“Heartless though it may seem to some, among the least harmful things to eat are sustainably culled wild animals. In the absence of natural predators, deer populations in parts of Britain have reached such dense numbers that the woodlands they browse fail to regenerate.” – Tristram Stuart
What is game / wild meat?
It’s all about harvesting meat from the wild. In the UK, the kind of wild animals that are good to eat as wild meat (apart from fish) include deer, rabbits, squirrels, ducks, geese, game birds such as partridges and pheasants, and pigeons. They can be shot, humanely trapped, or they could be road kill. Game animals can also be farmed, but then the benefits of truly wild game (below) are lost.
What we don’t mean is the shooting industry, which isn’t really about food, it’s an incredible waste of resources and is the most expensive way imaginable of feeding yourself, in terms of energy and money. Animal Aid quote gamekeepers themselves when it comes to the figures. It costs around £30 to produce a pheasant for shooting, and the average price for a bird is £2, but most birds don’t make it to the table at all. It’s about killing animals for fun, and for social status / prestige reasons. US executives are flown over to shoot game in the UK for this reason. And almost none of the birds shot are wild (although grouse are).
Over 50 million pheasants are raised intensively, from battery eggs, fed grain that needs lots of land to produce, and released into the ‘wild’, where many of them get run over, starve or become easy meals for predators, because they’re not really wild at all. Plus these 50 million introduced animals are competing with native wildlife for food. Also, the shooting industry is responsible for the snaring and shooting of other wild animals that prey on game birds, including birds of prey. Breeding birds for ‘sport’ has been banned in the Netherlands, and we support Animal Aid’s campaign to have it banned here.
So, back to truly wild animals.
What are the benefits of game / wild meat?
If you’re a meat-eater, then as long as the animals are not from an endangered species, this is probably the most eco-friendly way to do it. It’s much more sustainable than the meat industry, and as long as hunters have a conscience, involves much less suffering for animals. Food can be harvested from natural landscapes such as forests and moorlands, or even gardens – no land needs to be cleared for farms. Unlike the meat industry, harvesting wild meat involves no chemicals, hormones, abattoirs, pasture or animal housing, or land to grow roots or cereals for feeds.
Many game species are pests: squirrels ring-bark and kill trees, especially maples, and introduced grey squirrels out-compete the native red, which has become very rare (please don’t eat red squirrels!). Rabbits eat crops and young trees, and deer prevent attempts to re-forest areas by eating young shoots. Shooting and eating pest species is better than snaring or poisoning.
The meat of wild animals has a lower fat content than domesticated animals, and is therefore healthier.
Now a controversial point: vegetarians and vegans rightly point to the fact that a plant-based diet requires less land than a meat-based one, which is why we support vegetarianism / veganism. But this only applies if the land is farmed. Harvesting meat or plant foods from the wild involves no alteration of natural ecosystems at all, and therefore has a lower impact than even a vegan diet – and especially if the wild meat is local and the vegetables are imported. Perhaps the most sustainable (and healthiest) diet possible is mainly local and vegan, with the occasional meal including wild meat.
A further philosophical point is whether it’s ethical to eat meat at all. At the moment, that decision is down to the individual, and if you don’t think it’s right, you can become vegan. But it’s impossible to prevent the killing of animals, because that’s what happens in nature all the time. Red deer have no predators in Scotland, and so if left unchecked, will increase in numbers until they damage the ecology of their range, by overgrazing, preventing the re-growth of trees etc. Their numbers need to be controlled somehow. From an ecological perspective, controlling their numbers by shooting or by the proposed reintroduction of wolves will both work; but from an animal welfare perspective, shooting is probably the more humane option (i.e. is it more or less painful, stressful and terrifying to be shot or to be chased to exhaustion and torn apart by wolves?).
Whatever your position on this, we think that it’s a debate we can all have whilst still agreeing on the need to live in harmony with nature.
What can I do?
Firstly, you can only shoot or trap game on your own land, or if you have the permission of the landowner.
Shotgun: for moving targets, relatively short-range (up to 35m) – e.g. squirrels moving through trees. Code of practice
Rifle: single bullet, up to 300m, but more usually around 100m; best for deer. Here’s a code of practice for deer stalking.
You need a shotgun licence for a shotgun and a firearms licence for a rifle. Licences are available from the police. Guns need to be kept in a locked metal cupboard bolted to the wall. Guidance on firearms and licencing can be found here.
