December is a very special time of year for deer hunters. We’ve changed our tactics from the rut phase to get bucks into range. Deer are really hitting food sources right now. For that reason, we’ve opened the gate where the Hot Zone fence is protecting standing beans. These were strategically placed so that with the gate open, deer would be in range of our stands. Standing beans are one of the best attractants for the late season.
But more importantly, I want to invite you all to join the Woods family in truly celebrating Christmas this year. Not the gift giving and all the ceremonies we have, but the reason Christmas was first started; the reason we do it is to remember the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Without that tremendous gift from God, we’d have no chance of knowing eternity, of knowing salvation or even enjoying Creation that we all enjoy today.
Normally I pass along hunting and habitat management tips, but in this blog I wish to share some tips for an even more important topic — I want to talk about taking my dad hunting.
Pops, as I affectionately call him, is my 87-year-old father. He’s the guy that taught me how to hunt, and took me hunting when he could have been hunting with his buddies.
I clearly remember the first time Pops took me deer hunting. I was 6 years old and in first grade. We went on a primitive weapons (muzzleloader) deer hunt on public land near Caney Mountain in southern Missouri. It was during October and I got to skip school! Many of Pops’ buddies went and I was the only child in our camp.
While Pops’ friends walked deep into the woods to hunt, he couldn’t go far from the road with me tagging along. When we’d sit behind a log or against a tree, I’d pretend that his muzzleloader’s ramrod was a gun and “shoot” at every squirrel and bird in sight. I constantly waved the ramrod like a flag!
Of course, we didn’t see a deer. I was fidgeting, “shooting” squirrels and asking about lunch. A few of Pops’ buddies tagged deer, which was a huge accomplishment during those days. Pop must have not been mad because he kept taking me hunting. Click here to read more.
If you were unable to fill a tag by the end of the rut, it can be easy to get discouraged. Don’t give up! Post rut hunting can be very productive. Similar to the pre rut, it comes down to predicting when the deer are going to move and being in your stand when they do.
We are currently in one of the first real cold fronts of the season here at The Proving Grounds. This seasonal, colder weather will impact deer movements after several weeks of warmer than average temperatures. It’s also “post rut” so our hunting strategies have changed. We’re hoping to close the gap on a hit list buck. Cactus Jack and Swoops seem to be on a regular pattern. We’ll be hunting stands in their home range given the right wind direction. In the meantime, the does and fawns will be going to the plots to feed along with bucks that are trying to replenish calories lost during the rut. Chances are most of the does will already be bred but there is one variable that’s still in play: the “fawn rut.” This is the time frame when doe fawns have reached approximately 70 pounds and enter puberty making them receptive for breeding.
When this occurs depends heavily on the food sources available. A doe fawn that lives in ag country where there are plenty of crops to eat will come into estrus sooner than a doe fawn living in heavily forested areas. In our area, typically the “fawn rut” will occur during late December to early January. However, due to the wicked drought in our area body weights are down and fawns may reach puberty later than average this year.
In years past we’ve used this strategy successfully: find food plots frequently being used by does and fawns, then hunt those plots where a hit list buck might follow in one of those receptive fawns. This is exactly what I did during December 2013 when “The Trashman” went down (watch episode 163 here).
Whether you’ve already filled a tag or not, don’t let the post rut blues take you out of the hunt!
Wanting to spice up your meals and try something different? I recently made this for the family. I took a standard recipe for jambalaya and made a few modifications to make it work for venison. I knew it was a winner when the one family member that is known for being “picky” went back for seconds. It was super easy and very tasty! Enjoy!
Bayou Venison Jambalaya
- 2 tsp. vegetable oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 green bell peppers, diced (or 1 large pepper)
- 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
- Approx. 1 lb. venison roast
- 13 oz. sliced smoked sausage (Hillshire Farm)*
- 8 oz. can tomato sauce
- 14 ½ oz. can diced tomatoes
- 1 tablespoons Creole Seasoning (store bought or make your own with the recipe below)
- 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
- 4 cups cooked rice
- Cut the venison roast into strips and then cube into bite size pieces (approx. 1 inch or less in size).
- Heat oil in a large skillet.
- Add onion, celery, bell pepper and sauté for three minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
- Add the venison on top of the vegetables (do not stir) then cover for three minutes. This will allow the indirect heat and steam to start the process of cooking the venison. Cooking the venison too fast over direct heat will cause it to become tough.
- Uncover, add the sliced smoked sausage and stir to sauté for an additional three minutes.
- Stir in the tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, Creole seasoning, and Worcestershire sauce. Heat thoroughly then serve immediately or remove from heat and cover until ready to eat. Over-cooking will cause the venison to become tough.
- Serve over cooked rice or add the cooked rice directly to the skillet for easier serving.
*I did not have any smoked sausage when I made this recipe. It was delicious even without it. If you’re looking for a quick meal and this is the only ingredient you don’t have go ahead and make it. This venison dish is good with the smoked sausage and without!
Creole Seasoning Recipe
- 2 tablespoons onion powder
- 2 tablespoons garlic powder
- 2 tablespoons dried oregano
- 2 tablespoons dried basil
- 1 tablespoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon white pepper
- 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
- 5 tablespoons paprika
- 2 tablespoons salt
- Mix ingredients together and store in a small airtight container. Use in recipes calling for Creole seasoning.
Cooking venison for the family,
I have never met a carbohydrate I do not like. That, combined with my teenager’s love of pizza, makes venison calzones a favorite at our house.
Calzones are easy to customize to your family’s tastes. Add whatever you like – olives, green pepper, bacon, jalapenos – the options are unlimited! My family has some mushroom haters so I make half without mushrooms.
