Clean and cool are the keywords for good table fare
PRATT -- Although the 2007 regular firearms deer season is over, archery hunters are still afield, and firearms hunters are looking forward to the Jan. 1-6 whitetail antlerless-only season in many deer management units. One of the best rewards of a successful deer hunt is the meat, but the secret to good venison can be summed in two simple rules of proper field care: “clean” and “cool.” Once game reaches the kitchen, the cook has no chance of turning meat into tasty dishes if it has not received proper field care.

Proper care begins when the animal is downed. Although some hunters feel it is necessary to “bleed” a downed deer, a deer shot in the chest cavity will bleed out before the hunter even gets to it. A clean shot, therefore, is the first step to ensuring high-quality meat on the table. If bleeding is necessary, cut one of the large arteries along the neck soon after the animal is shot. Bleeding will help prevent blood from clotting in the meat.

The next important step is to quickly field dress the animal. This is especially true when the weather is warm. Prompt removal of the internal organs helps cool the meat.
A common myth is that the musk or scent glands on the rear legs must be removed. Actually, it’s best not to touch the glands at all because you may contaminate meat with your knife if you cut the glands off before dressing the deer.

Skinning the deer will allow the carcass to cool further, but you need a clean, cool place to hang the carcass before skinning. If you don’t have a suitable cool place to skin a deer, call the local meat processor. Many processors prefer to skin deer themselves rather than receive skinned deer that hasn’t been kept clean.

Yet another myth is that you should hang the carcass in your garage for several days to get rid of the “wild” taste. Although many hunters believe that aging meat makes it more tender, this should only be done in a place where the temperature is strictly maintained between 34 and 40 degrees. If the temperature is above 40 degrees in your garage, the meat will begin to spoil. As a rule, get the deer to a cooler as soon as possible. If you plan to butcher the deer yourself, do it soon after the meat has cooled. If you plan to have a commercial processor butcher the deer, get it to him as soon as possible.

It’s also a good idea to visit with a local meat processor before the season. Tell him you plan to bring in your deer and find out how he would prefer to receive it. Find out what his hours are and what arrangements can be made on weekends. Unless the weather is cold, a delay in getting your deer processed may ruin the meat.

With proper care and no special preparation in cooking, venison is some of the finest tasting meat on earth. Just remember to field dress the deer quickly, cool the carcass as fast as possible, keep the carcass free of dirt and flies, and take the meat to a processor or cooler without delay.