There are seasons in which some animals can be shot legally; other animals can be shot all year round. More info here.
If you want to shoot game, you should think about insurance (landowners will probably want to see it before they allow you to shoot on their land). Talk to the dealer you bought the gun from. Plus, don’t try to shoot game until you are a very good shot, and know that your quarry will be killed cleanly. Practice on targets first.
You can’t use a bow and arrow to hunt game in the UK (although you can in other countries).
We only condone trapping where the animal is killed instantly, not snares that can hold an animal in terror for hours or days.
Rabbiting: ferrets are put down rabbit warrens, rabbits are flushed out into nets, then killed instantly with a sharp blow to the back of the head, or a twist to break the neck. Don’t try it if you don’t know how to do it. Go rabbiting with people who know how to do it first.
You’re not allowed to take home roadkill if you hit the animal yourself (as it would encourage people to try to hit animals deliberately). But if someone else has, and it’s fresh, you can take it. There are quite a few people around who cook the usual roadkill – deer, rabbits and pheasant, but some have even developed recipes for pot-roasted fox or badger burgers. Waste not, want not. However, we wouldn’t advise you to do this unless you really know what you’re doing. If it’s a healthy animal that you know has died in a collision, and the body is still warm and it’s winter then it’s probably fine – but inspect it very carefully. In warmer weather, the intestines can burst and flies can lay their eggs throughout the body very quickly. A pheasant may well be good for the pot, but deer are trickier as they may have been ill (TB is the big one with deer but tularaemia is common with rabbits too), and so less able to avoid an accident. Any animal could be fresh but harbouring a parasite. It’s important to know what to look for before bringing any roadkill home. There are also issues for pets and fleas.
Many people have never tried wild meat, and many who have find it too strong or ‘gamey’; but if it’s prepared and cooked properly, game can be delicious. Wild animals have harder lives than domestic animals, and so their meat is tougher. For this reason, game is often hung for up to 10 days to allow enzymes to break down proteins and improve tenderness and flavour. The skin should remain on during hanging to retain moisture. The animal must be bled and gutted immediately after killing, then hung, skinned / plucked, butchered and cooked. As these are very practical skills, perhaps a course is the best way to learn.
Game tends to be very lean, so you have to make sure that it doesn’t dry out during cooking. Also, it can be tough unless cooked for a long time. For these reasons, casseroles and pies are excellent ways to serve game. No room here for recipes, but you can find them in books and online (see resources).
Whilst you’re here, why not take a look at the other 25+ food and drink topics available? And don’t forget to visit our main topics page to explore over 200 aspects of low-impact living and our homepage to learn more about why we do what we do.
The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily lowimpact.org's
7 Comments on Game / wild meat
jason - May 30th, 2016
Hello I’m interested in identifying what fogs are edible in the UK .
JoeJune 5th, 2017
All fog is edible, however country fog is much healthier and more palatable than city fog (or smog) due to the cleaner air and living conditions. Wild fog is by far tastier and more satisfying, however it is possible to rear fog at home using this handy guide. http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Fog
Rhiannon - May 1st, 2017
Why is hunting with a bow and arrow illegal in the UK? That’s bonkers!
Lloyd Daly - May 29th, 2017
A recipe for rabbit bolognese, you can substitute pheasant for rabbit, leave out the bacon, use darker ales and switch lemon zest for orange zest to mix it up a bit if you like. http://www.jamieoliver.com/…/12-hour-rabbit-bolognese/
Lloyd DalyMay 29th, 2017
You can use a wonderbag instead of a slow cooker to save on energy too: http://www.wonderbagworld.com/
Lloyd DalyMay 29th, 2017
Beware of eating badger as cattle farmers occasionally poison them and dump them on the road to make them look like roadkill. If there’s a couple n a row on the roadside it’s a dead giveaway.
Graham streek - March 4th, 2018
I was under the impression that game birds weren’t bled. Can you please clarify what is bled and what isn’t
Charlie Portlock - March 4th, 2018
You’re right. Game birds and small game animals like rabbits and squirrels do not need to be bled as they don’t contain enough blood to present a problem during preparation. Larger mammals like goats and deer do and will usually need to be hung.
Grandfather Michael - March 4th, 2018
Time spent with indigenous people in the Americas has many teachings. I wonder if anyone would agree with me to thank the spirit of the animal for its life. It seems to me appropriate to release the lifeforce energy and transmute it for the benefit of the human life.
Steven Elvidge - October 8th, 2019