Whitetail Deer Harvest
Autumn brings excitement to every archer, anticipation of a perfect shot on a beautiful buck dominates our thoughts. Harvesting a deer with traditional equipment that you have crafted makes it even more significant.
Those who are successful in their pursuit are now faced with another set of challenges in handling and processing the animal for consumption. Only with careful handling will the meat reach your table in prime condition, suitable for your family and special guests. Many great hunters I know, ruin the meat by not cleaning or cooling the carcass properly. So let’s begin
First and foremost let me say that you could not expect a great meal from spoiled or contaminated game any more that you could realize a great bow from a badly checked stave. Proper evisceration is key to avoiding these pitfalls.
Treat this part of the harvest like a craftsman. With complete respect to the every element of process. A razor sharp knife. Knowledge about how to do it. And an attitude of responsibility with regard to not wasting any part of the animal. A critical factor here is not to pierce the bladder, stomach or intestinal tract of the deer. Take the time to cut around the anus and tie off the intestine. Carefully cut from the inside out to split the belly area, so you do not force hair or dirt into the body cavity. I find it best to position the animal on the slope of a rise or hill, with the head upwards. Some sportsmen find it helpful to split the hip bone, but be very careful again, not to split open the intestine.
Next, cut the diaphragm muscle around the inside of the rib cage to allow access to the heart, lungs and esophagus. Reach up and free these organs by cutting the windpipe and pulling downward. The liver and organs in the lower part of the animal should be carefully pulled outward, cutting any connective tissue free as you go. I carry a good amount of paper towel and an extra bottle of water in my hunting pack to help with clean up of my tools and hands.
Immediately cut some sticks or branches and prop open the body cavity. This allows the carcass to begin cooling, an important step to circumvent spoilage. Get the animal to a walk in cooler as soon as possible. If the weather permits, hang the deer in a shed or garage by the hind legs to stretch out the toughest ligaments and stress the muscles before aging. As soon as you have the deer hanging in a cool place (35-40 degrees F is ideal) open the hide in the front of the neck and remove the upper part of the windpipe. Skip this step if the head is to be mounted. Remove the tenderloins as soon as possible, these are typically enjoyed at camp as a victory celebration. The tenderloins are inside the body cavity along each side of the backbone. From these you can cut filets (filet mignons), or butterfly cut them for steak sandwiches.
I like to age deer seven to 14 days, up to three weeks for larger deer and elk. The purpose of aging is to allow for a natural metabolic breakdown of the connective tissues, thus tenderizing the meat. It also imparts a wonderful nutty flavor. If done properly, there is absolutely no strong or gamey taste.
When aged deer is butchered, all of the dried, blackened aged parts are cut away. Most of what darkens and dehydrates is the inside bone structure of the deer. Solid muscle and wonderful meat lie in waiting between the hide and the skeletal boundaries. I won’t detail in this article the steps in butchery, perhaps in a future issue. But I would like to say that I recommend to remove all the fat from venison. It is like candle wax or tallow and very strong tasting. It is also very high in cholesterol.
Now it’s time to cook. These are recipes that reflect proper cooking basics. I will attempt to explain in detail, the specific techniques that separate great cooks from marginal ones. Treating natures bounty with sincere appreciation, makes each wild harvest a special event to cherished in our memory again and again. I wish you all great success this hunting season.