When you have all the right tools, learning to butcher your own game is a simple task.
Unless you reside in a rural region of the country, finding a butcher who will handle wild game is challenging. Various governmental agencies impose strict regulations on the butchering of both wild and domestic animals. The added cost of adhering to these constraints results in many butchers who previously handled wild game to either close shop or not accept wild game at all. And this can leave many hunters without ready access to refrigerated storage and game butchering. The answer, of course, is being your own butcher.
The first order of business is getting the skinned carcass cooled down and under refrigeration as soon as possible. The easiest way to do this is early preparation. Start trolling various rummage and yard sales for a used refrigerator. Most such units are usually quite affordable and can serve double duty as a game cooler. Cleaned and unplugged the refrigerator can stand idle until needed. A day or so before a hunting trip, simply plug the unit in and it will be ready when you return. Boned-out meat can be stored in the slide-in vegetable drawers and quarters (bone-in, or boneless) can be placed on the metal racks.
Becoming a wild game home/camp butcher isn’t all that difficult. Combine a selection of knives, knife sharpener and cutting board with a meat grinder and you’re there. The folks at Outdoor Edge Cutlery developed one of the very best assortments of tools for the do-it-yourself butcher in their Butcher-Lite kit. It’s designed for either home or field use and contains three knives (field dressing, skinning and boning), a handy bone saw, rib cage spreader, tungsten carbide sharpener, protective gloves and rugged nylon roll pack/ belt scabbard. The knives feature taper-ground, 420 high-carbon stainless steel blades and ergonomically designed, thermoplastic handles for a secure gripping surface even when wet. In addition to edged cutting tools, this manufacturer also carries a selection of game processing DVDs that provide step-by-step basic and advanced game processing, how-to quarter and de-bone game in the field, advanced sausage making and advanced jerky processing. For the first-time home butcher these DVD presentations will take a lot of the guesswork out of home meat processing.
Meat grinders, both hand-operated and electric-powered, are readily available. The least expensive, yet completely serviceable, is a manual grinder. This type of unit securely clamps on any flat surface and operates by hand crank. To put the grinder to use, simply place cut-up meat into the throat opening, press down with some type of plunger and turn the crank. In turn, this allows the screw pusher to grab and move the meat forward toward the cutting blades and through the perforated grinding plate. A hand-operated grinder is inexpensive (usually under $50), lasts forever and can handle all of your game grinding needs. The only drawback is that you’ll soon grow tired of cranking the handle. You can add electric power by removing the hand crank, inserting a bolt into the threaded hole and then chuck-up the bolt head with a variable-speed hand drill. Of course, to do that you’ll need two-people (one to feed the meat grinder and the other to control the drill), but adding power will eliminate most of the drudgery out of the assignment.
The other grinder alternative is an electrical-powered unit. Price wise, such unit costs from $100 to well over $500, depending on the horsepower rating. For occasional home use you don’t need professional power; something at the lower end of the price spectrum will provide more than adequate service (make sure the unit has all-metal components). The savings you find in time and effort offsets the added cost of an electric meat grinder.
As a home game butcher you really can’t make any mistakes. If something goes awry, the grinder can handle the problem. Getting started is as easy as making the first cut. When I cut-up an elk, deer, antelope or wild pig, I use the same procedure. All of the meat is boned-off of the skeletal structure, cut into chops, small roasts, stew meat and grinding meat. However, before it’s wrapped and placed into the freeze, lots of serious trimming is involved. Since fat is the responsible agent for what many tern the “gamey” taste, it’s the first to go, followed closely by blood-shot meat, gristle, membranes and any thing else that looks nasty. Afterward, the meat is vacuum-packed, or wrapped in plastic wrap and then in coated meat paper, or placed in Zip-Loc plastic bags and labeled. If packed properly, game meat can usually be kept frozen for six months to one year without any problem from freezer burn or eatable quality.
Learning to process your own game will not only save you money, it also insures that the meat that reaches your dinner table is handled with integrity. Do-it-yourself game butchering isn’t all that difficult. The adventure starts here, so dig in and get to cutting.– Durwood Hollis