This year, we decided to process our own game meat. We did it largely because the cost of game processing has gone up and after dealing with one hefty bill, we decided that we would butcher our own deer should we have the chance to get another one this hunting season.
Luck would have it that a rather large buck did wander into our sights and my husband took him with one shot. The shot destroyed the buck’s lungs and broke the spine, so by the time we got there, the buck was dead. So, I had to figure out how to process the deer after we got him home.
Field-Dressing and Skinning a Deer Yourself
We decided to field dress and skin the animal at home since we weren’t that far away. But by the time we got home, we needed to field dress the buck quickly and skin him. The reason is simple: you want to get as much heat out of the animal as possible so as not to ruin the meat. Every minute you leave that heat in there is a chance to spoil the meat.
The good news is that it was fairly cold and we quickly set to work with the field dressing. That requires gutting the animal and removing the organs. It requires you to cut the rib cage and the pelvis with a small saw and remove the organs. There are many good books that cover field dressing, so I won’t go into it here.
Getting the Meat Out and Quartering
Since I never butchered a deer beyond field dressing and taking the tenderloins out, I really wasn’t sure what to do. Oddly enough, I had picked up a book called Making the Most of Your Deer by Dennis Walrod many years ago and it had just the instructions, complete with pictures on how to butcher the meat. So, I took out the tenderloins, backstrap, and neck roasts before having my husband quarter the deer. Basically, we ended up wrapping up each leg separately and the torso before calling it a night and leaving the meat on the freezer in the frigid night.
I thought that I needed a bunch of really specialized knives to butcher, but what I found was that my hunting knife and my husband’s big survival knife worked extremely well. We wrapped the meat in plastic wrap and butcher paper as we went so that we wouldn’t get the cuts mixed up or have to wait to freeze them.
I cut up roasts, steaks, and even stew meat from each leg as we went. I had a bag for scraps that would eventually be made into ground meat. The shanks and not overly damaged shoulder meat went to the ground meat. Everything else became steaks or roasts. With me cutting and my husband wrapping, we made short order of the work.
I couldn’t help but notice that we were getting more meat than we would have if we had the butcher do it. As much as I like the butcher, I realize that around hunting season they are busy and probably throw out a lot more meat than I would.
The next day, I attached meat grinder attachment to my mixer. I remember my mom having an old electric meat grinder, but I had no idea what happened to it. I do, however, have her old mixer that had a meat grinder attachment. So, I attached it and started grinding meat.
My butcher uses 10 to 15 percent tallow to the meat so I decided to add 10 percent. I had bought about a pound of tallow from the butcher earlier and to my surprise, I ended up with about 9 pounds of ground venison when the scraps were run through the grinder. I weighed the meat out into one pound parcels and we put those in the freezer.
What to do the With a Deer Thorax
Today I pulled the thorax inside. It was frozen solid from being in the unheated garage. I started cutting into it while frozen and by the time I was done with getting all the meat I could, it was partially thawed. It’s much easy to cut through partially frozen meat than thawed meat.
Now I cut off any edible meat from the neck, between the ribs, under where the shoulders had been, along the spine, and along the sides. This meat went into a bag destined for the grinder. I figure we have 5 to 10 pounds of meat in that.
Deer Processing: Not as Hard as You Think
After having processed a buck, I’ve decided to butcher all my meat, whether it’s goat or deer. It really is that easy and very cost effective. It helps to have another person help you in terms of packing up the meat while you’re butchering, and it goes really quickly with the extra hand. Now that I’ve done it, I could kick myself for not doing it sooner. I feel that I show even more respect for the animal when I process the animal myself.
The result? We've had several dinners already and the meat is wonderful.
Maggie Bonham is a multiple award-winning author, editor, and publisher who is a canine and feline behavioral expert and science fiction/fantasy writer living in the wilds of Montana. She raises horses, Alaskan Malamutes, cats, chickens, geese, ducks, turkeys, a llama and 14 ornery and loveable goats. Maggie is the publisher of both Sky Warrior Books and Garnet Mountain Press, which publish science fiction, fantasy, mystery, and nonfiction. Visit Maggie's blog and website, find her on Facebook and Twitter, and read all of Maggie’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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