There are many factors that affect the taste and tenderness of any game animal, but good field care practices are essential to having wholesome and safe food.
The first step of good field care is good shot placement. A well-placed bullet, slug or arrow not only prevents the animal from suffering, but it maximizes the yield of meat and makes field dressing easier and much less messy.
Once an animal is down, determine a good location for field dressing. Not all locations are acceptable for field dressing because of the terrain. Make sure the site is safe for you to work.
Using latex gloves helps keep hands clean and maintain a good grip on the knife. Make sure to have some type of wipe or cloth to remove blood and fat.
Take care not to cut into and spill the stomach and bladder contents. If this gets on the meat, it will spoil and contaminate the immediate area. If the animal has been paunch shot, avoid using any meat from inside the cavity.
Keep as much hair, dirt and debris off the meat as possible. Don’t wash the carcass with creek water. Avoid packing the cavity with snow because snow insulates rather than cools.
I don’t split the pelvic bone for many reasons, but the main reason is because once the pelvic bone is split, the back legs flop around when dragging the deer out of the woods and throw debris into the cavity, potentially contaminating the meat.
It is imperative to get the animal’s body temperature down to 40-45 degrees as quickly as possible to prevent the meat from souring. Even during early bow season, when temperatures often hover around 60 degrees, the animal’s body temperature will come down 30-40 degrees if field dressed quickly.
Prep the hind legs for hanging to start the skinning process. Be cautious around the tarsal glands to avoid getting secretions on the meat. If you get the scent from this gland on your hands and then touch the meat, you essentially are placing a tarsal gland rub on your meat. Many hunters often claim their pronghorn tastes like sage. Often, they shoot the animal in the sage, field dress it in the sage, drag it through the sage, then hang the meat for a week to age. Essentially, they put a sage rub on the meat. If they dragged it through a field of rosemary and garlic … well?
Hang the animal by the hind legs to prevent blood and other impurities from dripping off the head onto the meat. Remove the windpipe and esophagus. Also, remove the tenderloin because there is no need to age this cut. If you let it hang in the carcass for 4 days or more, it will dry out and give you a very poor yield.
If you want to save the ribs, they should be removed after skinning and placed in the refrigerator to keep from drying while the rest of the carcass hangs. The flank should be removed as well or it will be lost if you hang the deer for any period of time. Remove any bloodshot meat at this time so the blood does not seep into other muscles.
When hanging an animal to age in ideal conditions, it should hang for 4-5 days with the hide off at 38-45 degrees, with low humidity, out of direct sunlight and away from birds, animals and insects. All members of the deer family have an enzyme that breaks down connective muscle tissue to tenderize it as well as develop earthy flavor tones.
Remember, poor handling of game in the field will result in poor quality of the meat on the table. Many hunters process their own meat, and when done correctly, the result is rewarding, healthy and flavorful.
Venison Swiss Steak
4 lbs. of venison steaks
1 c. flour
One chopped onion
1 qt. canned brown, mushroom or onion gravy
One 20 oz. can of whole tomatoes
One bay leaf
1 c. red wine (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Method: Season flour with salt and pepper. Dredge steaks in flour and brown on the stovetop. Add onions and deglaze (remove drippings) with wine. Place steaks, onions and wine into baking pan; add gravy and tomatoes and season. Bring to a boil and cover with aluminum foil. Place in the oven and cook for about 2 hours at 350 degrees, or until the meat is fork tender. If sauce gets too thick, adjust consistency with more wine or water. If sauce is too loose, remove foil. Serve with biscuits and mashed or boiled potatoes.
Yield: 8 servings.
Web Extra: Venison Bottom Round Pot Roast
2 lbs. venison bottom round roast
1 T. kosher salt
1 T. cracked black peppercorns
½ c. flour
2 T. olive oil
1/4 c. butter
1 c. diced onion
1 c. diced celery
1 c. diced carrot
1 c. diced turnip
1 pt. diced potatoes
1 c. red wine
1 c. beef broth
½ c. tomato puree
1 bay leaf
1 qt. brown gravy or brown sauce (from a jar or a can)
Rub meat with olive oil. Blend spices and flour, and rub meat with spice blend. Heat pot or cast iron pan and lightly brown the meat. Add butter and vegetables, and sauté. Deglaze with red wine, and add tomato, bay leaf and gravy. Bring to a boil. Cover and place in 350 degree oven. Cook until fork tender, at approximately 1-1 1/3 hours. Serve with vegetables and potatoes, adjust sauce to correct consistency.
Substitute turkey breast, rabbit, pheasant or even boar for the venison bottom round.
Add mushrooms, green onions, leeks or fresh fennel.