There was that one time that we processed an entire deer for the first time.

Craig and his friend Ian decided last year to try deer hunting.  They spent 3 days in the freezing cold, and came home empty handed.  It was disappointing for all involved. I only mention this to acknowledge the level of inexperience, and my fairly pessimistic outlook on the situation.  I didn’t expect that they’d come across a deer this year either, especially after 4 days of waiting for them!

  This year, they did a little more research and set up some game cameras in the place they were planning to try (near his parents’ cabin, which allowed for some creature comforts!) to verify that there were in fact deer present. Craig used the trip as an excuse to build a new rifle. Then they set aside 5 days and headed out to try to shoot a deer.  On the second to last day, Craig was climbing a rock wall, looked over the top, and saw a buck, just hanging out.  So he shot him.  The bullet went through his chest and out his side, hitting the aorta as it passed.  And Craig shot him with a 300 Win Mag, so it was a pretty effective round. The guys got it gutted and drug it out of the woods before giving me a call to make some arrangements for them.  You see, there is a butcher shop not too far from us that offers the service of processing a deer that has been shot. When I received the call from Craig, I had been enjoying a leisurely morning of binge-watching a tv show while I drank coffee and applied a mud mask. I was just about to step into the shower with a crinkly and immobile face when my phone rang.  I had to quickly get enough clay off of my cheeks so I could speak to the butcher.  Then when I called, I got a long, and kind of crazy-sounding tirade about how they had gotten so many deer the previous weekend and how she was sick of working so many hours, that they weren’t taking any more animals. When I asked her if anyone else was processing wild game, she told me that there’s another guy that does it sometimes, but he is just as busy as them and not taking any either.  It was an extraordinarily unhelpful conversation.  So I tried to come up with a solution.  One of our friends has done extensive hunting with his father, and knows his way around a deer.  So I called him, and begged for his assistance in the matter.  He gave me a list of what the guys needed to get done, and agreed to come over the next day and get the beast butchered.
Deer butcher photos after the jump
butchering a deer
It helps to switch your lens back to autofocus, instead of assuming you hadn’t switched it to manual..

deer arms
Arms!

butchering a deer
I called the guys, relayed the list, and panicked a little, realizing that we’d have a deer in the garage before the day was up, and my night of making caramel popcorn and watching movies with Ian’s girlfriend, Laura, was not going to happen.  But we had afternoon plans, so we got together a little extra early, ran to the store for a few deer butcher supplies, and went to the beer festival we had tickets for.  By the time we made it back to the house, the guys had the deer hanging from the trusses in the garage and were skinning it.  Laura and I decided to at the very least, follow through with our caramel popcorn plans, and by the time the popcorn had cooled, the guys were done in the garage and had started picking at the popcorn on the counter.  Knowing that I had to cover phones at work the next day, I prepped everything I could.  I sharpened both of the guys’ pocket knives, and 5 additional knives.  I set out latex gloves, freezer paper, foodsaver bags, the huge plastic cutting board, and refilled the spray bottle of food-grade sanitizer.
sheet pans full of deer parts
Then I went to work fully expecting to come home just as they were finishing up, throw together dinner, and enjoy a low-key evening with our friends.  That was not the case.  Our buddy who has butchery skills wasn’t able to make it until about half an hour after I made it home, so they hadn’t even gotten started.  Laura and I quickly got drafted to handle the meat that had come off the carcass.  That meant washing, breaking down, attempting to identify, trimming, vacuum sealing, and labeling. To say we were in over our head was kind of an understatement.  We were just getting hunks of meat and were supposed to decide how they’d be best prepared!  Add to that, the first parts we got were the front legs, which were somewhat difficult to get apart without knowing the specific anatomy, and I didn’t know wtf to do with.  I ended up saving one bone-in shoulder and one….  I think you’d call it a shank.  That’s what we labelled it as at least.  Through came a parade of unidentified meat, which went into one of a few piles: a) this looks like a cut I kind of recognize, b) there is little connective tissue or fat, this is getting sliced thin for beef jerky, c)stew meat, d)ground meat, e)meat for the dogs.  Tenderloins and backstraps got processed and lovingly packaged.  We decided that some of the meat looked like flank steak.  It got labelled as such. We have several pounds of meat that will be turned into stew, a few pounds of beef jerky, both tenderloins, one of the backstraps (we gave the nicer one to our friend who came over and butchered the deer), probably 10-15lbs of meat to be ground (yay for tonight?), and dozens of pounds of meat that was either weird scraps, fat, or bloodshot meat that us humanfolk aren’t so interested in consuming, but the dogs will love.  
breaking down an entire deer
So for 3-4 hours, we cut and packed and fussed. When the guys got done with the deer, and got the garage cleaned up, I was still chugging away at breaking down the meat.  I tried to get Craig to take over the job.  Watching him try to remove silverskin with a chef’s knife was a little nerve-wracking so when he begged me to take over, I did. And I had to con Laura into making the pasta.  It turned out beautifully.  By the time dinner was done, all of the “human grade” meat had been processed, bagged, vacuum packed, and frozen.  So to let me eat, Craig took over cutting up the weirder scraps and bloodshot portions and sticking it in bags for the dogs to eat (it apparently needs to spend 3-4 weeks in a deep freeze to ensure the parasites that the deer may have been carrying are dead).  Pictured below is the exit hole from the bullet.  
300 win mag exit hole
Then came the monumental task of cleaning up both the mess from the pasta making, but also 3 cutting boards, 5 knives, the vacuum sealer, 3 sheet pans, etc, etc, etc.  I was glad to have that spray bottle of StarSan.  But this morning, I did like to wake up and have a freezer full of vacuum sealed, labelled, and dated packages of meat.  And the dogs?  I just labelled the bags of meat for them “DOG.”   Now for some pretty serious research into recipes.  I want to have everyone over for dinner and do a few different preparations of the venison.  
freezer full of venison

freezer full of venison
And I’ll be (or course) weighing and inputting all of the various bits into a spreadsheet so I know what we have on hand!

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