WEST MILLGROVE, Ohio — When Ralph Reinhart and his late wife Teri used to host a wild game meal, it wasn’t just a meal, it was a banquet. And it wasn’t just a banquet, it was a feast.
This wild game smorgasbord extravaganza allowed hunters and anglers to share the game and fish they had harvested the previous year, and it also afforded their many friends and family members to sample foods you simply cannot find in restaurants.
It was not uncommon for the long tables in the barn and the length of the work bench to be cluttered with steaming crock pots filled with barbecued squirrel, roasted antelope, muskrat casserole, venison, elk, duck, pheasant, rabbit, and turtle. There were also fryers cranking out batch after batch of walleye, perch, and other formerly finned delights.
The aromas emanating from those cookers convinced even the most squeamish of the skeptics that these unconventional foods were worth a try. And rarely were the taste-testers not sold on the fare.
At any of these wild game dinners you could possibly encounter alligator, bison, bear, moose, caribou, rattlesnake, wild boar, or something else from the far corners of the map. Exotic game ranches sometimes provide the fare, but in most cases it is the club members and their hunting and fishing associates that supply the main course for the evening.
My wife and I took our four children to the Reinhart wild game meals when the kids were very young, and we had them try just about everything. They left as fans of wild game, and in some cases connoisseurs of wild game, and in one case — a wild game snob. When our daughter Lauren was about 6, she put down the menu at Applebee’s and informed the waitress that she wanted “turtle,” then was indignant when she found out they don’t serve turtle at Applebee’s.
But you can find turtle soup, turtle steak, and even turtle goulash at more than a few stops on the winter wild game dinner circuit.
January and February are the coldest months, but they are always the hottest months for wild game dinners. Some have been around nearly forever, like the game dinner in Fostoria created and orchestrated by Mel Schreiner, which lasted 50 years. Mel is not only one of the finest wood-working craftsmen around, he could also put on a wild game spread fit for royalty. Recently, Mel decided to fold up the apron and hang up the super-sized pots and pans after a half century of incredible culinary creations.
The Gonya-Hull Game Feed in the Fremont area, which pulls in a capacity crowd pushing 500, is approaching its 40th year. This mega event uses the proceeds to help fund the athletic awards at both Ross and St. Joseph Central Catholic high schools. The organizers expect another sell-out, but there are a variety of other wild game dinners with tickets still available.
Many of the other wild game meals are sponsored by clubs and organizations, and with the normal accompaniment of gun auctions and raffles, serve as their primary fund-raiser of the year. Here is a list of some of the wild game dinner options in the coming days and weeks:
Wild Game Meal Information:
■ Fulton County Sportsmen Club: Friday, 5 p.m.; 7700 County Road 14, north of Wauseon; Tickets: $20 at the door
■ Fort Meigs Sertoma Club: Jan. 24, 6 p.m.; Holland Gardens, 6530 Angola Rd.; Tickets: $35 at 419-740-0675 or at fortmeigssertoma.com
■ Toledo Club: Jan. 30, 6 p.m.; 235 14th St., Toledo; Open to members only. Call the club for tickets.
■ Great Northern Sportsman's Club: Jan. 31, 5 p.m.; St. Clement Hall, 3030 Tremainsville Rd.; Tickets: $30 at 419-514-7258 or at the door if still available.
■ South Side Sportsmen’s Club: Feb. 8, 5:30 p.m.; Glass City Boardwalk, 27820 East Broadway, Moline; Tickets: $30 in advance, $40 at the door (youth $15) also at 419-410-2514.
■ Mudjaw Bowmen: Feb. 15, 5 p.m.; 6240 Benore Rd.; Tickets: $30 at 734-848-4097 or at the door, if available.
■ Wolf Creek Sportsmen’s Association: Feb. 15; St. Clement Hall, Sold out in advance.
■ Oak Harbor Conservation Club: March 29, 5 p.m.; 975 S. Gordon Rd., Oak Harbor; Tickets: $15 (kids under 10 free) at 419-202-9544.
Friday Fish Fry Dinners:
■ Ottawa Lake Sportsmen’s Club: 9480 Memorial Hwy. (old U.S. 223), Ottawa Lake, Mich.; Jan. 24; Feb. 7, 21; March 7, 21; April 4; 5-8 p.m. each night; Tickets: $10; Also serving: chicken fingers, fried chicken, hamburgers, cheeseburgers, shrimp baskets; Information: Deb at 517-423-2009.
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6068.