Before you put toppings on, put the dough on either a silicone baking mat or on parchment paper. This way you can simply slide the entire mat onto a baking sheet. It makes clean up super quick too!
- 2 tubes refrigerated pizza dough (found in the refrigerated canned biscuit section in your grocery store)
- 1 egg, beaten
- Marinara or pizza sauce
- Ricotta cheese
- Shredded mozzarella cheese
- 1# ground venison*, cooked with chopped onions and garlic
*When the GrowingDeer Team is processing and grinding venison we mix up and package a few pounds of ground venison with Italian seasoning. We don’t form the meat into individual sausages. We simply add it to the ground venison for use in recipes calling for ground beef. It adds that special zing and Italian flavor.
Divide each tube of dough into four pieces. On a floured surface press each piece into a circle. Add toppings to half the dough as desired. Fold dough over to cover toppings. Pinch edges together. Brush dough with beaten egg (for a golden crust!). Cook in 425 degree oven until done, about 20 minutes.
My family especially enjoys hearty, slow-cooked meals in the colder winter months. I like using my slow cooker because it makes evenings after I get home from work easy. I can come home to a fall-apart tender venison roast and only need to prepare the potatoes and veggies.
I recently made a venison roast using the recipe below. The key to this roast is the marinade. If you have never used an oil-based marinade for venison before don’t worry, it works! The venison is very lean and the oil helps it stay moist. Just remember to plan ahead as you need to marinade the venison for at least 8 hours.
An easy six step recipe for venison roast.
1 venison roast
2 cups beef broth
1 cup canola oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons seasoned salt
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons meat tenderizer
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
- Place the venison roast in a Ziploc bag.
- Combine the marinade ingredients, pour over the roast and close the Ziploc bag.
- Let the venison roast marinate overnight in the refrigerator.
- The next morning remove the venison roast from the marinade and place in a slow cooker.
- Add 2 cups beef broth.
- Cook on low until tender (8 – 10 hours).
Leftovers are delicious and don’t go to waste in my house. The next day I used some of the leftovers for a barbeque venison sandwich in my lunchbox. I simply shredded up the meat with barbeque sauce and topped it off with some cheese. The remaining leftover roast was added to soup to make it hearty and filing.
This year has been the best for hunting the pre rut that we’ve seen in several years! Hunters in a wide range of states (Kansas, Arkansas, Kentucky, Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, and more) have shared how they are seeing more deer than previous during the pre rut.
This most likely will change in a matter of days. Bucks don't need to move much during the peak of the rut. This is when the highest percentage of does are receptive and bucks don't have to travel far to pair up with a doe. Once with a receptive doe bucks often tend her for 24-36 hours. Often, neither the buck nor doe will travel far during this time.
Southpaw, a 6 year old buck, is on our hit list.
During the chase phase of the rut bucks aren’t following a food/cover pattern. They are moving throughout their home range in areas they believe they have the best chance of finding a receptive doe.
Hunting stands that were placed overlooking scrapes will not be my first choice at this time. Why? Because bucks or does rarely use scrapes during the peak of the rut.
Bucks and does tend to abandon most scrapes during the chase phase of the rut. It seems bucks don’t wish to spend energy checking and/or maintaining scrapes when checking the wind often yields much better results of finding a receptive doe.
During the rut bucks will focus primarily on checking scrapes that are in a travel path between areas they will be seeking does. If I find scrapes that are maintained during the chase phase of the rut that can be a key stand location!
It is important to think about how bucks will be traveling during the rut. Research has shown that bucks will be up and on their feet, moving up to 4X more than the “normal” distance. This is the time to hunt bottlenecks, pinch points and travel corridors.
As always, there's usually more deer activity just before and after a strong cold front so I'm always watching the weather forecast!
One of my favorite pieces of venison to cook is the backstrap (or loin). This is the piece of meat that hunters crave. It’s one of the most tender cuts. If you’ve had it and not really enjoyed it, chances are that when it was butchered the silvery, connective tissue that surrounds that cut was not removed. If the meat was wrapped in butcher paper some folks leave the silvery sheath on the meat until thawing. This is said to help protect the meat from possible freezer burn. Once the meat thaws (or is partially thawed) remove as much as that silvery sheath as possible. We vacuum package our venison and that sheath is removed before freezing.
Grant shows how to remove the loin in this video.
The backstrap is great on the grill. The simplest way to grill it is to marinade it (find my favorite venison marinade recipe here) and grill over low heat. Some folks like their backstrap rare, while others like it well done. The bonus of the back strap is that it lends itself to all tastes as the thin “ends” will be well done while the thicker middle is medium rare to rare. Some chefs recommend cooking quickly over high heat and only serving grilled venison rare. However, rare just isn’t to everyone’s taste. For our family, low and slow on the grill works to keep everyone happy with the meat that goes on their plate.
A tip from a friend that is a “grill master” is to take the meat off the grill a couple of minutes before it reaches the degree of doneness desired and let it rest, wrapped in foil on a platter for 5 to 15 minutes before cutting. If you want to serve a fancier loin try Bacon Wrapped Backstrap!
I’ve never used a dry rub as a marinade but understand they can be good for tenderizing and adding flavor. I cook most everything as low sodium as possible. Most dry rub recipes rely on salt as the tenderizer. That’s the same reason I don’t brine any of our wild game. It works well but that sodium (salt) is not worth it when there are other methods available.
I would love to hear your favorite ways to cook venison. Let us know by posting your comments to this post on our social media.
Cooking venison for the family,