Years ago, in the infancy of my deer hunting career, a successful visit to deer camp meant a subsequent visit to the local venison processor near my North Texas home.
That drop-off was met with several days of waiting, followed by a phone call and a pickup that always left me wondering why there weren’t more packages marked “venison” headed for my freezer – along with a vague feeling that it wasn’t my whitetail, but simply meat packages from an assembly-line butchering process.
Somewhere along the way, I decided to join the do-it-yourself ranks and start processing venison myself. While there was a learning curve and a bit of trial and error in the pre-internet video days, I eventually mastered the art of butchering and putting away a fresh load of venison at home.
Nowadays, breaking down the meat of a freshly tagged buck or doe is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the hunting experience for me. And I’m guessing the same will be true for you, if you’re inclined to go the DIY route for deer processing.
Below, you’ll find a list of tools and gear from Academy Sports + Outdoors that are essential for processing a load of venison at home this fall.
YETI Tundra 105 Cooler
One of the most crucial tasks for successful deer hunters is figuring out how to get – and keep – their game chilled down.
In some cases, it’s as easy as hanging the tagged deer in a tree as chilly temperatures grip the landscape. In warmer climates, it can mean heading to the nearest town to find a meat locker to chill down and store the deer. Or it can mean dressing and quartering a buck (see your state regulations for proof of sex requirements), and burying it underneath a blanket of ice in a cooler like the YETI Tundra 105 — a workhorse piece of gear that can be found at Academy stores or online at academy.com.
With a five-year limited warranty, one-piece roto-molded construction, polyurethane foam insulation, a freezer-style sealing gasket and T-latch keepers that lock in the cold, this 21.8-gallon super cooler can chill meat down at deer camp and keep it nearly frozen for the long trek home.
Outdoor Gourmet Butcher Knife
When dealing with larger cuts of venison coming off of a rear quarter, or when trying to cut even steaks for packaging, the Outdoor Gourmet Butcher Knife gets the job done. Made with a POM resin handle, a 12.2-inch long 420 stainless-steel blade, and an ultrafine Granton Edge, this knife helps with the larger tasks of DIY meat processing while guarding against meat sticking to the blade as precision cuts are made.
Victorinox Boning Knife
If the butcher knife mentioned above is great for reducing larger cuts of meat into more manageable sizes, the Victorinox Boning Knife takes that idea even further, offering hunters the chance to perform precise chores like removing silver skin, slicing whole backstraps into medallions, and slicing fat away from meat headed for the burger-grinding pile. With an ergonomic fibrox pro handle, a six-inch stainless-steel blade, and a flexible straight edge for intricate work, this piece of cutlery is a must-have for the do-it-yourself meat processor.
Outdoor Gourmet Cleaver Knife
When it comes to deboning and butchering deer, there is delicate and intricate work where the knives above readily shine. But in other instances – including cutting ribs, whacking through bone, and turning chunks of venison into kabobs for the grill or meat for the grinder – something bigger and more substantial is required. That’s where the Outdoor Gourmet Cleaver Knife comes in. It’s a heavy-duty workhorse made with a 420 stainless-steel blade, heavy 13.3-ounce weight, and 7.28-inch long blade for venison’s biggest meat-cutting chores.
LEM Cutting Board
Once a hunter gets a load of venison home, a sanitary and secure surface is necessary for processing most cuts. The LEM 18" x 24" Cutting Board fits the bill with it’s easy-to-clean and high-density nonporous polyethylene surface that won’t chip, crack, or warp as a hunter works through a load of deer meat. What’s more, this USDA- and FDA-approved cutting board won’t dull knives, helping the meat processing chore go smoothly and quickly.
Game Winner 44-lb. Scale
As the chore of processing a load of venison progresses, a scale can come in handy to weigh serving portions for packages of backstrap, steaks, and chunk meat for soups and stews. To properly pack your plastic bags, grab the Game Winner 44-lb. Scale to measure meat out in pounds or kilograms. With a clear lens on the front, a steel tray on the top that’s easily removed for cleaning, and a sturdy support platform, this FDA-approved scale is a must-have item for portioning out meat for the freezer or making meal preparation in the kitchen a breeze.
LEM #8 Mighty Bite Grinder
No home setup for butchering a tagged buck or doe would be complete without a grinder. Fortunately, the LEM #8 Mighty Bite Grinder fits the bill, turning large quantities of scrap meat into freshly ground burger for cheeseburgers, jerky, soups, stews, and pots of simmering venison chili.
With an aluminum head and auger, this grinder features a stainless-steel reinforced shaft, metal gears, forward and reverse functions, stuffing equipment, various stainless-steel grinding plates, cord maintenance device, and a small countertop footprint.
Weston 7-lb. Dual-Speed Vertical Sausage Stuffer
Once you get a load of venison ground up, making sausage is a great next step. With the Weston 7-lb. Dual-Speed Vertical Sausage Stuffer, this unit’s heavy-duty, 2-speed steel gears makes everything easy.
With a stainless-steel canister that can pack everything from fresh sausage to lunch meats to snack sticks, this stuffer also has a pressure-release valve and quick disassembly for easy cleanup.
FoodSaver GameSaver 2100 Series Wingman Plus Vacuum Sealer
While producing ground venison and sausage are a couple of DIY options for a load of deer meat, you’ll also want to package up and freeze plenty of steaks, backstraps, and roasts.
The FoodSaver Game Saver 2100 Series Wingman Plus Vacuum Sealer can seal up high-quality cuts of venison, turning them into tidy little freezer packages ready to provide a year’s worth of great meals at the dinner table.
With a limited lifetime warranty, this compact vacuum sealer seals a variety of foods and allows users to complete up to 60 consecutive seals – enough to pack away a complete load of venison for the freezer. With a camouflage pattern on the lid, an easy-lock latch, and manual operation, this workhorse makes putting meat away quick and easy.
Jerky Making Gear
One great way to enjoy the taste of venison is by making jerky, either in long strips of dehydrated meat or drying thin strips of ground venison fashioned into small ribbons of tasty meat.
To make venison jerky by the bagful, Academy offers gear like the LEM 10-Tray Dehydrator (pictured above) and the LEM Jerky Cannon.
And for seasoning, check out these flavorful options:
• Hi Mountain Jerky Original Blend Jerky Seasoning and Cure
• Hi Mountain Jerky Cracked Pepper and Garlic Blend Jerky Seasoning and Cure
• Hi Mountain Jerky Hickory Blend Jerky Seasoning and Cure
• Hi Mountain Jerky Mesquite Blend Seasoning and Cure
• Hi Mountain Jerky Cajun Blend Jerky Kit
After your venison has been turned into a fresh supply of jerky — or some other enjoyable treat — you’ll have plenty of incentive to load the truck up and head out once again for deer camp or the lease.
Why is that? To look to fill another unused whitetail tag before season’s end for even more good eating, that’s why.
And if you punch that additional tag before the 2019-20 deer season concludes, make sure that you stop by your local Academy Sports + Outdoors. Because with all of this DIY processing gear and more, they’ve got you covered so you can make another tasty venison batch for the offseason months ahead!