The magic of the season
A pair of seasons – holiday and hunting – gives many of us a chance to hit pause on our crazy, busy lives and focus on the things that matter. With hunting in full swing during the holidays, it’s a perfect time for friends and family to celebrate old traditions and create new ones. In addition to time spent with loved ones while enjoying Florida’s beautiful outdoors, one of the best customs from Thanksgiving through New Year’s is cooking and sharing wild game meals. Looking forward to hunting with your family over the holidays? Find resources and information at MyFWC.com/Hunting.
Hunting and eating wild game have always been a part of life for Buddy Welch, FWC’s Wild Turkey Management Program coordinator. He got his start quail hunting with his dad before learning how to hunt deer and wild turkey.
“Before I was big enough to carry a shotgun, I was walking behind our bird dogs,” said Welch. “And the best holiday dinners were when we ate what we harvested.”
Now that Welch has children of his own, he’s handed down those hunting traditions to them. Both his sons are avid hunters and especially love duck hunting during the holidays. A perfect day starts with wood duck hunting in the morning and then heading to the coast for an afternoon hunt.
“It’s so awesome to be able to sit in a duck blind with them, eating venison jerky, talking and laughing,” said Welch. “Next to that, one of the most rewarding things about our holiday hunts is eating seasoned duck breast that’s been seared on cast iron. It’s better than venison backstrap! We also save the legs and thighs and use that meat for gumbo or jambalaya.”
If you’d like that kind of deliciousness for your holiday feast, step one is to visit MyFWC.com/Ducks to start planning your hunt. After a successful day afield, try Welch‘s recipe.
Seasoned and seared duck breast
Step 1: Pluck duck breast before fileting meat off the bones, leaving skin on the breast halves. Any down or wispy feathers can be singed with a lighter or small torch. Keep thighs and legs for later use in gumbo or jambalaya and the heart and gizzard for frying.
Step 2: Lightly season breast halves to your liking. You can use your favorite rub or just kosher salt and cracked black pepper. Get a cast iron surface searing hot and place each breast piece on top of a pat of butter. The skin and fat underneath will provide additional oil and flavor. For the most flavorful meal, the recommended degree of doneness is medium rare to medium. Depending on heat and size of breast halves, it takes about 3-4 minutes per side, with the skin side taking a little longer.
The FWC’s Clint Peters, a district biologist in Florida’s Northwest Region, celebrates the season with an annual back-to-the-basics hunt camp along the banks of the Ochlockonee River.
“I look forward to this weeklong escape because it gives us an opportunity to have fun, get away from the pressures of daily life, and reconnect with each other and the outdoors,” said Peters.
This tradition brings together a group of old friends – and their families − for a week of exploring the Apalachicola National Forest and hunting squirrels, wild hogs and other game. This event is steeped in history and tradition with cast iron cookware, canvas tents and a passion for replicas of muzzleloading guns used by hunters centuries ago. With cell service almost nonexistent, kids trade TikTok videos for building forts, hunting and wildlife discovery. Wild game is on the menu and one of Peters’s favorite camp meals is this recipe:
Squirrel and rice
Step 1: After skinning and field dressing the squirrels, boil them until the meat easily separates from the bone. Pick all the meat from the bones.
Step 2: Salt and pepper the meat. Then using a cast iron skillet, brown the meat in bacon grease with diced onion. Next, add flour as the meat is nearly browned and brown the flour lightly. Add water and stir until you get a nice gravy-like consistency, and salt and pepper to taste. Pour the squirrel gravy over rice and serve. You can customize this recipe by using wild rice and/or your favorite seasoning.
Ready for your own small game hunting adventure? Visit MyFWC.com/Hunting and click on “Discover small game hunting opportunities.”
As a 20-something adult, Ashley Williams’ interest in hunting began when she was a recruit at the FWC Law Enforcement Training Center. Her interest in hunting was further nurtured by a neighbor who shared some venison with her. So, when the National Wild Turkey Federation invited her to a deer hunt they were hosting, she jumped at the chance. At that event, she took her first deer – an 8-point buck. She was hooked!
“I enjoy hunting deer and squirrel, though turkey hunting is my favorite. I love the interaction, hearing the birds gobble in response to my calling,” said Williams.
Today, Williams and her husband spend as much time as possible afield and game meat is a staple for her family. She also helps others learn about safe, responsible hunting as a regional hunter safety and public shooting ranges coordinator for the FWC.
As a mom to a 2½-year-old, she looks forward to introducing her son to hunting when he’s old enough and building those family holiday hunting traditions. For now, her little one loves to explore the outdoors with his parents and already has an appetite for venison. It’s easy to see why. Check out Williams’ venison chili recipe. It’s a family favorite!
Venison chili with peanut butter
1pound ground venison
2 (10 ounce) can diced tomatoes with green chilies
½ cup water
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 (15 ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15 ounce) can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15 ounce) can of corn, rinsed and drained
1 (6 ounce) can of tomato paste
⅓ cup creamy peanut butter
salt and pepper to taste
Brown the ground venison with the garlic cloves and onions, Once browned, transfer the meat to a crock pot and add the rest of the ingredients. Cook on low for 3-5 hours. Serve with your favorite toppings including cheddar cheese, sour cream, guacamole, scallions and tortilla chips.
Learn more about deer hunting in Florida at MyFWC.com/Deer. Also, be sure to visit the Hunt Florida Facebook page (@HGM.FWC) because we’ll be posting favorite wild game recipes from FWC staff throughout season. Do you have a favorite wild game recipe? Share it with us via private message at the Hunt Florida Facebook page and you might see your culinary creation posted there, too.
Happy holidays from our FWC family to yours!