Being a true “meat hunter” is not an excuse to kill every deer you see, just as being a “trophy hunter” is not just a quest for antlers. We've talked about all that here before. A hunter truly interested in meat quality is selective because, when it comes to table fare, not all deer are created equal. We extensively covered techniques to make venison taste better in this article. Most of those tips involved what to do with a deer after you shoot it. But tip No. 3 is among the most important. And that is to shoot the right deer.
In my experience, which involves about 100 killed and self-processed deer in a lifetime, this is what to look for when shopping for venison on the hoof. And we’re talking steaks here. Unless the meat is tainted or spoiled, it all makes good hamburger or jerky.
Beware of Old Does. I’ve heard some hunters claim that “does taste better than bucks.” That’s not inherently true. A mature doe that’s spent a summer nursing fawns is about the toughest, stringiest deer in the woods. The nutrients she consumes are going to the betterment of her fawn’s health, rather than her own. Nothing wrong with shooting her – again, think jerky and burgers – but don’t trim her up into steaks because you will be disappointed.
Shoot a Fawn. Fawns are cute, cuddly and cloaked in tasty, tender venison. I’ve killed a bunch of them and will do it again, given the chance. Yes, some people will ridicule you for shooting them. My advice for that is to offer them a fried fawn cutlet. They'll hush. Such young deer are always a safe bet for good eating. By mid-October, an average fawn will field-dress 50 to 60 pounds, and yield around 20 pounds of trimmed steaks. Buttons on young bucks are easy to spot with binoculars by then, too. I usually give the little fellows a pass. But not always.
Hunt Crops. A deer fattened on corn and soybeans will taste better than a big timber deer scraping by on twigs and browse. That’s just a fact of life.
Hold out for a Year-and-a-Half-Old Doe. If you have the time to hunt and wait, this deer is the cream of the crop. Does of this age are large enough to yield plenty of meat and since they aren't typically nursing fawns, everything they consume prior to the rut goes to fat reserves. Shooting them has the management benefits of shooting any other doe. This is a deer to kill in the early season if you can. Come late October, bucks will be chasing this plump young thing across the countryside with all manner of filthy thoughts in minds, and those fat reserves will be depleted.
Shoot a Year-and-a-Half-Old Buck. I’m not a forkhorn killer myself. At least not in a while. In that vein, I suppose I’m a trophy hunter with loose standards. But all the things that make year-and-a-half-old does tasty are equally true for young bucks. Except the young bucks are bigger and easier to come by, which is a handy thing if you only have a weekend or two of hunting at your disposal. Yes, some will give you the stink eye for hoisting a 6-pointer up on the gambrel. But hey, is it your fault God made that deer delicious? I think not. And you might remind anyone who objects that you bought your license, same as them.
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