Tag soup is a dish reserved for poor souls who return home frustrated, tired and empty handed.
"Tag soup" is an unappetizing reference to an unsuccessful hunting season, when all you're left with instead of meat is your unclaimed hunting tags. Credit: Courtesy of Chris Sargent

Any hunter worth their salt has choked down a fair share of it. Those who haven’t yet will, and those that have will again.

Prepared after the end of any given hunting season, it’s a dish reserved for poor souls who return home frustrated, tired and empty handed. This traditional meal has been eaten by hunters around the world for eons, though none has ever acquired a taste for it. Generally speaking, it requires a refined palate to even appreciate, and that’s the best one can hope to do.

Overly bitter, tart and most definitely unsatisfying, tag soup has always been and will always be an unavoidable staple, should you choose to be a hunter. If you’re not sure how it’s prepared, don’t despair. With just a few simple ingredients and proper assemblage, you can have your very own helping. While I can’t stand the stuff, I’ve come up with what I believe to be an award-winning recipe over the past few seasons.

Every soup starts with a good stock. For tag soup, simply pick any big game hunting season to serve the purpose. Recently, I’ve been using Maine’s deer season. On its own, it presents pleasant flavors full of hope and optimism, which can be easily overpowered.

Start the stock by building up a good deal of anticipation prior to the season. Convince yourself you’ll easily catch up with the largest buck you’ve ever seen and make a perfect shot. Dream about it for weeks beforehand, if possible. This helps infuse that subtle, bitter flavor.

Next, be sure to check all those trail cameras you painstakingly set during the preseason as often as you can, ensuring you’ll alert that big buck to your presence. Set as many stands as you can, making sure not to take prevailing winds or concealment into consideration and certainly don’t plan appropriate entry and exit routes. Bring this to a boil, then let cool to room temperature.

Once the stock is ready and opening day has arrived, it’s time to start slowly adding the remaining ingredients to the pot. The process can take a while, most often lasting the entire month of November but may take longer in the event further marination comes in the form of archery or muzzleloader seasons.

For starters, make sure to add equal parts impatience and frustration, which will surely lead to simple mistakes. Toss in a routine of not playing the wind properly because of your failproof scent control. Add a dash of sleeping in on several good hunting mornings because deer hunting “experts” suggest big rut-crazed bucks are more apt to move at mid-day. Whisk in a few haphazard, ill-advised walks through your prime hunting areas to see if a mid-season stand change is warranted but be sure to bump several deer from their bedding areas while doing so.

If you prefer your soup especially sour, make sure to give up on a stellar stand location and miss out on the buck of your dreams because you’re bored after three deerless mornings and decide to change things up. Take the time to make sure your cellphone is rarely on silent and spend as much time as you can perusing social media instead of paying attention. I always like to add a pinch of not practicing enough with my rifle or bow from different shooting positions and just a hint of either over or under dressing for the weather conditions.

This last ingredient isn’t always available, but if you can get your hands on several legitimate chances at deer and not pull the trigger because they just aren’t the “caliber of buck you’re looking for,” make sure to throw them all in the pot. They enhance flavor and add a sharp finish.

Once all ingredients have been added, let the soup simmer on low for several days. You’ll know when it’s ready. Once the realization sets in that the season is over, your freezer is empty and you have an 11-month wait until next season starts, then it’s time to sit down to enjoy a nice hot bowl while you figure out a way to avoid a steady diet of it.

Though hard to swallow, tag soup is a reality in the hunting world. We are all bound to taste it eventually, despite our best efforts, wishes, wants or beliefs. It’s equally important to learn how to eat it properly.

For me, I find the soup pairs well with a slice of humble pie and washes down perfectly with a tall glass of modesty.

Avatar photo

Chris Sargent, Outdoors Contributor

Chris Sargent is an avid outdoorsman, a former Maine Game Warden and lover of anything wild and tasty. Chris’ passion and appreciation for hunting, processing and preparing wild game has become more...