Elk NetworkVenison or Elk: The War Rages On

Conservation | August 17, 2017
Is Elk Venison?

A few weeks ago we posted a video on how to grind elk burger. One of the subtitles in the video read “semi-frozen cuts of Venison or Elk.” Well, thanks to a quality assurance snafu, this piece went out without all members of our team weighing in. This sparked a pseudo-outrage on social media between Venison faithful’s and those who claim it is simply “Elk Meat.”

Fast forward a few weeks into planning for a potential organization-wide elk meat cook-off, and the debate was reignited when one of our planners mentioned we would have a “Venison Cook Off,” only to be met with hostility about how we “Don’t cook Venison. We cook Elk.” So we decided to bring RMEF Director of Science and Planning, Tom Toman, on board to settle the score. Here’s what he found:

Venison definition

Venison is commonly referred to in many ways.  Historically, however the word venison comes through the French word “venaison,” derived from the Latin “venari” which means “to hunt” and means properly “the spoils of the chase.”

The most common modern usage is to refer to venison as any member of the deer family.  That would include Mule deer and White-tailed deer along with Elk.  For most, caribou and moose are not included even though they are members of the deer family (Cervidae).  Some folks are more purists and separate out the two deer species as venison, leaving elk, moose and caribou separately.  “I suspect most elk hunters and RMEF members also refer to elk as “elk meat” rather than venison.”

In restaurants and meat markets venison also includes red deer from New Zealand deer farms. In some cases the menu will list elk meat, but many states prohibit commercial sale of wild game meat, so a fact check will often find that in actuality the “elk” on the menu is red deer from New Zealand.

Biblical Reference

ven’-i-z’-n, ven’-z’-n:

Is derived (through the French venaison) from the Latin venari, “to hunt,” and means properly “the spoils of the chase.” As, however, the object of the chase was the deer, venison came to mean usually (as it invariably does in modern English) “deer’s flesh.” But in English Versions of the Bible, this technical force seems not to be implied, for “venison” is used only for the two Hebrew words tsayidh (Genesis 25:28; 27:5), and tsedhah (Genesis 27:3), and both these words (from tsudh, “to hunt”) mean simply “game” of any kind.

Wikipedia – Venison

Venison originally described meat of any game animal killed by hunting,[3] and was applied to any animal from the families Cervidae (deer), Leporidae (hares), and Suidae (wild pigs), and certain species of the genus Capra (goats and ibex). In Southern Africa, the word venison refers to the meat of antelope.[4] There are no native Cervidae in sub-Saharan Africa.

Merriam-Webster – Venison

the edible flesh of a game animal and especially a deer


the flesh of a deer or similar animal as used for food.So there you have it. Our biologist claims Elk is unequivocally venison, all the while being screamed at from the next office over by our Senior Bugle Editor that Elk is simply “Elk Meat.” We clearly have no winner. At the end of the day, we can all agree on one thing: it tastes good.So what is it? Elk Meat or Venison?