As I sit here writing this Thursday morning in my air conditioned office, my indoor/outdoor thermometer is indicating that the forecast that this will be yet another unseasonably hot and humid day is spot on. That same forecast claims that at least the first part of next week will be “cooler,” but I doubt it will be truly cool. Those doubts are backed up by my at-home weather station which has recorded that, through the 21st, September’s daytime highs this month have averaged 4.1 degrees above normal while nighttime lows have averaged a whopping 9.2 degrees above normal.
Meanwhile, the archery deer and turkey season opened on the 15th. In theory, the first few weeks of the season are an excellent time to kill a trophy buck, and they’re the absolute best time to fill a freezer with top quality venison. But how can a hot weather deer hunter keep a deer carcass from souring before it gets from the field to either a commercial processor or to his or her home butcher shop?
I’ll start with deer hunters who utilize the services of commercial processors. If the deer isn’t wrapped in any material that traps heat and if it can be delivered to the processor within two hours or less, it doesn’t matter very much how hot the weather is.
“But wait!” shouts my ever present voice in the back of the room. “That means I can only hunt when I can be sure my processor will still be open by the time I can deliver my deer. That won’t work for me, because I can’t get out very often except in the evening or on the weekend.”
I agree that the man’s problem could have come from the pages of “Catch 22.” The only way to temporarily preserve a deer carcass is to cool it as much and as rapidly as possible, and the best way to begin that process is to skin it and put it on ice. The problem is most processors won’t accept skinned deer. In addition, it’s an unusually accommodating processor who will take a deer that’s been cut into pieces small enough to fit in a standard ice chest. A bath tub is about the only thing I can think of that’s big enough to handle a whole deer plus 50 pounds of ice. If you don’t already live alone or hope to soon, good luck with that one.
I’m a big advocate of home meat processing for a number of reasons, one of which is it takes the weather and both the scheduling and the cost of commercial processing out of the equation. As soon as I get home from a successful hunt, I cover my half of the garage’s floor with a plastic sheet to keep both the deer and the floor clean. I skin the deer, liberally cut off any bloody or damaged meat and then hang it from a semi-permanent hoist affixed to the ceiling.
If the deer was killed in the morning, that evening I cut it into six pieces–the four legs, the back and the neck. The pieces are laid on a 3-inch rack in the bottom of a 150-quart ice chest and covered with three 16-pound bags of ice. If the deer was killed in the evening and I’m confident that the air temperature in the garage will fall below 70 degrees, I let it hang overnight before cutting it up and icing it down. The meat’s temperature will be in the upper 30-degree range within 12 hours, and the meat will keep (age) for a week or more if the water is kept drained before it can reach the meat and if more ice is added as needed.
Once upon a time back when the world was young, Amber, our two children and I cut up and wrapped the meat from both deer and hogs on our kitchen table. It offered enough space for all four of us to work, and the kitchen was always pleasantly warm or cool, depending on the season.
For reasons I’m still not privy to, when we moved to Sedalia, meat cutting was relegated to the garage. Two tables made out of counter tops and laid on sawhorses provide an excellent work surface for our now only two-person crew, but the temperature of our work area often leaves something to be desired. Late in the season, it’s not unusual for us to be wearing coats and running as many space heaters as the wiring will stand, but at least the meat stays cool while we’re working on it.
The day before yesterday, the temperature in my garage topped out over 90 degrees and was still unpleasantly warm the next morning. That makes for impossible working conditions for both man and meat. Assuming Amber won’t agree to moving our operation back inside the house–which is a pretty safe assumption–I’m developing a lot of sympathy for people who can’t hunt on the weekend, because they’re dependent on a processor who works “banker’s hours.”
Gerald Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org