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Cooking Meat/best time to take a deer


QUESTION: I am relatively new at deer hunting. Recently an avid hunter told me that taking a buck this late in the season, (ours ends Dec 10 in British Columbia, Canada) there will be a good chance the meat will stink.
I have been unable to verify the accuracy of this statement either way, do you know if it is accurate or false?

Thank you


It is hard to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to deer hunting, meat and how it tastes and the reasons for it.

There is a lot of "conventional wisdom" out there that is pure bullshit.

Lets take some of it a step at a time.

The time deer ( I am assuming whitetail, but I don't think it matters much between species), go into rut affects the hunt more than the meat.  

Early in she season, the deer are still in their patterns, and in their respective territories.  When the rut hits varies you can refer to your local government wildlife agency websites to find out exactly when that it.  A lot of things affect it, length of days, temperature, etc.  So it can change from year to year.

Once it starts, all the old patterns will change a lot as the bucks start ranging more looking for does.  They can get pretty stupid too.  I once shot one from about 15 feet.  He came down a bank toward me with is nose in the rear end of a doe, she saw me first and ran he stood there with his hardon in his hand wondering what was going on.  I just pushed my gun toward him not even aiming since he was too close for my scope to be any good and I dropped the hammer on him.  He dropped where he stood.

If you have been lucky enough to scout the area thoroughly and know where the deer feed and bed down, the trails between those sites are still valid places to hunt early in the morning.

Later, move toward the bedding sites, especially if they are on slopes facing the sun.  

Now, with respect to the meat.  I have never taken a deer where the meat was affected by rut.  It is true that a big mature old buck might be musky and the meat a bit strong tasting, almost liverish, but there are ways to mitigate this in the kitchen.

One of the reasons venison has a bad rep for taste is that 90% of the hunters do not know what they are doing.  Shooting a frightened or running deer does not produce the best tasting meat.  It produces what is known as dark cutting meat.  In a nutshell, this was discovered by the cattle industry in the 1800's.  Frightened or stressed animals do not produce good meat.  Considering that most game animals are killed in that condition you can understand why most of the meat is not optimal.  Dark cutting comes about by the reduction of bloodsugar through exertion.  When the animal dies, cell reactions still take place for a while since the cells do not know the heart and brain are dead.  They would normally metabolize glycogen into lactic acid in the muscle cells.  If the animal has depleted this store, then post mortem the reaction does not take place.  Lactic acid lowers the pH of the meat, making it more acidic, this is a preventive of spoilage.  If this does not occur, the pH is high, meaning lower acidity and the meat can get funky resulting in sticky dark looking meat, almost a purple color, hence the name.

The tales you hear about it being adrenaline are wrong, close, but not the correct cause or process.

So for optimal meat, kill the deer suddenly, take that good standing shot in the lungs, and drop the deer.  If he runs off, let him go, wait 30 minutes or so before trailing him.  He will lay down and die quicker.  He does not know what just happend to him, he only knows someting is not right.  If you launch an immediate pursuit, all you will do is push him into the next county and you will never find him.  Its tough to wait but force yourself to do it.  Mark any blood at the hit site with toilet paper, something visible, then start working out from that in ever widening fan shaped search pattern.

The second greatest reason venison gets screwed up is not gutting it and cooling it down immediately.  Gut the deer, I take a could of zip locks along for the liver, heart and kidneys.
Drain as much blood as you can, the rince out the body cavity with water, creek water is fine, or even snow.  If you have snow, put some inside it to chill down the carcass ASAP.
Letting it cool down slowly can lead to sour meat.  A carcass can take hours to chill down.  If you watch CSI you know they do a liver temp to tell when a person died, since the body temp will only drop a few degrees per hour.  Bacteria can multiply expenentially, one of the reasons Dark Cutting meat forms, the microbe in the meat, explode without the retarding influence of the acidity.  Acidity and low temps retard the multiplication.  This is particularly important if the deer was gut shot, spilling feces and urine inside the deer.  Rincing in this case is doubly important.

Removal of the musk glands is also something to do before you open the deer.  They are located inside the rear legs above the knees.  They look like a patch of oily hair.  Cut them out skin and all. I keep them to use next year for scent cover.  Tie them to your boots.  To keep them a small film canister or other sealing container works well.  Clean your hands.  The oil is strong smelling and you do not want it on the meat.

Another common cause of bad meat is the meat processor.  Consider this.  They process a lot of deer.  They do not process them one at a time.  I use to cut meat, time is money.  They do cut your deer up individually, but the scraps all go into a common receptacle to be ground.  Your deer weighed Xlbs, so you'll get Xlbs back minus a standard "waste" factor.  The scrap meat is ground for ground meat, with or without suet added.  DO NOT EVER add suet.  Beef suet goes rancid quickly and is all probabiltiy is already rancid when it is added to your ground venison.  They charge you for it and what they really use is the waste fat off of beef carcasses the have processed in the preceeding months, saved for the purpose.  So it will be good and nasty.  Adding it to your ground vension is the surest way to make it unedible.  Even if it isn't rancid now, it will be in a month or two in your freezer.  

