Yes, we all love the back of a whitetail deer. Those of us who grew up eating whitetail deer meat happily know its rich, comforting taste. I’m not here to disparage the greatness of whitetail deer meat.

But I would argue that trying meat from different wild animals — yes, including exotic ones — should generate a sense of excitement. Eating a variety of native and exotic species can create an appreciation for the best tasting creatures. After all, there’s no way to know whether you’ll like eating zebra, crocodile, or agarwood until you try it. I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to hunt all over the world and also chase exotic species here in North America. I’m an adventurous eater and never miss an opportunity to try new foods.

So, here I’ve ranked my favorite exotic wild game meats. For the purposes of this article, I take “exotic” to mean any wild creature that is not native to North America but can be found on the continent because it has been introduced.

Deer axis

My crushed axis deer burgers cooked on a Camp Chef griddle have been a hit. Brad Vinson

The pre-dawn air on the Hawaiian island of Molokai was cool and crisp. The crew at Go Hawaii Outfitters did an exceptional job putting us on deer and it wasn’t long before we were seeing herds of axes returning to the rugged hills to hide from the heat of the day.

A tall, antlered buck appeared on a steep bluff, and we wasted no time in covering the distance, getting ready to shoot, and gathering venison. There was very little smell when dressing and skinning Axis deer in the field, and I was hungry while butchering and packing the meat. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long.

We had the Access Smash Burger, with nothing added except some salt and pepper. The flavor was great and had a touch of sweetness. The proteins were light tasting and very tender. Our outfitters were carrying luaus and serving sirloin steaks that had been turned into cutlets and fried. I ate so much I almost exploded. Before the hunt was over, we had had tenderloin, back tenderloin, ground beef, and prime steaks.

Read next: Best venison recipes

The best game animals are always being discussed at hunting camps, and axial deer seem to keep showing up. I’ve heard that axis deer ranks as one of the three best-tasting red meats on the planet. Although originally from India, axis has been served around the world for its taste and quality. I brought a cooler full of meat home and shared it with family and friends. Even people who claim they don’t like venison will try it, and then ask for more.


The author took this Nilgai on a hunting trip in South Texas. Brad Vinson

I was on a hunting trip in South Texas field testing the Winchester XP3 bullets when they were first introduced. To my excitement, the Nilgai antelope will be our target. The Nilgai, or blue bull, is very strong, and strong shoulders and heavy hide protect its vital organs. I was lucky to harvest a cow and a bull, but the best part of the trip was eating nilgai.

The sirloin steak was tender and flavorful, like taking the qualities of black Angus beef and mixing it with elk. There was no obvious fat or marbling as with the beef steak, but the great flavor of the lean steak left you wanting more. I would hunt a nilgai again in a heartbeat, if only for the chance to enjoy a barbecue at the end of the day.

War-horned oryx

Texas is home to more than 10,000 sword-horned oryx. Brad Vinson

The chameleon-horned oryx has been declared extinct in the wild in its native North Africa, but is thriving in South Texas (there are more than 10,000 of them in the Lone Star State). Animals from Texas farms were used to reintroduce species into their native habitats.

Hunting the sword-horned oryx is exciting and challenging. I have often claimed that the harder a species is to catch, the better it tastes. While hunting Horned Oryx with Steve Jones and his Backcountry Hunts outfit, I was fortunate to try Mossberg Patriot LR Hunter and Remington Premium Long Range featuring Speer Impact bullets. Steve had oryx on the menu every day, which made everyone at camp hunt harder; The steaks and cutlets were outstanding. We also had ground oryx, which was also good, but couldn’t compare to the steak.

It’s a paradox: You would think a desert animal would taste bland, dry, and tough. However, the meat was tender and flavorful. The oryx was cooked perfectly too, enhancing the subtle earthiness in the flavour. I’ve heard interviewees say that animals without tarsal glands taste better, and it’s interesting to note that most of the exotic toys on this list fall into this category.


Eland is cooked over hot coals. Brad Vinson

I experienced eland for the first time in Namibia on Jamy Trout Hunting Safaris. To say he made an impression on me is an understatement. I still dream of light-colored, sweet-flavored meat. Like most antelope, they are fine-grained, and cooking the eland over hardwood charcoal heightens the experience. The charcoal marks provided such a punch of flavor that you’d swear there were burnt sugars flaky on the surface. We also had the steak and gravy fried, which allowed the flavor of the meat to come through, but I still preferred eating it alone on a plate.

The eland is hunted as an exotic animal in North America and remains on my wish list for another meal or ten. I would be happy to hunt them again in Africa, Texas or wherever.

Sika deer

Sika deer in Japan. Getty Images

Sika deer belong to the elk family, which may explain why they taste so good. Sika are small deer, with elk weighing about 90 pounds and females 70 pounds. Sika deer are originally from Japan, Taiwan, and East Asia but have been introduced to Texas, Virginia, and the Eastern Shore of Maryland. I discussed the properties of this meat with my friend Tim Joseph, Vice President of Benelli USA, who has hunted cica several times near his home.

