Dad’s favorite

An elk tenderloin is one of fall’s greatest gifts. Next to an apple picked from your own tree, harvesting an elk from your home forest is perhaps the healthiest food nature can provide. 

Wrapped along the spine and tucked between the hind quarters, a loin might weigh three pounds. 

There are two, and if you were to try and order the equivalent online prepare to shell out more than three hundred dollars. 

An elk loin tastes of the hills and the hunt. There is a hint of oak from the acorns browsed from low hanging trees. 

Pasture grasses that grow lush in the high meadows mix with the aspen leaves and other browse that fill in an elk’s wide pallet.

Elk steak carries a hint of salt, perhaps from the perspiration required to carry it out or maybe the rut that motivates the breeding season. 

High country elk tastes like the mountain springs that trickle from the soil after being filtered by mountains of limestone. 

I surprisingly never taste the pine nor spruce that they use for their beds. But I imagine the forest those trees create as I prepare a meal. 

Each bite carries a hint of wood smoke from fires long past and glimpses of hunts and hunters with whom you shared the flames. 

Those first tastes of fall resurrect memories. 

Family members no longer with us who looked forward to stalking through the pine scented forests as much as you. 

A father’s laughter, and a shared contented sigh of exhaustion that came from miles logged on a hunt rather than from the tensions of a metropolitan office. 

When your muscles ache from gathering from nature   the fresh foods that will help your grandchildren grow strong, the creaking groan that comes from settling your bones is often accompanied by a hearty chuckle of contentment. 

At least it always seemed so with the men and women who raised me, like hay in the barn with the promise of a hard winter. 

But if elk are the hearty stockers of full freezers and the representation of great effort and accomplishment, their tiny cousins the pronghorn are like the bite-sized treats dispersed at Halloween. 

Antelope is my favorite of all wild game. 

If properly and quickly prepared and protected from the heat and elements that sometimes accompany an October hunt, no wild meat can touch their delicate flavor. 

While elk taste of the forest and their confines, pronghorn taste of the open prairie and freedom. 

A hint of sage can be detected in every bite and no other wild red meat is quite as tender. 

While a bull elk might weigh 800 pounds, a mature buck antelope might go 120. 

While a bull might require the village turn out to help pack it home with numerous trips and hours of exertions an antelope can be tossed across the shoulders and carried solo out in a single trip.  

During an elk hunt, your view of the forest is often blocked by the trees. 

Your perception of distance harnessed by the imposition of the next timber-covered ridgeline. 

While chasing antelope, your view is only limited by the curvature of the earth. 

Storms not due until the next day can be seen gathering on the horizon and the darkness of night is devoid of human intrusion. 

Nowhere on earth are you farther from the glow of a McDonald’s golden arches, and nowhere else in the Dakotas are you less likely to feel the thoughts of another soul. 

That pristine purity of solitude seeps into the flesh of the pronghorn as surely as the mountain springs that can be tasted in the meat of the elk.  

While your elk might last all winter, the taste of antelope is fleeting. 

Perhaps the small quantity adds to its allure. 

Wait…. a flock of Sharptails just landed in the draw among the wild grapes, there’s no other dark meat quite like it……  

The Speirs family has owned and operated Crow Creek Wildlife Management Service since 1996.

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