This Is What Deer Stalkers Eat for Breakfast

This Is What Deer Stalkers Eat for Breakfast

“It was a male muntjac weighing about eight kilos. Here’s his liver and his kidneys.”
November 17, 2017, 10:00am

"I was given my first gun on my third birthday," announces Steve Tricker.

I pause, fork halfway up to my mouth. Tricker and I are eating breakfast, along with his wife Lynne Tricker and some friends, in what I suppose could be described as a hunting lodge, but which is actually more like a smallish concrete hut in the middle of the Suffolk marshes. It's a base for the firing club they're part of, a place to finish a morning's shooting with a spot of breakfast.

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Steve Tricker's "hunting lodge" in the Suffolk marshes. All photos by the author.

"My father was old-school, a shooting man," he continues. "The first health and safety lesson I got was, 'This is the dangerous end, this is the safe end.' I didn't turn into a serial killer."

Thankfully. Where we are is pretty remote and I doubt they'd find the bodies for a while. But Tricker has all his papers in order.

"I've got a shotgun certificate, a firearms certificate, and unlike in the US, I have to be reassessed every five years," he lists. "My doctor has to be notified."

Tricker, who manages a deer herd in Suffolk and sells venison pies with his wife Lynne.

Tricker is keen to make sure I'm not under any misapprehensions that I might not be safe. It proves how much of a city girl I've become. Shooting to control the land is a part of rural life, and Tricker makes his living managing the deer that graze around these parts. His wife Lynne turns them into award-winning pies.

"I was a butcher by trade," he explains. "But I've shot all my life. Some friends of ours took over a deli in Halesworth and asked Lynne to make some pastries. There's only so much venison I can eat, so we put some in pies and they sold very well."

Saying they put venison in pies is a slight understatement. Tricker keeps immaculate records of every deer he shoots. He can say when it was shot, where, how, what the weight of it was, and the type—roe, muntjac, red, and so on.

Inside the concrete hut Tricker and his friends use as a base for their firing club.

"Lots of people's experience of venison is red deer which can be very strong flavoured," Lynne explains. "It comes down from Scotland, the result of trophy hunting which means it'll be an old stag with big antlers full of testosterone. That's never going to taste as nice as a young roebuck for example. We don't do trophy hunting. We hate that. It's all management for the good of the herd and for management of the countryside."

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Choosing the right animals to cull can be a long game. Tricker watched one herd for around two years before taking out the dominant male.

"I'd noticed that there'd been no young, the herd wasn't growing," he recalls. "Once I'd shot him, I inspected him and discovered his testicles hadn't descended. The herd was never going to breed but his presence was keeping other males away. Taking him out was for the good of them all."

A breakfast of locally sourced tomatoes, mushrooms, and sausages on the hut stove.

It seems that every animal, dropped balls or not, is almost recognisable to Tricker. And in the meat, not only can they can tell the difference in flavour between types of deer, but between individual deer—depending on what they've been grazing on. Apparently deer who eat the bark of pine trees taste like turps.

"So we don't mix the meat in our pies. Each batch of pies comes from one animal," Tricker explains.

"I keep batch records for the pies that link to Steve's records," adds Lynne. "I can trace each pie back to a specific animal."

"The horsemeat scandal did us a favour," says Tricker. "We can tell you exactly what the meat is, and where it's from."

Their pies were popular with locals, but the Trickers wanted to know how they compared to other piemakers overall so they entered the British Pie Awards at Melton Mowbray.

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The Suffolk marshes, East Anglia.

"We thought we'd enter just to see where we were. They have a speciality meat category for game and other meats. We won class champion."

It was a huge vindication for their thoroughness and commitment to detail, but there was one slight problem.

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"The venison season finishes at the end of March," says Tricker. "We won the competition mid-April. I had six kilos of venison in the freezer and that was it. We were stuffed."

Fortunately, his friends at the shooting club, whose hut we're eating in, were able to help him out.

"Some of the estates where I do deer management have pheasants as well, so we added pheasant pie, and then rabbit pie, and it's gone from there," he explains.

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Truly Traceable, as the Trickers are known, is now a regular fixture at the nearby Aldeburgh Food Festival and in demand around the county.

But I'm not having breakfast in a hut in the middle of the marshes to try their pies, delicious as they may be. I'm here to join in with a grand and longstanding shooting tradition.

"You've got a conventional breakfast there," says Tricker.

He's talking about the plate I've loaded some of Suffolk's best produce—sausages, fat mushrooms, raw milk butter, sourdough bread, juicy tomatoes, squashes, and broad beans.

Suffolk mushrooms with raw milk butter.

"But this is a stalker's breakfast," he exclaims, holding up a plastic freezer bag containing the slightly bloody organs of an animal, and a sheet of paper from his records.

"Shot on the fifth of May at South Elmbourne Farm at 6.50 in the morning," he reads "It was a male muntjac, about a year old, weighing about eight kilos. Here's his liver and his kidneys."

READ MORE: I Ate Deer Roadkill and It Was Delicious

I fret momentarily about the serial killer comment from earlier, but no one else seems alarmed.

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"A stalker's breakfast is fresh liver, kidneys, sourdough toast, Gentlemen's Relish, with a free range egg on top, salt, and pepper."

Normally it would be served fresh but as we're out of season, we don't have that luxury. Hence the carefully labelled freezer bag.

A "stalker's breakfast" of muntjac liver and kidneys, shot by Tricker.

"This bit is the best bit of the animal," explains Tricker. "If this were the liver of a roedeer, you'd never find it for sale. That's known as the 'King's liver,' because on a Royal hunt in times past, it would be reserved for him as the best part. Traditionally it's served warm straight from the carcass."

I'm iron-stomached but the thought of this makes me want to gip a little. It's too early for that kind of chat.

Fortunately, my stalker's breakfast is served fried, sizzling, straight onto my plate.

Bambi, I'm sorry you had to die, but you make great pie, and your guts sure do taste good in the morning with some bacon.

This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES in July 2016.