By Thanksgiving, hundreds—nay, thousands—of Montana freezers will be well stocked with venison. Last year alone, resident and nonresident hunters harvested more than 10,500 whitetail and mule deer in the state. That may be enough to keep families and friends happily munching on backstrap for months, but to supply the nation's Arby's takes so much more.
Saturday, Oct. 21, marks not only the start of Montana's general rifle season, but the return of an utterly bizarre marketing ploy: the Arby's Venison Sandwich, which debuted at select locations in five states last fall. Now, after what Arby's claims was "an outpouring of requests from hunters and meat lovers across the country," the sandwich will be available for one day only at every Arby's restaurant in America. In other words, Montanans can finally look forward to hitting the drive-thru for a deer burger after a long day stalking deer. It's a redundancy so sweet it comes with juniper berry sauce.
If you're looking for a feel-good, eat-local twist on this story, though, your aim is way off. Due to a century-old law known as the Lacey Act, it's illegal for hunters to sell wild game to friends, let alone to the second-largest fast-food sandwich chain in the country. Commercial game farms do exist in some states, but the industry is small, and Montana outlawed new game farms by ballot initiative in 2000. So, with more than 3,300 restaurants to supply, Arby's turned to the land of hobbits and hedgehogs. That's right—the venison in those sandwiches comes from New Zealand. Same goes for the sourcing of Arby's elk sandwiches, available Oct. 21 in just three locations: Billings, Casper, Wyo. and Thornton, Colo.
It's too bad. Arby's supply problem could well have been Missoula's salvation. We've been interviewing candidates for our upcoming endorsements issue, and we've been hearing a lot about Missoula's urban deer problem. Last week one of the crazed ungulates dove headlong through a minivan window in the Rattlesnake, scaring the daylights out of the driver, who bailed out of the vehicle before getting back in to put the transmission in park. The deer finally exited the vehicle after it rolled over a mailbox. No one, obviously, has any way of knowing what the deer thought it was doing. But come Saturday, at least, there'll be a clearly better way to get some venison on the run.