Don Yoder remembers tagging along on coon’ hunts with his dad when he was 6 or 7 years old and could barely carry a gun. In school he fondly remembers pest hunts, and after high school he was introduced to goose hunting. Today his girls enjoy hunting also and 11 year old Samantha already has 3 Kansas deer to her credit. John Yoder’s brother-in-law got him interested in bow hunting his senior year of high school, and John’s wife Monica shot her first deer 2 years ago. His family routinely harvests and consumes 6 deer a year.
We were recently invited to a wild game feed put on for several years now by a group of avid Christian hunters and fishermen at Maranatha Mennonite Church outside South Hutchinson, where both Don and John Yoder and their families attend. I’m not a total newbie to wild game feeds, so I figured I could pretty well predict what would “be for dinner” when we arrived. At most wild game feeds there are typically 2 or 3 venison dishes, a couple fish recipes, maybe some wild turkey and possibly something exotic like beaver or muskrat. I don’t mean to slight a menu like that, as that’s some good eatin.’ But what awaited us at this feast was like the Golden Corral of wild game dinners. Three eight foot tables filled with gigantic roasters, crock pots and big foil pans stretched across the floor, and that didn’t count the tables of salads, veggies’ and deserts, which I have to admit took a backseat to the meat (yes, I really just said deserts took a backseat to meat!)
In all those roasters, crock pots and big foil pans, were goose roll-ups of 3 different flavors, jalapeño, pineapple and banana pepper, wild pig fixed 3 different ways, smoked back straps, smoked hind quarter and cheese bombs which were wild pig sausage around a chunk of mozzarella cheese, a smoked venison hind quarter and venison cheese bombs, fried striper, baked rabbit, elk burgers, crock pot pheasant, wild turkey and the coup de grace, mountain lion summer sausage.
About ten years ago, Mike Warren and Henry Yoder, both avid goose hunters, decided it was time to do something tangible as a way of thanking a couple big land owners who pretty much gave them free rein to hunt on any of their property, and unbeknown to them at that time, the annual Maranatha Mennonite Church big game feed was born. The first couple feasts were held in late summer in Mike Warren’s back yard for a few friends and those land owners, and their signature dish became goose roll-ups. As word spread and they desired to invite more people from the community, the church became a more suitable venue, the game dishes became more diverse and now the dinner is held the 3rd Saturday of March each year. Besides a way to thank landlords for the use of their land, the event has become a popular community outreach, bringing neighbors together to share a meal, as well as offering an opportunity for someone searching for a place to worship or someone who needs a spiritual boost in their life to meet church members outside of a church service.
Although many hands helped make this year’s wild game feed a success, 6 men provided the “lions” share of the meat. Don and John Yoder are part of a Bible study group whose members provide much of the meat for each year’s feast. This year’s pheasant, turkey and wild hog meat were harvested by members of the group. The events signature dish, as it were, is still goose roll-ups, and Thursday night before this year’s meal, over a dozen men gathered together to begin the process. Nearly forty goose breasts were cut into pieces and put into the 3 flavors of marinade. Friday night the group convened again and nearly 1000 goose roll-ups were assembled and made ready to grill or smoke. A first this year were venison and wild boar cheese bombs, made from strips of meat wrapped around a chunk of mozzarella cheese then smoked or grilled. They get my vote as regulars every year.
Going by the number of tables and chairs they had set up, the guys figured upwards of 240 people attended this year’s meal and some of the delicacies were gone before everyone had a chance to try them. When I asked Don and John what else they wanted expressed in this story, they emphatically agreed a heartfelt thanks to all their wives was needed. So thanks girls for allowing your men to spend the time putting this feast together and for allowing them to spend the time harvesting all that meat from God’s Creation. Continue to Explore Kansas Outdoors!
Steve can be contacted by email at [email protected]