The Virtues Of Deer Venison

deer venison burger
For simple, satisfying fare, a venison burger definitely fits the bill.

When compared with beef or indeed any type of domestic meat, deer venison has many special virtues. From a health perspective venison consumption makes a great deal of sense (with the single exception of pregnant women, who need to be aware of toxoplasmosis). It has never known the inoculants, vitamin supplements, growth hormones, questionable feeding practices and crowded conditions endemic to the beef industry. Instead, it promises much less fat (and what there is should be removed insofar as possible when the animal is processed), lower levels of cholesterol and top-level nutritional value. The American Heart Association has endorsed venison as a heart healthy red meat, and when properly handled, processed, and prepared, it tastes every bit as good as the finest cuts of beef—but delightfully different.

field dressing deer
Deer should be dressed and hung as soon as possible.

Most deer hunters have at least part of their processing done commercially, and certainly this is convenient although not necessarily the best way to get things done. You have little or no control over how the deer venison is handled, how long it is aged, cleanliness and the like. If you have the time, tools and facilities to "do your own," there's certainly a staunch argument to be made for taking this route. If you do so, a book you might want to read is John Weiss, Butchering Deer (2002). 

Even if you leave the processing and packaging to others, there are a number of steps you can take to ensure the best in venison. These include:

  • Make clean, killing shots. One that drops the deer in its tracks is ideal, while a wounded animal that runs a long way seems to generate fluids that affect taste.
  • Field dress the deer at once. The sooner you can get the body cavity open and the cooling process started, the better. For those who utilize the organ meats, and we recommend that you do so, carrying along heavy-duty Ziploc bags for storage is recommended. Also, when it comes to field dressing, be prepared to take care of things in advance. That means having a good, sharp knife, ideally equipped with a gut hook, along with disposable field dressing gloves with long sleeves of the type offered by Hunters Specialties.
  • field dressing deer
    Ideally, deer should be field dressed (and the organ meats saved separately) at the site of the kill.
    Keep in mind that you don't need a trophy buck for gourmet fare. In fact, your best bet is to take mature does. They will offer ample amounts of meat and in almost all areas of the country you are also doing your part to keep buck-to-doe ratios more evenly balanced. Of course, even a venerable old mossyhorn can be turned into fine dishes—it just requires more aging and some consideration of what cuts to use.
  • Speaking of aging, that part of getting venison ready ranks right alongside prompt field dressing in terms of importance. Hanging, preferably for periods of 7 to 10 days, greatly improves deer venison. Better still (though you can seldom do this with commercial processors) hang the animal with the hide intact. If you don't have the opportunity to hang an animal for aging, you can do a reasonable job by quartering it and utilizing big coolers with ice in the bottom to do the job. Just make sure to keep the meat suspended above the ice.
  • Take great care in removing fat, silver skin, scent glands and blood tainted meat at entry and exit wounds. Similarly, exercise every care when it comes to cleanliness.
  • packaging deer venison
    If you use a commercial processor, make sure they do careful, clean work and that they packaged the meat in a way that assures it will have adequate freezer life.
    Whether you package your own deer meat or have it done for you, good wrapping is a must. Vacuum sealing is recommended, or at least use butcher's paper and package the individual cuts with care. In the case of sausage, ground meat or other situations where fat or other ingredients are added, use only the best.
  • Take care in labeling individual packages before they go into the freezer. That way there's no doubt about what the package holds. Also, dating the packages will give the indication you need about which ones should be used first. Generally speaking, a year is about as long as you should keep venison in the freezer, although when it is packaged in a manner that avoids any build up of ice crystals and risk of freezer burn it will last longer. A good general plan is to clean out and use any meat left over from the previous year meat just prior to the onset of a new hunting season.
deer hunters with deer meat
Deer hunters with a bunch of fine deer. The next step is to cool and age them, then make sure they are processed properly.

We live in a health-conscious world, one where all sorts of diets and dietary supplements, along with seemingly endless concerns about becoming a nation of couch potatoes and the wasteland of waists, assault us in advertisements and through the media at every turn. Without getting into the pros and cons of fads such as the Atkins diet, suffice it to say that for those interested in low-carbohydrate approaches venison has a great deal to offer. The same holds true for many other aspects of health awareness. Deer venison is better for you than beef—period, and if this gets us in trouble with farmers, well, that's just the way things will have to be.

The better cuts of venison lend themselves to fine dining indeed, while the lesser cuts, whether used as stew meat, ground into burger, or processed in some other fashion, offer endless cooking opportunities. Venison isn't beef, and it doesn't taste like it, but most any recipe which works for beef can be used (maybe with some common sense adjustments) with deer meat. Keep things simple, and rest assured the potential is there for meals that are scrumptious.

ground venison
A savory pasta e fagoli soup made with ground venison is a pure delight on a cold winter's day.

Far too often we, as deer hunters, fail to utilize our kills in the complete fashion that sound sporting ethics demands. When you study the way that the Inuit living in Canada used caribou, for example (read Farley Mowat's People of the Deer if this intrigues you), we fail abysmally. While turning hides into clothing, bones into bows and sinew into string may take matters further than most of us want to go, that doesn't mean we shouldn't turn all edible parts of the animals we take into food. Doing so seems to be far too unusual, so keep in mind that if you like organ meats (heart, living, and kidneys) they are far better for you, not to mention every bit as tasty, as anything you'll find at your local butcher's or grocery store. Use it all—it's a good feeling and good eating.

While most of us tend to think of venison in terms of hearty eating in the depths of winter, it should really be considered a deer meat for all seasons. In our house we enjoy venison right through the year, and a summertime burger feast brings just as full a measure of culinary pleasure as a savory soup or stew in the winter. About all that remains is to wish you bon appetit and offer a small sampling of recipes you might want to try.

Deer Venison Recipes

  • Deer Liver Pate

    Deer Liver Pate
  • Pasta E Fagoli Venison Soup Pasta E Fagoli Venison Soup
  • Shrimp Stuffed Venison Tenderloin Shrimp Stuffed Venison Tenderloin
  • Venison Ziti

    Venison Ziti



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