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Jeff’s Timely Tips on Deer Processing

Jeff Ell SmallMy wife grew up hating venison. Her brothers would occasionally kill a deer, or take the hind quarters off road-kill that the state police had told them about. Then her mom would fry it in a pan until it became tougher than a fifty year old Marine.

So it was no surprise when I told her I was thinking about taking up deer hunting that she said, “what’s the point, it tastes horrible and I won’t eat it.”

That was until we visited Epcot Center. We ate at the Norwegian pavilion and were enjoying some mystery meat steaks, and when I went back for seconds I found the plastic name tag in front of the serving tray which had been tipped over, was back in place.

It read: VENISON

I went back to our table and slid some more steaks onto her plate and asked if she knew what kind of meat she was eating. She had no idea, and was shocked when I told her it was deer. She couldn’t believe it was the same meat she had gagged on as a kid.

The next year I took a hunter safety course and four years later killed my first doe. Like most self taught beginners I took the deer to a local butcher who would process them for about $40.00.

But as I started to kill more deer and the price of processing kept rising, being the cheapskate…err… frugal man that I am, I started butchering and processing my own deer. To date, I estimate that I’ve butchered somewhere around forty deer.

I’m no expert, and if you have any other tips  or suggestions on how someone should go about cutting up their own deer please feel free to comment. But if you’re thinking of cutting up your own deer, here are ten tips.

  1. Do it outside. The first deer my wife and I cut up we brought into the kitchen with the hide still attached to parts of it. I don’t know what we were thinking, but I’m pretty sure the folks who are living in that house now, twenty years later, are still finding deer hair.

  1. Have sharp knives. I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but having anything less than two or three very sharp knives is a mistake. I love my Work Sharp knife sharpener, and have discovered a fish fillet knife is most useful.

  1. Wear gloves. Can’t tell you the number of slices and nicks I’ve seen in my gloves after butchering a deer.

  1. Watch a video. I wish YouTube was around back when I cut up my first deer. Being able to watch someone cut up a deer might be the best tip of all.

  1. Let it hang. I let deer age for about five days, depending on weather. Un-aged venison is the main reason so many people think it’s is too tough to eat. I know meat can spoil, but with cool evening temperatures I’ve never had a problem.

  1. Don’t saw though the bone. This is another reason people believe venison has such a nasty gamey taste. The marrow of venison tastes bad. So when you cut up a deer, take the meat off the bone and don’t ever saw through it.

  1. Buy a food saver. Several years ago we were given a vacuum sealing system for a Christmas present. Being able to vacuum pack our meat is amazing.

  1. Don’t grind it yourself. Take it to a butcher. I’ve yet to meet anyone who bought a homeowner style meat grinder and had it work well on venison. I take ours to O’Brien Meats in Salem VA, the few dollars we pay them is more than worth it.

  1. Don’t mess with discolored meat. “When in doubt throw it out” is the best advice if your wondering if the venison has been damaged or tainted.

  1. Dispose of Properly. It’s amazing how many slob hunters dump deer carcasses illegally. Don’t be a slob.

Jeff Ell is pretty good at catching, killing, picking, and growing things to eat. He regularly finds bemusement in the outdoors and enjoys telling his stories to anyone who will listen. Jeff’s the author of Ruth Uncensored, blogs at and can be contacted via Facebook or smoke signal.

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