Improperly field-dressing a deer and warm weather can impact the quality of venison warns Dr. Walter Cottrell, Pennsylvania Game Commission wildlife veterinarian.
“The first step in making sure that the venison reaches the table in the best possible condition is, sighting in and practicing with your sporting arm,” Dr. Cottrell said. “Coupling that with knowledgeable shot placement ensures a clean kill and minimal damage to edible parts of the animal.
“After properly tagging their deer, hunters should wear latex or nitrile gloves to remove the entrails. Care should be taken to remove entrails without rupturing them, and hunters should drain excess blood remaining in the cavity. Do not wash out the deer with water or in a creek. Wipe down the cavity with a dry cloth or paper towels, being careful to remove all visible blood and hair.”
Once entrails are removed, the deer should be taken from the field and cooled down as soon as possible. The cool-down process begins when you field-dress the deer. To hasten the cool-down process, skin the deer and hang the carcass in the shade, refrigerate it or place a bag of ice in the body cavity. Never place a deer carcass – with or without the hide on it – in direct sunlight.
For those who process the deer themselves, the first step – after tagging and field-dressing the deer – is to remove the hide, which comes off easier if the front legs are cut off at the elbows, and the rear legs are removed just below the knee joint, with a saw. Use a knife to cut the hide from where each leg was sawed off at the elbow, back to the body trunk. Cutting the rear legs just below the joint also makes it easier to hang a carcass on a gambrel or meat hooks. Hang the carcass by the large tendons on the back legs.
Next, the hide is pulled from the carcass, starting at the rear end and working downward toward the head. Peel it from the hind quarters first, then cut the tailbone and pull it down to the shoulders. Work the hide over the shoulders and pull it away from the legs. Finally, pull the hide down the neck as close to the base of the skull as possible, and then cut the head from the carcass with a clean saw. Remove all of the trachea.
The remaining hide-free carcass should be wiped off immediately. If you use water to clean the cavity or carcass, dry the meat immediately. Wet or damp meat spoils more quickly and is more prone to cultivate and nurture bacteria. Rinsing meat with water also can hasten the spread of bacteria. Inspect the carcass again for any blood and hair. It’s also a good idea to remove large fatty deposits to improve the quality of your meat. It helps lessen that “game taste” some people dislike about venison. Please note, though, that fat is removed from the carcass with greater ease after it has cooled.
Following these steps will prepare your carcass for hanging in a meat processor’s refrigerator, or quartering and placing it in your refrigerator. If the air temperature is above 50 degrees, hunters should get their carcass refrigerated as soon as possible.
“The bacterial load of a deer harvested in warm weather will multiply quickly, so it’s important to dress the deer as soon as possible, transport it from the field and remove the hide, and refrigerate the carcass,” Dr. Cottrell said. “Cooling the carcass will help prevent bacterial growth.”
Hunters who are interested in becoming more self-sufficient also can de-bone the carcass. The cuts are relatively simple and can be made while the deer is hanging or from a plastic sheet-covered table. An inexpensive plastic fluorescent light cover which can be purchased at any home supply store can be used for a cutting board. Deboning offers the advantage of allowing the hunter the ability to view all sides of the cut so any fat, damaged meat and bloody areas can be trimmed out before freezing.
First, remove the shoulders with a filleting knife. This can be done without cutting a bone, by cutting behind the shoulder-blade. Next, remove the meat from the shoulder with a filleting knife.
Hindquarters can be removed from the carcass next by using a saw or by cutting from the underside with a knife. If you plan to have steaks or jerky made from them, don’t make any further cuts.
Inside the body cavity, against the backbone, are the tenderloins, considered the best cut of meat on a deer. Use your hand, and a knife when necessary, to pull them free. Outside the cavity, along the backbone, are the loin muscles or back-straps, which also are outstanding cuts. Again, using a filleting knife and your fingers, slide the blade along the spine to separate each back-strap and then finish each piece by cutting in along the top of the ribs and under the muscle to the first cut you’ve made.
The remainder of the carcass can be de-boned with a filleting knife. Try to trim fat from meat where you can and wipe off blood whenever it is encountered. De-boning can be done relatively quickly, but remember, every ounce of meat you remove increases your trimmings for sausage, bologna, meat sticks or other products. De-boned meat can be taken to a meat processor immediately, or frozen and taken later. Hindquarters may be frozen for processing later as jerky or dried venison. Steaks should be cut fresh. A link to a video on deboning in the field can be seen on our website (www.pgc.state.pa.us), by putting your cursor over “Wildlife” in the menu bar at the top of the homepage, then putting your cursor over “Wildlife Diseases” in the drop-down menu listing, and then clicking on “Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)” in the next drop-down menu listing. To view the video link, scroll down to “What Can Hunters Do,” and click on “Bone Out Your Meat!”
“It’s always a good idea to become self-sufficient as a hunter, because of the satisfaction you’ll derive from processing a deer all by yourself and the extra care and quality control you’ll provide,” noted Cal DuBrock, Pennsylvania Game Commission Bureau of Wildlife Management director. “It also broadens your hunting experience and makes you more conscious of where you need to place the crosshairs when you shoot.”
The Game Commission offers two free brochures on venison care and field-dressing deer. The first, “To Field Dress a Deer,” offers step-by-step instructions – with illustrations – on how to field-dress a deer. The second, “Venison Needn’t Be Pot Luck,” offers field-dressing instructions and cooking tips.
To assist hunters in getting the most of their wild game harvests, the Game Commission offers a two-disk series, produced by Jerry Chiappetta and featuring Certified Master Chef Milos Cihelka. These DVDs – “Wild Game Field Care and Cooking” and “Upland Game Birds, Small Game & Waterfowl” – show step-by-step the best care for game animals from the field to the table. The videos are available from the Game Commission’s website (www.pgc.state.pa.us). Put your cursor over “General Store,” then click on “Visit the Outdoor Shop,” choose “Pennsylvania Game Commission Outdoor Shop” in the lower left-hand corner, select “Merchandise,” then choose “Videos” and then scroll down to the DVD video you are interested in and complete the order form. Both DVDs sells for $18.87 (plus tax and shipping and handling).
Finally, for recipes that will make venison tastier, consider buying the Game Commission’s “Pennsylvania Game Cookbook” for $4.71 plus tax and a $1.25 for shipping and handling. The book and aforementioned free brochures are available by writing: Pennsylvania Game Commission, Dept. MS, 2001 Elmerton Ave., Harrisburg, PA 17110-9797.
Jerry Feaser (717) 705-6541 or PGCNews@state.pa.us