If you’re a meat-eater or flexitarian, then a good case can be made for switching out farmed meat for wild game. Eating wild game can be better for our health than eating regular farmed meat (it is very low in fat and cholesterol) and can be better for the environment. It can also offer great value for money and is often more flavourful. The punchier flavours of many game meats matches perfectly with winter and the heartier dishes that many of us gravitate towards at this time of year – which also coincides with open season on the majority of game species and therefore its availability to us consumers.
What Counts as Wild Game?
Gamebirds such as pheasant, partridge and grouse (to name a few), waterfowl like ducks and geese, and rabbits, hare and the various species of deer (‘ground’ or ‘fur’ game’ – the mammals) all count as game. It is legal to shoot these species in the UK, but many of them have closed seasons when it is illegal to shoot them to allow them to breed, raise young, and migrate between their breeding and over-wintering grounds. The open season is the period of time within which they can be shot, and this is when wild game is most readily available. Some game species are farmed either directly for consumption (venison) or for organised shoots (gamebirds) – this is game meat, but not wild game and so whilst it may well carry the same flavour, eating it does not have the lower environmental impact that wild game does.
When Is Wild Game Available?
In England and Wales, the majority of gamebirds and waterfowl (certainly the most popular and readily available) have an open season from between the 1st of September or the 1st of October, and the end of January. There are some exceptions, and you can see the full table here. There is technically no closed season on rabbits and brown hare on private land in England and Wales, however there are date restrictions on moorland and in any instance it is only legal to shoot them between December 11th and March 31st which effectively creates a season for these ground game species.
The open season for wild venison depends upon the species and differs for male deer (stags or bucks) and female (hinds or does). In Scotland, stags or bucks can be taken year-round. Through winter and into early spring from November 1st through to March 31st, is open season for hinds and does. Roe deer bucks can then be taken between April 1st and October 31st creating a year-round season for roe deer. For red, sika and fallow deer, the stags or bucks have an open season from August 1st through April 30th, so for these species there is a closed season through late spring and into summer.
The British Association of Shooting and Conservation has tables showing the open season for all wild game in different nations of the United Kingdom on their website. In short though, if it’s winter then wild game will almost certainly available.
Where Can I Buy Wild Game Meat?
You can ask your local butcher about wild game meat, although be sure to specify wild rather than farmed if that is important to you. In Cornwall we are fortunate to have suppliers such as Duchy Game (at Pelean Cross, just outside Ponsanooth) or you can look online for a supplier local to you or who sells online.
If you are interested in learning how to prepare and cook game animals, then our Game Workshop (the next one takes place on Thursday November 23rd) is a great course to give yo the confidence, skills and recipes to add wild meat to your winter repertoire. Over the years, several game recipes have been shared on our Foodie Blog, from game terrine to “posh” venison kebabs. Take your pick from the links below, and give wild game a go this winter!