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On the Hunt for Britain's Best Venison

On the hunt for Britain's best venison

by Eliot Collins 23 September 2015

It’s venison season and instead of heading to the local butcher, Eliot joined a chef to discover his love for ethical hunting and world class dining.

Eliot is Chef Partnership Manager at Great British Chefs.

The modern hunter is not a trophy hunter, neither a recreational glory hunter. Today’s hunter is knowledgeable, strategic and resourceful. They are aware of the seasons, conditions and safety required to carry out an executed finish. And despite being able to access venison without a hunt, the ‘live to eat mentality’ has drawn out a passion and romance from this hunter to source the meal from beginning to end.

Andy (McLeish) of Chapter One was kind enough to pick me up in very dark foggy conditions from a station in Kent so we could get to the deer park for a full day of hunting. And yes, it does need a full day and much like those that have the patience required for fishing, the same long hours are required for the best results. Despite the comparison to the everyday angler, there are no cold beers, loud banter and bloodworms. Hunting deer requires poise, nous, experience and a very steady hand.

The Garden of England plays host to Chart Farm, which was more accurately described by owner and manager Seb Peterson as a ‘Deer Park’. A 400-acre, lush, natural, wild and sustainable home to over 1200 head of deer in 3 different varieties.

Why is the meat so good? The animals run free and experience no human contact, thriving on natural feed and habitat

At 7am we have a quick coffee and chat about the establishment of the farm and current ethos. Seb’s folks, Agneta and Claes raised a few head of deer out the back of the farm house in the 1970’s, not knowing it would become one of the UK’s most premium deer parks supplying local restaurants and customers in the South East with high-quality venison.

Why is the meat so good? The animals run free and experience no human contact, thriving on natural feed and habitat. The hunting is carried out so the kill is short and painless and techniques are applied to age, butcher and prepare the meat so there is minimal waste. As a huge fan of ethical farming practices, this was music to my ears and knowing that most venison in the UK is sourced in the this fashion the message was loud and clear - we should be eating more of this lean, nutritious and sustainable source of food.

Let the game begin…

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The first thing Andy easily spotted were the three varieties as soon as they came into sight, pointing out the distinct features of each; the Sika, Fallow and rare breed and Père David’s. Although I had just been well-looked after and educated in the farm house pre-hunt, it wasn’t until I saw the deer in the flesh (with my colour-blindness) that I realised this wasn’t a walk in park.

Interestingly, the Père David (originating from China) also known as Milu or Elaphure were almost hunted to extinction in China. If we wind back the clock to the late 19th century, the world's only herd was owned by then Emperor of China, Tongzhi,. A carcass was first brought to France in 1866, followed by illegal transportation of live deer in 1900. This black market deer smuggling is what inevitably lead to the survival of the species in the wild today.

I couldn’t help but think we were trudging along to the high seat in similar fashion to Elmer Fudd's hunts for ‘Wabbits’. The deer are extremely sensitive to noise and scent so it was with caution that we made each move towards a strategic position. The high seats are like tree-houses set up around the grounds to give a prime position for the shoot. Prime meaning "elevated and hidden" to allow the rifle to fire downwards so the bullet does not travel in a wayward direction.

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Andy and I used our library voices to talk about his passion for game hunting and his recent trip to Rhineland on South-Western Germany. This time for wild boar, a more dangerous game to play. Hunting by night with dogs and returning with a leg of boar in the back of his car. I had my next adventure planned!

 
The stags are the beasts of the forest and lead with the pride of a lion and power of an ox. I was not willing to get closer, but could not stop admiring

We caught up on the technicalities of hunting, from safety and equipment to the seasonal restrictions and the kill itself. I was all-ears and ready for when the moment of truth took place. It would be a while with a combination of high seats and stalking and not one minute of boredom. A pair of binoculars is essential and to view these creatures in a large herd with fully-grown stags was a true pleasure. The stags are the beasts of the forest and lead with the pride of a lion and power of an ox. I was not willing to get closer, but could not stop admiring.

We had covered quite a bit of ground and Andy was not satisfied that we were going to get a clean shot of a seasonal pricket (a 12-14 month male). Seb got the call and we headed back to the farm-house, but not before a suggestion to peek over the hill to a large herd Seb had spotted earlier. With all our previous approaches leading to scattering herds, I thought this was going to be case of 'been there done that'. This had a different feel as Andy called me over as he lined up a pricket. I peered over his shoulder…

 
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As described, within 5-10 seconds of the gun being fired it was all over. Well at least the first part or what Andy called the 'adrenalin rush'. The next chapter was what he beautifully described as 'the romantic stage', butchering the animal at the restaurant, passing on skills to young new enthusiastic chefs, and creating inspirational recipes for his guests.

I was lucky enough to take home the liver, heart and kidneys, seared, stewed and pan fried on three separate occasions. This was all in addition to the shanks, sausages, steak and bacon that filled my bag at the farm shop on the way out.

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Despite how squeamish people feel about hunting for food, it is so important we know that our dinner, whether it be meat, fish, fruit or veg is being well taken care of from field to fork. Britain’s best chefs are clearly out there practising what they preach and even if you don’t have the opportunity, take the time to respect the animal and ensure the food chain is sustainable, ethical and safe.

Chapter One Farnborough Common Locksbottom BR6 8NF Tel: 01689 854 848 Email: info@chaptersrestaurants.com

Chart Farm Seal Chart, Sevenoaks, Kent, TN15 0ES Tel: 01732 761672 Email: enquiries@chartfarm.com

 
 
 

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