Sheep Balls, Barnacles, and a Whole Lot of Backstrap: Welcome to the Country’s Greatest Wild Game Cookoff

By T. Edward Nickens - May 9, 2018 - Originally published in Field & Stream, Montana excerpts below:

At the 2018 Backcountry Hunters & Anglers Rendezvous in Boise, Idaho, thousands of outdoors enthusiasts gathered to trade stories about tough elk and remote trout streams and plan for ways to fight for public lands. Then they watched as BHA-chapter teams from across the country locked horns in the Wild Game Cookoff. Included in the list of rules for the competition: The main ingredients must be representative of the chapter’s state; no pre-cooking or prep work was allowed—the teams had one hour to cook their dish; and no domestic meat allowed. The judges scored each team in the following categories: hosting, dish presentation, flavor, how well the meal represents the chapter’s state, and creativity. Each category could earn a maximum of 10 points for a perfect-score total of 50. These are some of the most aspirational wild game dishes on the planet, and while you might not be able to plate a butter-poached sheep nut very often, you’ll no doubt be inspired. Enjoy the pics.

Ruffed Grouse Dumplings with Wild Huckleberry Sauce

Team: Montana BHA
Cooks: Dane Rider and Jared Frasier

Our dish consisted of ruffed grouse, foraged king bolete and oyster mushrooms, and wild rice dumplings. These were pan-fried in wild duck fat, with a quick flambé in alpengeist (a homemade ponderosa pine schnapps), steamed in elk broth, and finished off with a wild huckleberry-honey-soy dipping sauce. The inspiration for our meal was to highlight how the changing seasons offer us different options. Starting in late spring, the cones of ponderosa pines were used to create the alpengeist. The mushrooms, wild rice, and berries were gathered from across Montana through the late spring and into the summer. With the fall comes flocks of migrating ducks, and we were fortunate enough to shoot a few just north of Yellowstone Park. Not far from there, we packed this elk out after a long pursuit through falling snow. And the sweet topper to the dish—the wild huckleberries—have a special significance to the Montana Chapter in that they were harvested on the western slopes of the Crazy Mountains where we are working diligently on some complex access issues.

Editor's Note: We apologize, but we were so busy eating that we forgot to take a photo of this dish. Trust us, though: It looked, and tasted, great.

Three Forks Surf ’n’ Turf

Team: Montana State University BHA Club
Cooks: Gavin Pirrie and Austin Adams

venison and rainbow trout with huckleberries

Venison and rainbow trout with wild huckleberries.

Colin Kearns

This dish was inspired by two core elements of Montana—wild things and public land. The whitetail, rainbow trout, and huckleberries were all harvested on public land. While it is easy to see that both the whitetail and rainbow trout were harvested in the wild, huckleberries are unable to be produced domestically, thus they are inherently wild in themselves.

Taste of Montana 

Team: University of Montana BHA Club
Cooks: Mateen Hessami and Ashton Bates 

elk, deer, whitetail, morel, arugual

Montana elk, mule deer, and whitetail served with morels, arugula, Yukon gold potatoes, and pine nuts.

Alex Kim

We pan-seared elk, whitetail, and mule deer chops in a Dutch oven skillet with a garlic-rosemary butter wash and a balsamic huckleberry reduction infused with morel mushrooms. This was served with smashed baby Yukon gold potatoes and a Flathead Valley apple arugula salad garnished with toasted Montana pine nuts. We accompanied our dish with a huckleberry Mon-tini, made with locally distilled Aquavit and fresh mint grown in Missoula. The elk and whitetail were taken within an hour of Missoula, and the mule deer was from central Montana. The huckleberries come from the Cabinets in northwest Montana, and the morels come from the Lookout Pass area. The apple came from an orchard in the Flathead Valley, and the pine nuts came from Spanish peaks in southwest Montana. Since we were the first BHA collegiate club founded, we wanted to cook an all-Montana lineup!

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