Burrage & Associates Deer and Stalking related articles

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Season(14/11/08)

Forest to Fork

muntjac

In the first of four features about winter game, season will be introducing a novice lady hunter to what it takes to catch their supper. This month Julie West, Chief Executive of Tastes of Anglia talks us through stalking her first deer.

"I've always enjoyed eating venison and indeed we have several ToA producer members who specialise in game butchery. Historically venison was always the preserve of the rich and the privileged, cooked with herbs and berries and served at banquets and special occasions. Today like all game it is very accessible to all and game being the fast selling meat at the moment is ever more so. Having always wanted to know more, I felt privileged to be invited on my very first deer stalk at Somerleyton Estate, joining a herd management cull. Our host was Mark Burrage, owner of specialist deer consultants Burrage & Associates and whose other enterprise, Bluebell Woods Wild Venison, butchers and sells this totally wild meat product by mail order and at farmers markets. After the stalk I was shown some fascinating deer butchery and then joined Mark for a venison supper, I helped cook at Carlton Manor just down the road.

On a sunny and calm afternoon Mark led us off on a stealthy wander through the peace and beauty of the mixed woodlands of the Somerleyton estate. Engaged by the Hon. Hugh Crossley, Mark's main role is to develop a sustainable management plan for the herds of wild deer in the grounds so that they flourish healthily for generations to come and preserve the habitat for forestry and farming and for the survival of all the flora and fauna. As a by-product, it enables the continual supply of much valued venison for the estate's outlets, namely the Duke's Head pub and Fritton House Hotel pub and hotel-restaurant. Having asked Mark before we left what we could expect, he had told me about the three main varieties of deer to be found on Somerleyton, the white fallow, the much smaller muntjac and the imposing red deer (along the lines of the Monarch of the Glen). But in fact they do have the odd specimen of two of the other three resident breeds of deer, namely roe and Chinese water deer, only the sika being absent.

Our winding drive along the back roads and muddy tracks took us ever deeper into the dense forest. A glade opened up in front of the vehicles where the forestry team had replanted a clearing after harvesting the wood. Opening the door carefully, Mark beckoned me out with a finger on his lips. I could hear a roaring bellow on the wind very close to us. He whispered it was red deer getting ready for the rut - one of the mature stags was courting his group of hinds. We cautiously crept around the corner of the forest and there some two hundred metres away was the herd, with the mighty beast, an imperial stag with some 16 or 18 tines on his huge pair of antlers, far too concerned with impressing his females to detect our presence. As with all deer stalking, so long as we stayed downwind and quiet, their excellent sense of smell and hearing wouldn't pick us up. Their eyesight fortunately is not as good as I did ask nervously if they were dangerous and the reply came back not to be too close if they do spot you at this time of year. Ahem, I stayed very still after that, stunned in awe and a little fear...

But the stalk was not for them that night, we sought a good young muntjac so we skirted around that herd and the stalk was on. As we carefully made our way stealthily along, all around us came the sound of Mother Nature, the woods' fauna at play - birds, insects and animals - alongwith much ominous rustling of leaves. The exercise from a couple of hours' good walking was for me a bonus and rather trying on the legs. It required walking on tiptoe and on full alert trying not to stand on twigs which would crackle and scare the deer - seemingly coming naturally to the stalkers with us who also magnetically seemed to spot the deer. Ten minutes after the reds, we spotted a pair of white fallow, who almost reluctantly loped away from us.

All around us the vegetation was chewed, showing us that the deer had been there. The day was sunny and warm, and we walked quietly stalking our prey, in some ways hoping not to see the beautiful creatures, but having read in advance of the destruction they cause and the road accidents they are involved in, as well as the goring too many competitive males can cause and even malnutrition if the herds get too overstocked, I knew in my heart that they have to be culled according to the local herd management plan. We had gone for over an hour before we came across our first suitable deer, a young muntjac coming out of the woods. Having done my homework with the aid of the informative British Deer Society website - www.bds.org.uk - I knew what is was and that it was a legal safe shot, the various deer all have their own close season according to breed and even sex at certain times.

Before the stalk had started, we had gone to a safety area to test my marksmanship with the rifle (a .308 inch calibre if you know your muzzle from your stock). Now it had been several decades since I had last used a gun as a teenager so I must say I impressed myself hitting the target a hundred metres on my first shot and under two inches from the dead centre, definitely in the kill zone for safely shooting at a quarry deer !

Eventually we sighted three appropriate muntjac and not dwelling on the gory details for those of a sensitive disposition, I was impressed with how clean and serene the whole process of the actual despatch was. All too quickly for me it was done, one loud crack temporarily intruding on the peace and quiet and within minutes it was forgotten and life in the forest resumed. Seeing the carcass on the forest floor, the deer in all its glory after it fell where it had been quietly browsing, I instantly grasped the connection to the meat I loved to cook. The stalkers gralloched it there and then, paunching the intestines and draining the blood so the meat didn't spoil.

I thoroughly enjoyed my day, being at one with nature, listening and watching these special creatures and anticipating the taste of the meat served. A wealth of venison recipes are available online. The BASC, Britain's premier shooting and conservation body has a very useful site at W: gameson.org.uk and their Taste of Game Week will be running from 15 - 22 November so look out for lots of wonderful events and special promotions featuring wonderful game in your local area. Thanks to Mark and Jonathan for an amazing day and season for the opportunity."

VENISON PUDDING AT CARLTON MANOR

A few kilos of Bluebell Woods muntjac braising steak in hand, I drove down the road to help Jonathan Nicholson, chef-proprietor of Carlton Manor in Carlton Colville to prepare a wonderful savoury venison pudding dish. Seeing how Jonathan braises the venison down with vegetables, star anise, orange zest, herbs and lots of good Aspall blush Suffolk cyder, we used an already cool batch to fill suet pudding moulds with the stew and baked them in the oven. Sitting down with Mark in the very comfortable restaurant after a hard afternoon's exercise to get my beast, it was such a pleasure to eat the end results. Indulging in the savoury toothsome meat in its rich gravy surrounded by crisp melting pastry, as well as the excellent slow braised red cabbage, sauté savoy cabbage and superb goose fat roast potatoes. It reaffirmed my belief in how spectacular venison can be to eat, how easy, cheap and versatile it is to cook with, and how wild an ingredient it actually is in its native environment, free from additives or chemicals, nature's own organic produce.

Carlton Manor, Chapel Road, Carlton Colville, Suffolk
T: 01502 566511 W: thecarltonmanor.com

Burrage & Associates T: 01502 733501 and 07771 990585 W: wilddeer.co.uk