Maui Nui humanely harvests Axis deer, a threat to Hawaii’s native species, and transforms them into venison.

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In the 1860s, eight chestnut brown, white-speckled axis deer were introduced to the Hawaiian island of Moloka‘i as a gift to King Kamehameha V. One of the few species of deer that can breed year-round, they quickly multiplied, feasting on grasses and native Hawaiian plants. Hawai‘i has no native mammals and the axis deer encountered no predators. A century later, some deer were moved to Maui, where they wreaked havoc.

Think of them as an unchecked army of Pac-Men in the tens of thousands, wantonly munching everything from tender lettuces planted by upcountry Maui farmers to endangered plants that are found nowhere else than this most isolated land mass on earth–many of which are both homes to endangered insects and birds and that prevent soil erosion.

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Luckily, Jake and Ku‘ulani Muise of Maui Nui Venison are at the forefront of keeping this ecological disaster at bay. Axis deer happens to be delicious, and their business grinds the meat into hamburgers, slices it into medallions that need just a quick sear in butter and a sprinkle of Hawaiian sea salt, and shapes it into hot dogs for nationwide shipping.

“If we hadn’t started this seven years ago, there would be 60,000 more deer on Maui,” says Jake. “They can eat anything, past when we get into drought conditions. At their current density, there are so many of them and they’re eating so much, and eating grasses down to the root, which cows can’t do. But there’s nothing more damaging than how axis deer change the dynamics of our watershed–imagine losing miles and miles of reef.”

The arithmetic of Maui Nui Venison is staggering when you consider how small their team is and how much they have grown in 2022 alone. “We carried over 500,000 pounds of axis deer on our backs this year,” Jake tells me. That’s 9,526 deer transformed into 450,000 pounds of nutrient-dense food. Last year, their team grew from seven to 42 members, many of them tasked with humanely pursuing the white-tailed deer in darkness using infrared technology in the company of a USDA representative, a unique and innovative partnership that allows them to serve hunted game for public consumption. Their technology counts individual deer, which has also helped develop some of the most accurate mammal surveys in the world.

Maui Nui Venison functions at every level of maximizing any possible benefits of harvesting the axis deer and combating food insecurity. (The company donates meals and works with private schools converting their cafeterias to serving 100% food from Hawai‘i.)

“Our goal is to grow smaller. I think most other businesses want to get bigger. In balancing populations over the next two years, we want to get smaller, manage the deer and move it into a space where it is a value to the food system,” says Jake. Ku‘ulani adds, “If you are the solution, you want to be needed less and less.” (To order, visit

Meet the 2023 Food & Wine Game Changers

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This story was originally published on June 5, 2023.

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2023-06-05T12:47:31Z dg43tfdfdgfd