Arby’s Did It; Is McBambi Next?

No, this isn’t an announcement the number one fast food chain is going to start featuring venison sandwiches at their drive through windows. But it could happen.

Big Mac isn’t immune to copycat marketing. McNuggets were the answer to the fast-rising popularity of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Micky-D certainly wasn’t the first to serve frozen custard, breakfast sandwiches, burritos, wraps and others. When other chains started cutting into their Mc-business, they added to their menu.

MacDonald’s won’t be the first fast food franchise business to sell venison sandwiches. Arby’s is. Only time will tell if McBambi will join the menu at Micky-D’s.

Arby’s test marketed deer meat sandwiches last year in 17 restaurants located in key deer hunting states. The sandwiches were a big hit. The promo was scheduled to last a couple weeks.

All 17 locations ran through and sold out of their new sandwich offering last year, often in a few hours on the day it was introduced.

This fall, the venison sandwich will be available at all 3400 Arby’s locations for a limited time. By the time you read this, your local Arby’s may or may not have them. It’s expected they will sell out in a few days or perhaps a week or so. When they are gone, they are gone for good.

Actually, they are probably gone only so long as it takes to gear up production to get more venison in the pipeline.

Arby’s is capitalizing on their success by adding another type of venison to their menu in a scant few locations this season. Instead of venison from deer, customers in a few “elk hunting” states (Colorado, Wyoming and Montana) can head for Arby’s and purchase an elk steak sandwich. No doubt these will prove to be popular as well. So much for the protestations by animal welfare fanatics claiming it’s not nice to eat Bambi – or his big cousin, the elk.

I view this as both good and bad. I already eat a lot of venison from deer and I’ve had elk meat often enough I’ll skip paying seven bucks for one of their special sandwiches. I don’t begrudge someone else having the opportunity.

Thankfully, it’s illegal to sell venison from wild-harvested elk and deer in the United States. The USDA has squadrons of meat inspectors in place at every commercial slaughter house to watch America’s meat supply go from live steer to sirloin steak. I know the pork chop I had for dinner last night was handled appropriately from the pig farm to my plate. I know how the venison I harvest myself is handled. I wouldn’t know how the Arby-elk was handled if it was supplied by a market hunter.

The venison at Arby’s isn’t from wild animals at all. It’s imported from commercial deer and elk farms in New Zealand. New Zealand has no native deer, though introductions in colonial days have resulted in wild populations of both elk and red deer from Eurasia. Evidently, there are large commercial deer and elk farms in New Zealand.

There are commercial deer and elk farms in some states in the U.S. as well; but none sizable enough to supply a large chain of restaurants. Actually, if there was a deer farm of that magnitude, it would probably be less troublesome than the one’s now existing.

Most American deer farms are small (by commercial livestock operations standards) and they aren’t in the “meat” business. They mostly sell deer to stock at “deer-shooting” properties where people pay to come shoot the deer in confined areas. Until disease outbreaks in wild deer populations started occurring regularly around deer farms and pay-to-shoot properties, I was ambivalent.

Chronic wasting disease is similar to mad-cow disease in cattle. It’s always fatal to deer or elk infected and easily spread to other deer. Bovine tuberculosis is another disease easily spread in wild populations and can infect dairy and beef cattle herds. Both diseases are now endemic in some states and every outbreak of these diseases can be traced to deer and elk farms.

My worry is if the Arby’s experiment is successful enough to attract the attention of McDonald’s or other chains, domestic venison farms are likely to spring up to fill the increased commercial demand for deer or elk meat. The herd-health record for these type of facilities are suspect, at best. It would be like unleashing a plague on wild deer and elk populations at worst.

Mike Schoonveld
Mike Schoonveld grew up hunting and fishing in rural Northwest Indiana. In 1986 he piggy-backed a career as an outdoor writer onto his already long tenure as a wildlife biologist with the Indiana DNR. Now retired from his DNR position, Schoonveld is a U.S. Coast Guard licensed boat captain, operates Brother Nature Charters on Lake Michigan and spends much of his time trailering his boat to fishing hotspots around Indiana and the Midwest. Mike can be reached through his website or visit Mike's Outdoor World Blog at


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