Monday, November 16, 2009

Processing a deer

When I got my first job in Wrangell, the district office there send my a packet about what it's like to live in Wrangell. The first item on the list of recreational activities was berry picking. My future in-laws (mostly the Dirty Fisherman's brothers) hooted wildly at that one. Just how fun could berry picking be? Turns out a lot. What began with berry picking and fishing has grown into a deep need to catch/shoot/grow/gather as much as our food as possible. The most recent addition is deer.

We are meat hunters, exclusively. I know that there are many people out there that can't abide shooting any animal, and I understand that. This is our choice, and we understand it's not for everybody. So, please, if you don't want to see raw meat, click somewhere else.

Garrison Keillor quipped that Alaska has the only state where democrats hunt. I'm sure that's not true, but everyone I know up here at least hunts for deer. (I tend toward the liberal myself, so hunting does not have to equal redneck.) If I may soapbox for a moment: I believe that having more liberal/lefty people hunt will liberalize the hunting world, rather than conservatize those who participate. /end soapbox.

Ahem. So...processing a deer. It thrills me to no end when tDF rolls up the hill with a deer in his pack. It means red meat through the winter--stir frys, stews, roasts, and sausage. Recently I've begun making demi-glace from the bones (more later, have 2 deers worth of bones to turn into meat jelly).

This is how the deer comes home--Field Dressed. Mostly, the tenderloins, backstrap, 2 shoulders, 2 legs (hams), and any organ meats we eat are skinned, placed in a pillowcase and packed out of the woods. We are really careful to keep the meat away from any organs/misc gross gut material. The skin and guts stay in the woods where they are consumed by the ravens and bugs.

The meat is then placed in the fridge for a few days to age. Some people haul their whole deer back and let it hang. We don't have a place cold enough (35 degrees) for me to feel safe about hanging. That's two deer in our fridge, each in their own pan.

After about 2 days, we take the meat out and butcher it. It takes about 2 hours to move a deer from this to little butcher paper-wrapped nuggets. We separate Stew/stir fry meat from anything good enough to roast or pan fry.

Here, tDF is cleaning up a fillet from the shoulder (the chuck). The meat is separated from the bone and all the pellicle is removed. The meat from the shoulder tends to be tougher than some of the leg cuts. I prefer to use it is stir fry or in braises.

My job is to package all the cuts and to clean the bones for burger/sausage and turning into broth. This is the shoulder shank that I'm pulling meat off of. All the meat scraps are placed in a bowl for later grinding and spicing.

This is a backstrap which is the same cut as a tenderloin in beef or pork. I think it looks like one of those critters from the movie "Slither." (Note: I have not seen that movie but the cover fascinates me at the video store.) This is larger-than-average backstrap from a very fatty doe. Can't wait to turn it into medallions later. (Please excuse my Alaska-white arm. That is not an overexposure, that's really my arm color.)

All cuts (This is a leg roast, most similar to a round roast) are covered with plastic wrap then butcher paper, labeled and frozen. It takes a long-ass time to wrap everything up but the meat keeps surprisingly well for about a year to 18 months.

Cute little package, all ready for the freezer. I date them because we usually get a few deer a year and we try to eat the oldest first.

This is the result of 2+ hours of work: about a grocery bag full of meat. A deer can yield about 20-45 pounds of meat. We have been able to stretch 1 dear over a year and one year we ate 5 deer. This year we have 3 in the freezer and that should do us really well for the year.

Whew, so whatchu think?


  1. Wow. So lets start with some serious congratulations, because I wouldn't have the gumption to be able to slaughter and skin an animal. You do. Good for you - honestly, I really wish I had it in me and I feel like a fraud for eating meat when I have no idea where it comes from and couldn't do any of the processing myself. Whew, run on.

    Also, dang you guys have great knife skills!! Butchery = not my forte. You have such clean cuts and really made the meat work for you!

    I think I just wanna come to Alaska and hang out with you, and you can teach me skillz and stuff. Sound good?

    Also: hugely jealous of that deer meat.

  2. You are welcome anytime. I won't promise that you'll stay clean. August is the best time for the fish-berry-deer trifecta.

    The knife skills are from my dear, dear husband.

  3. I had to comment again to say that I was gnawing away at leftovers for dinner, and thinking about how at any time you had between 1-5 DEER in your freezer. Do you have any idea how jealous I am? Seriously. Incredibly. Envious like you would not believe....and again, not only for the great meat and stock you're getting, but also because I wish I had half your balls, girl.

  4. If you can figure out a way to send deer from Sitka to Urban Canada, let me know. There is a 48 hour travel window that frozen meat/fish has before is goes belly up. I don't know about sending things internationally--does Alaska Airlines come anywhere near you? Chicago or Boston?

  5. Nah, I'm angling for that invite to stay with you next August!!! I'm a good house guest, albeit a crappy fisher and, I imagine, a ludicrously bad hunter.