Introduction: Wild Meats, Good Eats: Venison Edition
In my family, we do not usually buy our meats from a store. We supply our own through hunting and fishing!
We choose to do this for a few reasons. First and foremost, we save money. Roughly $1500* or more a year!! How can you beat that?! Secondly, we like to eat more natural foods, and it does not get more natural than freshly harvested meat from a naturally wild animal. I also feel better knowing that my kids are growing up eating the healthy clean meats my wife and I provide rather than solely the meats sold in your regular grocery stores with added growth hormones and/or chemicals to worry about. The third reason we hunt is because my wife and I truly do have a passion for hunting and passing on the tradition, not only to our kids but to anyone who has a desire to learn or experience it. It is important to us to keep our heritage alive. Hunting it is a way to relax and take in the natural world around us, as well as to provide sustenance for our family. It is a return to the basics, where instincts kicks in and endorphins give you such a rush that words can't truly explain the feelings. This Instructable is meant to pass on some insight to the world about deer hunting from start to finish and lastly provide the readers with some of my favorite genuine venison recipes that I have developed over the years.
*Based on 2010 data from the United States Census Bureau, it is estimated that Americans spend $459 per year per person, or about $1.26 per person per day. If you account for inflation and put it in 2015 dollars that's $498.03 per year per person, or $1.37 per person per day . This being said, two adults in my house and counting my kids as 1/2 a person each (they are young) rough estimate of ~1500 saved each year providing our own meats. Now, I also think my family eats a bit more meat than most so I would say $1500 is on the low end for us.
Step 1: Hunting (Caution: Some Images May Be Graphic)
Each year my family and I go up to our Tennessee farm for about a week and deer hunt. This yearly trip typically yields 3-5 deer, and the majority of our meat for the year. It is quite typical that we may go nine months or more without buying any store bought meats other than some occasional chicken, turkey and bacon. (My wife wants to raise a calf and goats, and we might need to start raising chickens again like we had growing up...) We have been fortunate enough to have hunted in every state we have lived in over the years. Our successful hunting adventures include: Tule elk, wild hogs, turkey, rabbit, squirrel, dove, quail, duck, but our favorite has always been deer hunting. I also LOVE to go fishing! My wife says I may be a little obsessed with it. I go quite often during the off season, so we are able to provide a wide variety meats. We may only supplement towards the end of July when the freezer starts to run low. (TN deer season is roughly from the end of September to beginning of January.)
As stated before, hunting in my family is a passion, especially deer hunting. The art of hunting is something that cannot be described in one step, but I will save that for another Instructable. There are a lot of things that I am good at, but there are only a handful of things I am great at. Hunting and fishing are two things that I feel comfortable saying I am truly great at. Hunting has changed my life, and I have my wife to thank for that!
I grew up living on horse farms where I would trail ride with my mom and go fishing with my dad. I was not against hunting, but I never had the opportunity to go big game hunting until my senior year of high school. I did do some small game hunting throughout my teens, but it was not until I started dating my wife, over 12 years ago, that I got hooked on deer hunting. Coincidentally, about that same time, my family purchased a 150 acre farm. My wife came from a family where hunting was a part of life, and it put good food on the table. After we were getting pretty serious and she knew I was a keeper- HAHA! - she actually lent me the Muzzleloader with which I shot my first deer! From then on, I have been hooked on deer hunting and not on the shooting part but the whole process. My wife now has no one to blame but herself for my deer hunting obsession.
My favorite form of hunting is the art of still-hunting, or to hunt game stealthily / stalk. I have read many books and spoken with some truly great hunters to learn the art of still-hunting. Still-hunting is my favorite form of hunting because you must truly use all of your senses and be able to read the forest. This means taking in everything about your surroundings, such as wind direction, temperature changes (thermals), ground cover, smells, sounds you are making and sounds the other animals are making( Ex: squirrels barking or blue jays squawking), sun direction (silhouettes), and so much more. While still hunting, you also get to watch the other wildlife in all their glory while in their native environment. Nature is not always quiet and tranquil, it can be loud and rambunctious too. I have seen deer fighting, turkey hens protecting their chicks, bobcats stalking their prey, otters playing in the pond, foxes pouncing, chipmunks playing, squirrels chattering and performing acrobatics, owls and hawks swooping down from the sky to snatch up prey or land on tree limbs beside me, and even seen a beaver that almost fell a tree on my head. When I still-hunt, I feel as close to nature as I have ever felt!
