18th century Newfoundland had something of a wild-west vibe: The Reid family had just finished the Newfoundland railroad through the interior, creating an influx of pioneers wishing to exploit our suspected abundance of resources.

Prospectors, lumber companies, and coal magnates hoped to change the fate of a Newfoundland economy otherwise completely dependent on the cod fishery.

In an attempt to get wealthy Europeans onboard with investing in Newfoundland (think:  The Dragon’s Den – Buchans Edition), Newfoundland was branded all over as a majestic wilderness teeming with salmon and caribou ripe for the killing. Thousands of Van-Pelt-looking English hunters holding caribou antlers over their heads came with the understandable consequence of decimating the island’s caribou population.

Enter Alces Americana – The North American Moose.

James Howley got the idea to introduce moose to the island in 1904: primarily to be killed for sport in the wake of having just killed way too many caribou.  Having learned from their mistakes, the Newfoundland Government introduced the first regulated hunt surrounding moose in 1935 with 80 licences sold.

In 1972, a lottery system was installed. One’s likelihood of winning the moose lottery is determined by their past successes and adherence to hunting regulations. This year, 2015, the moose hunt issued 31,005 licences to independent hunters with an estimated 63% collection rate. The moose population has soared to over 150,000.

Moose have become something of a problem. They have caused many traffic accidents over the years. In forested areas, moose snack on Black Spruce and Balsam Fir tree saplings which really sabotage regrowth efforts.The Moose Population Reduction program has been created to quell areas with problematic populations – the meat from which is given to charity or to hunters with disabilities.

Poaching in Canada has lead to an almost universal ban of selling wild game meat: except for Nunavut and Newfoundland. Here, any hunter may request a licence to sell game meat and any purveyor wishing to procure that meat may apply for a licence to purchase.

The transition must be documented, the licence recorded and the amount of meat and money both disclosed. The purveyor may then serve the meat in a restaurant or as a food product – not raw. A ferryland butcher recently faced jail time for selling raw meat. So, Newfoundland is in a very interesting culinary position.

Stuffed moose heart with green tomatoes, braised chard and fennel, photo courtesy of the author

Stuffed moose heart with green tomatoes, braised chard, and fennel. Photo courtesy of the author.

Nova Scotia Chef Jason Lynch made headlines in recent years rallying for the right to serve deer in his restaurant. In Quebec, having only recently lost the right to do so due to over-poaching, ten restaurants were given the right to serve select game animals on their menus.

Nationally, people are crying out for the same rights that we have always had – to serve and share our natural bounty. So, if someone offers you a moose roast this winter: cherish it.

When cooking game, keep it simple – it is already amazing: raised on trees and wild lichens, not just corn and soy. Think whole vegetables, simple sauces, fresh herbs, and local jams.

Or better yet – go hunting.  If you have come to grips with meat in the first place, nothing will give you an appreciation for what you are eating like stalking, shooting, gutting, quartering, skinning, hanging and butchering an animal yourself. It’s a lot of time to contemplate your relationship with what you choose to consume.