“I’ve prepared a variety of cuts myself, and I’ve also had the good fortune to have them prepared by an expert chef who specializes in sika deer as the head chef at an Eastern Inn here in Maryland,” Joseph says. “I’ve prepared them as roasts, steaks, burgers, and even pastrami. I would describe the meat as closest to elk in texture and flavor but perhaps a little sweeter than elk. The meat is darker than your average whitetail. I’ve never experienced any that taste so great It can come from some whitetail cuts.The cica meat I had was tender and flavorful with a relatively fine grain of meat.

Red Square

Red deer feast in New Zealand. Brad Vinson

I ventured out to New Zealand and did a bucket list adventure by taking a silver red stag with Glen Dene Hunting. All big games are considered exotic in New Zealand, but the red stag is the exotic game for which the country is perhaps best known. We had several elk meals, and they lived up to the reputation of excellent venison.

A red deer roasted over hot coals tastes no different than a good whitetail or mule deer back. The distinct deer flavor creeps into the background with an almost musky – though not unpleasant – flavour. The fine-grained flesh is tender and moist. Like any venison, overcooking can quickly change the qualities of the meat, so choose medium-rare meat.

The taste brings me back to my tarsal theory, where we expect subtle pleasing flavours, which should be embraced.

Fallow deer

The taste of fallow deer is similar to that of mule deer. Brad Vinson

Fallow deer were plentiful in New Zealand, and I harvested many of them on a DIY trip, which meant plenty of meat at camp. The best comparison would be with mule deer. The taste of venison is present but mild, and the flavor is appetizing. This species is not as good to eat as axis deer, but will hold its own against red deer. Like most deer, any large muscle designed for good roasting results in a fine-grained steak that stays tender if not overcooked.

Black Buck

Black antelope and axis deer on the grill. Brad Vinson

The Blackbuck is a striking looking antelope with long spiral horns. They are delicious, and a group of blackbuck can easily be consumed in one meal with the right crowd of hunters. Blackbuck has a richer flavor than most exotic species; I would describe it like a pregnancy.

My friend Shawn Skipper at Leupold Optics had harvested a blackbuck, and we were eager to try those steaks. The tenderloins were marinated in a simple marinade and cooked in a Camp Chef grill box. The perfect temperatures, char marks, and medium rare meat made for a great meal. The meat is denser than most antelope but remains moist on the plate. It had the nuances of venison and lamb. It was a treat, and there was nothing left at the end of the meal.


Cooking zebra meat in Namibia. Brad Vinson

The zebra is an exotic animal that can be added to the list of the best exotic eating species. A restaurant in Namibia serves zebra meat and backs up its claim that it’s the best steak you’ll ever eat, or it’s free. The zebra is an animal that most North Americans equate with a horse, and most people in North America do not eat it. In some African cultures, eating zebra is taboo; Other cultures embrace it. There are many different types of zebra, and not all of them grace the plate equally

Zebra meat is as marbled as a good cut of beef, and has the same taste and texture. It’s tender and juicy, and when cooked right, will leave you wondering why it’s not served in overpriced steakhouses everywhere. I think mountain zebras make much better food than plains zebras. The zebra is an exotic animal to hunt in Texas if you want to experience this unique species without crossing any seas. Or, if you get to Windhoek, find a good steakhouse that serves zebra meat.

Water buffalo

Water buffalo are native to India and Southeast Asia. Getty Images

Could the huge, thick-skinned water buffalo be worthy of a top ten list of best exotic foods? I wouldn’t have believed it if my friend Andrew Howard of Howard Communications hadn’t shared his adventure, which was more of a “fill the freezer” kind of hunt. Andrew drove to OX Ranch in Texas to buy a water buffalo cow and reported that the meat was amazing. The grills and burgers in particular were excellent.

“The steak was good, but don’t expect it to be like prime beef,” Howard says. “There’s not a lot of fat in steak, and what’s there is pretty dense. What was nice about steak is that it allowed me to experiment and perfect some steak cooking techniques and not risk ruining a delicious rib-eye steak.”

The water buffalo meat was good enough that Howard made a return trip to Texas to restock the freezer. If you’ve ever thought about hunting exotic species for meat, water buffalo offer a lot.

Read Next: The 10 Best Tasting Toy Animals

Final thoughts on the best alien wild game

There is a long list of exotic game animals available to hunt and eat. These animals tend to be well managed these days, and hunting is part of that management. Visiting places where locals refuse to eat certain types of fish is not uncommon. Blackbuck is a good example, because it is often overlooked as a food source and considered merely a trophy (although delicious on the plate). So my advice is to always try what’s weird, wacky, cool or different. You’ll never know what an animal tastes like unless you try it. Be brave, and you may find your new favorite meat. In many cases, exotic species that are not worthy of trophies can be caught at reasonable prices, making adventuring an economical way to obtain great-tasting game.

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