While we have always butchered our deer at home, over the past several years I have gotten to know a couple of excellent butchers and processors in our area. I like to swing by their shops from time to time while season is in to ask how things are going, see the deer, and just shoot the bull with local hunters.
This year, I posed the question, "What are some of the things you hate to see roll into the shop?" to Dickie Lacefield, manager at Moore's Meats in Versailles, Kentucky, and Denny Markwell, owner of Markwell's Custom Deer Processing in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. Both men have been in the business for a long time. Between them, they have processed tens of thousands of deer and they have seen just about everything you can imagine.
Here are the top five things they say will keep you from getting the highest quality meat back from your trophy.
1. Not field dressing completely. Lacefield says, "I hate seeing deer come in with the butthole and a full bladder still inside. Often, there are even droppings left inside the cavity. It just adds another source of contamination to the meat. If you are going to field dress the deer, take the time to learn to do it right and get everything out. It makes our job easier and keeps your meat a lot cleaner."
2. Take care of your deer after you shoot it. Denny Markwell tells this story, "I understand wanting to show off your deer, but you have to use some common sense. We had a deer come in on a Thursday a few years ago. The temperature had been right at 80 all week. When I walked past the truck the deer was in, I got a pretty strong whiff of spoiled meat. I went back and grabbed the deer by the leg and the smell about knocked me over. I asked the hunter when he had killed the deer and he replied "last Sunday, but I hung it in my barn after I showed it to everyone." That deer had spent five days either riding around in the back of a truck or hanging in a barn at temperatures that were double what was safe. It was beyond aged, it was rotten." If the daytime temperatures are much over 40 degrees, get your deer to the processor and in the cooler as soon after you kill it as possible, preferably within hours.
3. "Don't bring me a deer with 25 pounds of meat and expect to get 100 pounds back," says Lacefield. Everyone loves venison, but it is easy to overestimate how much finished meat is on a deer when it is still on the bone with the hide on. That is a lot of weight that doesn't translate to usable venison. Get to know your processor before the busy season and build a trust so that you know you are getting everything you should.
4. Along those same lines, don't expect a good processor to package bad meat. "If a deer comes in and it has been shot three or four times, both shoulders are destroyed, maybe it's been shot through the guts, I am going to trim that deer heavily. If I wouldn't eat it, I am not going to package it for a customer," says Markwell.
5. Don't get hair all over the meat! Both processors echoed this point. Both reported that it takes way less time for them to skin a deer correctly than it does to clean the hair and debris from a deer that was skinned before being brought to them. "Skinned deer covered in hair and trash from riding around in the bed of a truck take forever to get cleaned up. Just leave the hide on till you get it to us and let us skin it here," says Markwell.