Butchering deer shouldn't be butchery



October 14, 2001|By CANDUS THOMSON

MAUGANSVILLE - Jim Holsinger is the kind of guy you'd like to have over for Thanksgiving dinner just to let him handle the carving duties.

During the height of deer hunting season, he butchers 80 deer a night for two weeks, turning a deer into roasts in 12 minutes.

So it distresses him when someone "butchers" a deer before he can get to it. He cringes every time a hunter comes into his dad's butcher shop with a big buck that was taken down with a shot in the shoulder or gut.

"That could be the loss of 10 or 12 pounds of meat right there," says Holsinger, a deputy sheriff in Washington County.

With the muzzleloader season just days away, it seems like a good time to pass along Holsinger's words of wisdom.

There's a family heirloom quality to his knowledge. The Holsinger family has been preparing all kinds of meats for more than 125 years, starting with his great-grandfather.

Their market, just off I-81 on the way north from Hagerstown to Pennsylvania, processes more than 3,000 deer every year under the watchful eye of patriarch Bob Holsinger.

The deer operation was the subject of profiles in The Sun in January and in last week's edition of Inc. magazine.

When deer carcasses are brought in to Holsinger's, they are marked to note any potential problems for the butcher, such as: "abscess" or "gut shot."

"There's always some things that we don't have a tag for," says Holsinger, standing in the meat locker. "If it looks like they're going to lose a lot of meat, I'll go out and give them a call.

"It's possible to start out with a 100-pound deer and wind up with a 10-pound bag of meat, and it's embarrassing when someone accuses you of stealing from them," he says, shaking his head.

To get the most bags from your buck "go for a neck shot or a hair behind the shoulder. When it gets to my cutting table, that'll save them a lot of meat," he says.

Also avoid a spine shot, which can destroy half of the tenderloin.

After being a sharpshooter, it's time to be a sharp cutter, Holsinger says.

"You can ruin a deer before you even get it out of the woods. Field dressing is as important as the caliber you shoot," he says. "Unfortunately, field dressing isn't nearly as precise and clean as it used to be."

He may be onto something. In the last two weeks, I've gotten in the mail review copies of two new deer-hunting guides, both written by experts, that deal with tracking tactics, terrain, scents, gear, phases of the moon - but not a word about what you do after the deer is down. Seems odd.

Luckily, the October issue of Outdoor Life magazine has a two-page refresher course. The illustrations could be better, but what do you want for $4?

For a more in-depth explanation, try Monte Burch's new book, Field Dressing and Butchering Deer (The Lyons Press, $19.95). The how-to guide is easy to read and has detailed diagrams. It also has almost 40 recipes in case you run out of ideas.

Burch includes these items in his field-dressing kit: a field knife with 4 1/2 -inch to 5 1/2 -inch blade and gut hook, a small sharpening stone, disposable plastic gloves (think Lyme disease prevention), a self-sealing plastic bag for the heart and liver, an 8-foot drag rope and a short piece of string for tying off organs.

"The No. 1 mistake is hunters cut the throat or cut off the scent gland," Burch says. "That's an old wives' tale, that the scent gland taints the meat. Cutting it can taint the meat. And cutting the throat can let in bacteria."

Holsinger says if you break the bladder, take water from your canteen and rinse off the meat to save as much as you can. Don't cut into the gut or leave the heart and lungs in the carcass.

"Perforating the gut releases bacteria. The organs retain heat and bacteria grows like crazy," he says.

Work quickly and cleanly, says Burch. Clean the cavity with cloths or paper towels and prop it open with a stick. For the ride home, put bags of ice inside the body cavity to hasten the cooling process.

Hanging the carcass in the garage or barn to "age" the meat may be acceptable in cold climates, but Maryland's milder winters makes that a risky proposition.

"You're making pre-jerky deer," Holsinger says. "We just end up having to trim the dried deer away. Keep in mind when you handle the deer, that's going to be on the dinner table for your family some day."

And while you're doing your family a favor, do one for Holsinger. Don't drag in an aged road kill and expect him to work miracles.

"If you saw a steak laying along the road for two days, you wouldn't pick it up and bring it in here," he says. "Would you put that on the table? I don't think so."

The fine print

The first segment of muzzleloader season begins Thursday and ends Saturday.

The Department of Natural Resources estimates that 39,000 hunters will take part in the early season.

The sika deer season is open for muzzleloaders on the same days in Worcester, Wicomico, Somerset and Dorchester counties. Hunters may take one antlered or antlerless deer, and bonus stamps are not valid during those three days.

Bow season is closed during this segment, so any deer killed during the three-day period must count against the hunter's muzzleloader bag limit.

Remember, when it doubt, check the Hunting and Trapping in Maryland guide that was issued with your license or check the DNR Web site: www.dnr.state.md.us/huntersguide.

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