September 14, 2012
Although Iíd never admit to being overly gung-ho about archery deer hunting, I will admit I started planning for the upcoming season ó it begins Saturday ó while perched on the platform of a tree stand the day the past season closed.
I thought about new areas I wanted to explore. I pondered which stands to move and which ones to leave where they were. I daydreamed about new gear I simply had to have. I swore a solemn oath to spend more time at the practice range.
In other words, I spent the last day of the season doing exactly the same things most of my fellow bowhunters were doing. And, I did a pretty good job of following through.
When the new season finally arrives, and I head for my hunting grounds, Iíll ask myself a question that, based on what Iíve seen and heard over the years, far too many hunters donít ask themselves: ďWhat am I going to do if my plans actually work, and I kill a deer on a warm late summer or early fall day?Ē
Some hunters think they can beg the question on the grounds that they intend to have their deer commercially processed. That might† be true if the deer in question was killed early in the morning on a weekday and can be taken directly from the field to the processor.
But what if the deer fell in the evening or on a weekend or a holiday? In that case, assuming the lucky hunter hopes to dine on fine venison, he or she has a problem.
A deerís body begins to decompose immediately after its death. Nothing can be done to completely change that, but there are ways to slow the overall rate of decomposition. Itís also possible to take advantage of the fact that different tissues not only decompose at different rates but also release different byproducts when they do.
In simplest terms, decomposition is a chemical reaction, and, like almost all chemical reactions, its rate is directly proportional to the temperature of the materials involved. In other words, the only way to keep your precious deer meat from rotting is to cool it to around 40 degrees, the point at which decomposition slows to a manageable rate.
Although additional steps can be taken and will be discussed shortly, the only way to effectively cool a deer carcass when the air temperature is above freezing is to skin it.
Most processors prefer to receive freshly killed deer unskinned, and under no circumstances should a deer be skinned or otherwise processed beyond field dressing prior to submitting it to Telecheck.
I know some would argue the point, but I depend on deer to supply virtually all the red meat consumed in my household.
So when I recommend that any deer that wonít reach a commercial processor in a few hours or that is destined for home processing be Telechecked and skinned as soon as possible, Iím speaking from personal experience.
Most arrow-killed deer are thoroughly bled out naturally, but removing the head and hanging the carcass by its hind legs will usually yield another cup or so. Every little bit helps, because blood is one of the first body components to decompose, and it leaves nothing good behind. Damaged meat around wounds also rots quickly, so be ruthless when cutting it out.
Intestinal contents deserve special mention. If the body cavity is free of this material, it can be wiped clean with a few damp rags. If the body cavity is contaminated, ignore the normally sound practice of using a minimal amount of water and use a hose to make sure the carcass is absolutely clean.
Finally, use a propane torch to singe off any stray hairs clinging to the meat and spray the entire carcass with a 10 percent bleach solution. Yes, I know. I wondered about putting bleach on my meat, too, but it does a marvelous job of retarding spoilage and does not leave any aftertaste.
Undamaged muscle decomposes more slowly than other tissue, including connective tissue. Therefore, if air temperatures can be kept somewhere around 55 degrees, a deer carcass can be left hanging for at least one day and probably two before itís processed either at home or at a commercial facility.
More drastic steps need to be taken at higher temperatures. Quartering the carcass and putting it in a refrigerator would be ideal and is what Iíd do if I had room for one in my garage.
Since I donít, I use a 150-quart ice chest for the same purpose. I built a rack for the bottom of the chest to keep the meat out of melt water.
The bone-in but partially trimmed meat is placed on top of the rack and 40 pounds of ice fill the rest of the chest. Either the refrigerator or the ice chest should keep deer meat fresh, safe and delicious for up to a week.
Gee, I hope Iím putting this column into practice by the time you read this!