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Hooks and Antlers column: Proper care ensures quality venison

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Like many hunters, I have unfilled deer tags and an unfilled freezer. I still have strong hopes of putting some venison in the freezer before the Dec. 15 closure of the Northern Zone’s Late Muzzleloader season in WMU 6C.

In light of those hopes, today’s column takes a look at the various steps a hunter can take to ensure his or her venison maintains its quality for the dinner table.

The Shot

A quick, clean kill is the first step for tasty venison. Traditional wisdom calls for placing that shot just behind the front shoulder in the heart, lung area.

Some hunters opt for a shot to the shoulder although this typically results in the ruination of some meat. I have one friend who recommends placing the shot in the lower neck just ahead of the front shoulder.

A poorly placed shot causes the release of chemicals into the bloodstream and then into the muscles while “pushing” a wounded deer will result in a lactic-acid buildup in that deer’s muscles. Both of these actions can result in lessened meat quality.

Field Dressing

Clean is the key word when it comes to field dressing, and a sharp knife and careful approach are advised. To prevent tainting of meat, a hunter should avoid cutting into the stomach, intestines, bladder, or muscles. The hunter should clean the chest cavity of all entrails and to drain the cavity of blood.

Handling

Venison can also be tainted during dragging and transporting. When dragging a carcass, be conscious of keeping the chest cavity out of dirt and water. When transporting a deer, common sense calls for positioning the animal out of the sunlight, away from engine heat, and away from vehicle exhaust.

If a carcass has been mishandled, most experts advise washing the chest cavity with a hose and then drying the area with a cloth or paper towels.

Rapid cooling is critical to quality venison. Hunters can facilitate cooling by using a stick to wedge open the body cavity, and if temperatures are on the warm side, people can place ice bags in the chest cavity to speed up the cooling.

Hanging

Sanitary conditions are important for hanging and cutting up deer so it is advised to have an area cleaned.

Some individuals choose to hang their deer by the head, but using a gambrel to hang the deer by its hindquarters is the more accepted hanging method.

Walk-in coolers with temperatures with 35 to 40 degrees are the ideal hanging places. Otherwise, hunters should monitor the carcass daily as warm temperatures can result in spoilage while cold temperatures can result in freezing, and a frozen carcass is a nightmare to skin and cut up.

Garages are common hanging sites. When using the garage in warm weather, open the doors and windows in the evening and morning to allow cool air to enter. Similarly, keep things closed during the warm temperatures of midday. When temperatures flirt with freezing, reverse the process of opening and closing doors and windows.

To avoid meat spoilage in warm temperatures, some hunters opt to skin their deer immediately upon hanging. But most authorities advise leaving the hide attached, though, to prevent the venison from drying out and to prevent meat contamination.

No matter when the hide is removed, the skinner should take steps to keep hair off the meat. To remove unwanted hair from the carcass, some individuals singe that hair with a propane torch.

Cutting Up

Taking one’s deer to a professional meat cutter guarantees the venison will be properly cut up and cared for. If cutting the deer at home, hunters are advised to do a bit of preparation by getting the cleaning area and gear ready, and that gear should include a couple of razor-sharp knives.

In cutting, it is advisable to make the cuts according to the separate muscle groups. Most authorities recommend filleting meat off the bones instead of using a meat saw. Such sawing might allow marrow to contaminate the meat. Before packaging and freezing, make sure that all fat, tallow, and connective tissue are removed from the venison.

Outdoors Calendar

Monday: One-day closure of Canada Goose Season in Northeast Goose hunting area.

Tuesday: Public hearing on boat launch facilities at Massena Town Hall at 7 p.m.

Nov. 30: Traditional bass season closes in New York state.

Dec. 8: Regular Deer season closes in Northern and Southern zones.

Dec. 9-15: Late Muzzleloader season is open in WMU’s 5A, 5G, 5J, 6A, 6C, 6G, and 6H.

Dec. 9-17: Late Bowhunting and Muzzleloader seasons are open in Southern Zone.

Dec. 15: Waterfowl season closes in Northeast zone.

Dec. 15: Canada Goose season closes in Northeast hunting area.

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