Hunters & Anglers — September 30, 2010

Do you want to have better-tasting venison?

Tips for hunters from Kelly’s Deer Processing

Colon Kelly believes it is wrong to waste venison with improper hunting techniques and hopes a little knowledge will improve the taste of venison, the amount of venison from each deer and avoid the unfortunate handling practices that can spoil an entire deer for consumption.

“Every year when there are warm hunting seasons, we end up throwing entire deer into the dumpster,” Kelly stated.

With temperatures moderate as deer season begins, Kelly dreads having to throw out deer that were shot and mishandled. He pointed out that mismanagement of the animal can begin with the first shot.

“The hunter needs to take a little extra time and pick the shot carefully,” Kelly advised.

He said hunters who shoot into the loin, tenderloin or hind legs are going to waste meat. According to Kelly, those parts of the deer are the most prime meat on the animal and also have extra blood vessels there. Shooting into the prime meat and destroying blood vessels is shooting away the best source of prime cuts. Kelly also warns against non-lethal shots.

“Don’t shoot in the wrist, ankle or face,” he said. “That won’t kill the deer but will cause it unnecessary stress an send it running for its life.”

The stress of a non-lethal shot is not only cruel, but is another way to ruin the meat. “A stressed-out deer running with an injury also breaks blood vessels and the muscles go into rigor mortis, like a Charlie horse,” Kelly described. “That won’t be good meat.”

Once a deer has been killed with a clean, lethal shot, the next step is field dressing. Kelly said field-dressing nose to tail is crucial.

“Anything that isn’t meat and bone will sour the venison,” he admonished.

Completely and carefully removing skin, entrails, fat and making sure nothing is stuck to the body is vital. Then wash the deer with water if possible, or at least wipe with wet paper towel.

The next step is one he has seen hunters overlook often in his 35 years of processing game. “You have to fill the body cavity with ice,” he said. Even in cold seasons, even if snow is falling, cooling the deer is vital to obtaining the best venison.

Kelly told a story of a good friend and good hunter who had a great day out hunting with friends and completely spoiled his entire deer. He said the friend came to him in the afternoon with a pickup truck bed filled with six deer that had been shot that day. His friend’s deer was the first to be taken early in the morning. When other hunters brought in their deer, they went into the truck on top of the first. With the lack of air circulation, in six hours time the first buck was completely spoiled and had to be disposed of.

“The internal temperature of the deer has to be cooled down,” Kelly stated. “Pack it with ice, pack it with snow, at the very least put a stick between its legs to get air circulating through the body cavity.”

In an unseasonably warm hunting season, Kelly said he has had to throw out hundreds of deer, often several in a day.

“The hunter is responsible for that deer the minute he pulls the trigger,” Kelly warned. “There is a big debate about how long a deer should be aged before it is cut up and I won’t get into that. For the best quality possible, get it to a professional and they will get you the best quality and quantity of venison possible.”

Kelly said hunters who are deciding where to take their deer for processing should use common sense when considering the processor. Look around. Is the place clean? Are the grounds well kept? Some processing plants stack the deer up outside like cordwood and are not very meticulous in making sure the right hunter gets the right deer back.

“If you don’t want that gamey taste that you can’t hide with spices and can’t cover up with garlic, that’s all up to the hunter,” Kelly said.

These tips are brought to you by Kelly’s Deer Processing, 19077 Twelve Mile Rd., Big Rapids, open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week. Visit online at or call (231) 796-5414.

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