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Hunted Deer

I'm splitting a deer harvested in Ohio taken by a hunter friend of mine. I don't have many details other than we are splitting the cost of processing so I'm expecting to get exactly half. I have not done anything like this before, but I do a lot of cooking and have a lot of ideas. I was wondering if anyone who has done this before, or does it regularly might want to share some solutions to problems they have conquered. Fortunatly I do enjoy venison, but have only enjoyed farm raised product in the past. Thanks for your help.

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  1. You mention "processing", so I'm assuming that it is going to be butchered for you. Assuming that's the case, then I don't see the problem - simply freeze the portioned up Bambi.

    If, on the other hand, you are simply half of a deer split down the middle then it will depend on your own butchery skills (or, perhaps, you'll need to enlist the help of your friendly neighbourhood butcher). Make sure you get your fair share of the offal - deer liver is particularly tasty, IMO.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Harters

      you mention offal, and I was already interested in the heart. since this is a wild take should i expect all those bits to be safe?

      1. re: mikey031

        Offal doesnt keep well so it'll all depend on how long since the kill when it gets to you.

        1. re: mikey031

          Wild offal, safe? Depends on a few things, but pay attention mostly to the guidelines set out by the (I'm not 100% familiar with US agencies) *local* fish&game dept and your own level of concern. There are potential hazards in any activity we do and eating wild game (deer, rabbit, moose, etc) has its risks. Unless it is diseased, I think a major offal concern is heavy metals. By your post, tt seems that eating wild deer (and especially offal) is not a regular event, so unless the animal (or its parts) is diseased, I wouldn't worry about it.

        2. re: Harters

          Again, this is all subject to the animal itself and how it was handled. The venison I am cooking my spouse hunted and butchered. I'm happy to cook heart and liver from his hunting. Something else to consider--if the hunter's biggest concern is how many points on the rack?

          Believe me, I'd much rather he bring home young and tender than fancy headgear.

        3. Whatever you get, make sure you get some backstrap (wonderful tenderloin like cut) and some bacon! Wonderful! A nice roast is good too.

          1. Find out how it's being processed, Steaks? Roasts? All boned out? Some bones? How much fat in the grind? (recommend 20%) Size of packages? (2 steaks to a pack, 1 or 2lb on the grind, etc.) Any sausage? With the exception of sausage, are you getting your animal? There are some less than reputable processors out there, (you bring in a nice younger deer that hasn't been abused after the kill but you get back some old stink buck that's been in the back of a pick-up for 3-4 days that was drug behind an ATV for 3 miles. Not to be discouraging, just passing along info from years of experience.

            2 Replies
            1. re: mrbigshotno.1

              as for the fat in the grind/sausage should i cut any pork fat into the mix? I've found the fat of most game cuts to be the source of that somewhat off tasting 'gamey' flavor. I have butchered on deer almost ten years ago and I don't remember there being a lot of fat at all.

              1. re: mikey031

                That or beef suet, I do my own antelope and get suet from Albertsons for .25/lb

            2. Please realise the proportions of a 125 lb deer are different from a 600 lb steer. That being said, some processors grind everything to sausage with a few boneless roasts while others provide more primal cuts. I am especially partial to slow roasted neck roasts.

              As in any new venture, welcome to the learning curve.

              4 Replies
              1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                And as to marinades: whatever else I use, some juniper berries go in it. Before I could buy those, I used gin....

                1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                  IR, Ohio deer can easily get to twice, and sometimes nearly three times, the size of Florida whitetail.

                  1. re: sunshine842

                    Which is why I visit my sister's family in Wisconsin in October and November. Never to old to take up a new sport. I was 53 when I started.

                    1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                      I know sooo many people who grew up "up north" and let fully-grown deer get away the first time they went hunting in FL, thinking they were just yearlings.

                2. Hi, mikey031:

                  If you have a choice in how your half is cut and wrapped, I *strongly* recommend that you not have it treated like beef. Venison fat is very strange stuff, can be gamey (depending on age, hangtime, shot placement, etc.) Even at its best, there is something about the consistency of venison fat that many people (including lifelong hunters like me) find repulsive: it *will* put sweaters on your teeth and it congeals at higher than room temps into a greasy, nasty mess. So if you're having sausage ground, have the maker substitute pork and/or beef fat.

