From Field to Freezer
Harvest more does! is the advice of many state game and fish agencies, including the Missouri Department of Conservation.
At public meetings, Conservation Department staff field questions about proposed deer hunting regulations and deer herd management. One subject discussed repeatedly is the harvest of more does.
Many people say they would like to take additional animals, but also said they cannot afford processing fees that typically range from $60 to $75 per deer. That wouldn’t be a limitation if people knew how to process their own deer.
For more than a decade, my family has processed all the deer we take—usually three to five deer a year. Through trial and error, we created a process that results in quality meat for the whole family. It takes a little time, but we look at it as a satisfying final chapter to our hunts.
The first step in processing and packaging deer is assembling the proper tools. You will need:
- Two sharp knives and a sharpener to touch them up during processing. I recommend a boning knife and a flexible 6- to 8-inch filet knife.
- A spacious work area and cutting board that have been disinfected with bleach. You also should disinfect your hands and the tools you use to avoid contaminating the meat.
- A compact or professional bone saw. If you plan to make burger, you’ll also need a meat grinder—either hand-cranked or electric.
Now, assuming you’ve field-dressed and skinned your deer and have it hanging by its head, you are ready to begin.
First, remove the legs at the knee joints with a bone saw. Then take a moment to study the deer and the individual muscle groups.
With the back of the deer facing you, locate the coveted “back straps.” These are about as thick as your wrist, and run on either side of the spine from just behind the front shoulders to just in front of the hips.
Using the boning knife, cut slowly on either side of the spine, “feeling” the bone with the knife as you go down the length of each strap. Next, cut on each side to liberate the straps from the ribs. At this point, you should be able to remove each one with a minimum of cutting.
Good tools make good meat
Companies that offer meat processing supplies include: LEM Products Inc., (877) 536-7763; The Sausage Maker, (716) 876-5521; Cabela’s, (800) 237-4444; and Bass Pro Shops, (800) Basspro.
Use the filet knife to remove the translucent blue membrane and fat from the meat. This will keep it from becoming tough and developing a strong taste. Cut across the grain of the meat to make 1/2- to 3/4-inch-thick medallions from each strap.
Move each front leg up and down to locate the point of attachment at the shoulder. Remove at this joint. Most of the shoulder meat can be sectioned off and used for burger, but remember to remove the blue membrane and fat. The rest of the leg meat can be pressure-cooked off the bone to be used as soup stock.
Remove the hams, using the bone saw to cut them apart and then separate them from the spine. De-bone the hams by cutting down to and along the bone with the filet knife, cutting the meat away until the bone can be removed.
You can then separate the muscle clusters into individual roasts, cut them across the grain into round steaks, or cut into 1-inch cubes to grind to burger.
Now look inside the body cavity to locate the “mini-straps.” These are just below the hips on either side of the spine. Remove them just as you did the back straps.
Use the bone saw to cut out the ribs, or use the filet knife to cut the meat from between each rib for the burger pile. You also can use the bone saw to remove the neck roast from just above the shoulders to just below the lower jaw.
The only thing left to do is look the carcass over for any good pieces of meat that can be salvaged for the burger pile. The burger meat should be cut into 1- to 1 1/2-inch cubes. This size cube should feed easily through the grinder.
No matter how you cut up your deer, remember to remove as much of the translucent blue membrane and fat as you can.
You can package meat in a number of ways to avoid freezer burn. The simplest way is to double-bag it in zipper-type freezer bags, removing as much air as possible from the bags before sealing. Another is to wrap the meat first in plastic wrap, then in butcher paper. We use a vacuum sealer that sucks the air from the plastic bag and heat seals the package.
If you take care of your meat and pride in your work, you will enjoy the satisfaction of providing lean, nutritious meat for your family—from field to freezer.
Share the Harvest
The Conservation Federation of Missouri and its partners will reimburse processors $35 to process a whole deer donated to the Share the Harvest venison donation program.
Hunters who donate an entire deer will complete a voucher provided by their processor. The hunter’s bill is automatically reduced by $35. At the end of the season, processors will send vouchers to the Conservation Federation office for reimbursement.
Additional funds, which may be available from local sources, can further reduce processing cost. Contact your local processor for more information.
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