Good venison starts with your knife.
If you filled a tag this year, you probably headed for a local deer processor. He probably skinned it, cut it, ground it, and maybe even made sausage for you. The thing you did, besides shooting the deer, was to field dress it. Then you turned it over to the pro.
That pro might not be around much longer, because it seems like more of them are getting out of that business every year. It’s hard to make much money at it, and those who do it aren’t getting any younger. One of these days the guy you take your deer to will retire. What then?
I’ve butchered almost all my own deer from the time I was 15, when I worked in a retail butcher shop in Warren, PA. Only a couple of times have I taken it somewhere for basic butchering. My guy is Jim Seder of Seder’s Meatcutting in Russell, PA.
Jim is old school, and that’s a good thing. He has been cutting meat for 55 years, had formal training for it, and through the years he has processed more than 20,000 deer, lots of other big game, and more cows and pigs than you can count. One of these days he will join the others who have sharpened their knives for the last time. But he can train you to do it yourself.
Late last year Seder came out with some instructional DVD recordings that will teach you to butcher your own deer. The first requisite is not that you have skills – this isn’t brain surgery. It’s that you’re a willing learner and you have a kitchen or shop where you can wash the blood away.
And there will be blood. Most deer are shot through the ribs, and the area around the bullet’s exit hole will be bloodshot. That ruins a certain amount of meat. Seder recommends that you shoot your deer in the head. From a butcher’s point of view that makes all the sense in the world, but that’s the one point where I disagree with him.
And not because that spoils the taxidermy. The taxidermist can always buy a cape (which will raise the price of your mount, but that’s just money). There’s a more important reason I don’t favor head shots. Yes, if your bullet drills through the brain, the deer will drop in his tracks. But the brain is a small target, and you don’t have to miss it by much to end up with a problem.
I doubt I need to elaborate other than to say you can miss the brain, hit other parts of the head, and cause a prolonged death. Based on what I’ve seen (fortunately, not what I’ve done), I do not advise a head shot. So don’t worry about damaging some edible meat. Seder tells you how to deal with that anyway, and everything else from skinning to butchering to wrapping.
His videos are worth having for at least two reasons. One is so you can understand what a butcher should be doing to give you the best venison possible. Seder knows, and if your butcher isn’t doing most of what Seder shows you, well, he could do a lot better.
The other is that one of these days you might need to join the ranks of do-it-yourselfers, if you haven’t already. Seder shows step-by-step how to get the cuts you want. He’s clear, and he’s good. He does the little things most butchers don’t think they have time to do, which makes your meat better. I can tell you the buck he processed for me this year couldn’t have been better if I had done it myself. Get his videos, and you’ll see why. (Call him at 814-757-8070.)
But field dressing comes first, and that’s your job. Always completely remove the entrails while you’re still in the woods, from the windpipe on one end to the contents of the pelvic channel on the other. The reason is simple. Good venison isn’t just up to the butcher. It starts when you stick YOUR knife into it.
When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, writing about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. Contact him at EverydayHunter@gmail.com, and read more of his thoughts about hunting at www.jamestowngazette.com.