Age/Size of Deer as it Relates to Meat

Discussion in 'Hunting, Fishing & Gathering' started by stillman, Dec 31, 2016.

  1. stillman

    stillman Supporter Supporter Bushclass I

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    I'm finishing up my second year of successful deer hunting. While I can't say that the code has been cracked we are learning the patterns of the deer on the property and are trying to minimize my impact on those patterns. For this reason, I think that more care will go into which deer are killed next season.

    Over the last two years, I've killed 8 deer of various ages and have butchered all but one of them myself. I also butchered one deer that was killed by a friend. Close attention has been paid to the quality of the meat from each one. I will give my opinions here, realizing that my sample size is small and experience is limited. I would like to hear from people with more experience.

    Does taste better than bucks.

    Yearlings/fawns are almost too tender and mild, plus they yield little meat. It's better to let them walk for a year and double or triple in size for both quality and quantity of meat.

    2-3 years old seems to be the optimal age for quantity and quality.

    Butchering matters, possibly more than any other consideration.
  2. Doubles

    Doubles BCUSA Friend Bushcraft Friend

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    Possibly/ probably the careful gutting and cool down is as important as the way you butcher said animal. Do not cut into the intestines, or let contents of same contact meat you want to eat and enjoy. Cool it as quickly as possible, use ice if necessary.
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  3. Muleman77

    Muleman77 Scout

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    Pretty much sums it all up, I agree with those statements.
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  4. Florida Bullfrog

    Florida Bullfrog Tracker

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    After I quarter the deer I let my meat sit on ice for 2-3 full days before deboning and processing. As the ice melts the cold water pulls a lot of blood out. I'll drain the bloody water out a couple of times as it soaks and freshen up the ice.

    I can smell a difference between buck and doe meat when its raw, even after its been frozen for a year. But I often don't taste it once its cooked.

    I don't gut my deer. In Florida the traditional Cracker way to clean them is to skin and butcher the deer head-side up and leave the guts in. That way you don't have to reverse the deer for quartering and you can hang the deer with only a rope around the neck. Its actually an old poacher's technique that allows the deer to be cleaned quickly and easily where it was killed so the poacher can get out of the area before the gunshot is investigated. The only meat you lose by not gutting is ribs (which most people don't take anyhow) and the tenderloins (the "real" tenderloins along the gut wall, not the backstraps that many people, including myself, often incorrectly call tenderloins). From skinning to quartering, the head-side up technique can completely clean a deer in 15 minutes, leaving only the head, guts/organs, ribs, and tenderloins.
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  5. Jeffro

    Jeffro Scout Bushclass I

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    I second ageing the meat in an ice chest but we always sprayed a little lemon juice on the top of the ice every time we originally covered the meat or added ice to the t of the meat.
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  6. Ol Grizz

    Ol Grizz Tracker

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    @stillman , my experience agrees with much of your findings. I have been processing my own deer since 1976. As a disclaimer, I do not consider myself an expert. I just like doing things myself and have seen meat ruined by poor handling.

    A 2 - 3 year old animal is preferred in my house. Bucks "can" taste rank if they are older, have a huge rack, are in the heat of rut breeding, and/or if someone treats the deer like a cow. Proper processing can fix a multitude of problems. When I process my deer, I do it with a knife only. I separate each muscle individually and remove all of the silverskin. When someone uses a bone saw to process the deer like a cow, that's when I find problems because the cut bone fragments and marrow seems to taint the meat (IMO).

    I passed on two yearlings this past season for the same reason as you, too much work for the amount of meat. But I have taken "deal" (deer veal) in the past due to having no meat available and it has been ok enough. I normally prefer a somewhat older animal.

    I dry age my deer anywhere from 1 to 3 weeks by hanging or in coolers (plastic bottle filled with water and frozen keep you from dealing with water on the meat). Fancy restaurants with the proper facilities brag about dry aging their beef for a month. I figure that's the one way I can handle a deer like a cow with good results.
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  7. stillman

    stillman Supporter Supporter Bushclass I

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    I've seen gutless methods on youtube where they make an incision and reach in to take the tenderloins. I suppose that in FL, you need to get the meat off the dee

    When I kill one that I can drive to, I don't gut in the field. The deer can be hanging at the processing shed in just a few minutes so we skin over a big washtub. Hang the deer by the hind legs and let everything we don't keep fall in the tub. Skin comes off up the the head. Use the Butt Out tool, open up the middle and let the guts fall out, leaving esophagus attached. Take tenderloins and back straps then work your way up the deer until you're ready to cut the hams loose.

