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Handling Your Deer Harvest: Venison Dos and Don’ts

by on November 29, 2010 4:27 PM

Editor's note: Chris Raines is an assistant professor at Penn State in the department of dairy and animal science. As an extensions meat specialist, he researches factors that affect meat quality, and helps meat processors, large and small, national and local, with the quality and safety of the food they produce. This article originally appeared on his blog at meatGEEK.

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by Dr. Chris Raines

Pennsylvania, like many other states, is dotted with many independent, custom venison processors who receive carcasses from hunters and convert them into chops, roasts, burger, jerky, summer sausage, and other products. The processors always have great stories to share — here is a list of some “don’ts” when it comes to handling your taking.

Of course, this cannot be an exhaustive list of all things of what not to do… but you can use it to maybe identify whether or not you are doing something similar.

  • Have your deer already properly field dressed before arriving at the processor’s shop. That should be done immediately after taking the deer. That’s why it’s called field dressing, not driveway dressing. Eviscerating it quickly helps accelerate temperature decline.
  • If transporting a skinned carcass (or skin-on carcass for that matter) in the bed of a pickup truck or on a trailer, make sure the surface is clean and that there isn’t any debris that could blow into or onto the carcass (i.e. mulch, leaves, hay…). Put a clean tarp down first, then load up the carcass.
  • There is little point in aging venison and doing so probably poses more of a food safety risk and quality detriment than any sort of gourmet gain. Deer are usually too lean to age and the carcass dries out; there is usually no temperature control and the carcass either freezes (frozen meat does not "age") or is too warm (and just decomposes, rots), and any assortment of pathogens could be growing. Let the deer reach rigor mortis, then fabricate the carcass.
  • Wrapping deer carcasses in fuzzy fleece blankets will result in fuzzy little chops and burgers.
  • Don’t cut the legs off with a hacksaw. The processor needs them to hang the carcass (from the Achilles tendon / hock).
  • Expect a low meat yield for gut shot deer, or deer that you take to the processor already skinned. You may think it’s “clean,” but it’s not. Any speck of hair, dirt, leaves, etc., should be trimmed away.
  • Yes, it is a good idea to spray a carcass (as in, with a spray bottle) of 1:1 water and vinegar, then let it dry in open air before cutting. It is not a good idea to soak the carcass in straight vinegar to the point of it reeking of acetic acid.
  • Be sure the processor is at the shop (and be mindful of operating hours) when dropping off the deer.  3 a.m. phone calls (right, no one was spotlighting…) and anonymous drops are not respectful and are entirely inappropriate.
  • Wash out whatever dirt, leaves or gut fill might be in the body cavity, but not with pond or stream water. Wait until you get home and use potable water, which you can probably get out of your garden hose.

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