Our home’s deer hunting logbook shows we processed and ate over 110 deer since 1984, and that roughly 60 percent were does, 30 percent were bucks and 10 percent young-of-the year fawns.
Which deer tasted best?
All of them. Sure, fawns provided the most tender cuts, but were they the tastiest? No. We could never claim that with certainty.
At some point we quit writing “doe” or “buck” on our venison packages. We also quit writing the location of the kill, such as “northern Wisconsin” or “Uncle Terry’s farm.” We just inscribe each package with the date we vacuum-sealed the meat, and identify the cut as a tenderloin, backstrap, rump roast, shoulder roast or leg roast. We also set aside bags of “scraps” for use in sausage or ground meat.
We decided that identifying the meat by gender and kill site told the cook (my wife) nothing important, so why include it? I got that hint after repeatedly asking during dinner, “Was this the buck or doe?” and “Where did it come from?,” only to have her respond: “I don’t know. I didn’t look.”
We agreed it all tasted equally good, whether it was born male or female, or ate mostly crops or natural forage. We also agreed that quality venison is all about taking good care of the deer from the time you aim your shot to the time you eat its final slice of tenderloin. A well-placed broadhead quickly kills through massive hemorrhage. A humane kill also ensures you find the deer quickly and get it field-dressed. The sooner you remove the deer’s entrails and move its carcass to shade or a walk-in cooler, the better its venison will taste.
Our family also prefers to bone out all deer we shoot. That ensures the deer isn’t left lying on warm ground or exposed to direct sunlight, which can spoil venison quickly. If air temperatures are warm, we bone out the meat within 24 hours of the kill, and then cool it in a refrigerator until we have time to package it for freezing. Never put still-warm venison in the freezer. Doing so can cause it to freeze unevenly and make it chewy. If temperatures are 40 or lower in our garage, we’ll sometimes let deer hang two to four days before cutting them up.
How you hang the deer – whether by its upper neck or hind quarters – is mostly personal preference if it’s a fawn, doe or young buck. However, if it’s an older buck destined for a shoulder mount, buy a gambrel and hang the deer by its hind quarters. This protects the hide and makes caping the head and neck easier.
We also prefer to bone out venison rather than run the deer’s legs and rib sections through a bone saw. Bone “dust” and marrow tissues can give venison a “tallowy” taste if the pieces aren’t immediately scraped and wiped clean before packaging and freezing them.
Boning out a deer isn’t difficult. First, find a big cooler or two to hold the large parts as you remove them from the deer. Then, after skinning the deer, slice its backstraps away from its spinal column and upper ribs. Next, slice away the venison from both sides of its neck. Now remove its front legs, which connect to the body with only muscle and ligaments. Deer do not have ball-and-socket joints joining their front legs and shoulders.
Removing the hind quarters is trickier. Start by making a long, deep downward cut from the rear of the spinal column to the pelvis, and then pull the leg outward and slice upward through the pelvis to meet the cut you made from above. These cuts should reveal the hip-socket area, which is the last connection between the leg and the body. Have someone hold the leg as you sever the ligaments joining the ball and socket. The leg should then pull free. Finish boning out the carcass by pulling and slicing the deer’s tenderloins from the small of its back, which is beneath the spine and in front of its pelvis.
With practice, you’ll learn to break down the carcass in less than an hour. The longer, more exacting work of boning out the muscle groups takes about twice as long. This simply means using your knife to slice apart the deer’s many muscles from each other. As you work the pieces free, set them aside and slice away all connective tissues and silver skin until the meat is free of all inedible parts.
Once you’ve filleted the venison into edible portions, start packaging it for freezing. You can wrap the venison in butcher’s paper and secure it with masking tape, or vacuum-seal it in plastic bags. Use an indelible ink pen to label the parts and the date. Well-packaged venison should last a year in your freezer.
As you’ll learn, however, one deer won’t last that long once you realize how good it tastes. Between burger, roasts, pulled barbeque and various sausages and hot sticks, you’ll soon learn many great ways to enjoy venison.
And along the way, you’ll learn what others have long known: Every deer provides good, tasty venison, no matter its age, gender or “hometown.” And if it doesn’t, the fault likely rests with something you did or didn’t do from the time it hit the ground to when it landed on your plate.