Is Wild Game Meat Healthy?

Responsible hunting and fishing are growing in popularity. We break down the health benefits and food safety considerations around eating wild game and fish.

December 15, 2020
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Photo by: Shaiith/Getty Images

Shaiith/Getty Images

The US Fish & Wildlife Service has reported an increase in hunting license and fishing license sales across the US in 2020. With grocery store meat shortages and a new focus on hyper-local food sources, chances are someone you know might be trying out hunting or fishing for the first time this year. The #womenwhohunt Instagram tag has exploded as women especially embrace hunting for sustainability. Your holiday-table turkey may even be wild-harvested, as turkey permit sales are up this year in most states.

Wild game can’t be purchased, but hunters are often happy to share their bounty. As you consider enjoying wild fish and game, here are some things to consider around the health benefits and safety of the meat.

Is Wild Game Meat Sustainable?

“Hunting is a vital mechanism to control the deer population and in turn prevent deer from becoming an annoyance in urban areas, and causing more automobile accidents than they already do,” says Ralph Loos, editor in chief of Illinois Outdoor News, a bi-monthly outdoors newspaper, part of nationwide Outdoor News publications. “Controlling the deer population benefits deer. Without hunting, these animals would eat themselves out of their natural habitat.”

Hunting also provides a local source of food — often hunters hunt within a 20 to 30 mile radius of their home — and instill in their families a sense of where their foods comes from, says Loos. “And hunters, despite some rather unsavory stereotypes are almost always true environmentalists interested in preserving public lands; they’re serious conservationists. Nobody gives more of their time and money to wildlife and wildlife habitat than hunters.”

Hunting can be an extremely budget-friendly way to feed a family; a non-antlered deer license can cost less than $20 and can deliver up to 75 pounds of meat.

One of the women who helped the #womenwhofish tag go viral on Instagram is Kristine Fischer of Nebraska. “Fishermen and outdoor enthusiasts along with local officials are often the best partners to clean up local lakes and rivers. After years of efforts, we’re now seeing more healthy fish stocks,” says Fischer.

Hunting turkeys is part of conservation says AB3, Host of The Bryant Land Show podcast, who is from Georgia. “The harvest of wild turkeys keeps the numbers controlled. Too many turkeys can damage the environment by becoming a nuisance. Also an abundance of turkeys in one area hurts the turkeys as they are competing for limited resources.”

Is the Meat Safe to Eat?

“I hunt to provide my family with a protein source that’s healthy,” says hunter Brooke Winters from Pennsylvania. “I’ve paired my knowledge of scientific food safety research with what I’ve learned from hunters with similar interests.”

Winters also likes that the wild game she harvests is free-from any potential artificial hormone residues.

There are rare diseases that affect deer in some regions of the country and can infect people who eat that meat. Hunters should always harvest healthy-looking deer, follow safe processing procedures for all wild game, check with state Department of Natural Resources or the CDC for updates, and test deer if they have questions.

Fish is pretty easy to keep safe, explains Fischer. “Live-wells, stringers and coolers are all effective ways for anglers to preserve your catch while on the water.”

Is Wild Game Meat Healthy?

Wild game forage in natural habitats throughout the year eating grasses and nuts resulting in “grass-fed” meat that is very lean, and also contains some healthy fats including conjugated linoleic acids (CLA's) and omega-3 fats (mainly ALA). Here’s a general comparison of wild game versus conventional grocery story meat:

  • 3-ounce serving of whitetail deer: 135 calories, 26 g protein, 3 g fat
  • 3-ounce serving of lean beef: 155 calories, 25 g protein, 7 g fat
  • 3.5 ounce serving of wild turkey meat: 165 calories, 26 g protein, 1 g fat
  • 3.5 ounce serving of conventional turkey breast: 190 calories, 29 g protein, 8 g fat
  • 3 ounce serving of panfish (such as walleye, perch, or crappie): 105 calories, 23 g protein, 1.5 g fat
  • 4 ounce of farmed trout: 144 calories, 20 g protein, 6 g fat

How Is It Cooked?

There are so many options for cooking venison, says Winters. “Tenderloin steaks are my favorite, but we also process all our own meat into venison hot dogs, spicy-sweet meat sticks, along with canned venison with noodles, slow cooker roasts, and ground venison for chili, tacos, and more.”

“My favorite way to eat wild turkey is grilled or smoked and then injected with Cajun butter,” says AB3.

Fischer’s favorite fish to eat is walleye. She likes it blackened.

To learn more: Go to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife, your state’s department of natural resources, or state wildlife programs such as the Illinois Learn to Hunt.

Serena Ball, MS, RD is a registered dietitian nutritionist, food writer, and mom of four children. She blogs at TeaspoonOfSpice.com and is the author of the best-selling The 30-Minute Mediterranean Diet Cookbook and the newly released Easy Everyday Mediterranean Diet Cookbook. Follow her @TspCurry on Twitter and Instagram.

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