Game cooking: Today’s economic climate calls for spending cuts nationally, regionally, and even individually. And this threatens the ability of some of us shooting on a budget to renew our syndicate membership or keep up with the painful rise in cartridge and ammunition costs. However, in my recent time as a student I came to realise that shooting and being in the field doesn’t have to unconditionally drain our funds – despite the fact this is usually a willing sacrifice for our beloved sport.

An estimated 90 per cent of people in the UK eat meat and it is usually the most expensive component of our weekly meals. Furthermore, if you commit to only buying meat responsibly, which is likely to be a given for the shooting community, the cost per week becomes significant. As a student in my initial year at university and attempting to survive, this truth was hammered home to me on my first shopping trips. The ambitious Sunday roasts I had enjoyed back home were soon the stuff of dreams, as I settled into the clichéd student cuisine of beans on toast.

Game cooking enters the student flat

But this all changed upon my return to university campus one Sunday night after a weekend at home. I’d decided to bring back a few pheasant breasts, the results of my Saturday. Although I’d eaten it in its own right for years, it soon dawned on me that pheasant, when put in a curry for my flatmates, made a particularly fine and tastier substitute for chicken (which had been forgotten in the earlier shopping run). Thus a trend started whereby none of my flatmates ever bought conventional meat, instead relying on the supply of wild meat I could provide. Though this started as pheasant in place of chicken, other meat such as duck, pigeon and rabbit became popular, and in many cases the diners proclaimed it tastier than shop-bought alternatives like lamb, beef or pork. Our way became well known throughout the campus, and I was regularly called upon for wild meat gifts. In one instance this culminated in a pheasant and duck Sunday roast extravaganza at the end of the Christmas term, including over 20 people who previously wouldn’t have considered eating game.

In gathering game meat for game cooking one is pursing a passion for shooting and being in the field, experiencing the joy of the sport, rather than standing in the refrigerated aisle of a supermarket.

The savings through game cooking were amazing. A flat of six such as us might typically have eaten meat a minimum of three times a week. We estimated that to do this responsibly, we would probably spend at least £30 on meat alone per week. My exploits in the shooting world provided what we termed ‘free’ meat in place of this expense. A critic might factor in the cost of cartridges or pheasant feed, but this is more than balanced out by the fact that in gathering this meat one is pursuing a passion for shooting and being in the field, experiencing the joy of the sport, rather than standing in a refrigerated aisle. I would not however profess that replacing shop-bought meat with what we shoot will have our government’s economists breathing a hefty sigh of relief. On a more individual scale though, there is considerable financial as well as spiritual merit in attempting to rekindle the origins of our passion for shooting, by bringing back a more hunter-gatherer way.

The taste of game cooking at its best

I am worried shooting is becoming more and more disconnected from its true origins, and that our diet is increasingly separated from the potential inclusions to it that shooting should provide. Why do we eat ham sandwiches or sausage rolls in the beating bothy and not last week’s pheasant or pigeon? Moreover, the monetary savings I have discussed are only part of the benefit. What better ammunition might we as a shooting community give ourselves against our critics than the argument and the proof that we keeper, manage pests and run our shoots with a focus on providing food.

Furthermore, much of the public stand to be swayed in the support of shooting, purely by the satisfaction and taste of eating wild meat. As a student I gained a loyal group of supporters who had previously misunderstood shooting, depicting it as a cruel and pointless affair. The utter pleasure of wild meat, guaranteed to have been natural and free, gathered humanely and with maximum respect, was frequently portrayed to me as something that actually improved the entire meal experience. I have now left university knowing that many of my previously anti-shooting fellow students are now not only shooting supporters, but have also experienced at least one dimension of the passion that drives me, and our sport.

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