                  Next thing is that venison doesn't cook much like other animal protein. It usually doesn't benefit from slow cooking. In fact IME/O, venison is best when broiled or flash-seared in steaks and larger bits, so that it is crusted on the outside and still rare on the inside. There's almost no intramuscular fat, so overcooking just toughens it up. I once made the mistake one time of trying to kipper a beautiful backstrap, and the interior turned out just like gray toothpaste.

                  After 40 years of hunting, here's how I have my deer cut: Have them do steaks from the backstraps and the hanging tenderloin (if you get more steaks, make sure they're boneless). Then get the remainder boned out, a % for large-chunk stew meat or cubesteak. The remainder of the boned-out meat I get either processed as jerky and/or sausage. I've always been disappointed with how even small roasts have turned out, but then I've never had them larded with beef or pork fat.

                  Hope this helps,

                  Aloha,

                  Kaleo

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: kaleokahu

                    I thought I heard a co-worker who hunts deer regularly say that he gets about 20 lbs of meat from the average animal - does that sound correct?
                    He also told me that there's a fair amount of meat that is not useable which surrounds the area where the bullet/buckshot/arrow hits.
                    I was surprised, based on how large deer seem to be, to find out how much winds up not being useable.

                    1. re: BeeZee

                      "the average animal" depends on what part of the world you are in, but 20lbs of meat sounds low. Maybe he meant steaks and roasts (ie "meat") and the remainder as ground? Usually you can get 40%-50% of the live weight, so this 20lbs of meat would be a live deer of about 40lb-50lb. There are deer out there that small, but shooting them is unusual.
                      Deer hunters mostly take deer >100lbs and more likely about 150lbs. If the "average animal" was 150lbs, you should be getting 60lb-75lbs of meat.
                      (FWIT the ballpark take-home weight of beef is about 50% of live weight as well)
                      Realize that these are generalizations.
                      As for the meat that is ruined by the kill - again, different almost every time. I had some shots going into the chest and abdomen at an angle and yeah, I had to cut away quite a bit of damaged tissue. Just so happens I made a neck shot on my best deer - very little meat loss.
                      Finally, "how large deer seem to be". Again, depending what part of the world you're from, white tail deer are not necessarily huge, but regardless of size, I don't think there is as much waste as you envision.

                    2. re: kaleokahu

                      I generally agree w/ all that, but I think slow-cooking, as in a braise, can be quite nice using venison. Just follow your basic beef burgandy recipe and it can be pretty good.

                      We never get steaks other than loin, we have the rest made into stew chunks or ground. I use the ground mixed w/ other, higher fat grinds to make meatloaf, meatballs, etc.

                      1. re: kaleokahu

                        My spouse does our processing himself, and we turn the fat into dog treats--I render it down in a big cast iron dutch oven and mix in rolled oats and all the meat scrap from processing. How much fat is going to be on an animal is dependent on where it's from. SD pronghorns? Basically no fat. Muledeer? Same. PA whitetail, living around a cornfield? THICK with fat.

                        And yes, you CAN successfully slow-cook venison. I marinade (common elements--cranberry juice and balsamic or apple cider vinegar) fairly commonly, and I will tell you that venison sourbraten is WONDERFUL. Also, most folks don't seem to bother with the ribs, but I'll take venison barbequed ribs anyday. There's not a lot of meat on 'em, but what's there is wonderful.

                        I also love venison liver and bacon and onions--slice, then soak the liver, first in brine, changing it frequently as the water darkens, then in milk to finish.

                        What we DON'T do--and what seems to be the common advice--is cover it with canned cream of mushroom soup. As far as we're concerned, we want it to taste like venison. We do a lot of quick stir-fry meals over rise or pasta--especially pairing the venison with wild rice.

                      2. As already posted be VERY sure you are getting the deer back that you brought in to the butcher. And that is virtually impossible. The only way to know that you've got your own deer is to hang it and butcher it yourself. If you've gone to the expense of some how getting half a deer go to the trouble to make sure it's the one you or some one you know shot it.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Puffin3

                          I agree w/ that, too. The first and only deer I ever shot was ruined by the processor. When we got it back it was inedible and had to be thrown out. We assumed they just let it hang in the wrong conditions or for too long, but I suppose it could have been switched w/ some other deer.

                          For years after lots of unacceptable butcherings (I find cube steak disgusting), we butchered our own for years...but it's a BIG, icky job. WE're back to getting it subbed out because the husband found a processor who does a reasonable job.

