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Art Lander’s Outdoors: Proper care of harvested deer in the field means high-quality venison on the table


Editor’s note: This is the first article in a three-part series on venison, beginning with field dressing, butchering a deer carcass and wrapping cuts of meat.

Tomorrow is opening day of Kentucky’s gun season for deer, the main event on the fall hunting calendar.

During the 16 days of the statewide season tens of thousands of hunters will harvest a deer. November is the month when most Kentucky deer hunters “put up” their winter’s supply of venison. Last season, 101,754 deer were taken during November, with a vast majority by gun hunters.

Hunting is the fun part, the work begins when you recover your deer — field dressing, butchering the carcass, and wrapping the cuts of meat for the freezer.

Proper care of a deer in the field will ensure good-tasting venison.

Field Dressing

Field dress your harvested deer immediately. Remove all the internal organs, being careful not to cut into the intestines or bladder.

Rinse out the body cavity as soon as possible.

Gambrel with hoist (Photo from Sportsman’s Guide)

Deer hunters who are camping, or are driving home with their harvested deer after hunting, should take along several gallons of clean water for this purpose. Hunters who are able to bring their deer back to the house within a short time of it being field-dressed should hang up their deer, using a gambrel. Cut slots in the hock of the back legs, and insert the hooks on the ends of the gambrel, then hoist up the deer.

Some hunters prefer to hang a buck head first, by tying a rope around the base of the antlers. This helps to drain blood and other fluids from the deer’s head if planning on having a taxidermy mount.

Rinse out the body cavity thoroughly with a high-pressure nozzle on a garden hose.

It’s okay to hang a deer overnight with the skin on if the air temperature is below 50 degrees. If the temperature overnight will rise above 50 degrees, the deer must be skinned and refrigerated or cut up and placed in large coolers. Put the cuts of meat in plastic trash bags and cover with ice.

Butchering and Wrapping Venison for the Freezer

If you take your deer to a commercial processor be prepared to pay at least $75 to have the deer cut up and wrapped. Skinning is extra, usually $20 or more.

Butchering a deer carcass is not difficult and there are lots of books and videos to show you how to do it.

The best advice is to de-bone all cuts of venison, remove all the fat, and connective tissue (silver skin). Never saw through bones because it spreads marrow across the surface of the meat, which gives venison a gamey taste.

Ground Venison (Photo by Art Lander Jr.)

The best cut of meat on a deer is the tenderloins, strips of tender muscles inside the chest cavity, attached to the bottom of the spine.

The second best cut is arguably the backstrap, long, round strips of meat along both sides of the backbone, just above the ribs.

The deer’s hams, its back legs, are meaty, but tougher. The hams are typically cut into roasts and tip steaks, ground into burger or cut into chunks for soup or stew.

Here’s a tip for better burger.

Chunks of venison that are going to be ground up should be lightly salted, covered in water, and refrigerated overnight. The light salting draws out any residual blood from the meat. Wrap the ground venison in one-pound packages.

The shoulders, if not too badly damaged, are typically kept whole for the BBQ grill.

When freezing cuts of venison, first wrap in clear plastic wrap, then freezer paper, securing the wrap with paper tape.

This double wrapping will prevent the meat from being exposed to air so it can be kept in the freezer longer. Write the cut of meat on the package and the date it was processed with a felt tip pen.

Venison as Table Fare

As table fare, venison is unmatched.

(Photo from KDFWR)

It’s the original local, free-range red meat, with fewer calories than beef or pork, and less cholesterol than chicken.

The USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory reports that a serving of three ounces of venison has 133 calories and only about seven grams of fat. This includes more than four grams of monounsaturated fats, which can help lower bad cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke if eaten in moderation, according to the American Heart Association.

Venison is a good source of protein, too, as well as vitamins B12, B6, B3, and B2, and trace minerals – phosphorous, selenium, zinc, and iron.

Deer in the wild are also free of the growth hormones and antibiotics that some commercial beef cattle typically receive when they are fed corn and other grains while being “finished” in feedlots.

With some attention to details, you’ll have great-tasting venison for holiday meals and summer cookouts. Everyone will be lining up for seconds.

Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for the Northern Kentucky Tribune. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.

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