Courtesy of Arby's

With deer meat on the menu nationwide, Arby's is going to great lengths to source its game.

Charlie Heller
October 30, 2017

The Arby's venison sandwich is here, which means for the first time, a major fast food chain is serving deer meat across the U.S. The limited time offer rolled out just over a week ago, expanding on a previous, five-store initiative to put the venison sandwiches on the menu at every Arby's across the country. The venison item is part of Arby's "It's Meat Season" campaign, which celebrates the start of hunting season.

But compared to more standard meats like beef and pork, there's no giant infrastructure to supply an American chain with the game animal. So is Arby's dispatching thousands of hunters across the country to bring in the venison needed to fill over 3,300 restaurants? Not quite.

If you've conjured up an image of Arby's hat-wearing outdoors types hauling deer back to their nearest Arby's, let it go now. First of all, to kill that many deer would be illegal in the U.S., meaning, as Arby's President Rob Lynch says, "you can't procure venison in the United States at scale to commercialize." Instead, Arby's is bringing in venison from game farms all the way over in New Zealand.

"It's free-range, grass-fed, red-tailed deer," says Lynch, according to NPR, "the highest quality venison you can get anywhere in the world." Though that hasn't stopped the Montana Wildlife Federation from sending Arby's a letter asking the company not to sell its new venison sandwiches (as well as the elk steak sandwiches it's also offering at some locations, which are New Zealand-sourced as well).

Harkening back to how unregulated hunting drove game animals like bison and elk to near-extinction in the 19th century, the conservation organization objected to the expansion of game farming, which is illegal in Montana. While the saga of fast food venison is just beginning, Arby's says that many locations sold out of the sandwiches on the first day they were available. And whether Americans want game to become a permanent fast food fixture or not, this test run proves just how far some chains are willing to go to get it.