Improperly field-dressing a deer carcass and warm weather can impact the quality of venison quickly if a harvested deer isn’t handled properly, warns Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) Wildlife Veterinarian Dr. Walter Cottrell.
“After properly tagging their deer, hunters should wear latex gloves to remove the entrails,” Cottrell said. “Great care should be taken to remove entrails without rupturing them, and hunters should drain any excess blood still remaining in the cavity. Don’t wash the deer out in a creek. Instead, wipe down the body cavity with a dry cloth.”
Once entrails are removed, the deer should be taken from the field and cooled down as soon as possible. In warm weather, the cool-down process begins when you field-dress the deer. To improve the cool-down process, consider skinning the deer and hanging the carcass in the shade, refrigerating it or placing a bag of ice in the body cavity. Never place a deer carcass—with or without the hide intact—in direct sunlight.
If you plan to process your deer by yourself, the first step—after tagging and field-dressing the deer—is to remove the hide, which comes off easiest if the front legs are cut off at the wrists, and the rear legs are removed just below the knee joint with a saw. Use a knife to cut the hide from where each leg was sawed off at the wrist, back to the body trunk. Cutting the rear legs at the joint also makes it easier to hang a carcass on a gambrel or meat hooks. Hang the carcass by the large tendons on the back legs.
Next, the hide is pulled from the carcass, starting at the rear end and working downward toward the head. Peel it from the hind quarters first, then cut the tailbone and pull it down to the shoulders. Work the hide over the shoulders and pull it away from the legs. Finally, pull the hide down the neck as close to the base of the skull as possible and cut the carcass free from the head with a clean saw. Remove the trachea.
The remaining hide-free carcass should be wiped off immediately. If you use water to clean the cavity or carcass, dry the meat immediately. Wet or damp meat spoils more quickly and is more prone to cultivate and nurture bacteria. Rinsing meat with water also can hasten the spread of bacteria. Any blood clotting and hair should be removed. It’s also a good idea to remove large fatty deposits to improve the quality of your meat. It helps lessen that “game taste” some people dislike about venison.
Following these steps will prepare your carcass for hanging in a meat processor’s refrigerator, or quartering and placing it in your refrigerator. If the air temperature is above 50 degrees, hunters should get their carcass refrigerated as soon as possible.
“Deer harvested in warm weather have a higher bacterial load, so it’s important to dress the deer as soon as possible, transport it from the field, remove the hide and refrigerate the carcass,” Cottrell said. “Cooling the carcass will prevent bacterial growth.”
The PGC offers two free brochures on venison care and field-dressing deer. The first titled, “To Field Dress a Deer,” offers step-by-step instructions with illustrations on how to field-dress a deer. The second titled, “Venison Needn’t Be Pot Luck,” offers field-dressing instructions and cooking tips. The PGC also offers a six-tape “Wild Harvest Video,” series produced by Jerry Chiappetta and featuring Certified Master Chef Milos Cihelka. The videos are available in “The Outdoor Shop” of the PGC’s Web site at pgc.state.pa.us.