From Field to Freezer

Harvest more does! is the advice of many state game and fish agencies, including the Missouri Department of Conservation.

At public meetings, Conservation Department staff field questions about proposed deer hunting regulations and deer herd management. One subject discussed repeatedly is the harvest of more does.

Many people say they would like to take additional animals, but also said they cannot afford processing fees that typically range from $60 to $75 per deer. That wouldn’t be a limitation if people knew how to process their own deer.

For more than a decade, my family has processed all the deer we take—usually three to five deer a year. Through trial and error, we created a process that results in quality meat for the whole family. It takes a little time, but we look at it as a satisfying final chapter to our hunts.

The first step in processing and packaging deer is assembling the proper tools. You will need:

  • Two sharp knives and a sharpener to touch them up during processing. I recommend a boning knife and a flexible 6- to 8-inch filet knife.
  • A spacious work area and cutting board that have been disinfected with bleach. You also should disinfect your hands and the tools you use to avoid contaminating the meat.
  • A compact or professional bone saw. If you plan to make burger, you’ll also need a meat grinder—either hand-cranked or electric.

Now, assuming you’ve field-dressed and skinned your deer and have it hanging by its head, you are ready to begin.

First, remove the legs at the knee joints with a bone saw. Then take a moment to study the deer and the individual muscle groups.

 With the back of the deer facing you, locate the coveted “back straps.” These are about as thick as your wrist, and run on either side of the spine from just behind the front shoulders to just in front of the hips.

Using the boning knife, cut slowly on either side of the spine, “feeling” the bone with the knife as you go down the length of each strap. Next, cut on each side to liberate the straps from the ribs. At this point, you should be able to remove each one with a minimum of cutting.

Good tools make good meat

Companies that offer meat processing supplies include: LEM Products Inc., (877) 536-7763; The Sausage Maker, (716) 876-5521; Cabela’s, (800) 237-4444; and Bass Pro Shops, (800) Basspro.

Use the filet knife to remove the translucent