. If my friends and I are hungry, we still shoot something for dinner. “
The next day he brings me a magazine: Outdoor Life, with a magnificent bull elk depicted on the cover. It’s called “The Meat Issue” and subtitled “Pursue, kill and feast.” A complete how-to-do-it from roasting to recipes. It’s quite a bloody issue, full of instructions for hunters, interspersed with ads for rifles, hunting clothes and menacing knives. Full-page illustrations explain how to butcher and prepare a deer for dining. Quite different from the cookie recipes in Dutch holiday magazines.
Andrew then opens to an article about how to prepare road kill. Deer, pheasants and squirrels who do not pay attention when crossing the street. I once saw in Montana a restaurant called The Road Kill Grill, whose slogan on the menu read, “From Your Grill[e] to Ours.”
This article is full of useful advice. For example, first insert a stick in the eye of the deer you find on the highway. If it does not blink, it is dead. Also make sure that the animal has been well cared for and has no rabies. And look out for fleas and ticks, which, like rats jumping from a sinking ship, will gladly jump to a warmer body. All useful to know. Road kill is indeed for every budget. A deer tastes equally good whether you collides with a Mercedes or a Toyota.
“This is also illegal here,” Andrew explains with a shrug. “You can not even eat you hit deer. Mortal sin. “
Eventually I head to the supermarket to do some domestic shopping. Driving home at night with a pack of pork chops in the trunk, I suddenly encountered a herd of venison on the road. I slalomed neatly around it.
Pia de Jong is a Dutch novelist who resides in Princeton. She can be contacted at email@example.com.