Wild game public dinners are plentiful in Maine – and illegal

The newspaper headline caught my attention: “Wild game dinner serving boar, moose in Skowhegan.”

It is illegal to sell wild game in Maine. But wild game dinners are a tradition at some sporting clubs, and each year at the legislature, for Sportsmen’s Day, the Maine Trappers Association served beaver stew. It was a big hit.

Wild game can be legally served to the public, but the hosts of wild game dinners cannot charge for the event. They are allowed by Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to seek “voluntary contributions.” And they must adhere to the labeling requirement, outlined this way in the current hunting law book:

A person may not possess any part or parts of a bear, deer, moose, or wild turkey given to that person unless that gift bear, deer, moose or wild turkey is plainly labeled with the name and address of the person who registered it and the year it was registered.

As an aside, the law is slightly different for turkeys. Even the hunter who shot the turkey is required to label each part in his possession. Bet there’s a lot of violations of that law!

Church Supper

wild game dinner logoWhich brings us back to the Skowhegan event. Here’s the entire story from the January 24, 2014 edition of the Kennebec Journal.

The eighth annual wild game dinner is scheduled today and Saturday at New Horizons Community Church, formerly the Skowhegan First Church on the Nazarene, on East Madison Road. Doors open at 5 pm today with dinner at 6 pm. On Saturday, doors open at noon and lunch is at 1 pm.

The cost each day is $15. There are 250 tickets available for each meal. Last year the church served 370 people. Tickets will be available at the door. Please call New Horizons Community Church at 474-2957 for more details.

The majority of the meat has been donated by local hunters connected with the church. The menu for this year includes pulled boar, moose stroganoff, wild bird stir-fry, jambalaya, venison Cordon bleu, elk and tortellini soup, fried haddock, baked beans, Mexican rice and fruit salad. Dessert will be ice cream.

Boy, I’m sorry I missed it! Apparently Maine game wardens missed it too. I’m told the dinner was a big success, for the eighth year.

I’d bet a lot of money – if my own church allowed gambling – that the New Horizons Community Church didn’t check to closely that all those donations were properly labeled.

I discussed this issue with Andrea Erskine, DIF&W’s very capable Deputy Commissioner, who dialed up the Warden Service to get answers to some of my questions. Game Wardens do not typically police wild game dinners, we were told. And far be it for me to cause a problem for the Skowhegan church or any other host of a wild game dinner.

Harraseeket Inn

The Harraseeket Inn is offering throughout the month of February, in its main dining room for the 26th year, it’s Wild Game Festival. My wife Linda and I, for our travel column published every Thursday in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, enjoyed and wrote about this amazing culinary experience in 2011.

Linda called it, “the best dinner I ever had.” And yes, it was that good.

The Inn’s owner and manager, Chip Gray, told me recently that, before the doors open each year on this event, Maine game wardens visit to check his invoices and make sure he is not using wild Maine game.

While there are some wild Maine fish and seafood dishes on the menu, the game meat is provided by farms throughout the country. The Warden Service reports that checking invoices for restaurants that advertise wild game is not something they typically do.

If I was one of the wardens checking on the Harraseeket’s Wild Game Festival, I’d insist on taste-testing a few of those dishes.

Cornish game hen, perhaps. Pheasant pot pie maybe. Rabbit legs certainly. And my favorite from our last visit there, the Elk Osso Bucco. It’s amazing!

Sportsmen Say Survey

Here’s your chance to weigh in on this weighty topic. The current question in my ongoing Sportsmen Say Survey concerns wild game meat.

You can access the survey here. And I can’t wait to get your opinions!

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. George also hosts, with Harry Vanderweide, a TV talk show called Wildfire, now in its 13th year and focused on hunting, fishing, environmental, and conservation issues. The show is owned and produced by Maine Audubon and seen on its website as well as on the Time Warner cable TV station throughout the state.