When I cleaned the freezer, I knew exactly how long the package of six pheasants had been there. They were part of a gloriously successful hunt with family two Octobers ago in South Dakota. I had intended to serve them at my annual wild game dinner.
Covered now with a thick layer of frost, huckleberry juice, crusted blood, and other freezer residue, the camouflaged victims of a messy, partial thaw had been forgotten.
I pried them loose and reluctantly set the package out to thaw. I hate to waste game and have been known to eat leftover wild turkey until my wife and I turn green rather throw it out, but this stuff had to be seriously dehydrated. In the morning, I would bone it, boil it and feed it to my dogs.
With vegetables and fruits, freezer burn doesn’t bother me so much, but I was saddened to think so many beautiful wild birds had died only to be wasted. When game is consumed with celebration, it becomes a part of me. But to cause the death of something just to be doing it – that is a crime against nature.
The pheasants didn’t look as bad when thawed and liberated as they did through the plastic shrink wrap. They had a healthy glisten. I decided to smoke them.
There is an odd thing about smoked game and me: I love the idea of it, but I don’t actually care much for the finished product.
Others like my smoked fare, so I continue to experiment, but the truth is, I am not a fan of smoked anything except maybe an occasional cigar. When I smoke a batch of 10 kokanee, I generally eat a couple and give the rest away.
I brined the birds overnight and put them in the smoker the next morning. That evening they were done. I sliced them up, putting the big slices in zippered freezer bags and the smaller pieces in a large Tupperware bowl. After three days, I had eaten all the smoked pheasant sandwiches I could stomach, but there seemed to be as much pheasant as before – perhaps more. I was craving a nice peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but with all that pheasant …
I began sneaking small bites to the dogs, but my supply didn’t seem to diminish. I made pheasant gumbo, pheasant fajitas and pheasant and noodles. I experimented with sandwich spreads and various hors d’oeuvres. Still, I wasn’t making much of a dent.
Friends were invited for dinner. I created an elaborate new dish – smoked pheasant soufflé. They ate prodigious quantities and I sent them home with leftovers. But the next morning, there seemed to be more pheasant meat than ever. Fifty pounds at least.
I couldn’t sleep at night. Sliced smoked pheasant was downstairs in the refrigerator, reproducing. I was going on an extended fishing trip to Devils Lake soon, and I wanted to get the pheasant eaten before I left. Then, an inspiration – I would take it with me to share with my fishing buddies.
The next day, one of them called.
“Hey, guess what?” he said proudly. “I just smoked a whole mess of pheasants for our fishing trip.”
I went sadly to the refrigerator and retrieved the Ziploc bags and Tupperware bowl. I ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and with more relief than guilt, called the dogs inside.
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