Taking Care of Your Deer After Harvest

February 20, 2009 by  

By Doug Leier

North Dakota’s recent bounty of white-tailed deer means that more hunters in more places have had a chance to put a deer or two or three in the freezer.

That’s quite a change from a few short decades ago when deer weren’t nearly as plentiful and many hunters made doe licenses their first choice in the annual deer lottery to give them better odds of having just one deer to dine on through the winter, perhaps even split among several people.

I learned in a recent discussion that back in the day when sharing one deer for a group of three or four wasn’t all that uncommon, mixing pork in with deer meat to make sausage became a standard for making the venison go further, so to speak. It wasn’t simply just a means to add some fat to this lean meat.

You read that correct, and it makes sense.

I think there’s another reason that some deer hunters make sausage and that’s to enhance the venison flavor by adding not only pork, but spices as well.

I appreciate the versatility of venison, as I’ve eaten the usual steaks, roasts, jerky and sausage — some good and some not so good. When it comes to the not-so-good, it’s seldom that we can blame the deer.

“If you start off in the field with poorly cared for meat, there’s no seasoning, searing or masking that can make it taste better,” says Lynn Schlueter, an experience wild game chef who is also a Game and Fish Department fisheries biologist. “Most of the worst tasting wild game is because it wasn’t kept clean and cool in the field.”

Schlueter offers several tips that most of us have read before, but bear repeating as we head into deer season.

1.Take your time when field dressing an animal so you don’t contaminate any meat with the inner contents of the deer.

2.The carcass must be cooled as soon as possible. If the outside temperature is warm, elevate the animal above ground to facilitate air circulation around the entire body. This can be accomplished by hanging the animal in a cool, shady place.

3.If the carcass must be drug out of the field, keep dirt, grass and other possible contaminates out of the open body cavity.

4.When it comes to aging of venison, this is best carried out only when you can hang the carcass where the temperature is consistently maintained around 35 to 38 degrees Fahrenheit for several days. If you are going to make sausage or just grind your venison into burger, there is no reason to age it. It will be better if it is fresh.

5.Unless cooking the meat fresh, it should be quickly frozen after butchering. Meal-sized quantities of meat should be placed into plastic bags. Most of the air should be removed from the plastic bags before sealing. When the meat will be stored in the freezer for more than a few days, the plastic bags should be wrapped in freezer paper; the freezer paper should be sealed with tape; and the packages should be labeled appropriately.

6.Meat prepared and stored in this manner can maintain good quality for more than a year. Vacuum-sealed bags probably improve the storage process, and vacuum-sealed bags may not require a second layer of freezer paper.

Sportsmen Against Hunger Program

While 40 years ago hunters made sausage to make a deer last longer, today it’s common for some hunters to get more than one deer each. In the past few years many of these hunters have donated a deer to the Sportsmen Against Hunger program, which gets the meat to food pantries.

Because of the discovery of lead particles in venison donated by gun hunters last fall, SAH is limiting its donations to bow-killed deer only for this year. As such, the program is in great need of bow hunters who are willing to donate a deer. For more information, check out the link on the Game and Fish Department’s website at gf.nd.gov.


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