Taking your first deer is an exciting achievement. Your heart pounds as you watch the deer in your sights. You try hard to keep your hands still while you squeeze the trigger. After the shot, adrenaline makes you short of breath. You feel relief when you later approach the clean-shot deer on the ground.
What happens next, however, can be overwhelming. A good-sized adult deer can yield 60 or 70 pounds of meat, and a new hunter may have no idea what to do with it.
Good tasting venison begins with careful preparation and trimming. Cut away all bloody areas, trim the fat and make sure the venison is clean as possible. These are the leading causes of off-flavor, or “wild” taste in the meat.
Start with the back straps, those tubularshaped cuts of meat found on either side of the backbone.
“Your back straps are your best meat — they’re going to be the most tender,” said David Casey, retired assistant director of law enforcement for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “Take them and butterfly them. Cut them into about 1 1/2- inch steaks and then cut them almost all the way through in the middle.”
These steaks are now ready for the grill. You can also freeze them after making the cuts — divide them into single meal-sized groups and wrap each group in freezer paper for later convenience.
The deer’s hams, or hindquarters, yield a lot of meat that can be used several ways. Casey encourages hunters to pick up a copy of “Kentucky Afield” television’s deer processing DVD to learn how to divide the hams into various muscle groups. The show is available through Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s website at fw.ky.gov — just click on “Kentucky Afield Store” to purchase the DVD.
“You basically have big muscle groups, and you need to separate those muscle groups,” he explained. “You can turn the rump roast into steaks or put it in a crockpot with potatoes and carrots and fix it like roast. Any little pieces can be used for hamburger in deer chili, spaghetti sauce or hamburger patties.”
Shoulder cuts can be a little tricky, since averagesized deer don’t yield a lot of meat from this area. Casey recommends trimming this meat and grinding it like the extra meat from the hams.
“Any trimmings like that can go to hamburger or summer sausage mixed with pork fat,” he said. “It doesn’t take a lot — maybe one-third added by weight to the meat. It depends on what you want. You can actually add nothing and just have really lean meat, which is fine for adding to sauce. But it’ll come apart if you try to make patties.”
Pork fat is available at many grocery stores that have meat departments, or hunters can take the trimmings to a meat processor to have hamburger or summer sausage made. Doing it yourself, however, is cost-effective.
“If you enjoyed the hunt and you’re planning on hunting in future years, you can just invest in a handoperated grinder,” Casey said. “Most groceries and stores like Cabela’s have them for $20 or $25. You can grind the meat right at the kitchen table.”
Finally, check the Internet for venison recipes. The amount of meat you get from your deer may seem overwhelming at first — but the possibilities are endless once you get comfortable working with the various cuts. Most importantly, the meat will come from a deer you took yourself, and you’ll have a well-earned sense of accomplishment and pride.