Prime venison is a top commodity these days, and many hunters are looking at ways to fix up their own deer meat for family consumption.
Now, I have to confess I have learned this lesson many times on many subjects, but there are just some things to be done that ought to be left to people who know what they are doing. For me, cutting, deboning, processing, and packaging deer meat is one of those tasks. Electrical work is another one.
Even so, one has to admit that the cost of deer processing can put the squeeze on the ole family budget, especially for hunters who are highly successful. I know some families with several hunters who bring in a dozen or so deer a year. Most of it they keep for their own use, or share with family, friends, neighbors, food pantries and churches.
The interest in self-processing is on the rise. If you look at the expense as a long-term multi-seasonal affair, then the cost is fairly economical as compared to shelling out pocket cash to a commercial deer meat packer.
Still there are expenses incurred plus the labor. Much of that time and work is enjoyed by many as an extra hobby or prideful benefit to deer hunting. If it is seen in that light, processing your own deer meat can be a fun and productive family activity.
"I guess it wasn't really the overall cost of having my deer processed by a commercial meat packer, but it was getting pretty expensive," said Kerry French of Brandon. "More importantly to me, I wasn't getting the kind of meat quality I had hoped for, and the seasonings never seemed right to our family tastes. I just wanted to try fixing my own deer meat into sausage links made up the exact way I wanted it.
"The other thing we always questioned was whether or not we were getting our deer back in the packaging from a commercial processor. For sure, some are better than others. I'd heard many a story about all the meat being lumped together in big plastic tubs to be ground up and processed all together at the same time.
"I know how I cared for my deer meat from the field to the cooler, but I wasn't sure how others handled theirs. I know many times when I dropped off my deer I would see hunters that brought in some nasty-looking deer carcasses. I sure didn't want my clean, deboned meat mixed in with that mess.
"So, I just decided to get with the program and learn how to process my own deer meat. I will be the first to admit it was a learning process, and my first year I learned a number of things the hard way. Still my smoked sausage turned out pretty darn good, over all."
Obviously, first and foremost is how you get your deer from the hunting area, skinned, cut up and on ice. In Mississippi, even in December or January, the weather can be too warm to delay very long in getting the hide off a deer and the meat sectioned up to start the cleaning and cooling process.
Be sure to have coolers large enough to handle quartered deer without jamming pieces together too tight. There needs to be space between pieces of meat for clean water and ice to circulate. Have plenty of ice on hand. If you plan to stay in camp several days, check the coolers everyday and add new ice as needed. Keeping the meat clean and cold is essential to having tasty venison to enjoy later.
Many deer hunters like to bone out their own meat. This requires a good, clean, well lighted work surface and several extremely sharp cutting, slicing and paring knives. Have a blade sharpener on hand, too. Take the time necessary to do the job right.
This means trimming off all the fat, sinew tendons, "silver" tissue covering the meat - especially around wound areas. Double clean it, and then cut into pieces that will be manageable for a grinder to handle easily if you are making burger or sausage.
Roasts, steaks, and tenderloins should be double wrapped in butcher paper or sealed with a vacuum-pack machine for freezing.
Again meat prep is essential to a quality final product.
Gearing up for grinding and smoking
"Before I started to smoke my own deer sausage, I naturally had to buy a few things," French said. "I already had a good smoker that I originally bought for $250. If you don't have one, I recommend an electric model so that temperature can be precisely controlled. Next I bought a meat grinder for $250. Then I added a vacuum sealing unit for $150. It is equally important to be able to package and freeze your deer sausage. I bought a selection of spices and sausage seasonings to try, as well as sausage casings. That ran about $30 for my first smoker run.
"The first time I processed a deer, I worked in the kitchen, and my space was limited. You need plenty of room to work the grinder, and to stuff the casings for the smoker.
"The smoking went well, except the casings were not too good. They overheated, curled up, and burned off in some cases, but the meat was still tasty.
"As I said, this first go-around was a learning process. I know I can do this better next year. I just about have the seasonings worked out. I saved a good bit of money from commercial processing. I think other deer hunters ought to look into processing their own deer meat, as well."