To many, a freezer full of savory venison is one of bowhunting’s greatest perks, and successful tag-fillers can enjoy numerous terrific meal options as a result of their time invested afield. For avid outdoorsmen, wild game entrees often make up a large portion of their family’s diet throughout the year, and the entrees are as healthy as they are delicious.
What follows are some popular suggestions for bowhunters to use up their venison, as well as a few tips for long-term storage of their bounty.
Skinning and deboning one’s own deer saves a great deal of time and money. Some choose to fully process their harvest themselves, while others feel more comfortable letting a professional take care of everything. Regardless, hunters with the capability of butchering their own deer can certainly save a bit of scratch with a little know-how.
Hanging and skinning a deer can be easily accomplished with the aid of an inexpensive gambrel and hoist. The process only takes a few minutes, and a spare fridge in the garage or workshop is all that’s needed to keep a quartered deer cold until you’re ready to debone the meat.
I simply remove the bottom shelves in my old overflow fridge, lay down some sheet plastic, and stack the sectioned out legs, ribcage, pelvis and neck to chill the meat a day or two until I have a free evening for deboning. Then I gather my scrap bucket, folding table, cutting board, and several quality knives to go to work.
First off, the most tender cuts on a whitetail are the loins, also known as back straps, which run parallel in two long bands along both sides of the spine, as well as the inner loin, or tenderloin, which can be removed from inside a deer’s abdominal cavity near the pelvis.
Many hunters reserve these for steaks or chops, but they are also excellent stuffed with shrimp or scallops and marinated with white wine and butter, braised to perfection.
I like to butterfly the loins into little filet medallions, which can be easily grilled or fried as minute steaks for a quick dinner option. By doing this ahead of time, you can allocate reasonable portions without need for thawing, cutting and refreezing unused cuts. If desired, you can even include a marinade before freezing.
The next best cuts come from the two hindquarters, and they offer a variety of culinary choices. They can be sliced into round and sirloin steaks, or divided into muscle groups for individual roasts. The tender rump roast is hard to beat as a slow cooker favorite.
Jerky is typically made from hindquarters, since it can be easily sliced into lean muscle strips and marinated for the dehydrator or smoker. Access to an electric slicer can yield chipped steak for cheese steak sandwiches or dry deer for cream chipped deer over toast or fried potatoes. Both are excellent choices.
Remember that smoking and dehydrating removes moisture, thus shrinking the meat. Because of this, a minimum amount of meat is required to make it worthwhile. Do not be surprised to find less meat in the smoker than you originally began with. The meat shrinks, which is completely normal.
The tougher neck meat is most often seasoned and used as a roast. Try adding some dry onion soup mix and cream of mushroom soup or one of the many slow cooker sauces on the market. They can be really tasty.
Some people barbecue the ribs with a wet or dry rub and throw them on the grill, but I generally cut out the meat and add it to my “trimmings” pile for grinding. The front shoulders and shank (leg) meat also go into my trimmings collection, which gets ground into burger.
This is an easy do-it-yourself job with the right equipment. An electric grinder, or even an old-school hand crank model, will do the trick. Just remember that grinding goes much smoother when the meat is firmed up and semi-frozen.
Ground venison burger can be used for chili, tacos, spaghetti sauce, meatloaf, barbecue, stuffed peppers, soups and so much more. I like to vacuum pack the burger into 1-pound packages for easy thawing. Squeeze the sealed packages into flat rectangles so they are more convenient to stack when frozen.
Another huge favorite for using up trimmings is making an assortment of sausages, bologna, and snack sticks. Pork and other seasonings are generally added to these products, and they are available fresh or smoked. Some folks even add cheese for an extra flavor boost. These items are a cinch to cut up and put out when hosting guests, and they’re always a popular delicacy.
As with any frozen product, it is important to carefully package your meat so it doesn’t spoil from freezer burn. Always try to remove as much air as possible to avoid frost spots. A vacuum sealer is a wonderful investment, but a tight layer of shrink-wrap followed by a second layer of freezer paper can make do almost as well for less money.
If packaged properly, the prime venison from a deer or two can provide main dishes for family meals all year long. It offers a variety of options to meet everyone’s taste and is an incredible source of organic protein.
If you are fortunate to harvest more venison than your family can consume in one year, please consider donating some meat to those less fortunate through one of the many hunter-led venison donation programs across the country.
Your contribution can really go a long way in helping to serve those in need, while giving critics just one more reason to acknowledge that we bowhunters really aren’t so bad after all.