I also am not in it for the rack. My true purpose to hunt is provide my family with food. Furthermore, I want to provide them with the most food per animal so that means I try to target the more mature deer. I am very selective of the deer I shoot, and on any given day, I may see 10 or more deer before finding the deer that fits my criteria. I prefer to harvest a deer that will not contribute well to the next generation of the herd, provide me with the cleanest shot, and are mature. In addition to preventing deer from dying of starvation or vehicular accidents, I prefer to hunt for the betterment of the herd, so that the herd stays strong and healthy for years to come.
I also want to pass a hunting tradition down to my two children. Heritage is very important to our family. We feel that it is important for them to be self-sufficient and have an understanding of where our food comes from. I love teaching kids about the outdoors, and one day when I retire, I plan to have a summer camp for kids to teach them about the outdoors and basic survival skills. We would also offer guided hunts for the children of military families and/or less fortunate families, where they will learn to do it all from hunting/harvesting to butchering. Hunting is the only way some families are able to survive with food prices constantly on the rise.
Today, I hunt with a bow, muzzleloader, or rifle depending on the season. After nearly 12 years of hunting, my favorite still remains the muzzleloader. I have been fortunate enough to hunt across the country from hunting wild pigs in Florida to hunting Tule Elk in California. My wife started my passion for deer hunting, and she is happy with it most of the time; although I do get a bit obsessed during the season :)
Step 2: Processing
Ok, so anyone who hunts knows that once you pull the trigger or release that arrow, the real work begins. I can say that on average it takes me 4 to 5 solid hours of hard work to get a deer from the field to the freezer. If possible, I like to age the meat for 1 to 2 weeks (weather permitting) before freezing, but if not I will go from start to finish in one day. Being able to tackle such a feat requires some basic knowledge of butchering, and you must have the right tools. The most important tool to have is a sharp knife. If needed, I could process an entire deer with only one sharp knife. This is also why every vehicle we own has at least one knife in it. If we ever have an accident with a deer I want to be ready to potentially bring home the meat. (Legal note: The practice of picking up roadkill is not legal in all States, so check your State's laws.)
Here is a video that I put together last season on how to field dress a deer. I apologize the lighting was not great and I talk a lot but I explain how I dress out my deer. YouTube link to the video or look above in the picture section.
Basic tools needed:
• Knife sharpener
• Hack saw
• Meat grinder (hand or electric)
• Cutting boards
• Storage system (bags,parchment paper, etc)
Just a few notes: I typically do not cut the pieces of meat up into steak size pieces before freezing. I will freeze whole muscle groups based on what my family will eat in a meal. Example: the half of a back strap in picture #7 above was one frozen piece. After thawing, I cut it up into medallions as seen in picture #8.
Like hunting, butchering is also an art. You have to know your cuts of meat and know how to follow the muscle groups with your knife to maximize the amount of meat available. Typically, I make steaks out of the hind quarters, back straps, tenderloins and some of the front shoulders (if it is a larger deer). The rest I will turn into burger. From reading online and in books, the experts say you will typically get 40/60 ratio of meat to waste on a deer. That means if you shot a deer that was 100 lbs, you are expected to have 40 lbs of meat and 60 lbs of waste (hide, bones, guts, head).
To give you a better idea of the amount of deer we go through in a year, I will do a bit of math! The 2014-2015 season gave us four deer weighing 148, 115, 120 and 165 for a total of 548 lbs of deer, now multiplying that by 40% yields 219.2 lbs. I can verify that those numbers were close because in actuality we brought back over 210 lbs!
Step 3: Storing
Once the deer is harvested and all cut up, you must properly store your meat so that you can enjoy it for many months to come. When I first started hunting, I used to pack my venison in parchment paper and freezer bags, now we store it in vacuum sealed bags. Proper storage ensures that your meat will last until the following season and beyond. How far beyond is up to you. Now that I use a vacuum sealer and have for some time, I have found some venison that was hidden away in the freezer that was 1.5 - 2 years and it tasted great! I have not had any issue with freezer burns since using a vacuum sealer so it is a must have for me.
Step 4: Cooking
NOTE: When cooking with venison, you will notice that there is little to no fat on the meat, and if overcooked it turns to leather.
I have spent over 12 years perfecting everyday recipes that incorporate venison, although I am constantly on the lookout for new and exciting recipes.
Below are links to other Instructables i have written about cooking venison, these are some of our family's favorite recipes.
Bacon Infused Venison Burgers!
Venison Chili in Under 30 Minutes
Loaded Venison Scrambled Eggs
The Most Amazing Venison Steak Dinner!
Our family and friends have all voted my steak dinner to be hands down their favorite. Here is my famous recipe for venison. Believe it or not, the most desired meal in my house is this specially prepared venison steak recipe with homemade mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli. It is so simple, but so amazing. My venison recipe amazes everyone who tries it, and they are often in disbelief that venison could be so tender and delicious. This recipe will work with other wild game meats. My favorites to use are deer, duck, and rabbit.
