LANCASTER - For many Pennsylvania residents, deer hunting is the sport that also puts food on the table.
The season, which opened Dec. 1, draws marksmen by the hundreds into the freezing winter woods and, for them, it's worth putting up with the chill because of what it yields: tasty venison, or deer meat.
"Both my husband and I hunt, so we usually end up with over 200 pounds of venison in the freezer!" said Katie Crowl, 27, of Marietta.
"We eat venison at my house on almost a daily basis all year long," Crowl said of herself and her husband, Josh, also 27. She takes regular recipes that use beef and substitutes venison to create lasagna, meatloaf, tacos, chili, pot roast and even burgers.
"Anything you can make with beef, you can make . . . with venison," Crowl said.
Fans of the meat point out that it's low in fat and cholesterol. And they would like to clear up a common misconception.
"Some people think it's gamy, but . . . it's so lean," said Sandi Fasnacht, 45, of Ephrata.
"Medium-rare is the most you ever want to cook venison," said Sam Nelson, 53, of Mount Joy. He likes to fire up the backyard grill to make one of his favorites - deer backstrap, or loin, which he cuts like Delmonico steaks.
For Fasnacht, deer is a family tradition.
Her father, the late Harold Eberly, was one of the founders of a hunting camp in Tioga County.
"Loins are the favored cut," said Fasnacht. "We also get steaks and roasts, and the lesser cuts we grind into hamburger." Some folks like to mix the latter with beef, but not Fasnacht, who likes it just the way it is.
Nelson's secret behind an enjoyable deer dinner starts long before he cooks anything.
"Good preparation of venison starts when you pull the trigger or draw the bow," said Nelson. Make a clean kill, he advises fellow hunters, and don't drag the carcass through dirt and muddy creeks before throwing it "in a pickup truck for a three-hour ride home without being cooled. . . .If we don't give our venison the same care we give our beef, it has no chance of being the same quality."