I began learning how to hunt in the spring of 2016 at 23 years old. Hunting was not a common activity for anyone in my family or that of anyone in the community I grew up in. Over the years I have learned a lot from others and through my own experiences. From those experiences, I have tried to boil down the lessons I’ve learned and knowledge in this series of posts as an introduction to new hunters and a way to further my own understanding. It is something that I wish I found when I was first learning how to hunt and my hope is that it can serve as useful to others.
This post is for those who wish to process the meat themselves. Some elect to take it to a butcher or game processor, who will process and package the meat for them. I have not done this and have no desire to do so, so I can’t comment further on that matter.
If possible, it is best to hang the meat when you get home in a cool, dry and dark place. Just like beef is aged in a locker, it is best to allow the meat to age to tenderize the meat. Generally, the closer the temperature is to freezing the better and for it to hang for at least a week. Sometimes this isn’t possible, such as on winter hunts or due to limited space or other external factors. The meat can still be processed without worry. This post goes further into detail on the practice of aging meat for those looking for more information.
After the meat has aged, it’s now time to process it. My efforts in the past couple years have moved more to the end result, figuring out which cut of meat is which and the best method for cooking. A good starting point are these two videos below. I use these as reference, returning to them frequently anytime I forget which cut is which or what I am supposed to do. They are applicable to any animal in the deer family (white tail, moose, elk, caribou etc.) and more or less cows, sheep and pigs. It’s just the size that varies. In general, the cooking style is more or less the same for all animals, so if you learn one you can learn what to look for and how to cook them all.
Here is an example of someone butchering a deer. He uses a whole deer, but it’s more or less the same as if he was using a deer that was already quartered out.
Steven Rinella (mentioned previously) has a cookbook that describes how to cook specific cuts, rather than specific cuts from specific animals. It is a good point of reference. It is likely available through your local library. I have fallen in love with shank meat in particular through this osso bucco recipe and we now enjoy this multiple times throughout the winter, including for Thanksgiving.
You will find that much of the meat can be divided by natural points of separation in the muscles. Cutting along those lines will result in quick and efficient means of processing. Most people seem to cut off the fat as they don’t like the taste. I enjoy it and leave it on. Find what works for you. Piles of individual muscles will accumulate as you process. Personally, I like to process one quarter completely at a time. Separating the muscles then breaking them down into steaks, roasts stew meat, pieces for jerky, shanks, and set aside anything for ground meat if I am grinding.
Non steaks and roasts can be made into ground meat, set aside for jerky or cooked in a slower manner such as in a crock pot, a dutch oven or in a stew. Ground meat is very popular among many people but after I have learned how to cook specific cuts of meat, I am no longer interested in grinding anything. The taste and meal is far superior when you learn how to actually cook the cuts the way they are supposed to be cooked. Nonetheless, there are both electric and manual grinders out there. I do not own a grinder and have only used electric grinders from friends. I don’t have any recommendations here. Maybe someone else can provide input.
There are many ways in which you can package your meat for storage and freezing. Much of it comes down to personal preference, how much meat you consume and price. The longer you plan on storing your meat in the freezer, the more you have to worry about packaging. Moisture and oxygen are your enemies. The simplest (and cheapest) is using freezer paper. Here is a video on how to wrap your meat in freezer paper. He wraps the meat twice, which I don’t think is necessary. Some also incorporate plastic wrap (i.e. saran), wrapping the meat first and then wrapping it in freezer paper.
Another method is to use vacuum sealed bags. This is the most expensive means of packaging and is not always as effective as it’s purported to be. Another method is using ziploc bags then wrapping them with shipping tape to take out all the air bubbles. This is what one of my friends does and he claims that the meat will stay in top condition for 5 years. I think it’s overkill but YMMV.
As I’ve mentioned, the frequency in which you eat the meat matters. None of the meat I eat stays more than 8 months or so in the freezer, hence why I’m able to get away with only using one sheet of freezer paper for packaging. It’s helpful to use a sharpie to label your packaging with the name of the contents and the date in which it was placed into storage.
If you wish to make jerky or dry meat, there are a few ways in which you can go about doing this. If you have a woodstove, you can make a rack and place strips over that. Slice meat to your desired size. You can make jerky that is fairly thick. You can also use an oven, dehydrator, or the sun. If you dry meat outside, you need to figure out a way to keep the meat protected from flies and other insects. There are plenty of recipes for seasonings and such online, find what works for you. Some possibilities include soy sauce, Worcestershire, terriyaki, garlic/onion powder, salt, and more…
Canning meat is another option. One that I only have limited experience with. Necessary items are a pressure cooker, canning jars and a stove/heat source. This is an attractive option for those not looking to add another freezer and/or for those who aren’t interested in shelf ready food.
There are plenty of variations out there and one can go down the rabbit hole into the things you can do with your food. For example, some like to take ground meat and make sausages. Others will make cured meats. You will find out your level of interest in pursuing these more advanced options as you continue to progress with your knowledge and ability.
The following book is a great resource on all things related to preserving meat, game and fish. I recommend it if you are looking for additional resources to further your knowledge. A Guide to Canning, Freezing, Curing and Smoking Meat, Fish and Game
In the next post, we will examine how a high fitness level can help hunting ability and how to go about getting yourself into hunting shape.