    I do gut in the field if I have to drag it very far or if there are more than one on the ground.
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  8. stillman

    stillman Supporter Supporter Bushclass I

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    Like you, I don't saw bones or split the pelvis. I separate knee joints with a knife and cut the meat around the pelvis until I can get to the ball joint in the hip. Takes more time while quartering but that time is saved at the butcher table. This keeps bone fragments off the meat and sharp points from tearing up game bags.

    I don't have a place to age the meat but I do keep it dry in the fridge while butchering. It might take a long as a week, working on one joint a night after work, to get the entire animal in the freezer.

    I shot a big buck last year that I had processed. They did a terrible job and I ended up giving all the meat to a friend who only got one deer and needed more meat. He liked it but my wife said "This meat tastes like a goat smells." She and Daughter are always happy to eat deer that I have processed myself.

    FWIW, I believe in getting the meat cool as soon as possible but I shot a buck on a warm morning and didn't find him until 7 hours later. I lost the tenderloins on that one but the rest of the meat was good. It tastes good but it does turn brown faster than the other meat I've handled.
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  9. tomme boy

    tomme boy Scout

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    We gut the deer right where it was shot. The tenderloins go right into a plastic bag right there. Depending on what is to be done with the deer is how it gets processed. If we are just after meat for hamburger and sausages it gets hung up at the house and cut up right when we get home.

    If it is going to be used for roast and steaks or chops then it is hung for a week in the machine shed then skinned and cut up.

    We try to stay away from the bucks as the time of year we have our gun season they are in rut and taste awful! We NEVER use any fat off the deer. It is rank!

    I don't actually like the taste of deer so mine is always turned into sausage and sticks.
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  10. lytle1gw

    lytle1gw Scout

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    Been doing our own cutting up since 61 and always hang by the neck, rinse out with plenty of water and if cold enough hang for 3 days.
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  11. stillman

    stillman Supporter Supporter Bushclass I

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    Cold days have been in short supply this year, down here in GA. No hanging meat unless you have a walk-in.
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  12. designtom

    designtom Scout

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    I haven't figured out the flavor thing yet.

    Ongoing hypothesis:

    Early season archery deer, that aren't chased don't have any "gamey" flavor. (might be completely random, many early season bucks have bellies full of corn)

    All deer that I've had to drag through a river, and I took a break while they were in there cooling, taste pretty good.
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  13. stillman

    stillman Supporter Supporter Bushclass I

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    The doe my friend shot in late December of last year had a good layer of fat and was probably the best tasting of the 8 I've processed. I even cooked some of the meat in the fat and found that it tasted very good.

    It seems reasonable to me that the stresses of the rut: chasing, not much time for eating, more hunters in the woods, etc would have significant impact on the meat.
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  14. tomme boy

    tomme boy Scout

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    During or close to the rut, the bucks are full of hormones. That is were the bad, gamey taste comes from.
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  15. Seeker

    Seeker Woods Bum Supporter Bushcraft Friend Bushclass I

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    Early season deer taste better to me... don't like an old rutting buck for meat... yearlings are indeed like veal... we can hunt from mid september to mid january, with the rut in my county being around thanksgiving. the heat impacts how quickly we have to get it into a cooler. aging it outside said cooler is almost impossible. but even if i get it to the butcher the next day, it's going to take him a day or two to get to it, so it bleeds out a bit more in the cooler, which also helps the flavor, i think.

    heart/lung shots, in my opinion, pump more blood out of deer than a head or neck shot that drops the deer instantly. a gut shot deer is going to taste nasty, both for the mixture of meat and guts and for the length of time it takes it to die... a deer that's been running awhile will build up a lot of lactic acid in its muscles. if you've ever run to the point of exhaustion, to where you can taste it, you know what i mean... takes awhile to flush it all out of the muscles, and i think it flavors the meat as well.
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  16. Haggis

