You can hunt for game in the wild or from retail sources. Its cost varies widely, depending on whether the game is wild or farm-raised.
Hunting for your meat? Factor in the cost of annual licenses and stamps, guns or bows, other accoutrements and travel — or visiting a private game farm — and you could be talking big bucks.
Keith Warnke, hunting and shooting sports coordinator for Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources, estimates he spends a minimum of $400 a year — for licenses, gas and equipment – to get two deer that, combined, yield approximately 100 pounds of venison. That’s $4 a pound, more “if we get unlucky and only kill one deer,” he says.
“From a cost perspective, it’s no less expensive than hunting at the local supermarket,” Warnke continues.
A DNR colleague, big-game ecologist Kevin Wallenfang, has calculated that his state’s deer hunters alone spend $1.5 billion to $2 billion a year to harvest approximately 350,000 animals. In an email, he estimated meat costs at “between $71 and $95 per pound. WOW!”
But Warnke cites benefits for hunters, especially those who butcher or process the meat themselves: “We know where the food comes from, how it was handled. We know what our food ate, which wasn’t antibiotics or hormones, so that greatly increases its value.”
If you don’t hunt and don’t have access to a hunter, you’ll most likely have to buy farm-raised game. If it’s on the menu at a restaurant, states require that it come from an animal slaughtered and dressed under inspection.
Supermarkets, specialty foods stores and some ethnic markets can carry small game. At a Harris-Teeter supermarket in northern Virginia, I recently found Pel-Freez frozen rabbit with giblets for $7.99 a pound ($22.29 for 2.79 pounds). Farm-raised, grass-fed New Zealand venison can be found at select markets.
Mail-order suppliers are plentiful online. Among them:
- Broken Arrow Ranch. The operation in Ingram, Texas, sells venison from Axis deer, plus antelope and boar. The many venison options range from organ meat at $8 a pound to coarse-ground chili meat at $11 to boneless loin at $35. Its sister company, the Diamond H Ranch, offers farm-raised quail.
- D’Artagnan. The gourmet meat company in Newark, N.J., has assorted cuts of New Zealand venison, including tenderloin at $29.99 for 12 ounces and stew meat at $76.99 for five pounds. It also sells game birds, rabbits and wild boar.
- McFarlane Pheasant. The nation’s largest pheasant farm is in the southern Wisconsin city of Janesville. Prices start at $19.95, plus shipping and handling, for a package of pheasant breasts that feeds four. Whole birds start at $20.95.