                        2. Just a couple of thoughts.
                          Don't overlook aging. If possible, let the skin-on carcass hang for at least a week. I'd even say 2 weeks (of course, you have to be comfortable with your butcher as others warn).
                          In a perfect world, there would be *very* little waste, but many butchers have their own way of doing things. Sometimes you have to think outside of the box and insist with the butcher. I like n_whitings idea of BBQing the ribs (and yeah, you'll say not much meat). The butcher might just discard the ribs, or he may bone them out and grind the meat, but isn't the idea of keeping the rack intact more interesting?
                          The butcher will often times just throw away all the bones. At the very least keep the big ones for your dog to keep them from being thrown out. I keep the shanks and other bones for my Chinese friends. I'm not too fond of deer bones (I use beef for broth), but my friends are extremely grateful.
                          With about half the larger roasts, I like to make jerky. It might seem like a "waste", why not braise and sit down to a meal, right? But ohhh so tasty, to me, better than a sit-down meal.

                          1. I realize that some of this info may be coming too late to help the original poster, but this question is very near to my heart, and I hope this will be helpful to someone down the road.

                            I wanted to first echo what's already been said - deer fat tastes nasty. The good news is that there isn't a lot of it on a deer - something about an animal that spends it's life running from coyotes and hunters and fighting for the right to breed, versus one that spends it's life shuffling back and forth between the feed trough and the manure pile. But I digress.

                            The bad news is most processors don't take the time to trim all of the fat and tallow and sinew from the deer before it's frozen. After several years of getting disappointing results from processors who are too busy to do a good job, and charge a hundred dollars or more for it, I started butchering my own deer. It is a pretty big job, but not as big or messy as I thought it would be. And the results are vastly superior to anything I've ever eaten that came from a processor.

                            For anyone who gets brave and decides to butcher their own deer, there is a wealth of information about it online. I want to add one piece of advice that I learned on my own and have not seen anywhere else. Along with trimming the fat, the silvery connective membranes between the muscles should also be removed, as much as possible. Taking the time to do this will greatly improve the flavor of the final product. One more note on home butchering - I have attempted to make stock from deer bones, and so far the results are totally inedible. Same problem as with deer "bacon" or ribs. Unlike pork and beef, where the fat and connective tissue carry a lot of good flavor, deer fat and tissue tastes awful. I do not recommend it.

                            Also, a note for the submitter and anyone else cooking venison from a processor: use the roasts first, then the steaks, and save the ground for when the rest of the meat is gone. The reason for this is that the longer the meat sits in the freezer, the more the gamey taste moves from the fat into the meat. This will be most noticeable in roasts, which are likely to be slow-cooked without being able to trim all of the fat out, and least noticable in ground meat, which is more often used in things like chili and marinara, where the heavy seasoning of the sauce will mask the offensive flavors of the fat.

                            When cooking venison, as everyone else has mentioned, the leanness of the meat is the primary consideration. Venison steaks from being undercooked to being shoe leather in about 2.5 seconds. The easiest, most consistent way I've found to deal with them is the following method:

                            1. Since you're using venison steaks cut by a processor, plan on having to do some trimming before you cook them. Let them thaw in the refrigerator for a full 24 hours. Depending on how the processor cut them, the steaks will probably want to fall apart into several smaller peices of meat - let them, and trim away everything you can that isn't red.

                            2. After trimming, give the meat a quick rinse, pat dry with paper towels, salt and pepper both sides, and let it sit while the pan heats up.

                            3. Get the pan medium-high hot - hot enough that butter thrown in it will quickly brown, but not instantly burn. If you're using olive oil instead of butter, you can go a little hotter.

                            4. Hot pan, cold oil. You can guess the rest. Go easy on the oil, because as soon as the steaks are done, you're going to want to immediately deglaze with red wine, hit it with some parsley, mount with cold butter, and pour the pan sauce over the steaks, which have been resting during all that activity. The big secret is that venison steaks demand your undivided attention. They cook faster, and the fond in the pan will burn faster, than anything else you've done before.

                            Obviously, you can fiddle around with additional flavors - a little garlic minced into the cooking oil is nice, a bit of sage or some mushrooms in the pan sauce go well - but you'll find the venison is much richer and more flavorfull than beef, and it does really well on it's own.

                            My favorite thing to do with backstrap is slice it twice as thick as I want a steak, then butterfly it and cook as above.

