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? 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.
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.