August 15, 2022
By Lynn Burkhead
Earlier in my life, I was the kind of person that saw a problem develop in my hunting gear—my compound bow, for instance—and quickly picked up the phone to call my archery pro at Big O’s Archery, the local stick-and-string shop I’ve relied on for years.
“Orvie, I’m leaving for a deer hunt, and I’ve got a problem—do you have time to fix it?!?” I’d nervously inquire.
But that was then, when I was younger and YouTube didn’t exist, and this is now, when I’m hopefully a little older, wiser (thanks YouTube!), and not as eager to let go of my hard-earned George Washington’s when it comes to getting stuff done. Now, for a variety of reasons, I’ve learned how to go the do-it-yourself route in most things in the outdoors world, and I usually have a whole lot of fun doing it that way!
That includes the venison department, a process where I once took a buck and/or doe from a weekend hunt and stopped off at the local processing plant to get the deer carcass turned into sterile packages of wild meat marked “Steaks,” “Summer Sausage,” “Backstrap,” “Roast,” and “Tenderloin” to name a few.
But when I’d pick up my meat order in a few days, there was always this vague feeling that something wasn’t quite right, that there wasn’t as much venison as I’d have thought there would have been.
And when I’d actually get around to cooking those packages up, sometimes, they didn’t taste as fresh and wild as I thought they might, something troublesome since I’m quick to get a deer butchered and on ice.
Over time, I abandoned the cookie-cutter butchering process and joined do-it-yourself ranks, processing venison all by myself. And while I’ll certainly admit that there was a bit of a learning curve, I eventually figured out the art of butchering and putting away a fresh load of venison at home, all by my lonesome.
Nowadays, as a man in my mid-50s, the act of breaking down the meat of a freshly tagged buck or doe is actually 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 also inclined to go the DIY route for deer processing.
To do that, you’ll need a collection of simple tools and gear from Academy Sports + Outdoors, do-it-yourself game processing gear that will help you turn pounds of venison into meals that will be a joy to share around the dinner table over the winter months. And who knows, maybe you’ll also inspire the next do-it-yourselfer in the meat-making department?
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.
Danco Sports 11 Boning Knife
If you're going to process your own venison, you'll want a good boning knife to make precise trims and get as much meat away from the bone as you can.
One good option is the Danco Sports 11 in Pro Series Boning Knife, an extremely sharp blade tailor-made for boning chores. Featuring a solid German 4116 steel fixed blade that measures 11-inches in length, this boning knife has an ergonomic grip, a slip-resistant handle, and a DuPont Teflon coating for corrosion resistance, this knife has a lifetime limited warranty to boot, which should take you through many nights of putting venison in the freezer down through the years!
Game Winner Cutting Board
Once a hunter gets a load of venison home, a sanitary and secure surface is necessary for processing most cuts. The Game Winner 18" x 24" Cutting Board fits the bill with it’s easy-to-clean LDPE surface that won’t chip, crack, or warp as a hunter works through a load of deer meat. What’s more, this ½-inch thick cutting board weighs only 3.25-pounds, making it easy to move. Made from food-grade plastic, the cutting board surface won’t dull knives and cleans up easy, giving you a processing platform that will last for years!
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, a cord maintenance device, and a small countertop footprint.
LEM Mighty Bite Vertical 5 lb. Sausage Stuffer
Once you get a load of venison ground up, making sausage is a great next step. With the LEM Mighty Bite Vertical 5-lb. Sausage Stuffer, this unit has a covered gear box, is made from durable stainless steel, uses carbon-steel gears to reduce slippage and protect against the development of rust and germs, and is easy to use.
Able to hold up to five pounds of venison, this sausage stuffer comes with 0.69-inch, 0.88-inch, and 1-inch O.D. plastic stuffing tubes to help you tailor your sausage making to what your family likes best, has a removable cylinder that allows for easy filling and/or cleaning, and comes with a built-in release valve lets air escape for ease-of-use. The bottom line is that with this sausage stuffer, you’ll crank out the good stuff as good or better than the pros do!
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 Cracked Pepper and Garlic 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 once again this fall.
Why is that? To look to fill another unused whitetail tag before the season’s end for even more good eating, that’s why.
And if you punch that additional tag before the 2022-23 deer season has run its course, make sure that you stop by your local Academy Sports + Outdoors on the way home. 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 that lie ahead!