                            Chances are you'll end up with at least one roast. Processors don't like to bother with boning out the shoulder or the neck. Venison roasts tend to be the gamiest of the various cuts, for reasons previously mentioned, so don't be afraid to season the heck out of it. My favorite thing to do with a shoulder roast is rub it down with a bbq paste and cook it in a crock pot with a bottle of liquid smoke for about 8 hours. Treat it just like pulled pork. You can also crock it to make shred meat for tacos or tamales. If you want to do a more traditional root-veggie pot roast, be sure to use mushrooms, juniper, and sage, and load up on the onion and garlic. Bold veggies like turnips and parsnips do better than potatoes and carrots.

                            Ground venison can be treated almost the same as ground beef, it's just a bit drier because it's so lean. The first year I did my own butchering, I experimented with adding beef fat and pork fat to the ground venison. Personally, I don't find that it adds anything but grease to what should be a very lean meat. My family and I prefer the flavor of the deer. But once again, the trick to this is that the meat has to be trimmed of as much fat and sinew as possible before grinding. Even ground that's done by a processor and still has a lot of the sinew in the meat will fare well in chili or spaghetti sauce. Venison meatloaf is phenomenal; I add a little extra Worcestershire to keep the moisture balance right.

                            That's all I have to say about that! Well, ok, one more thing.

                            A word about the quantity of venison yield on a deer:

                            Deer are not as big as you think. When people who don't hunt think about deer, they think of an animal something like the size of a skinny donkey. I used to be the same way, and I think I've figured out why - That's how big Disney draws them. Bambi's father walks around with antlers in the dead of winter, towering over the other animals, all the undergrowth in his background comes up to his knees. Elk get that big, deer don't.

                            Your average whitetail buck is only about 4 feet tall at the shoulders, and I've only ever seen one that was tall enough to look me in the eye on the hoof. A typical doe isn't much bigger than an adult Great Dane. The weight of the deer varies a lot with age, diet, and health, but anywhere between 100 and 200 lbs live weight is typical. Deer are lean and compact animals, with more bone mass than they look like they have. Most places you look will tell you to expect to get 40% of a deer's live weight back in usable meat - if the shot placement was good and neither of the front legs were damaged. My personal experience bears this out as well.

                            Feel free to msg me with any questions! :-D

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: hoosiercheetah

                              I grew up watching, and latter helping, my grandfathers, uncles, cousins and all the neighbors butcher their own deer on my grandparent's farm. Hoosiercheetah's descriptions are exactly how they did it. I can still picture my uncle slowly removing that shiny membrane with a cig hanging out of his mouth.

                              Another thing I remember is, at least in my family, the ground meat was mixed 50/50 with ground beef.

                              It was probably a combination of habitat and butchering skills but the venison I grew up eating was very good. Every family hunted and used the meat just like beef. I could never understand why people wrinkled their nose at deer meat.

                              Then I moved to another part of the state and learned what "bad" venison tastes and smells like. I remember being excited about the gift of some from a friend. Mr. CB and I started cooking and the only thing worse then the smell was the taste. It turned me off for years.

                              1. re: cleobeach

                                Weird, huh? There's a particular area of SC where my husband stopped hunting after taking 2-3 deer that were just about inedible. Why? It's not that far from spots that turn out tasty deer. We have no idea.

                                1. re: danna

                                  Diet maybe? I will ask my hunter uncles and friends.

                                  Interesting you say your husband stopped hunting in a particular area because our friends stopped hunting in our region of PA. They still go out to Iowa and Michigan but haven't taken deer locally for 7-10 years because they aren't worth eating.

                                  The men in my family still hunt locally but they hunt in a different (mostly forrested) part of the state.

                                  1. re: cleobeach

                                    the animal's diet will hugely impact the flavor -- my dad hunted mostly in Michigan, where the deer favored meals snitched from cornfields, and the meat was sweet and delicious.

                                    One year he brought back a mule deer that very obviously favored pine shoots -- the meat had a distinctly piney flavor.

                              2. re: hoosiercheetah

                                I agree. Butchering a deer isn't really that big a deal if you have a nice big/clean/organized work space like in a garage. Removing as much as the 'sliver-skin' as you can find pays off. This is where a lot of the 'gaminess' comes from and of course the fat. I've done our own moose and elk for many years with the help of friends/family. Now that's a big job. One year I hung an elk for three weeks ( the weather was just above freezing) then we butchered it and took it to a local commercial butcher and watched/helped him turn the whole thing into elk sausages. My wife found an old Scottish recipe some where that called for Scottish 'steel cut' rolled oats. Those were the best sausages any of us have ever eaten. The following year were were going to use the same recipe but my wife had lost the recipe! We took a guess at it but the sausages weren't the same.