I'm a big admirer of hunters. While I myself have never been one to embrace this sport, the tales of their adventures afield have always fascinated me.
One of my favorite hunters and a good friend is my neighbor Randy Lepak. I have known Randy for more than 30 years, and there has never been a hunting season when he has come home empty-handed. In fact, it was Randy who turned my dislike of eating venison into an occasion I look forward to now.
It was a tough sell, too, because my first experience with this meat was not a pleasant one. My family was not into hunting when I was growing up, so I had never eaten venison as a kid, but one year a brother-in-law decided he was going to take up the sport. He was successful too, and bagged a big doe in a corn field behind his house.
He drove the animal around in the back of his pick-up truck showing it off before undertaking its processing and then decided to fry up a pan of it for dinner. I happened to be pregnant at the time when I went to visit my sister, and smelled this cooking meat's aroma permeating the house. For some reason, that odor was more than my morning-sickness-stomach could bear and I made a hasty retreat, vowing to NEVER include this meat in my diet.
That resolution was a steadfast one for a long time and then one hunting season about 15 years ago, Randy offered me a bowl of steaming stew at his hunting camp. He knew of my firm aversion to venison and so I didn't pay any attention to the mischievous glint in his eyes as he watched me consume his dish with gusto. "Guess what, Mary Ann," he said with a laugh. "You just ate a whole bowl of VENISON STEW."
That turned the tide and so now I look forward to dishes made with this meat, especially soups, stews and jerky. And I was thinking about that when Randy's five-year-old son, Austin, called me shortly before dusk last Saturday and excitedly informed me his dad got a deer. "It's a big one too," he said breathlessly. "It has 10 points!"
It wasn't long before Randy pulled into my driveway on his way home to show me his prize and I snapped a picture. I marveled as he told me the story of his hunt. "Took me four hours to drag this thing out of the woods," he explained. I thought that took a lot of determination and stamina, much more than I would ever have, but that's Randy's way.
It's one of the reasons why I admire this friend so much and am thankful that we have been fortunate enough to be in each other's lives over the years. In our younger years, I can remember parties that lasted until dawn; campfires that twinkled into the wee hours of the morning; musky fishing forays in the rain; ice fishing outings when temperatures dipped below zero; and the wild exuberance of hunting camps where card games drew big stakes and boisterous laughter came free and easy.
As time has passed, we have watched each other's families grow. Mine with the birth of my son; and Randy's and his wife Jennifer's adoption of three beautiful children. We are the type of neighbors that run back and forth down the driveway borrowing everything from tools to sugar. We watch each other's pets when one of us travels out of town and we have attended funerals of fathers and mothers, and of mutual good friends who have passed.
I know it's only a matter of time before I'm invited to the Lepak's again for another tasty meal of venison stew. And I will go with great anticipation knowing what's in store. Of course the stew is worth it, but sitting down with good friends over a hearty meal is part of what hunting is all about. It's a connection that can span the years and there's no doubt that my friend Randy and I are a good example of that.
Venison Crockpot Stew
2 lbs. venison stew meat, cut into cubes
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 onion, cut into quarters
2 carrots, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 celery stalk, cut into 1 inch chunks
3 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
17 oz. can of stewed tomatoes
½ cup catsup
1 can of tomato soup
1 Tbs. chocolate sauce
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. fresh ground pepper
A couple dashes of hot sauce
Brown venison in vegetable oil. Add to crock pot along with other ingredients. Stir thoroughly. Cook on a medium heat for 6 to 8 hours.
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