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How to Process a Deer: A Crash Course

[caption id="attachment_5703" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Version 2 Processing deer is relatively easy and is a great way to teach the next generation about the world.[/caption] Hunting season is in full swing. Morning frosts blanket the ground and the crisp air of a clear night brings that old familiar sting to the lungs. Swollen necked bucks search relentlessly for hot does while geese and ducks glide over naked tree limbs. Fall brings many traditions and yearly chores, and one of those chores is putting some venison in the deep freeze for the upcoming year. We live in a strange age where kids think eggs are made in cartons, milk comes from the store, and French fries just somehow exist. Now call me old fashioned if you want, but something seems wrong with this picture. For those of you wishing to teach your kids about how the world actually works, or if you just are looking for some tasty backstraps, you might find yourself with a freshly killed deer carcass hanging in the garage. Congratulations, it’s a great feeling. For those of you new to processing, here is a crash course over how to process a deer.

Lazy Muscles Win

One of the biggest keys to processing a deer in a way that produces the highest level of enjoyment is to understand which muscles will be most tender on the dinner plate. As a general rule, muscles that do less work will be the most tender, therefore they should be removed and cut into steaks for future use. One of the laziest muscles in a deer is the tenderloin. This succulent slab of protein sits on the interior of the body cavity near the pelvis. Another great cut is the backstrap that sandwiches the spinal column on the exterior of the body cavity. Larger, and more used muscles, like some of the major muscle groups of the hindquarters are best used for roasts. These hefty cuts have lots of tasty venison, but can use the extra cook time to reach their potential. Remember, a lazy muscle is a steak, and a working muscle is a roast.

Fat isn’t Where it’s at

[caption id="attachment_5702" align="alignright" width="300"]DSCN0267 By removing fat and connective tissue, you can improve the taste of your wild game.[/caption] I heard famous farmer Joel Salatin once proclaim, “fat is where it’s at!” Joel was referring to the desirable fat we consume in our domestically raised animals such as beef, pork, and chicken. Wild game is another story. The fat of wild game tends to enhance the gamey taste some folks don’t find pleasing. As you are processing, make sure to remove as much fat and connective tissue as possible. This requires a sharp knife and extra work, but the payoff is well worth it in the future.

Don’t be scared

The final piece of advice for newcomers when learning how to process a deer is not to worry about not knowing specific cuts. When I started processing my own animals years ago, I hadn’t the slightest clue about what I was doing. All I knew was that I liked the taste of deer and I had just gotten lucky enough to get one. If I wasn’t labeling my rump roast correctly it didn’t bother me, in the end my belly couldn’t tell the difference anyways. If you give yourself a chance to learn by doing, you’ll learn to tell the difference between the different cuts in time and eat a lot of tasty venison along the way.
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