I'm going to a class today about hunting and field-dressing deer (in Manhattan!). I'll obviously have some expertise on the subject by this evening, which I'll happily post. Meantime:
Does anyone have some good venison hacks? Favorite parts for jerky, preferred seasonings for venison jerky? My understanding is that this is an especially lean meat; any good, fatty recipes? Wine pairings? Veggie pairings?
Also, if any hunters are lurking around the forum, what strategies do you employ to make the most of a deer? How many would you need a year if it were your sole meat source? Do you find venison to be versatile enough that you'd even want to have it as your only meat?
Here's how to cook venison. First, you need to:
a) acquire a suitable gun or bow.
b) acquire enough proficiency with said weapon to consistently place your shots into a 6-8" circle at the ranges you'll be hunting at.
c) learn where deer keep their heart and lungs, and learn to visualize that location from all angles. Learn which angles not to shoot from.
d) find some hunting grounds with some deer on them and obtain the right to hunt legally on them.
e) acquire appropriate clothing and boots.
f) acquire a treestand.
g) obtain your hunting license and deer tags; if you're hunting for meat, make sure that you get antlerless tags.
h) scout your hunting grounds to get a handle on what the herd is up to.
i) wait until hunting season.
j) get time off work during hunting season.
k) set up your stand ahead of time.
l) practice scent management and discipline.
m) make it out to your stand well ahead of hunting hours on opening day.
n) wait for a deer to wander by within range and present you with a good shot.
o) accurately place a shot into your deer's cardiovascular system.
p) wait half an hour.
q) track the deer down.
r) poke the deer into the eye with a stick.
s) if it reacts, kill it properly.
t) gralloch it (which reminds me that I forgot to mention acquisition of a good knife and learning deer anatomy and how to field dress a deer).
u) haul the deer out of the woods.
v) get the deer home.
w) butcher the deer (for which you'll need knives, saws, paper, plastic bags, a freezer, etc.).
Then, at that point, you should start thinking about recipes :).
My experience with deer hunting has involved frustration due to
a) having a hunter just downrange of a nice four pointer my very first morning out ever and not being able to take a shot.
b) the next season, having a small herd of does and fawns prance around within easy, easy range (20'-40'), but being unable to shoot them due to only having a buck tag (I did shoot some video, though: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dcb-bNZs7_g ).
c) being horribly busy and not able to get out for more than a few hours during deer season the season after that.
d) seeing all sorts of deer out of range, out of season, or before/after legal hunting hours, every year.
e) missing all of deer season last year due to an injury.
Deer hunting is not a trivial enterprise. Nor is it easy. A one-day seminar will only show you the beginnings of a number of subjects which you will have to learn in-depth in order to have a chance at success. You will have to invest a lot of time at the range practicing your shooting skills, more time in learning how to track and learning the woods, yet more time in studying deer behaviour and biology, and a fair bit of money in arms, ammo, and equipment. Deer hunting is, however, one of the best ways to spend your short time on this earth and I can't recommend it highly enough. I've been out for three seasons, haven't managed to bag one yet, and loved every second, including the bored, wet, muddy, and freezing cold ones.
Have you considered small game hunting? Grouse, pheasant, rabbits, squirrel and groundhogs are all tasty and easily taken with a shotgun, and small game hunting just involves wandering around in the woods and tracking. And a lot of the skills carry over into big game hunting.
Holy crap--Venison is delicious! This fella, Jackson Landers, taught the workshop I alluded to in my question today, and one of our P-hacks perennials, Melissa, was also present (Hi Melissa!). I wouldn't have even known about the event if not for her blog and tweets (if you're not following her already, do yourself a favor).
Jackson talked a lot about deer behavior, lifecycle, roadkill (a sinful 1 million deer/yr.), and various permit and license issues. It became apparent that being a deer hunter whilst living in a major metro (Jackson lives outside Charlottesville, VA) is a little bit of a schlep, but that if you're in it for the long haul, it can be worthwhile financially, and certainly ethically.
Three interesting highlights, a love letter to myself, then I'll leave the rest for you to find out via Jackson's blog as well as his forthcoming book (no link available yet):
Venison is the one of the tastiest meats around but best hunted before the winter changes the deers diet from shrubs to bark. Also the kill is important because a racing heart from a suspecting deer will toughen the meat as adrenalin is dumped into the muscle. Early season, clean kills produce a lot of meat. Use the organs too- respect the animal and feed someone hungry with some too. Eat what you kill. Waste not.
We are occasionally given a roast or fed a dinner of venison because we have several friends who solely eat wild meat. One fellow who has crohn's disease actually gets phoned whenever there is a deer hit on the highway- he says when he eats venison his crohn's is better.
As a main source of meat, I think you'd have to supplement with other fats like pork since they are often quite lean.
As for how many you would need a year, that is hard to answer because depending where you live they are different sizes. On the Queen Charlotte Islands in northern BC they are very small and it takes several to fill a freezer. Other places they are much larger.
My best tip for cooking deer is to not overcook. No more than medium rare or it will be gray and tough. It happens quickly so keep a close eye! We cut our grind and make sausages with grass-fed beef or pork fat. Pork is preferable for taste. Oddly, we haven't made jerky yet! I love asparagus with a backstrap steak. My husband likes to cut the tenderloin (or backstrap, any of the more tender cuts into chunks, wraps them in bacon and pan-fries them. It's the best. thing. ever.
We are sure to hunt on grounds that have good forage. Here in Montana, many people poo-poo Mulies, but we've never had a gamey muley because we hunt in places where they're not eating sage. Generally speaking, though, does will taste better than bucks and yearlings are positively succulent. Bucks don't have to taste bad! I got a whitey buck last year that was enormous and delicious! Again, he lived on good forage and was not stressed when I shot him. Additionally, a good clean kill also matters for taste (as well as for humaneness, of course). I often hear hunters brag about a one-shot kill. To me, that is not some kind of gold star, it's the only way it should be done (well, of course, sometimes sh** happens...). Being diligent about cleanliness when dressing your deer, keeping the carcass cold, and butchering protocol are also important
For my husband and I, we like to make meat we hunt our primary meat (my husband has been trying for an elk for years and has gotten skunked thus far). We eat venison 4-5 times a week and I don't get sick of it. If we get 3 good sized does, we start to run out in late summer. So for an average year our meat consumption will look like this: ~3 deer, either a lamb or split a quarter cow with friends, ~2 whole roasted chickens/month, and various cuts of beef, chicken, pork fish, we get at the supermarket no more than once per week.
There are a ton of myths about deer and flavor, first: I have never been able to taste the difference between grass feed deer and sage feed deer never. The bigest culprit of that gamey flavor has al was been three things, first not dressing the animal right away, this is more critical the warmer it is. Not keeping intestinal matter and urin away from the meat. Second, not cooling the meat right away. And thrid but offten over looked to save money at the local wild game buttcher... Bone out only, I have found that sawing threw the bone and cooking with the bone in absolutely can ruin good meat, not so much with elk and moose but absolutely with deer.
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