Butcher A Deer Yourself or Get It Processed?

The scene is the same across the country. After opening day of gun season, garages, dining room tables and even barns are converted into makeshift butcher shops. Many hunters pull out their sharpest knives, grab a roll of freezer paper and start the process of “making venison.”

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A Step-By-Step, Fully-Illustrated Guide To Processing Venison

And then, there’s the other half of the hunting population — the ones who strap deer carcasses to their car roofs or shove them in pick-up truck beds and head to the closest meat processor. This segment is growing. In part, because of chronic wasting disease and other disease concerns. Some hunters are rethinking the way they process venison. But don’t misread this and think that home processing is unsafe or that meat processors should suddenly be avoided like a trip to the dentist. On the contrary, both options can be safe — given the proper circumstances.

A Meat Scare?
Let’s start with the basics. First of all, science hasn’t proven, although speculation exists, that CWD can affect humans. Secondly, the abnormal prions that cause CWD have never been found in the muscle tissue of wild of captive cervids. Instead, naturally occurring prions are centralized in the eyes, brain, spleen, spinal cord and lymph nodes, which  can easily avoided by taking simple precautions.

Whether you’re taking your meat to a processor, or doing the cutting yourself,  your work begins as soon as you shoot a deer.

When field dressing,  make sure you wear rubber gloves. Take your time, and avoid breaking the intestines or stomach, which can contaminate the meat. And, make sure you keep the meat clean. After all, food born bacteria, such as E. Coli can be picked up from soil or manure contamination. If you kill a deer, field dress it, and then drag it through a cow pasture, you can be sure that CWD isn’t your greatest worry.

In case of hot weather, you should pack the carcass with ice.

Also, you shouldn’t think about eating any animal that looks sick. The same is true of livestock.  If a butcher cuts open a beef carcass and finds it riddled with tumors, you can bet that no one will be sitting over that meat at the dinner table.

As extra precautions, you should also be careful that your knife is only used for deer hunting and that it is cleaned properly afterward. The University of Wisconsin Extension recommends that you use a solution of 50 percent bleach and 50 percent water to sterilize equipment.

You’ve probably heard that the lymph nodes are the main culprits to avoid. Luckily, as you’re field dressing, you really don’t have to worry about them. The spleen is generally removed when you gut your deer, along with several other main lymph nodes. The remaining lymph nodes are either in the skull or along the leg joints.

The Processing Issue
If you’re planning to take your deer to a meat processor, you might want to think twice about whom you choose. Venison processing is highly unregulated, so basically anyone who wants to set up shop during the hectic month of November can do so. This means that plenty of processors are working in conditions that are less than ideal.

Your best bet is to reach for the phone book and find a processor who works year-round with meat. Because these business are regulated by the state, they must conform to certain sanitary standards, regardless of whether they’re working on beef, bison or venison.

Long before CWD was discovered east of the Mississippi, meat processors were already required to take precautions when working with venison. First of all, they must notify the Department of Agriculture if they plan to process deer, they can only accept healthy game animals, and generally, they must keep things sterile and separate from other inspected meats.

Therefore, if a meat processor is working on venison, he can’t be working on other meats, which helps prevent cross-contamination.

Deer should be numbered as they come in, and then processed individually. That way, if meat must be recalled after finding out the results of a test, the customer can be sure the meat he received is from the deer he brought to the processor. As you choose a processor, make sure you ask if your meat will be kept separate, especially if you’re requesting sausages or hot sticks.

The Home Butcher
For decades, hunters have converted their kitchens and basements to temporary meat shops during deer season. In my home, we’ve often cut up several deer in one sitting — packaging and labeling our own meat. Although it requires more work, some hunters prefer this method because they know exactly what is going in their freezer, and where it’s been.

However, if you’re processing your own meat, you should take a few extra precautions. First of all, avoid contact with the eyes, spleen, brain tissue, spinal cords and lymph nodes. Then, try to bone out as much meat as possible without splitting the carcass down the midline.

If the deer is shot in the spine or there is damage to bones, discard at least 2 inches of meat from the area, which is the recommendation meat processors have received from the state. It’s a good idea to wear latex gloves, using separate gloves when handling the head. After the meat is boned out, remove the head with separate saw used only for that purpose.

Hunters should also label each deer separately when packaging. That way, if a deer tests positive for a disease later, it would be easy to discard meat from the infected animal.

After you’re done processing, clean and sterilize everything with a solution of water and bleach.

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A Step-By-Step Guide

Gut It Cut It Cook It

A Step-By-Step, Fully-Illustrated Guide To Processing Venison

There’s just something satisfying about knowing you’ve done it all yourself — from pulling the trigger to washing up the dishes. Even better is the fact that you didn’t have to pay someone else to do it for you! Gut It, Cut It, Cook It: The Deer Hunter’s Guide to Processing & Preparing Venison by Eric Fromm and Al Cambronne guides you every step of the way from the field to the table. No detail is left out — from proper field dressing and butchering to storing and preparing your venison. You’ll find checklists and descriptions of tools you’ll need to get the job done right and affordably; advice for shot placement and ammunition so you don’t damage valuable meat; step-by-step photos and instructions for proper field dressing and skinning; butchering cut by cut; and best practices for wrapping and freezing venison. Plus this 256-page guide features a BONUS CD with 50 venison recipes, field dressing chart and meat cuts chart!

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