With opening day out of the way, the most popular greeting in Maine now changes from “How’s it going?” to “Git yer deer yet?” Once your reply becomes “yes,” the next question becomes what to do with your deer.

You can take the easy route, to the local processor. Or you can save yourself some money and take the more hands-on approach of cutting it up yourself. It’s really quite simple, even if you’ve never done anything like it before.

The first and often most important step in determining the quality of your venison is field dressing. Do it quickly, yet carefully. You need to remove the internal organs as soon as possible to allow cooling and prevent spoilage. Do so carefully so as not to puncture the paunch or bladder, spilling stomach contents onto the meat.

Opinions on how long to hang your deer vary from hours to weeks. Most sources I researched recommended hanging a deer at least several days, allowing natural enzymes to tenderize or age the meat. At temps of 32 to 38 degrees it can hang for as long as 10 days. Temperatures above 40 not only age meat faster but, may lead to spoilage.

Don’t skin it until you’re ready to butcher. Then, hang the deer head-down. “Ring” the legs by cutting the skin around the leg bones below the second joint. Then make an incision from your ring cut, along the inside of the leg to the cut you made previously to open the body cavity when field dressing. Now simply peel the hide down toward the head. Speed this process by gently slicing the connective tissue as you pull. Make all cuts from the inside out to avoid cutting hair, which gets into the meat.

Now, simply bone out the carcass by cutting out individual muscle groups. As you cut, trim away any fat or silver skin (connective tissue) for better tasting, more tender venison.

The tenderloins lie inside the body cavity, along the back, just aft of the last ribs. If you haven’t already eaten them, filet these premium steaks out carefully.

The sirloins or backstraps lie along either side of the ribs, from neck to rump. Use fingers as much as your knife to filet them off the ribs and spine carefully. Cut them into family-sized lengths for now, waiting until just before cooking to cut into steak thickness.

The neck meat is usually tough and grisly, especially on a buck. It is best used as pot roast, stew, sausage or burger.

The upper rear legs will provide most of the rest of your good steaks. Each leg also contains two roasts. These will be the largest muscles. One is actually a roundish group of muscles, and makes a great pot roast. The other is more rectangular, and has very long “grains.” This makes a good roast, or when sliced cross-grain and slow cooked, becomes barbecue.

The lower rear and front legs contain more connective tissue and are best ground up for burger or sausage. The upper front shoulders contain some steaks, but if you’re at all fussy, you may prefer to grind this meat as well, or use it for stew. Any remaining meat along the body and ribs can be ground for burger, sausage or jerky.

Package meat in freezer wrap, freezer bags or using a vacuum sealer. Be sure to label packages with the cut of meat and the date. Bon appetit!

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine Guide who live in Powbnal. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

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