I shot my first mule deer a couple years ago in Nebraska, and that buck tasted nasty. It stunk. I had to turn the backstraps into sausage just to choke them down, which is a sad, sad thing to have to do to backstraps.

This weekend, I had bottom-round steaks from the muley I shot a couple weeks ago in Wyoming, and it was excellent. So what made the difference?

You’ve probably heard, like I have, that a buck will taste sour if it was old, rutting, had a prolonged death, or any combination thereof. I’m not so sure. I’ve eaten sweet-tasting older bucks; sweet-tasting rutting bucks; sweet-tasting older, rutting bucks; sweet-tasting rutting bucks whose demise took longer than it should have and so on….

In fact, I can remember choking down only a couple truly awful-tasting bucks. Both of them, including the Nebraska muley, were taken to a processor. I’m not out to malign processors. Some do a great job. But on the other hand, every deer I’ve butchered myself, which is the vast majority, has tasted great–without exception.

If you ask me, the difference between my nasty first muley and my delicious second one is that I butchered the latter myself. Joe Arterburn of Cabelas brought everything I needed to cut the deer up on the tailgate of his truck, and I took the frozen meat home in this Coleman Soft-Side Rolling Cooler (, which worked great.

So what do you think? Does venison always taste better when you butcher it yourself?