Quickly-dressed out and cooled deer meat rivals the best entrees

For deer hunters, taking a deer is a satisfying way to participate in nature, often culminating several weeks of practice, scouting, and preparation. However, once the deer is down and tagged and photos snapped, the real work begins -- caring for the meat.

No matter the weather, cooling a deer soon after the kill is important. When weather is mild, hunters must take special care to ensure their hard-earned deer is fit for the table. When cared for correctly, venison provides lean, healthy, gourmet-quality meat.

A quick, clean kill through the lungs or heart is important, but as soon as the deer is recovered, it’s also important to field dress the animal so that the carcass can begin cooling. Be careful to keep dirt, hair, and debris away from exposed meat while dressing and when moving the deer to the vehicle. Those who plan to process their own deer should hang the deer in a clean, cool building. It’s often best to remove the hide so that meat can continue to cool. Hunters who plan to have the deer processed by commercial butchers should contact them as soon as possible to arrange for delivery.

A cool, clean place is essential for butchering. Many hunters like to age their deer, but a cooler is often needed for this. Aging is not necessary, but for those who prefer this method, venison should be aged at 35-39 degrees. Cooler than this, and the meat may freeze, and warmer, the meat may spoil.

With a little extra effort and time, successful deer hunters will enjoy months of rewarding venison meals. Remember, field dress the deer quickly, cool the meat, and keep it clean.