A Good Eating Deer

How to make sure you get quality venison from your processor.

Field & Stream Online Editors

A Connecticut meat processor paid a $5,000 fine last March for peddling under-the-counter venison for $17 a pound. A Wisconsin butcher lost his license in 2003 for selling venison mislabeled as Polish sausage. Both businesses had stolen from hunters who'd entrusted them to cut up their deer.

Most processors are honest, of course, but even they make decisions that affect the quality of your venison. You spend lots of time and effort tagging your deer: Shouldn't you do likewise in choosing a butcher? Here are three questions you should ask to ensure the fairest, finest cuts.

Will I get meat that's only from my deer?
Many processors make no guarantee that the meat you carry out will be the same you carried in. Instead, they weigh the carcass and deliver a percentage of that weight in venison. Orders heavy on ground cuts may mix meat from several deer-and if one of those animals was poorly cared for in the field, you'll regret every gamey, molar-grinding bite. Shop for a cutter who will guarantee that your deer-and your deer only-will end up in your freezer.

Do you guard against chronic wasting disease?
States with high CWD risk often recommend to butchers that they take special precautions during processing. In Colorado, for example, the Division of Wildlife sends a letter to meat processors asking them to trim fat, refrain from splitting the spine and other bones, and minimize handling of high-risk parts such as the brain and spinal column. If CWD concerns you, make sure your butcher follows these guidelines to lower your risk of eating tainted meat.

Who is the inspector?
Most year-round processors are licensed and inspected by the state, but some-especially those that operate seasonally-may not be. Insist on state licensing, and keep in mind that federal inspections are often even stricter. Adherence to USDA guidelines is a mark of a shop that takes quality very seriously. "The federal inspectors come every day," says Brian Jorgenson, a meatcutter at Look's Meat Market in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. "They check everything, floor to ceiling."