Family-Scale Venison Processing

I see that the Bartlett Boys up in North Dakota have been hunting deer and home-processing the harvest. We have been doing much the same here at our house.

This year was my son, Robert’s, first to hunt with a bow. He took a small buck with an arrow through the lungs. Then James, my youngest, hunting for the first time, shot a meaty buck that was more interested in cavorting with a group of does than watching out for his own hide (you can see James’ buck HERE). A third deer was taken when Marlene sighted it from the house, limping through the field with its back leg shot nearly off. Robert & James headed out, tracked the injured beast out behind the neighbors barn, and finished it off.

I know men who have hunted deer for years and not got one. But these boys are hunting and harvesting right from the start (Robert shot two last season—his first year hunting). Why is this? Well, clearly, they’re blessed. But they are also determined, persistent, patient, and eager to learn whatever they can about hunting deer.

Most mornings during hunting season the two get themselves up before dawn, make a breakfast, suite up, and head out to their tree stands. Then, when I get home from work in the afternoon, they are out hunting again, and come back home after dark. I never did this kind of thing when I was a kid. I missed out. Living in a suburban housing project, I watched a lot of television. Shows like Get Smart and The Partridge Family. It's a wonder my brain still functions. I am very thankful that these boys are into such a positive and productive outdoor activity.

They golf ball skinned all three deer. If you have never golf ball skinned a deer, check out THIS ESSAY that I wrote awhile back. The skinning technique works best when the deer is “fresh.” If the carcass hangs for long, or freezes in the cold air, golf ball skinning still works but it takes more time and effort.

Although we have been butchering deer ourselves at home for around ten years, we are pure amateurs. We cut off a couple legs at a time and bring them in the kitchen. Then we carve off chunks of meat and make sure there is no fat left on the meat. We also remove as much connective tissue as is possible. Chunks of venison are packaged up and frozen. Marlene uses the meat for stir fry, stews, and speedies on the grill. The backstrap, a long length of especially good meat down each side of the deer’s spine, is our favorite cut. We save those for summer meals outside in the back yard.

We also grind up a lot of venison chunks. Our grinder is a very basic hand-crank unit. The holes in the grinder plate tend to clog up with tough connective tissue pretty quick. Then it has to be taken apart and cleaned off. Very discouraging. But this year we figured out that if we cut the meat chunks real small before going into he grinder, it doesn’t clog up nearly so fast. And, partially frozen meat grinds best.

This year we made a fair amount of venison sausage. Since venison is so lean, you need to add pork fat to make the sausage. Marlene bought ten pounds of ground “pork trimmings” at the local meat market (unfortunately, the pork was not locally raised). To make the sausage, we mixed the ground venison and pork, half and half, with some spices, and ran it all through the grinder a second time. We did not put the sausage in casings. We packed it into one-pound ziplock bags for the freezer.

The Bartlett's have an electric meat grinder. Nice. We may get one too. But I’ll still hang onto the hand grinder—just in case. And if the electricity goes off for an extended time, we will can the frozen meat. We’re set up to can without the need for electricity. I’ve heard that canned venison is very good. Canning venison is on our list of things to do someday.

In the process of butchering a deer, there are a lot of scraps that aren’t fit for sausage. We bag those up for feeding to our dogs, and keep a supply in the freezer. Once we have taken all the meat we can get off the legs, I take them out to my workshop and cut them into 4 to 6 inch lengths. They will be given to the dogs. Right now the meaty bones are in a box outside where they will keep very well through the cold winter.

By the way, I make short work of cutting the legs into dog bones by clamping the body of my Sawzall in a bench vise. The saw is outfitted with a long woodcutting blade. I lock the saw on and can cut a length of leg into short sections in less than a minute.

Some people worry that if you feed venison to your dogs, they will chase deer. Does it then follow that if you give a cow bone to a dog it will chase cows? I doubt it. Besides, our old mongrel, Annie, does not chase much of anything these days (she just barks). And, though Marlene’s two beagles are inclined to chase after any animal scent their remarkable noses latch on to, I don’t think deer are their primary interest.

I read at PotterVilla Academy that Matthew Potter has been helping to properly butcher deer (instead of just hacking the meat off like we do). I think that is such a great thing to be learning!

Matthew... If you do put together a How To Butcher A Deer photo tutorial on the internet, it will surely help a lot of us who are lacking in the finer points of this rural craft.

In time, butchering a deer has gotten easier to do because we’ve become more familiar with what to expect. We’re still hackers, but we’re experienced hackers now. Last Saturday, Marlene and I and James and Robert all worked together for a few hours in our kitchen processing two deer. It was the “family economy” in action, and it was a beautiful thing. This aspect of us all working together as a family to do the task is what I find the most satisfying part of family-scale venison processing.

I think my main point with this essay is to communicate that if we can take a deer and turn it into meals, I'm sure your family can do the same.


Kristl said...

Mr. Kimball, here's a fantastic link to what I think you are looking for:
Old Time Smith

Hope this helps.


Anonymous said...

Hope you and your family have a wonderful Thanksgiving.
Blessing Debylin

Anonymous said...

My husband and I have been "amateur butchering" for the last six years, but this year we decided to find out how to do it right. Our bow season started in September (North Carolina), and within a few weeks we had harvested four deer. I ordered a DVD from and it was exactly what we needed! We were able to get nice steaks and roasts for the first time. I got the video between deer #2 and #3, and the last two definitely took less time!


By the way, I grew up in Ithaca, and I have really enjoyed reading your blog!

Ann from KY said...

this was our first year to process deer. It's not too bad once you've done it. I would highly recommend a video we purchased a wonderful video from the Ky dept. of fish and wildlife for 13.00 called Deer Processing - Techniques from the field to the freezer. My 13 year old son was able to do his deer himself after seeing it. He would cut and run back in and watch more, then back outside. He was able to bring me in all the meat to finish up. Here's the link to it:

They also have a fantastic recipe on the webpage too--here's the link to it:

Matt Davis said...

Brother Herrick,

It seems contagious. Over at the Rural Missourian, Pastor Tom writes that his daughter just bagged her first deer. It's a great story. I would have put the link here, but I don't know how.

In Christ,

Matt Davis

Herrick Kimball said...

Thanks everyone for the great links.

Here's the link to Pastor McConnell's daughter's deer hunting story. Congratulations, Susan. Very nice...
Her First Deer

Steve said...

I used to bring my deer to a butcher but after doing a couple of hogs this year I decided that I should also be able to cut up some venison. While the cuts aren't perfect, I must say that I am more pleased with my own results than those of the butcher. We have boneless roasts, steaks & chops, and stew meat & ribs. Very little went to waste, and the dogs were also very happy with what was left.

I used, "Basic Butchering of Livestock & Game". It is a very good "basic" book on butchering. I recommend it.