Sunday, December 4, 2011

Filling the Freezer

Whitney and I don't take butchering lightly. It is an important part of the fall, securing the meat that we'll use for the next year, and beyond. Very little gets given away and only to people who appreciate what goes into preparing it.
Why do we Hunt? the plain and simple reason is for meat. Yes, there are many other reasons too, like: recreation, commrodery, exploring new areas and excercise, but you can do all that with out killing animals. Likewise, you can eat meat your whole life and never kill anything personally(this is a subject for a whole different conversation). To me, a true hunter places just as much importance on the meat as he does the trophy. That said, I enjoy a large rack as much as the next guy, but never at the expense of the meat.
For that reason, we clean our meat to a point some people find ridiculous. Many guys I know claim to be able to process 5 or more deer in a day. It takes us a full day to process one animal. However, many people I know also claim venison is gamey, tough and a struggle to eat. In comparison many people we have served venison had no idea it wasn't store bought beef until they were told. We also aim to get every ounce of meat we can from the animals we kill, honoring the animal's sacrafice as much as possible.
Clean meat starts with a clean shot. It continues through dressing and caring for the animal in the field and proper handling at home. We always strive to kill on the first shot, although at times it takes more. In her four animals to date, Whitney has yet to shoot any more than once, always hitting a vital spot. I can't claim this impressive achievement myself, but most of mine fall to one shot, and I have yet to loose a wounded animal. I don't write this as a boast, simply to point out that good stalking before the shot, and followup after are a part of hunting that should never be down-played. A long range or unsure shot that wounds an animal is far less impressive than a long sneek ending in a good shot and clean kill.
All of our game gets hung for seven to ten days, allowing the meat to pass completely through rigor mortis and begin to age slightly. I have skinned animals "hot" before aging and "cold" after the aging. The only real difference I have found is that skinning hot is much easier. It does dry more meat than cold skinning, but use of a game bag to cover the carcass can help keep in the moisture.
The pictures below are from a recent weekend of butchering. We had our good friends Mac and Alyssa over, the Montana State Bobcat Vs. University of Montana Griz rivalry game on the tube, and two bucks to keep us busy. The following is our style of butchering. It is not the only way and I can't say it is the best way, just our way.

Mule deer hind quarter
    The first thing I did was go out to the barn and separate the front quarters from the hanging carcass. We start with the fronts, then the backstraps (loins), neck and ribs and end with the hind quarters. The pieces were brought in and cleaned completely of hair. Next the dark dried out meat was trimmed off and the muscle groups separated from the bone. Venison fat is not enjoyable to eat, it taints the flavor of the meat and ruins the cut. All fat, tendon and sinew gets trimmed completely.
cutting trimmed meat into usable pieces
 Once the muscle is totally cleaned, it gets cut and sorted into various products. We aren't big on roasts, so we don't wrap any. We have found that it is much more enjoyable to pull packages from the freezer that are 100% ready to go, so nothing gets wrapped until it's totally ready. As our friend Alyssa pointed out, we tend to do the work upfront, while some people put off the final trimming until it's time to cook. That's just a personal preference.
the sort top to bottom: meat to grind, jerky strips, steaks.
One product we really enjoy eating is venison jerky. This year I applied for and filled an extra tag, just so that we'd have extra meat to devote to things like jerky and sausage. Otherwise we would have been using steak or stew meat for jerky. In this photo you can see how we sort the meat: bits to grind all the way down to good steaks (stew chunks aren't pictured). In the middle are strips that we'll dry into jerky. These are cut with the grain of the meat as opposed to steaks and stew chunks that are cut across the grain.

Once the meat is cut and sorted, it's time to wrap. This usually falls to Whit, while I keep cutting. First the meat is arranged on plastic wrap, in groups of like cuts one to two pounds at a time. The plastic is wrapped up and all the air is pushed out.  

Then, the package is placed on freezer paper and wrapped again. This double wrapping has never failed us, even with meat staying in the freezer for more that two years at time. However, you should aim to use the meat within a year.

 Finally, the date and cut is written on the package. We also name our deer and write it on the package. This sounds odd at first maybe, but it is a simple way to remember what deer it was and recall the hunt.
At the end of the day, the packages were loaded into the freezer and the jerky strips were loaded into the dehydrator. The meat for grinding was stockpiled in tubs and frozen, waiting for a day this winter when we'll make burger and sausages (future blog post?).
The Griz beat the Cats soundly, making it a good day all around. Thanks very much to Mac for help with the cutting and taking these great pictures.


Laura S. said...

Love your detailed accounts of your hunting and cutting, Kyle! You have very good hunting ethics. Actually, your hunting philosophy, as well as how meticulously you cut your meat, exactly match how I was raised by my dad :)

Whitney said...

Thanks Laura! Just saw your comment today. Glad to know your dad is meticulous too. We get made fun of for how slow we are processing our game but we want to get everything out of it we can, and cleanly!