Once you got him, know what you can do to process the best-quality meat possible. Cooling, cleaning, venting, trimming, and de-boning are all key.
Larry Mandell has been a professional meat cutter for 24 years. He has also butchered thousands of whitetails for area hunters and for local venison donation programs. He knows why his own venison always tastes good—real good, in fact—while the venison from other hunters can sometimes taste a bit gamey.
Cool The Meat ASAP
“The secret to good-tasting venison,” says Mandell, “is to first cool it down as fast as possible. A deer starts to cook from the inside out as soon as it dies, turning the meat green and giving it a skunk-like smell in short order.”
Clean The Animal Well
“Secondly, you must keep in mind that the better you clean the animal, the better the quality of meat you will have,” Mandell adds. “The biggest problem hunters make in this regard is that they don’t always complete the field dressing chores. For example, it is not all that uncommon for us to find the esophagus, heart, or lungs still in the chest cavity. On occasion we might even find that the hunter failed to remove the rectum, leaving us with that and a full bladder to contend with. If the deer was shot in the intestines or the liver, there might also be food particles, blood, hair, bone fragments, or other body parts in the body cavity, all of which can eventually transmit a bad or gamey taste to the meat.”
“I suggest you gut the animal as soon as possible, and after removing the entrails roll the carcass over so you can drain as much blood from the body as you can. Then take a rag and clean out the body cavity of excess blood, body fluids, partially digested food particles, urine, feces, broken bones, dirt, etc. Do not use creek water to wash the meat as it may be infected with various forms of bacteria. Keep in mind that the stomach contents of a gut shot deer will definitely taint the meat, especially if you shot the deer on a warm evening and didn’t recover it until the next day.”
You might also want to saw or chop through the pelvis to help cool the rear quarters. If you have no cutting tools, stand on the deer’s rear legs, grab the tail, and yank up forcefully. In most cases this should crack the pelvis.”
Open The Body Cavity To Vent More Heat
“Now you can prop open the body cavity with a stick,” says Mandell, “and hang the deer up to get it off the ground. If it is not a trophy buck, split the breast bone to the base of the neck to help get the heat out. Keep in mind that the neck holds lots of heat and is home to several strains of bacteria used for digestion.
“Then hang it in the shade. It makes little difference if you hang it by the neck or back legs, although most hunters seem to prefer to hang their bucks by the hind legs because it is easier for them to skin it from this position. Do not however skin your buck until you are actually ready to cut it up, otherwise the meat will dry out, get tough, and actually blacken. Once the carcass has cooled, the hide will actually help keep it cool, especially after a heavy frost. It will also continue to protect the meat from dirt, debris, and insects.”
DIY Butchers: Trim The Fat
“If you can’t get the carcass to a processor in a day or two,” advises Mandell, “trim as much fat from the carcass a possible. Then bone out the larger portions such as the front shoulders, back straps, and rear quarters. I prefer a sharp knife with a narrow 6-inch curved blade for boning, and an 8-inch curved blade for cutting steaks and slicing stew meat. Wrap the meat and place it in a cooler on ice to chill it down as fast as possible. Do not wrap the meat in plastic as it holds in heat and moisture. Freezer paper or aluminum foil is a good choice. If there is no ice or cooler available and you are still in the field, wait until the carcass cools before you wrap it in cheese cloth, and then bring in to a butcher ASAP.
Add Beef Fat, Remove All Bones
“Finally,” Mandell offers, “do-it-yourself butchers should remove as much fat from the carcass as possible to eliminate any gamey taste. Add beef suet to your ground venison, and you will have more taste. Bones can also give your venison a bad taste. I opt to bone out all meat, including the back straps. Sometimes bacteria forms on the inside of the body cavity, giving it a slimy appearance, especially if the animal was gut shot. The presence of bone in the meat can thus give your chops a gamey taste.”