When I started hunting, almost 30 years ago, the deer processor down the road was almost like a family member. When we were successful, we would head down and drop off our deer at the loading dock just like so many other hunters did. We would specify whatever special cuts we wanted and then come back in a week or so and pay for our box of meat. Through the years the price increased to the point that taking deer to the processor was almost painful. Hunting is expensive enough without having to tack on processing costs so several years ago I decided to cut ties with the processor and do it all myself.
Thankfully there are plenty of resources that are available online that can teach folks how to process their own game. After watching a processing VHS tape (yes VHS tape, there was no Youtube or DVDs when I started this! ) I had the basic cuts down. We put up a skinning rack in the back yard and warned mom not to look out the window. It took some trial and error but after a couple deer I was comfortable with the process and I never looked back.
There are a large number of resources for the gear and tools that you will need to do your own processing. For my family the biggest need was a grinder and cuber since that is what we use the most of. A grinder and manual cuber will pay for themselves in 4 or 5 processing fees. The grinder serves multiple purposes for grinding the meat, for making sausage and using the stuffer to fill our game bags with ground. The cuber I have is a manual and it does a great job with multiple passes of the meat. That cubed steak makes some of the best brown gravy you will ever put in your mouth.
The last major part of the process is a vacuum packer so my hard work will last through the year. I can pack precut steaks, backstraps and cubed steaks along with any special things I do like breakfast sausage and deer bacon. Some roasts I leave whole so I can slice them into jerky meat whenever we get a hankering for it. I like to use Hi mountain seasonings for these special cuts and have been very pleased with the Jerky especially. If you have never had deer bacon, you are in for a treat! Get a box of Hi Mountain buckboard bacon seasonings and follow the instructions. It is easy and man is it good. Tastes like great Canadian bacon but with deer!
When our Orion 65 showed up at the house my son Ethan was filling it with deer meat within a few short hours. Two trips had him harvesting fat does that were quickly boned out and placed on ice in the new cooler. We like to age our deer for about 5 days on ice while letting the water drain off. It makes some of the best tasting meat and really helps to tenderize it. Normally I have to add ice several times during the aging process but with the Orion, that game has changed. The first load of ice lasted the entire time, even with me checking it each day.
Being able to process our own meat is a great thing. We know what our deer has been through from start to finish and can tailor each cut to fit our needs. It would be “easier” to drop them off at the processor but easier isn’t always better. My son Ethan is learning the process and I hope one day he will be able to pass it on. It also gives a sense of accomplishment to be able to provide for our family. Having good tools doesn’t make the job easy, but it certainly makes it easier. I have little doubt when Ethan passes on his knowledge to his child, the Orion cooler will still be going strong!