By Mark Fike
Many hunters that take deer, elk, antelope or other game animals also make a trip to the local butcher or processor to have a professional turn their “on the hoof” meat into packages of loin, steaks, burger and roasts. However, for many this fall, that may not be an option.
With the COVID pandemic, the food supply in America has been disrupted as have many other supply chains. Food workers have gotten sick which has shut down plants to include processing plants. When major processing plants shut down a few months ago, many farmers turned to locally owned, smaller processors to get their animals processed.
The longer a farmer has to hold on to an animal, the more money it is costing to feed and house that animal and that is money lost. Farmers raise animals, whether they are chickens, hogs, beef or whatever for a specified time and then they are shipped to be sold and/or processed. The timing is critical to the bottom line for farmers.
So what does this have to do with hunters? This fact impacts all of us that hunt very directly if we use a processor. Some processors are booked for months ahead already with beef, pork and chickens. Some of the processors won’t be able to do game animals or may have to adjust their hours or pricing.
For this reason, all hunters that count on a butcher to take care of their game animal, should pick up the phone or get in the truck and stop by and chat to see what changes are in the works.
I received a call from a farmer down the road from me late last month. He had a goat he wanted me to butcher. That left me scratching my head. I don’t butcher goats and I don’t advertise myself as a professional butcher either. I do process my own game and I will butcher my chickens and other domestic meat we raise except for beef.
Then I realized what was going on. I had helped this farmer before by loaning his son a muzzleloader and showing him how to safely and effectively use it. The young man put that knowledge to good use and took down two deer with it. I got the call about those deer and was asked if I would show the young man how to break that deer down into good meals. I did so.
When I questioned the farmer about why I was called, not that I minded helping him out, he noted that I had shown I knew how to butcher deer really well and the goat was about the same size and proportion. I asked why he was not shipping it up to the butcher and he informed me that the butcher was booked for months for all animals and may not even be able to get the goat done. I guess I was the next best thing.
As I sat in my office thinking about that conversation, I suddenly realized that a lot of hunters out there may have a bit of a surprise this fall if they don’t make a phone call now to figure things out.
There is no reason to stress though as long as you have a plan. For those that have never processed their own animal before, I can tell you that the task is not as daunting as you may think. We have had related articles before on this topic. See our article below ‘From Field to Fork: Processing Your Own Game’ for more tips!
I would strongly encourage hunters to attempt to process at least one deer, elk or antelope this fall. There are plenty of videos online regarding the topic that walk you through the process. Josh’s article lays out a lot of the fundamentals and arguments for processing your own meat. I started doing my own deer and game because my work hours did not allow me to get my animals to the butcher before they would spoil.
I would like to add a few tips to setting yourself up for a successful attempt. First, make sure you have several coolers to put the hindquarters, forelegs and other meat in. I like to keep a few bags of ice in my chest freezer so I don’t have to run to the store after tracking and/or dragging a deer to the truck. Make sure you have time to do the chore.
You can break the chore up into doable parts. If it is later in the evening and you have to work the next morning, skin your animal and then simply quarter it and place the quarters on top of ice in the coolers. This should take no more than two hours. Tilt your coolers up so the melting ice drains out. Check the ice before you leave for work and don’t leave it out where an animal can get into the coolers.
If you prefer only burger from your game other than the tenderloins and backstraps, the job is easier. You can simply cut off the meat from all the bones quickly and trim away the fat and ligaments before running through a grinder and bagging the meat.
If you want steaks or roasts, you can watch videos on how to separate muscle groups. It is very easy. You simply look for seams in the muscles where they separate naturally and use the tip of your sharp knife to cut along those seams and set aside. All your roasts can be made this way very easily. The only trick is to cut the meat away from the bones when the muscle group attaches to a bone. Again, use the tip of a sharp knife to do the job. Steaks are easily made by “fileting” a nice roast.
Put aside some time to do the job right. You don’t want to rush the job and ruin all that meat, but on the other hand, any meat you think you made a mistake on regarding how you cut it can simply be put in the “grind” pile and made into burger.
I also keep a “trimmings” pile that I use for stir fry meat and the first night we butcher a deer, I toss that in a pan with some olive oil, peppers, onions, sometimes corn or okra and season it with some Creole for a quick supper. Served over rice, this fresh meal is delicious and makes great use of all the leftover or odd pieces of meat!