A headline about high school students going wild normally would cause great concern, but in the southwest Missouri communities of Lamar and Mt. Vernon, it just means students in Linda Eggerman's and Jeanne Jones' classes are preparing and eating wild game.
"Wild Game 101," as it is often called, is a class that provides an opportunity for students to prepare and sample duck, turkey, rabbit, venison, fish and other wild game. The class came about from Linda Eggerman's desire to combine history, literature, and food preparation into one class. Linda teaches Family and Consumer Science at Lamar High School. She developed a short curriculum blending the study of historical literature, through required reading of one of Laura Ingalls Wilder's novels, with actual classroom preparation of a variety of the wild game that had provided much of our American pioneers' food. Linda then recruited Conservation Agent Don Shilling and me to help demonstrate preparing and cooking wild game.
Mt. Vernon High School Family and Consumer Science teacher Jeanne Jones became interested in having "Wild Game 101" for her students after attending Don Ruzicka's Students Fishing Day. Don and the Mt. Vernon School District team up each year to provide all of Mt. Vernon's sixth-grade students an opportunity to fish and learn how to clean fish. Not only do the students get to catch fish, but after fishing, they are rewarded with an old fashioned fish fry.
After reviewing "Wild Game 101," Mrs. Jones thought her high school students would enjoy the program, so she scheduled three classes. Our menu at Mt. Vernon was rabbit, turkey, venison, trout, catfish, suckers and duck.
In the early years my wife, Ruth, assisted us, and in Mt. Vernon we recruited Mrs. Jones's husband, Steve, to assist. Since then, we have gone from teaching one or two classes at one school per year to five classes per year at two schools.
Don Shilling has retired, but Conservation Agents Scott Burger, John Thomas, Mike Terhune, Don Ruzicka, District Supervisor Mike Eutsler and Community Outreach Specialist Warren Rose have been recruited to assist with our class.
We begin each session of "Wild Game 101" with a short, informal survey to determine how many of the students hunt or fish. Also, we want to learn what wild game they've eaten over the years, and if they enjoyed the taste. Many of the students have eaten venison, and some have had wild rabbit or trout, but very few have ever tried wild turkey, and even fewer have tasted wild duck.
In most of our high school classes, we learn that fewer than three students per class have ever eaten wild duck. Most of those who have eaten wild duck thought it was too strong, or they just didn't like the taste. Students who had never tasted wild duck said they'd heard it didn't taste very good. Such comments bring smiles to the faces of the conservation agents involved in teaching the class, especially John Thomas, an avid waterfowl hunter and an excellent cook.
Our smiles are based on years of teaching "Wild Game 101." Before the end of class, we know most students will describe the taste of wild duck as "awesome," or "terrific." One of our favorite student comments came from a young lady at Mt. Vernon who said, "You guys need to quit your job and open a restaurant. It would be awesome!"
Once the students have tasted grilled duck, we immediately encounter two problems. First, we can't cook it fast enough! Second, we never bring enough duck to meet the students' request for more! The varieties of recipes for cooking waterfowl are equaled only by the different species of duck.
We usually teach students how to cook duck over a charcoal grill. We suggest they use hickory or mesquite wood chips, which produces a flavor that rivals that of a good steak! We show them a simple method for cooking duck that can be used at home or while camping out. The easy recipe makes me hungry just thinking about it.
No two wild game cooking classes are exactly alike. Like the pioneers, what wild game we have for cooking depends on availability of game. Sometimes we have a large variety of wild game to prepare and cook. Three nights before our scheduled classes at Mt. Vernon High School, Conservation Agents Don Ruzicka, Mike Terhune and Scott Burger were on streams gigging for suckers to obtain fish for the class.
Unlike the early pioneers, what wild game we are able to harvest depends on if the season is open. Fortunately for us, if the trout aren't biting, Neosho Federal Fish Hatchery comes to our rescue and provides trout for the classes.
Occasionally, we will focus on only one species of wild game in class. During one such class at Lamar High School, we not only taught students how to prepare and cook duck, but also how to identify ducks in the wild. John Thomas brought a collection of duck wings along with waterfowl identification books. Each student had to go through the wings to identify the ducks.
If you want to have a class that students will literally eat up, you might try a version of "Wild Game 101." In addition to covering the basics of cleaning and preparing wild game, you can discuss the nutritional value of wild game. The class also helps students understand that hunting and fishing not only provides us outdoor recreational opportunities and excellent food, but that they are also valuable wildlife management tools.
First, fillet the breast meat from the duck. Next, cut strips one-half inch wide across the grain. Season the strips of meat with Lowry's Original Seasoning Salt. Start working strips of duck meat onto a skewer, placing a one-half inch piece of bacon between the strips of meat. Depending on the skewer length, five or six pieces of duck should be about right.
While cooking, pour Zesty Italian Salad Dressing over the meat and each time you turn the skewer. Don't pour the dressing above the fire. Cook until meat is dark and bacon is done.
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