My First Deer

There is a lot of deer meat in the freezer where we are staying right now. I am mostly responsible for it being there, though not totally, since I never got the opportunity to participate in the hunting part of the deal. I had been hoping to actually get to go hunting this past week, but preparing the food that wouldn’t run away under its own power took precedence (and it was totally worth it, I might add). So when the neighbor to the west phoned and said he had gotten a deer the husband of our hosting couple took me over on the four wheeler so I could learn how to field dress it.

There is something very important to me about being close to the food we eat and understanding where it comes from, and I think a lot about it, especially when confronted with the sanitized and shrink wrapped meat at the local grocery. I had recently finished reading John Durant’s The Paleo Manifesto in which he devotes a chapter to just this topic, specifically around a hunting trip for deer, and I had really been feeling a deep need to get up close and personal with my food ever since. Equally important to me was having the opportunity to thank the animal and stand in gratitude for the sacrifice of life so that I and my family would be able to nourish ourselves. This was the first thing I did after walking up to the deer where it was hung and awaiting our work.

Being face to face with what is eventually going to end up on your plate gives you a whole new perspective and, in my case, quite a workout. We removed the hide, the head and the gut and I took care to separate out the heart for magickal use later on. It is a whole body exercise, this deer processing thing. I was as sore the next day as any decent gym workout could make me, and there was more to be done even then. Our neighbor had very generously given us the entire deer, save for a hindquarter he removed to go in the smoker over the weekend. It was well below freezing overnight so we returned to the deer early the next morning to butcher it.

I made a mess of it, I’m afraid. I know just enough anatomy to be dangerous, and almost none of the good cuts were recognizable when I got through removing them. I was able to get the hanging tenderloins and the back strap without much of an issue, but I need a lot more practice in order to not be wasteful the next time around. The remaining parts of the carcass were taken far out into the 100 acre parcel where we are staying and left for the vultures and coyotes (they are still working on it).

All said and done, though, there are still many pounds of venison in the freezer and I got it there. The first batch to be served up was all the small pieces I had cut from the shoulders, prepared for cooking using this recipe to tenderize it and then dredged in herbed almond flour and fried in duck fat. I’ll be using this method again with the smaller tenderloins, though I want to cook them over the fire without the dredge. The hindquarters will be going into the meat grinder to prepare them for chili and the back strap will be in our freezer a bit longer until I can contact some chefs I know for suggestions on how best to use it.

I truly look forward to learning more about taking deer from field to food, and found the entire experience rewarding and more than a bit humbling. It was difficult in good ways, making me mindful of being a carnivore and what responsibilities come with that. Most of all, being able to feed my family with the results of my hard work (and that of our host husband and our neighbor) was just about the best way I can imagine to experience and share the giving of thanks for all that we have. May we all have the good fortune to experience that in whatever fashion it may come this season.

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