Taking the Time to Be Your Own Butcher

My deer season officially ended a week ago, but in actuality, I didn’t completely close it out until today. The non-hunter will have a hard time understanding what that means, so I will explain. For most of us that hunt, it doesn’t end with the shot. The shot can actually be considered the beginning of the entire process.

Before we had kids, I had time. I had time to hunt. I had time to fish. I had time to process my own meat. Anyone that has children should be able to understand this, whether you hunt or not. I owned a meat grinder and sausage stuffer and would spend hours after the kill processing my own meat. There were no play-dates to take kids to, no naps to work around, no constant need of attention, etc. There was only time. The times change and we change with them. For years, my grinder sat in a storage room collecting dust, then it somehow vanished. I blame my wife for its disappearance. By the time we had our second child, I did what most hunters do; I took my meat to a processor.

Taking your meat to a local processor has its advantages. The first advantage is that you don’t have to do any of the work. This can be very advantageous when you have small children at home that require a lot of attention. You can use the extra time to play with your kids, or in my case, watch football. The second advantage is your local processor is better at it than you are. I have no doubt that every processor that I’ve dropped a deer off with is much better at turning raw material into something edible than I am. The next advantage is there is no mess to clean up. Processing your own meat is not for the faint hearted. I can turn our garage into what looks like a crime scene out of a horror movie in no time. The clean-up is my least favorite part of the entire process.

Even with the obvious advantages of taking your meat to a processor, there are disadvantages as well. The greatest of these is the price. Dropping your deer off at a processor can be very costly, depending on what you want done. Smoked sausage is going to cost you upward of $3.60 per pound. If you prefer to have your deer ground into hamburger meat it will cost you around $2.00 per pound, or more, depending on if you want beef mixed in or not. On average, I would spend over $100 per deer when I would drop one off at a processor. That makes for an expensive deer season for the average hunter. Another disadvantage of dropping off a deer is getting YOUR meat back. Every processor will tell you that you are absolutely getting your meat back. I beg to differ. A couple of years ago I killed a doe with my bow in early December. I skinned the deer and de-boned it before taking it to a processor (not in Hattiesburg). Two weeks later I was notified that my meat was finished, and I could come get it. Shortly after that, I cooked some of the hamburger meat and found bullet fragments in the meat. I called the processor who explained that sometimes bullet fragments pass through in the grinding phase and remain in the meat. I understand how this could happen, but this deer was not killed by a bullet, nor did it have any sign of previously being shot. I was, without a doubt in my mind, given someone else’s meat.

You might ask, “Why is that necessarily a bad thing?” It’s bad because I don’t know how that person took care of their meat before taking it to the processor. I am very particular about how I keep my meat cold and soaked before processing it. I certainly don’t want to eat meat that sat out in the heat for an extended period of time, and I don’t want to eat meat that I don’t know where it came from. Taking proper care of your meat after the shot is the most important thing that you will do. After all, isn’t this the reason for hunting, to provide meat for your family to eat?

This year, I decided to go back to processing my own meat. I bought a grinder, as well as a new vacuum sealer. The grinder cost around $200, and the sealer, with bags, cost around $150. I figure after processing three deer that my equipment will have paid for itself. The process of creating your own finished product may seem daunting, but it’s not as hard as one might think. The best thing to do is watch some videos, or talk with someone that knows what they are doing. Sure, it’s going to take you a little time, and you’ll probably end up messing some of it up the first time. However, you’ll know exactly where your meat came from. For me, it’s also more rewarding when we sit down at the table to eat, and I know exactly what it took to get this meal to the table. There’s a sense of satisfaction and pride knowing that I brought that meal from the deep woods to our table without the adulteration of another hand.

Today I finished cutting up the last of my deer meat from the season. I cut some up for grinding into hamburger meat, and some into steaks for frying or grilling. I feel accomplished, along with a bit of melancholy that the season went by so quickly. I also cleaned my truck out this weekend, which is the real sign that deer season is over. My hunting clothes are packed away and my guns are put in the cabinet (unless the government wants them; in that case, they were lost in a boating accident). I’ve cleaned, boiled, and whitened my last deer skull for the year. I am finished. Tomorrow begins a new day: baseball season.

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