Nishi Okoppe Deer Eco-Tour – from game to cuisine (Across the Hokkaido Country Side Series③)
Hello! My name is Tsugumi Takeda and I’m with the Nishi Okoppe Wildlife Association (NPO). I moved to Hokkaido five years ago, and have been living in Nishi Okoppe for one year. Today, I’d like to introduce to you NPO’s Deer Eco-Tour 2013.
We started doing these tours two years ago with the intention of giving visitors a chance to really experience Nishi Okoppe’s wonderful natural surroundings and while getting an introduction to deer hunting. This will be the tour’s third year welcoming guests.
A deer hunting tour like this is something truly special in Hokkaido, but you have to wake up early for the opportunity. The group leaves at down to seek out deer during their morning graze. This time of year, sunrise comes at about 4:30 am. Though we’re often scanning the field with still sleepy eyes, it doesn’t take long before we find what we’re looking for.
The hunter gets out of the car, being careful not to startle the deer, and inches closer and closer. Luckily, the pasture seems to hide hunters well. He continues to get closer to the deer until he is only about 50 meters. Then he stops, assumes position, aims, and with one clean shot takes the deer down.
We all work together to load the deer onto a toboggan to bring it back. Weighing 100kg, the deer is not easy to move, getting to enjoy such beautiful surroundings made it well worth the effort.
Once you’ve got the deer, you have to prepare it. Skinning the deer requires proper technique to maintain safety and sanitation, so it’s important to learn how to do it. Little by little you can see the deer transition from game to meal.
We roast, smoke, and barbeque the venison. It’s a feast everyone is grateful to have.
▲Roasting venison in a cast iron skillet – one way to really enjoy the flavor of the meat.
When you go to the super market, you can easily buy packaged meat ready to be cooked. The difference with wild game is the character that comes with each bite: the season, the sex, individual body, age, etc. All of these elements influence the flavor of the meat. This is something you won’t be able to buy at any super market.
▲Rich and tender smoked venison – not to be missed!
The meat is high in protein and low in calories. With such high iron content, the flavor is well paired with a nice red wine. Even the pickiest of eaters can appreciate such delicacy.
This isn’t just a deer hunting tour. There are also leather crafting activities, like making key chains or phone straps woven with thin strips of leather from one of last year’s deer.
▲ A sampling of some of the leather crafts made with the deer hide.
After sunset, there is still fun to be had as we go animal watching with a spot light.
Shining a spotlight from within the car, you can see some of the night wildlife come out. In addition to some of Hokkaido’s native deer, you might also find rabbit, fox, or maybe even bear!
The tour takes you through a densely covered tunnel of lush greenery. Along the way, you can find the unmistakable signs of brown bears. You don’t need to see the actual animal to feel its presence; just a glimpse at its footprints is enough.
▲Examining the footprints of local brown bears.
Also, you can see a bit of stream fishing or learn about local agriculture.
Once a year there is also an Ice Tunnel Festival. Even in the middle of summer, the temperature in the tunnel, made with remaining snow from the winter season, still hovers below 10C degrees.
The growing population of deer in Hokkaido is becoming a big concern for the environment and local forestry and agricultural industry. This tour allows you to not only enjoy being in great outdoors, learn from experts about the local area and environment, and be a part of a program working to preserve Hokkaido’s balanced ecosystem.
So why not try a tour off the beaten path – one that let’s you really experience hunting culture and the incredible natural surroundings of Nishi Okoppe?
Statement & Photography provided by Nishi Okoppe Wildlife Association – Tsugumi Takeda
(Edited by Hokkaido Likers Writer – Gakkun )
[ Deer Eco-Tour 2013 ]
2013 Jul. 26 (Fri) – 28 (Mon)
Open to anyone interested in experience the game-to-meal process
Fee: 20,000 Yen/person, Students – 10,000 yen (includes venison sampling)
For reservations and inquiries:
Nishi Okoppe Wildlife Association
Nishi Okoppe Wildlife Association Facebook