    Haggis Guide

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    I grind most of the deer I kill: save the buck bits, liver, heart, kidneys, tongue, filets, and backstraps,,, everything else is burgered,,,

    Chili, venison wild rice jambalaya, venison spaghetti sauce, venison meatloaf, and S.O.S. are staples here,,,

    I'd be hard pressed to passed on a 250 pound to be burgered buck in full rut, and shoot the 100 pound fork horn standing by him,,, I couldn't do it, pass on all that meat,,,

    Guess maybe my taste buds are burnt out,,,
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  17. stillman

    stillman Supporter Supporter Bushclass I

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    The big buck I shot last year did give me a lot of meat, about 65 lbs compared to 25-ish from a spike or doe.

    I think you can do much better with a big buck if you process it yourself. Most of my big deer was ground but the backstraps were kept whole. The butchering on them was very sloppy, feathered cuts on the spine side and big spots of silverskin left in place after a half-hearted attempt to remove it. I trimmed them before cooking and while it had the "old buck-in-rut" taste, it wasn't overpowering. The ground had big hunks of silver all through it. It was almost edible if I cooked, drained, then cooked again and sopped up all the moisture with a paper towel.

    I gave it all to my hunting partner and he loves it. I know his taste buds are burnt out by years of jalapeno abuse.
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  18. Schmittie

    Schmittie Scout

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    @stillman I agree with your op comments and have found similar finding myself. I'm no expert either, only been deer hunting the past 10-12 years, butchering myself for the past 6 and averaging about 3 deer a season. I've gotten a handful of bucks, no wall hangers, but the only thing I've noticed is more meat, not a taste difference.

    I've gotten does mostly and have one from last night hanging in the garage currently. It was 20° last night. I'd like to let it hang for a week if temps hold out. I heard somewhere that deer don't have the same bacteria as beef and so aging isn't quite the same but still possible. It may have more to do with drying the meat out and firming it up than anything else.

    Cooling the meat down, gutting ASAP is always priority. Though here in Illinois, typically temps are below freezing at night so I don't take extra steps to cool it down other than gut immediately in the field and hang fast. My wife says the best deer we had was the first doe years ago. It was below zero that night and was hard as a rock in the morning. She said it was "flash frozen", lol!

    I think one of my biggest challenges is gauging age in the field. So far, I've learned not to take one of the first does I see since they are typically the youngest and are rushing out to feed first like a hungry teen coming home from school and hitting the fridge. The mature does usually hang back for a while. If there are multiple deer together, it's easier to compare neck and head size with others to see who looks a little older. But even then, sometimes you just have to go with the better shot as opposed to the biggest deer. If it's a yearling or fawn, it breaks my heart to harvest her since there is such little meat there. I made that misake once, never again.

    If you have Netflix, check out Steve Rinella's MeatEater show. There are two episodes dealing with butchering and grinding deer. Although I do things very similar, I still learned a few new tricks to try this season. :)
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  19. 1773

    1773 Guide

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    A lot of the taste difference is also on what the deer have been feeding on, deer feeding on corns, soybeans and alfalfa have a more beef like taste that those feeding on acorns and native plants. Also as you have pointed out field care has a huge amount to do with the quality of the finished product the quicker it is cooled out the better it is. If you hauled a finished calf around for a day and a half after you killed it showing it off to your buddies before you finally skinned and hung it, it would not taste very good either.
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  20. stillman

    stillman Supporter Supporter Bushclass I

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    It's hard to age them in the field when your eyes play tricks on you. The yearling I shot looked like a larger doe, farther away, when I first saw her. I wasn't able to really see how small she was until I put the scope on her, and was still surprised when I walked up to find she wasn't much bigger than our dog. The shock from the bullet hitting the heart broke both front legs clean through, just below the joint at the shoulder.

    I like Rinella the best of all the hunting media personalities. He's down to earth, low key, and fair chase. I first became acquainted with him through his books and have watched all the Meat Eater shows on Netfilx, some twice. I'd have to pay over $100 a month for cable to get Sportsman Channel, so I have only seen the episodes available online. His hunting and butchering field guides are excellent.