The ground meat you get is run out by the pound, the calculate based on a formula how much you should get based on how much your deer weighted.  Since a lot of it was ground together, you might be getting venison from other peoples deer. Adding pork sausage to your ground venison just before you want to use it for burgers is a better way to add fat to it without ruining it.  This happened to me once and only once.  Try processing your own deer.  It is not hard and can be fun.

All you need is a 5 gallon bucket. A 2.5 foot piece of 2x4 and two large screw in hooks and a crew in ring you can get from the hardware store.  You make a home made hanger, screw in the hooks into the center of each end of the 2x4, the ring goes in one edge at the midpoint.  Cut the deer through the rear tendons insert the hooks, this will keep the carcass open.  Hook a rope to the ring and throw the rope over a tree branch or garage or barn rafter and hook it to a car or truck bumper and pull the deer up high enough work on it.  To skin it you can also use a car.  Cut the hide at the top of the neck.( the necessity of cut a deer's neck to bleed it is another old wives tale.  This comes undoubtably from the butchering livestock, where it IS DONE.  Hogs are shot in the brain and cattle are dispatched in a similar way.  The heart is still beating for a while and we would "cut" them, severing the juglar and with the heart still pumping the blood will gush into a convinient vessel for use in sausage or whatever.  Since the wound is to the head, the blood is still in a nicely contained cardiovascular system.

In a game animal such is not the case.  With a lung shot, the animal bleed out quickly inside the chest cavity. I have opened many a deer where there was not one drop of blood in the belly area until I cut through the diaphram.  Nearly all the blood in the animal was congealed in the chest above the diaphram. Add to this to the fact that the animal is stone dead when you find it, the heart is no longer beating...what good is cutting its throat do you?  You won't get a drop of blood out of it.  Its already bled out and the system has no pump going.  But old wives tales die hard.

If you want mechanical assistance skinning you can use your car or a come-along or a winch.  Cut a flap of hide back on the neck, insert a baseball or similar object under the hide, tie a rope or chain around it on the outside, so the object serves as an anchor.  Tie the antlers to a post or some other immovable object.  then tie the chain or rope tied to the ball, to a car bumper, tractor or winch.  As an assistant applies tension, go to skinning the tension will pull the hide free as you just cut at any stubborn spots.  you should be able to skin it in about 5-10 minutes tops.  Then hang it.  I attack mine and bone it out, cutting all the meat from the bones so no saw is needed and all the cuts are boneless.  First thing is I remove the backstrap or tenderloin.  Look as a beef cut chart they are essentially the same.  I follow the muscles, cutting out nice small roasts, that can be cut into steaks later.  The scraps go into the bucket. You can sort through them later some will work for jerky others for ground venison.  It will take you an hour or so maybe two the first time, you wife can ziplock the cuts as you remove them and label them so they can go directly into the freezer.  If you don't have a grinder, you can probably find someone who does.  The counter top models are not up to the task they jam too much due to the connective tissue. The larger industrial size ones are best, or you have to trim the meat closely to remove any of the tougher pieces of connective tissue.  I used to make a lot of venison sausage, pepperoni and other stuff, and had to get a getter grinder after burning one of the smaller ones up.

Hope this answered your questions.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

Thank you very much for that, very informative!
Do you have any venison sausage and pepperoni recipes that you would be willing to share?
Thank you again for the generous use of your time and expertise.

Mark K


Sausage is pretty easy to make.  The biggest problem is finding a grinder that will be up to the task.  I had a father in law who ran a grociery story and he'd let me bring in the meat just before closing and the butcher would run it through the grinder a couple of times just before tearing down the machine at the end of the day.  The USDA does not like wild uninspected meat run through commercial machinery.  If you trim the meat well and get all the connective tissue off it, a counter top grinder might be up to the task.  Or get one of the old hand crank offers them.  You could attach a pully wheel to the handle pin and hook up an old washer or dryer motor to it and run it with a V belt.  That would work.

As to need to find a place that sells casings.  Pork casings are usually available wet packed at the grocery store, or at the butcher shop.  Your grinder will need a casing nipple.  I made one out of turkey baster, cut off the first 1.5 inches and the flange at the base fit one of the grinder collars.  You feed the sauasage casing on to it like putting on a condom.  You remove the cutting disk and then feed in the ground meat and pull the casing off a bit at a time the length of your sausage links dictate that.  and twist it three times to make the end of a link, alternating the direction of the twists each time.

I use inexpensive pork sausage to mix with the venison on a 1:1 basis.  Use the standard kind, not the heavily flavored, unless that is the kind of venison sausage you want.  Starting with that basic ratio, you can make any kind of sausage you want following any recipe.

Pepperoni is different, you need to purchase some of the pepperoni seasoning.  Make it then dry it in a low oven.  The mix has the necessary preservatives to keep dry sausage from spoiling, something that pepperoni does not have.  Any dry sausage that needs refrigeration, is not made the traditional way.

You can find a lot of creative recipes for the stuff. Do a search for french sausage making, or venison sausage making, or charcuterie (art of making sausage)

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Keith Patton


I can answer questions regarding wildgame cookery ranging from venison, elk, buffalo, wild geese, duck, wild turtle, feral hog, javalena, wild boar, racoon, beaver, and woodchuck.


I am an avid hunter and chef. I have run a successful catering business, processing my own meat, curing hams and making wild game sausage.

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