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White-tailed Deer Buck

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Many would argue that venison is one of the tastiest and leanest wild game protein sources, and Alabama deer hunters are preparing their freezers for this year’s harvest. To be as efficient, sanitary and safe as possible this season, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System wildlife sciences professor has field dressing basics for all hunting enthusiasts.

An Excellent Protein Source

According to Mark Smith, an Alabama Extension forestry and wildlife sciences professor, more than 220,000 white-tail deer are harvested in Alabama each year. This means approximately 5.5 million pounds of venison will be served on dinner tables across the state.

“There are many venison dishes, from simple to highly-sophisticated, and some of them would win over even the greatest skeptics,” Smith said. “Venison that is properly cared for from field to table can be delicious.”

A venison serving size of 3 ounces contains about 96 calories, 3 grams of fat and 18 grams of protein. This allows venison to be a leaner option for those who enjoy red meats.

Smith said it is likely that people who have had bad experiences with deer meat may have also been affected by the result of poor handling of venison after harvest. This means that proper processing of venison is imperative to ensure a tasty, safe protein.

Field Dressing Tips

After harvesting a deer, only half of the mission is complete. Field dressing can be one of the more intimidating parts of the hunting experience. Smith says that everyone has their own preferred method, but with the right process, it will become more natural. Review the list of tips below to sharpen your wild game harvest skills.

  • Ensure a sanitary harvest. The first goal when field dressing a deer is to make sure that no meat is exposed to bacteria sources such as the animal’s rumen, stomach material, feces, urine and other foreign debris such as dirt. Remember, bacteria occur everywhere.
  • Wear gloves. To reduce the risk of any disease transmission through skin contact, wear rubber, latex or nitrile gloves. This applies to all wild game animals – not only deer.
  • Keep a clean blade. Periodically clean your knife with anti-bacterial wipes. These wipes are a handy tool to quickly sanitize other surfaces such as your hands.

Preserving Venison

  • Keep cool. Meat must be kept cool from the time the animal dies to the time it is cut, packaged and placed in the freezer or consumed. To slow the growth of bacteria, keep the carcass at 39°F or lower. Not only will heat spur the growth of bacteria which will eventually cause meat spoilage, it will also cause hair slippage from the hide resulting in a ruined cape of the trophy animal intended for mounting.
  • Remove the hide. The general rule is for any deer-sized animal, removing the hide in outside temperatures exceeding 40°F will ensure proper cooling. If the hide is left on the carcass, it can prohibit sufficient cooling of the carcass in warmer climates.
  • Use an ice slurry. Submerging a carcass in in a mixture of ice, water and coarse salt will cool meat in a pinch. This is a great method if venison needs to be transported longer distances.
  • Rinse if needed. If deer meat becomes in contact with unwanted substances such as fluids, feces or urine, immediately rinse out the cavity and use paper towels to dry. Remember, moisture causes bacteria to multiply—causing meat spoilage and hair slippage.

After the Dressing

Upon completion of the butchering, proper storage is imperative. Smith says that improper storage can ruin the rewards of the hunt.

“Avoid the use of plastic bags or tarps for transporting the carcass or parts thereof (i.e., hind quarters, front shoulders etc.),” Smith said. “Plastics not only seal in moisture, but they also seal in heat. Use breathable cotton game bags or heavy-duty cheese cloth bags made specifically for game meat.”

If hanging the carcass is preferred, be sure to keep it off the ground and in a shaded area. The ground serves as unwanted insulation and direct sunlight will heat the carcass. If there is no proper ground or shade, Smith says hunters can simply place the carcass on an elevated surface such as logs and create shade with a tarp.

Be Aware of CWD

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) has been confirmed in northwest Alabama. Be sure to frequently check the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division’s CWD website for the latest information on CWD in the state. There is also information about handling, processing and transporting harvested deer as well as how to bring back venison and trophies to Alabama from other states.

Once the harvest is complete, properly dispose of the carcass once all meat is removed. Visit the Outdoor Alabama harvest disposal web page for assistance in handling, processing and disposal of deer.

It’s Time 

Ensure that deer season is as efficient, safe and fun as possible. For more tips on harvesting venison, read Venison: The Best Meal You’ll Ever Have on the Alabama Extension website, www.aces.edu. More information is also available on the Extension Deer Processing Video Series web page.

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