Deer Down — Tips for Processing Your Own Game Meat

By Ace Luciano published on in Hunting

So, you have hunted hard all season. You spent the summer cutting shooting lanes and putting up stands. You cemented relationships with property owners that give you permission to hunt. You worked hard all season, and things finally came together. You shot a deer. The adrenaline has risen and subsided, and you stand over your trophy. Now what?

Dead whitetail deer with a compound bow.

After the shot, the work begins. You can butcher your own meat, or take it to a professional.

Like most things in life, the answer is seldom limited to one choice. If you’re deer is worthy of putting on the wall, you will need to take photos, field dress the animal, and remove the hide and head for delivery to your taxidermist of choice. Maybe it’s a shooter buck for you— or for the area—but you’re not going to mount it, or perhaps a doe that you took to have meat in the freezer.

Now your work begins. For now, we will skip over the process of field dressing and simply mention that it includes the removal of the entrails and all internal organs of the animal promptly as well as the tenderloins located in the rear of the abdominal cavity against the spine.

So Now What?

Now you have a choice as to whether to take the deer to a local processor or home and process it yourself. I have done and advocate both. I enjoy processing my own meat, but time, commitments and most importantly weather often dictate otherwise. Regardless of what you choose you should immediately cool the animal, preferably to a temperature below 40° but above freezing.

If you choose to take your deer to a processor, they will have several questions including how you would like the meat processed—steaks, roasts, burger, jerky or a combination. Would you like stew meat? Ground venison? If you choose ground, would you like pork fat added to the meat to make it stay together and taste better? Would you like any specialty meat products made? These are things such as sausage, jerky or snack sticks. The more and more extensively you process the deer (make ground meat, sausage, jerky, add fat), the more it will cost. In my area, you can have your deer cut up and packaged (boneless) for less than $75. I have had bills at the same processor that were more than twice that.

Butchering table with open "how-to" book

Butchering is not hard. Best of all, if you do a less than perfect job, you’re the only one who will know!

I often choose to process my deer myself if I have the time. One of the benefits to this is that I know exactly where the meat comes from, how it was handled and processed; what was kept and what was trimmed. Blood in meat is not awful, but it does alter the taste and makes better stew than steak. There are no surprises when you process your own deer. Some meat processors will use a formula to figure out a percentage of weight, and then give you ground meat and processed meats from a common pool. I prefer not to do that, but that is my choice.

Make sure that you have an area set aside with proper tools such as a cutting board and sharp knives. Understand that this is your meat, so if it’s not perfect that will be okay. The more you do this, the better you will become at butchering your own meat. Add in some good pictures and instructions from a book, DVD or the Internet, and you will find it is really not that difficult. Decide ahead of time where the proper cuts are going to come from, and whether or not you will cut them as roasts or steaks.

You don’t need to worry about how you label the meat, as long as you know what it is as you will be the one consuming it. We have a great deal of venison that we cut labeled as “leg steaks” or “shoulder roast.” I have gotten to the point where once I have a deer skinned and quartered, it takes me about two hours to have the meat cut, packaged and in the freezer. That’s not bad, but I once watched a professional butcher do an entire deer, un-quartered, in less than 30 minutes.

Processing your own meat definitely has its rewards. What do you choose to do with your venison? Let us know in the comments below.

SLRule

Ace Luciano is first a seasoned hunter, an accomplished angler and experienced outdoorsman. He is also a published outdoor author, seminar speaker, consultant and entrepreneur. Ace is involved in numerous conservation and youth-oriented projects. He spends much of his time pursuing his passion of introducing youths to the outdoors through the United Sportsman’s Youth Foundation. Over the years, Ace has traveled the globe in pursuit of both game and fish, from North America to Africa, from Europe to Australia. Ace’s highly successful booking agency, World Game Hunts, Ltd., specializes in affordable, unbelievable hunting and fishing trips. You can contact or learn more about Ace at www.AceLuciano.com.

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Comments (4)

  • Bill from Boomhower, Texas

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    I really miss having the meat nowadays, but for years my wife and I always did our own. Having an old round top Kelvanator without the shelves on the front porch, with large metal dish pans always made it better. A nice big high island on casters in the kitchen made it go better too. (Kelvanator or Crosley works well for watermelons in off-season) I never cared for sausage, so my wife would use too small pieces for steaks as ground or chopped basis for meatloaf, stews, etc. She’d make “deer helper” like hamburger helper, that sort of thing. I always loved the flavor of it when she’d do it like chicken fried steak. She says she’d always soak it in milk, and she’d always put a big spoon of bacon grease in the oil, when she’d fry it. I skinned, butchered, and packed four in one day, and that was more than I cared to ever try again, but I whole heartedly condone everyone out there doing your own, if you’ve not tried it. No matter what you hear, or even read here, it’s not rocket science, and you’ll be glad you did, on down the road. That aspect of the hunt will become easy, what’s hard is stretching the meat until you can get another one!

    Reply

  • Garry Laing

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    Thank You D.B. for your mention and agreement with me. When you mentioned hanging, it reminded me that I forgot to also say that we always hang our deer high up in our big machine shed so they are not exposed to any direct sunlight which would warm the meat especially on days that it warms way up. The shed doors are left open to allow for air circulation and help keep it cool.

    Reply

  • Denny Bonwell

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    I agree with Garry on everything he said. We have done our own deer for years and eat three deer a year. In my state hanging a deer is not easy, the thing I do is get the deer quartered and in a large chest tipe cooler with room for lots of ice and let the quarters stay in that for 3 or 4 days with the drain plug out so as the ice melts down through meat it drains out, dont let the meat lay in the water. When we work the meat it is very cool and ready to cut.

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  • Garry Laing

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    Of course everybody dose things different but I just wanted to add to the discussion about the importance of proper handling of your deer like getting the entrails out and it cooling down asap. Also we have always made it a habit to cut the musk glands off of the inside of the hind legs of both bucks and does because if the weather temp cooperates we always hang our carcasses with the skin on, head off, hind quarters up to age the meat. The older and larger the animal the longer we will age it. Such as an older buck that was in the rut and smells strong we might let hang two weeks as long as the daytime temps stay in the fifties or so and the night temps down colder say lower forties and below. We also use the garden hose and rinse out the carcass well, flushing the area where the bullet passed thru to flush out blood, hair and so-forth. We always make sure to split open the pelvis with an ax or big heavy knife with a rubber mallet or hammer to baton it thru to enable the complete removal of the anus and intestine. Also make sure the neck cavity around the wind pipe is split all the way to where the head is removed so to make sure all of the wind pipe is removed. We live where we hunt so we always bring our deer to the house within minutes of them hitting the ground to begin this process. After they have hung long enough for what ever their size, age and sex requires to let the meat drain any blood left and body fluids then we skin, quarter and d-bone all the meat and put it in five gallon food grade buckets, cover with water, place in an old refrigerator and start the soaking process. We flush or change the water on the meat daily until the water stays reasonably clear, taking sometimes maybe up to a couple of weeks. At that time our meat is ready for the final cutting up, separating the meat to be ground and packaging the steak and roast meat. We always lay our meat pieces to be ground out on baking sheets and put in the freezer to firm it up so it passes thru the grinder easily. We have processed our own meat for around 30 years and have always enjoyed the flavor of it. We add nothing to our burger and use it as you would very lean ground beef. We raised our three children on venison and feed it to people without telling them it was venison that said they did not like deer only to have them say it was really good. Finally I’d like to add that the second deer I took early in my hunting carrier, a large doe, we payed to have processed professionally only to receive meat that was so strong and livery tasting that it was barely edible. We processed our own from then on.

    Reply

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