    One tip I took from him is to throw a bag of ice in the chest cavity if you gut the deer. I think the only place I depart from his method is that I prefer vac bags to plastic wrap and paper. I did my first deer with his freezing method and had some freezer burn after 6 months. I rarely have any with my vac bagger.

    BTW, here is our Christmas Eve Dinner - smoked yearling ham.

    venison16.jpg
  21. Haggis

    Haggis Guide

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    Get them gutted and chilled quickly, trim off all the fat and blue skin, get them in the freezer as soon as possible, don't overcook them, and it seems to me the differences between deer begin to fade.
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  22. Schmittie

    Schmittie Scout

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    Nice dish Mr S! I need to try to smoke something again. I wish I was closer to Georgia. After seeing your posts here and following your YouTube channel, I would totally hang out with you. ;). (Thanks again for the carving axe. It's awesome!!)

    As far as deer size goes, I still can't believe how much deer differ from state to state. This was my first buck, a little fork horn. He was maybe 1.5-2 years old at best but had a large body. I got over 90 lbs of boneless meat off him.

    [​IMG]

    This mature doe, about 3 years old yielded roughly 65 lbs

    [​IMG]
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  23. MT_Fin

    MT_Fin Supporter Supporter Bushcraft Friend

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    Same here
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  24. MT_Fin

    MT_Fin Supporter Supporter Bushcraft Friend

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    How much did 2pt weigh do you think?
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  25. Schmittie

    Schmittie Scout

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    Maybe 200. All I know is dragging and loading solo is much harder when there isn't an extra hand and a 4-wheeler. I blew out my back and missed a month of work from that guy :17:
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  26. stillman

    stillman Supporter Supporter Bushclass I

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    One of our 1.5 year-olds will give you 30 lbs of meat if you work hard to get it all. Those deer of yours are huge!

    Come on down to GA but don't bother looking for mature deer, you'd think all of ours were babies.
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  27. Schmittie

    Schmittie Scout

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    Deer are very different in size depending on the region. It's not a competition bro. I'm sure up north, the deer there dwarf what we see locally.

    Average size aside, I have thoroughly enjoyed this thread. :dblthumb:
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  28. stillman

    stillman Supporter Supporter Bushclass I

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    No worries, I didn't think you were being competitive. And, as long as they have deer in the FL Keys, ours aren't the smallest.

    We need to host an interstate venison tasting and cook-off.
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  29. Ol Grizz

    Ol Grizz Tracker

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    @Schmittie and @stillman , I have always been curious about the apparent size differences of deer around the USA as well as the different conventions of naming antler sizes. The only theory I have is that deer in colder climates are bigger/heavier to more easily survive the winter. I have a friend in FLA who grew up around here and he says the deer he sees there are about the size of a Lab or Collie (FLA proper, not the Key Deer).

    I know that in the West, antlers are counted by individual sides. For example, a buck with 6 distinct antler points on each side is called a "6X6". Schmittie's buck in post #22 might be called a "3X2" or "2X2" depending on how the possibly damaged split tine on the right side is viewed. Around here (Upstate/Central NYS), that same buck would probably be called a "fork horn" or "4 1/2 point". Usually we just count all points if it is a non-typical rack (link 1 and link 2).

    The sizes of both of the deer in #22 would be considered "average good" around here. Yes, I would quickly take the shot on either one and be happy to have the meat. I'm not as picky as some I know who hold out for "huge" or a giant rack. My doe this year is still aging but I anticipate around 70 pounds of meat based on the difficulty of dragging and hanging.

    Lots of places (bars, feed shops, etc) around here sponsor 50/50 big buck contests. Most of the winning bucks in the feed shop contests will top 225 lbs in field dressed condition as weighed on their certified scale. The bar contests are usually based on numbers of individual points and are sometimes divided into typical and non-typical groups. Usually there the winning buck will have more than 5 points per side.
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  30. Medic17

    Medic17 Supporter Supporter

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    I prefer the smaller, anterless deer.
    Gut it where you drop it.

