Story and Slay photos by Jon Wipfli
Gourmet Photos by Matt Lien
Driving through the silo-dotted Wisconsin landscape in the fall and early winter months is incredible. Fresh falling snow coats the roofs of the barns and blankets the harvested fields with a layer of pristine white, untouched by human activity.
My destination is central Wisconsin to meet my friend Ben Michlig, who has been scouting spots for us to hunker down with our bows. His reports seem optimistic and his trail cams prove that a handful of bucks are still cruising through the area in search of does during the final stages of the rut. For me, this is the pinnacle of what the North has to offer. Escaping the city to sit in a tree and watch each and every sunrise and sunset for a few days is unbeatable. Being present while the forest awakens, surrounded by flocks of chickadees, the chatter of obnoxious red squirrels, and deer moving to feed is only bested by watching the forest close down for the day at sunset.
As I’m pulling into town around dusk, I get a text from Ben with two simple but expected words: “Buck down.” A short time later I get the call from Ben with the details of the hunt and we make plans with our friend Nick Schiefelbein to spend the following day butchering the deer near where Ben had downed the buck.
There were a couple of challenges butchering this particular deer including temperatures below 10°F and no proper stand to skin a deer. Trying to be as resourceful as possible, Nick rigged up a tree with a pool cue and some rope to hang the deer. We took alternating turns skinning the deer and thawing our hands next to a modest propane heater. Once the animal was skinned, we butchered it into six manageable pieces—hindquarters, ribs/belly, and fore quarters—before moving the meat inside to start the finer work of breaking it down into edible steaks and other cuts of meat.
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As we worked, my thought process automatically went to what I was going to cook with it. Venison is such a lean protein it can benefit from being served with something fatty. Which led me to the idea of adding something acidic like pickles to cut through the fat. I also wanted to tie in some traditional venison pairings I’ve enjoyed in the past. These criteria inspired me to create a porcini encrusted grilled venison loin dish with mushroom duxelle and winter pickles.