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- South German (Swabian) Saddle of Venison with Blossom Salt - June 29, 2023
May 1st is a special day in Germany as it is Labor Day, a time for “Maibaum” celebrations, but for hunters, it is the start of the roe deer season. In the state of Baden Württemberg, where I live, the deer season runs from May 1st through January 31st. Of course, this does not mean everything is open, but roebuck is, and that is the prize most German hunters seek from May through November. May 1st is commonly called “bocktag” or “buck day”; it is pretty serious business. Many hunters across Germany spend the month of April preparing hunting stands, clearing shooting lanes, renewing salt licks, and generally preparing for the start of the new hunting year. The hunting year begins with roe deer and ends with varmints like raccoons, badgers, and foxes in February. Roe deer or “reh” (pronounced like “ray”) play an important part in German hunting culture and are the most hunted deer species in the country.
If you have never encountered a roe deer, you may be surprised to learn they are quite small. When I say small, it is better to compare their stature to dogs rather than white-tail or elk. A large roebuck can weigh up to 45 pounds, stand about 30 inches at the shoulder, and have a body length of 4 feet. The further east you go from Germany, the bigger they will get, and I have read that in Kazakhstan, they can get up to 130 pounds. The bucks that I and many German hunters will be after on bocktag typically have between two to four points on each antler. Bucks with spikes are known as “spießers,” those with two points are known as “gablers” or “forks”, those with three spikes are known as “sechser” or “sixer”, and four points are just gifts from God. Roe deer have an excellent sense of smell and hearing, and if they catch wind of you or anything they perceive as a threat, they will bark, just like a dog. I have had many a night boar hunting where off in the distance, I will hear a roe barking and not much later will see a fox or boar on my thermal. What’s pretty interesting about their barking is that both males and females will bark, and you cannot tell them apart.
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Roe deer can be found all across Europe, from Great Britain to Turkey. The roe deer population in Germany is of “least concern” as they are hearty little animals found nationwide. Because of their significant population, they are considered a pest in many areas. In both the forest and on farmland, keeping their numbers under control is a constant battle. Roe deer like to eat both the bark of young trees and the shoots, and when their numbers are high, they can begin to suffocate a forest from regrowth. When driving along the autobahn, you will pass lots of farmland, and it is guaranteed that you will see numerous hunting stands in the fields. The primary culprit behind these stands is roe deer and their appetite for various crops. Another interesting fact about roe deer is that you will not find them around watering holes as they primarily get their hydration from the vegetation they eat. Because of this, hunting at sunset, just after it has rained, or early in the morning when there is plenty of fresh dew is the best time to bag one.
Lastly, I have to give a shoutout to the story of Bambi. Many of you know the story of Bambi but are probably unfamiliar with the original story as it is in German and, as you are probably guessing, was not about white-tail deer. Bambi was a roe deer. The author, Felix Salten, was an Austrian hunter and wrote the story for an adult audience as a parable about the persecution Jews faced in early 20th-century Europe. Wikipedia has an excellent write-up about the original story and its history.
Given that you have learned a little bit about roe deer in this article, I will present a traditional South German (Swabian) dish made from roe deer next month. A good friend of mine, Timo Böckle, the Chef/Owner of the Reussenstein Restaurant, has offered to translate and prepare his recipe for the Harvesting Nature audience. Apart from being a world-class chef, Timo is an avid hunter and a regional “Jägermeister.”
Lastly, if you harvest any game and want the customary German salute for your success, please tag me on Instagram @huntingmuscle. I will happily salute you with the customary “Waidmannsheil!”