Depending on the state regulations where you hunt, Gordon says that your first priority after taking the shot should be properly tagging your animal. Hunters need to be very familiar with game laws so they don’t inadvertently violate those rules like transporting your animal before tagging or not leaving proof of sex attached. After tagging your deer, it’s time to field dress. He’ll highlight the advantages and disadvantages of hanging your deer either by the neck or by the back legs and explain which position makes field dressing simpler. In order to field dress your animal, you need a knife, a practical one. Gordon says the trendy knives that are 12+ inches long are unnecessary. “We’re not taking on a rhino here. We’re basically looking at a relatively small thin-skinned animal with not that much hair on it, even in the winter. So, we don’t need a long blade to start with. I have never seen a situation where you needed more than just a standard size folding pocket knife that was sharp.” Gordon will talk practical field dressing knives, the rise in popularity of disposable blades knives, and how regardless of the blade you choose why you should have a knife you are familiar with that has a good grip. Gordon notes that when field dressing, there are times when you can’t see what you are doing, but rather operate by feel. In these cases, it’s important to have a good grip, good control of your knife and to make only safe and logical cuts. The number one goal of field dressing is to get everything out of the body cavity without puncturing the internals and spilling the putrid contents all over your meat, contaminating it. Having the right tools and a whole lot of patience is essential.
The warm temperatures during the early season present challenges for hunters as hot weather can have a negative impact on the meat if the animal isn’t recovered in a timely fashion. So, how long do we have as hunters to recover, field dress and chill our animals before risking spoilage? Gordon says in truth, you probably have a little longer than you think you do. There is no hard and fast requirement that hunters have to recover their animal within 15 minutes and get it to a cooler within an hour. While those circumstances are certainly ideal, you have some time. Food safety is crucial so when the animal is recovered the burden is on the hunter to work as quickly as possible to get it cooling. Gordon notes that meat itself isn’t full of bacteria, that bacteria comes from contamination, outside in. For this reason, it’s important to take care not to contaminate your meat, to handle it as little as possible, to be as sterile as possible and to use clean hands and equipment.
Once your meat is out of the field and in the freezer it’s time to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Gordon says that venison can be used almost as a direct substitute for beef. While some people will lament that it is too lean, and you can’t cook it the way you cook beef, Gordon says personal preference reigns here. While he likes his venison cooked like his beef, rare, he understands that not everyone feels the same way. That is why when cooking for a crowd, using recipes or preparations that can be cooked to different levels of doneness to satisfy different tastes is important. The most classic preparation of venison is to batter and fry it. However, Gordon says he would much rather put something like the tenderloin wrapped in bacon on the grill and cook it with a lot of real wood smoke. This is the kind of preparation that you can cook to an individual’s desired level of doneness to please everyone.
Field to table, Gordon Whittington, Editor in chief of North American Whitetail covers it all! Be sure to check out the October issue of North American Whitetail available now in both print and digital formats. Also, be sure to watch “North American Whitetail TV” seen Wednesdays at 8 pm ET on Sportsman Channel.
Good luck to all hunters this year. May there be backstrap in your future!