AS THE deer seasons come to a close with the end of the late archery season some 10 days from now, there might be no better time to start dining on those select steaks and roasts that were held back from the cuttings that will go into sausage, jerky, hot dogs, hamburger and whatever else your smokehouse makes.

We don’t have all of the antlerless tags of yesteryear but there’s still plenty of opportunity to put venison in the freezer, as many hunters utilize multiple weapons and seasons and sometimes trek to farm country where multiple authorizations are available for those corn-fed does.

Our deer numbers aren’t what they used to be for a lot of reasons, from severe winters to overpopulations of wolves and other predators and declining habitat due to a lack of logging in the national forest.

While there are some sport-only hunters and some who would get thrown out of the house if they brought home venison intending for their wives to cook it, for most, enjoying the fruits of Wisconsin’s wild outdoors is part of the state’s deer hunting heritage.

I’ve always considered winter to be the ideal time for eating from that venison stockpile. The combination of short days and lower outdoor activity, at least for the scribbler, gives me more time to cook and eat regular meals.

Gone are the whirlwind evenings and lost suppers because of May/June walleye fishing, summer crappies and an entire fall season of evenings spent chasing deer, grouse and pheasants.

I shot a deer in farm country and several in the northern forest, so we are fortunate enough to have a decent amount of venison during a period when beef prices are going through the ceiling.

In that freezer are some packages of quality cuts marked for hamburger, which we will grind ourselves. Sometimes that happens when the boys from deer camp reassemble for a night of socializing, sort of a fitting celebration of the harvest.

We will combine lean venison with marbled beef chuck roast to create a batch of some of the leanest, tastiest burgers known to mankind, or so we believe. We know others who add pork or even bacon to their burger meat.

It’s different strokes for different folks, but my best experiences with venison are with the cuts that don’t sit for more than six months in the freezer. Old venison smells bad enough to keep anyone away, which could explain why some people say the venison they’ve tried was “gamey.”

Most hunters know the best part of a deer is the tender back straps. Cut them into steaks and float them in a sea of butter and onions. And if you keep them whole, they are great on the grill, seasoned and wrapped in bacon for the roasting rack with a drip pan underneath.

Some 30 to 35 minutes with the grill around 350 degrees will crisp up the outer bacon and produce some medium-cooked loin roasts. They are so tender, tasty and juicy you won’t believe it. Any roast from the hindquarters can be cooked the same way.

One of my favorite dishes, always an enormous hit at the Wild Game Feed staged every June by the Three Lakes Fish & Wildlife Improvement Association, is venison stroganoff using the popular recipe of singer and “spirit of the wild” television host and avid hunter Ted Negent.

The ingredients for serving four people: 2 lbs of venison steak, trimmed and cut into thin strips or slices; 3 tbsp of butter (or more); 8 oz fresh mushrooms, sliced; 1/3 cup cooking sherry, 1/3 cup water, 1 envelope of Lipton onion soup mix; dash of garlic salt; dash of curry powder; 1 beef bouillon cube; 1 cup sour cream.

Directions: Add butter to a large skillet and brown the venison and mushrooms quickly. Stir in sherry and water. Add the onion soup mix, garlic salt, curry powder and bouillon cube. Mix well, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes or longer. Add liquid every 15 minutes if necessary. Just before serving add sour cream, heat through and serve. Serve over rice or egg noodles.

Another of my favorites is venison meatloaf and I always do a large batch because leftover meatloaf is fantastic and can be eaten in many ways — cold, fried for a sandwich or microwaved. As is the case with lasagna, stew and many soups, it’s actually better the second day after all the flavors meld in the refrigerator.

Here’s a meatloaf recipe from Edie Franson’s book, “365 Wild Game Recipes,” which was published in 2001 by Krause Publications of Iola.

Country Venison Meat Loaf

2 pounds ground venison

3 white or whole-wheat bread slices

2 tablespoons salad oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 rib celery, finely chopped

1 medium carrot, finely shredded

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon coarse-ground black pepper

1 egg

1 can (8-ounce) tomato sauce

1 tablespoon light brown sugar

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

1 tablespoon prepared mustard

Process bread slices into crumbs in a food chopper or blender. In a small skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and celery; cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. In a large bowl, combine onion, celery and bread crumbs. Add in ground venison, carrot, salt, pepper, egg and half can of tomato sauce. Stir thoroughly to mix.

In an 8- by 12-inch baking dish or 3-quart casserole, shape meat mixture into a loaf. In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, vinegar, mustard and remaining tomato sauce. Spoon sauce over meat loaf. Bake in a 350-degree oven 1 1/2 hours or until middle of loaf is no longer pink.

Just like the fish you catch to eat, the venison is best when it is fresh. Don’t let the bulk of your uncooked venison sit in the freezer all winter, because it won’t taste as good next summer.

Deer hunting and meals of venison are among the oldest of Wisconsin’s great outdoor traditions. And it’s a special moment when hunting’s bounty provides the family meal.