It’s December now and we’re right in the thick of hunting season. For that reason, a lot of people have venison and other wild game meat on their mind. Indeed, many restaurants all over the United States even offer a special wild game menu during hunting season.

However, the wild game meat you can buy in a store or eat in a restaurant probably doesn’t come from where you think it does.

Commercial hunting of wildlife for meat, hides, and feathers greatly contributed to the massive decline of wildlife populations in the United States during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Laws like the Lacey Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, and a whole host of legislation at the state level effectively outlawed market hunting. Today, hunters in the United States are effectively banned from selling the meat of native game animals like deer, elk, pronghorn, ducks, and geese.

Giving away or donating wild game meat is permitted. Additionally, it’s legal to sell meat produced from certain deer, antelope, and bird farming operations in some jurisdictions if the meat is properly handled and inspected.

So what does this all mean?

In the United States anyway, it means that "wild game" meat on the menu almost certainly came from a farm raised animal. In fact, the meat probably isn’t even from the United States. It’s estimated that over 85 percent of venison sold in the United States, to include Arby’s famous venison sandwiches, comes from red deer farms in New Zealand.

There are occasional exceptions of course, and some commercially served venison in the United States does come from domestically raised whitetail deer or exotics like Axis Deer. However, the vast majority of wild game served in restaurants comes from an international source.

Now, there’s not necessarily anything wrong with this. After all, red deer venison is absolutely delicious and has many of the same health benefits as venison from whitetail deer. Unlike both wild and domesticated deer herds in the United States, diseases like Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) aren’t present in the New Zealand deer population, either.

Regardless of whether it has domestic or international origins, meat sold commercially in the United States must also pass certain inspection standards. You can be fairly certain the meat you’re buying at a butcher or eating in a restaurant is free from disease, was properly handled, and is otherwise safe to eat. This is not always the case with wild game meat, though it is usually very safe to eat as well.

With all that being said, most people probably have a vision of a hunter going out, shooting a deer, and then selling it to the restaurant to serve. While that does indeed happen in certain countries (particularly in Europe), that’s just not the case in the United States.

So if you want to eat some truly wild game, then you need to hunt it yourself, get a friend who hunts to share some of his or her wild game meat with you, or travel to another country where you can eat freshly hunted wild game meat.