• Venison 2 lb
• Olive Oil White Wine Vinegar
• Tony Cahceres The Original Creole Seasoning
• Seasoned Salt
• Italian Seasoning
• Black Pepper
Unlike beef or pork, venison has little to no fat content and because of this it must be prepared differently in order to keep it tender. You can use any cut of venison meat and make it tender without having an over powering game taste. The secret is in the preparation. Remove all sinew, fat and slimy membrane from the meat. This can be done easily with a fillet knife. To help tenderize and "add fat," the secret is olive oil and a fork. Every venison recipe I have created uses this heart healthy oil. Olive oil helps to prevent the meat from burning while providing a medium for seasoning (Tony's, black pepper and seasoned salt). The fork and white wine vinegar tenderizes and infuses the meat with oil and seasoning.
Take the raw piece(s) of meat and remove all the sinew, fat, and slime. Then cut into 1/4-1/2 inch thick steaks. Next place the steaks on a cutting board and use a fork to perforate the meat (tenderize). Once that is done, you are ready to marinate!
Add the steaks to a glass bowl and add in the all the seasonings.
• 1 teaspoon of black pepper
• 1-2 tablespoons of Italian seasoning
• 1/2 teaspoon of seasoned salt
• 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of tony's
• about 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
• about 1/2 cup of olive oil
Mix it all together in the glass bowl and let it sit for 10-30 minutes. While it is marinating this would be a great time to start the grill and set on low heat. I like to cook venison on low heat because I am less likely to over cook it. Venison should only be cooked to about a medium doneness, anything further and it will get really tough. I also cook it on the top rack of my grill and turn it only once
Step 5: Great Uses for Deer (the Other 60%)
Now to address all that "waste" you have after harvesting all that meat... The other 60% of the deer includes wonderful materials that can be utilized as well. You can use the bone, antlers, hooves, hide, sinew, and even the intestines if wanted.
Some of the common uses for leftover deer parts include, but are not limited to:
1. The hide can be turned into leather. My daughter loves the hide I made for her. She loves to roll around on it wherever it is. (My How to Tan a Hide Instructable will be posted in a few months)
2. The bones can be turned into handles for tools, sharpened down into weapons, and even made into hooks and needles.
3. Antlers are great for making knife handles, candle stick holders, chandeliers, and tools.
4. Hooves are great for making rattles and gun racks.
5. The sinew can be used to make cordage, which in-turn can make a lot of things like dream catchers, bow strings, etc.
6. The intestines, heart, and liver can be turned into food for humans or for dogs. My dogs love when I make them deer!
7. Clean tallow, or fat, can be used in cooking, candles, oil lamps, oiling boots and more, and soaps.
Along with all this, there is a lot of research that can be done on deer viscera and spinal cord. Some examples are liver biopsy to look for flukes; visual inspection for blue tongue, worms, etc.; and sampling of the upper spinal cord to be tested for Chronic Wasting Disease (should only be done by a trained professional). I even helped my wife to collect and distribute deer viscera in the field for her master's thesis dealing with coyotes and their behavior after the sound of a gun shot during deer season.
take a look at this great pdf on the many uses of deer.
Uses for deer parts
Step 6: Hunters for the Hungry
"Tennessee Wildlife Federation hunters for the Hungry program is a unique and creative way to provide a much-needed, healthy protein to Tennessee's citizens in need. We provide funding to 79 participating wild game processors in 63 Tennessee counties who in turn receive donated venison during whitetail deer season, process the meat free or at a reduced rate, and make it available to local food banks and soup kitchens."
Hunters for the Hungry is a great way that hunters can give back to the community by doing what they love. Many hunters utilize this program and donate their deer to those in need. Hunters may donate money, time, an entire deer or simply a portion of a deer they are having processed for themselves. There are also deer processors that donate their time and resources to process the deer for free or at reduced rates allowing food pantries and soup kitchens to be able to continue to operate. The meat is stored in freezers until it is distributed to those in need. In 2014, Hunters for the Hungry reached a huge milestone, more than a million pounds of venison had been collected and distributed to soup kitchens and food banks across the state!! This not only helps to directly relieve hunger with nutritious, high-quality, lean meat, but it also helps to maintain over populated deer herds that are becoming a problem. When deer populations reach a certain level they cannot find enough food in their natural habitat resulting in starvation or grazing in people's gardens and crop fields. They also have to range further in their attempt to find food, which means more deer are crossing roads resulting in an increase in deer and auto collisions. Deer are one of the leading causes of car accidents in the country causing billions of dollars in damages and a large number of deaths every year.
Thanks for reading and I hope everyone enjoyed and learned something!