    Hunting takes place in Nov. so it's cold in N.E.
    Hang it for a few before you butcher it.
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  31. 1trader1956

    1trader1956 Tracker

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    I don't think any one part of the whole process is any more important than the rest.if you want the best eating you can get shoot a nice young doe and make sure she dies quickly.Field dress and cool as soon as you can.we always try to wash the insides with cold water after hanging them up by their neck.If it is too warm or too cold to let them hang we break them down and refrigerate.I don't take any extra effort to age the meat or to remove all the fat and silverside. I do trim the bigger chunks of fat off but am not every littel piece.I do take the silverside of the backstraps and off the bottom round .Do vaccum pack your meat it's well worth the cost.
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  32. 1trader1956

    1trader1956 Tracker

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    Cutting a deer up with a meat saw will not change the taste of the meat unless the meat wasn't scraped properly or the saw wasn't ever cleaned right.
    You can't age deer meat with the hide on or in an ice chest.Part of the aging process is the removal of moisture from the meat.walk in coolers are like dehumidifiers they will quickly dry out anything in them left unsealed.
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  33. Muleman77

    Muleman77 Scout

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    I agree about the aging, I think you're right about the humidity. But cooling in an ice chest at least overnight before cutting does seem to help keep it more tender. So not a bad idea either way.

    Totally disagree about the saw. It will get a rancid, gamey flavor after awhile in the freezer, that may not be noticeable immediately after the cutting.
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  34. 1trader1956

    1trader1956 Tracker

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    Big chunks of silverside in your burger is not because it was left on the meat that was ground.It was caused by somebody using bad equipment.they needed to change the plate and knife on their grinder.
    If you have a small table top grinder you can flatten the plate and sharpen the
    knives on a bigger diamond stone.
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  35. stillman

    stillman Supporter Supporter Bushclass I

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  36. 1trader1956

    1trader1956 Tracker

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    It's not the saw .It's poor processing.Do you have the same problem with beef,pork,chicken,turkey,or lamb or any other meat?
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  37. Muleman77

    Muleman77 Scout

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    As far as the saw goes, it's common knowledge here amongst the butchers. They saw beef and lamb, but not venison. Same saw, same procedures for cleaning different results. Maybe there's a trick to it nobody here uses.
    Elk, antelope, any deer seems to be that way. I've eaten it and definitely noticed.
    If you saw yours and have good results over long term storage then I'm interested in the method.
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  38. 1trader1956

    1trader1956 Tracker

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    I personally haven't noticed any difference .when it comes to sawing the meat causing an off taste i would like to propose a best guess as to how that could come about.I'm not sure of your location but from reading your post I would assume out west some place.Some parts of the country have alot of chronic wasting and mad cow disease.These diseases are in the brain and the spinal fluid on the animal.I can see where telling someone that sawing will taint their meat would be more profitable and easier to explain than to try to tell them that there is a chance that sawing it could kill them.
    Here in new york our dec recomends that all backstraps are boned not sawn.There isn't any recomendation on shoulders or hind quarters.
    Do any states have laws about processing wild game in regards to these diseases?
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  39. Muleman77

    Muleman77 Scout

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    Some states do recommend avoiding brain pan or spinal cord. The similar laws revlove around transportation mainly, across state lines.
    The no sawing thing has been around longer than those issues however, so I don't think they are behind it.
    Heres my take on it.....I think similar to the fat, bone marrow(which is very fatty) in deer does not store well. If it is smeared across the meat in the sawing, even if you scrape it after, the oily film is there and causes this over time. Freshly sawn isn't where the issue is, long term storage makes it worse.
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  40. Schmittie

    Schmittie Scout

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    I had really wanted to hang and age this doe for a week or so. Got her on 12-31-16 it was about 40°.

    [​IMG]

    Weather forecasted temperature drops into the low teens and single digits for most of the week and deboning/skinning an ice block is not fun. So I spent several hours processing this one for the freezer. All told, I weighed about 52 lbs of meat when I was done (minus grinding the burger). Not the biggest doe, but certainly not the smallest I've gotten in the past years.


    [​IMG]
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