Is Elk Venison?

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Sometimes the question crops up before or after a hunt; is elk venison? Yes, elk is one of the largest deer species, and as such, its meat is venison.

Also called wapiti, elk, scientific name Cervus Canadensis is also one of the most significant terrestrial mammals of North America, Europe, and northeast Asia.  Not to be confused with Moose, which are larger still, elk are browsers of in-forest forage and forest edge grazing habitats.

A Clearer Definition of the Word Venison

The word venison is derived from the French Venaison, which originated from the Latin venari, meaning to hunt. Initially, it stood for any game animal meat, but contemporary usage refers to elk, antelope, or deer meat. So, if you are also wondering whether deer is venison, then yes, deer is venison.

Literally, venison can be translated as ‘spoils of the chase’ and, in modern lingua, refers to any member of the deer species’ meat. This includes whitetail deer, mule deer, elk, and some non-native games like red, sika, axis deer or nilgai, and blackbuck antelopes.

Although many hunters refer to elk meat as just that, others tend to classify the animal with caribou and Moose.

It’s also confusing when commercially available red deer meat from deer farms is labeled as elk on restaurant menus. Since many states prohibit the sale of wild game meat, it’s often proper to fact check before consuming what you may think is elk venison. 

Venison is also used to describe any part of the deer or elk meat that’s consumable. This includes the innards, and it’s categorized into meat cuts such as ribs, roast, or sirloin.

A Brief History of Game Venison

Venison, as a term for game meat, was introduced into England by the Norman conquerors and their descendants. The term was used to define the flesh of animals that were used as food. 

At first, venison didn’t specifically mean deer meat, but any animal killed ‘in the chase.’ This included rabbit, wild boar, hare, and deer.

According to an excerpt from An Itinerary by Fynes Moryson, 1617, hare meat was thought to nourish melancholy. Yet hares were hunted to be boiled or roasted and eaten as venison. 

The Latin word venari that we looked at earlier is a verb derived from the word venatio, meaning to hunt game. In the late 16th century, the word venison was narrowed down to mean deer meat. 

While this was a prestige for the gentry or landed folk, commoners accounted nothing as venison except the meat of fallow and red deer. 

Broader meaning still existed for venison up until the 19th century. In Godfrey Mundy’s ‘Our Antipodes,’ 1852, a kangaroo haunch is referred to as venison.

It wasn’t until 1983 when the USDA worked with other stakeholders to re-define the meaning of venison. This was for food labeling purposes, and after a lot of discussion with research, venison was relegated to being used for flesh from the antelope and deer families. 

How Does Elk Meat Taste Like?

Elk venison is considered one of the best deer or wild game meats, leaner, and reduced in gamey flavors. Some of the significant pros of elk meat are that it’s organic and lacks fat or wild game taste.

Primarily found in North America, especially the western US, elk fall on top of many hunters bucket list and not just for their impressive antlers. 

When I make ground mince for burgers with elk venison, I have to add fat during processing due to how lean it is. It’s low-fat red meat with fewer calories than other edible meats such as beef. 

Elk has also been found to contain more proteins and iron than any other kind of game meat

Many hunters, including myself, associate the flavor of elk venison with lean beef. The only difference is in the meat texture and the fact that it has a darker red color in appearance. 

If adequately and expertly prepared, elk venison is tender, low in fat, and full of flavor. This is the best diet for hunters looking to reduce animal fat from their table fare.

Elk venison’s taste is mild but works well with almost any meat recipe used for other deer or beef meat. Many hunters and those that order farm-raised elk venison claim that it’s slightly sweet and clean.

I sometimes add a little beef suet or pork fat to elk venison for a delicate and better-tasting burger. My venison season makes elk meat sweeter when fried, and it’s succulent, particularly when cooked rare.

Does Elk Meat Have the Wild Gamey Taste of Autumn Deer Venison?

During the autumn hunting season, you can find that your game meat has a wild flavor. Two significant factors contribute to this.

Conifers: Game animals, and especially deer, feed on pine confers, which give their flesh a bitter taste.

The rut: Due to the autumn mating season of many game animals, including elk, the meat and blood of bucks is loaded with testosterone, the male sex hormones. You will find that as opposed to males, female game animals have a distinctively less gamey taste.

Elk eats a lot of grass, shrubs, and something called forbs. Forbs are the other broadleaf plants that are not part of the grass family. The venison of elk is famous for its flavor and tastiness, with very little wild taste.

Most hunters I’ve asked ‘is elk venison?’ have associated the meat with that of caribou and bison for its leanness. 

When you hunt elk, you may process the venison or have it processed by a specialist butcher. The meat is high in protein and iron without being gamey or tough. 

The USDA ranks elk venison as having 18 grams of protein and 7 grams of fat in every serving of 3 ounces. Although comparable to other deer species, this meat is lower in fat and high in B vitamins and iron.

Another downside of elk venison is cholesterol, with a single serving containing around 80% of your daily allowed intake. Other than that, elk venison is compared to beef in flavor but with a coarser texture.

What Else Makes Elk Hunting So Popular in the US?

While elk are hunted for venison, it’s their expansive antlers that attract many trophy seekers. These antlers can weigh upwards of 35 to 40 pounds, shed and regrow every year by elk bulls. 

Elk is very adaptable to environmental or climatic conditions, although they are susceptible to disease pandemics. 

So, how much meat can you get from elk? Mature elk bucks weigh over 700 pounds, which is 40% more than females. Some elk species, such as the Roosevelt elk, have been known to tip the scale at 1,200 pounds.

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