Maui Nui Deer Turn Invasive Hawaiian Axis Deer Into Dinner

In the 1860s, eight chestnut-brown axis deer with white speckles 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 multiplied rapidly and feasted on native Hawaiian grasses and plants. Hawai’i has no native mammals and the axis deer found no predators. A century later, some deer were moved to Maui, where they wreaked havoc.

Think of them as a rampaging Pac-Men army of tens of thousands, rampantly eating everything from tender lettuce grown by Inland Maui farmers to endangered plants found on this most isolated land mass in the world, many of which are both homes for endangered insects and birds and prevent soil erosion.

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Fortunately, Jake and Ku’ulani Muise of Maui Nui Venison are at the forefront of keeping this ecological disaster at bay. The axis venison turns out to be delicious, and his business grinds the meat into burgers, cuts it into medallions that just need a quick browning in butter and a sprinkling of Hawaiian sea salt, and shapes it into hot dogs for shipment nationwide. .

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

Maui Nui Venison’s arithmetic is staggering when you consider how small their team is and how much they’ve 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 feed. In the past year, his team has grown from seven to 42 members, many tasked with humanely pursuing whitetail deer in the dark using infrared technology in the company of a USDA representative, a unique and innovative partnership that allows them to serve the hunt for public consumption. His technology counts individual deer, which has also helped develop some of the most accurate mammal surveys in the world.

Maui Nui Venison works on all levels to maximize the potential benefits of capturing axis deer and combat food insecurity. (The company donates meals and works with private schools to convert their cafeterias to serve 100% Hawaiian food.)

“Our goal is to make ourselves smaller. I think most other companies want to grow. By balancing the populations over the next two years, we want to reduce the size, control the deer and move them to a space where they are 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

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