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Do it yourself deer butchering ... what you need

The first home I purchased was in Shickshinny. The owner of the property was Walt Michaels, a former coach of the New York Jets – it was his hunting retreat. Michaels was very popular in the area and his photograph hung in a nearby neighborhood bar.

I wasn’t then interested in a “hunting retreat” but wanted a piece of land and didn’t mind an old farmhouse. I worked as a dock supervisor for a Wilkes-Barre trucking company, where my B.A. in English did not come in handy. In fact, I was learning a whole new version of English.

I was surrounded for a family of dairy farmers and all of them hunted. Wanting to be neighborly, they stopped by to meet and asked me if I liked deer meat. I had to tell them I’d never tried it.

During that first deer season, they gave me some deer meat. I had gotten home from work and listened to phone messages – this was in the dark ages when people had answering machines – and was happy to hear that they’d “dropped off the deer” and that it was “in the shed.” I was dismayed to find an entire deer carcass hanging there.

Now what? I got a knife and hacked off a piece of the haunch, roughly in a steak shape – it tasted OK when cooked. My new neighbors set up a time on the weekend, quartered the deer, and cut it up on my kitchen table.

They didn’t have a lot of special equipment. Since then I’ve learned, there are things you must have, things you wish you had, and things you can do without. These are things needed for a basic processing into steaks, roasts and burger.

MUST HAVE ... A butcher kit with quality knives and a knife sharpener. I’ve helped a deer processor skin deer and it’s amazing how quickly a knife dulls, and how much harder the job gets. You’ll need to be able to quarter the body and debone the meat. Expect to spend close to $100 for a good butcher kit and about $60 for a knife sharpener.

WISH YOU HAD ...You can get by with a smallish meat grinder, or even a hand crank grinder, but accept the fact that you’ll have to take your time. Try to remove all fat, or it will gum up the plates and you’ll have to stop and clean everything. If you’re going to get together with a couple friends to process your deer together, you may want to purchase a real quality grinder. You can get a small meat grinder for about $140.

CAN DO WITHOUT ...Vacuum packer - I know people who swear by them, but I would rather just wrap the meat. To make that job easier buy the butcher-shop style dispensers, where you can tear off sheets of plastic wrap and butcher paper. It’s probably just miserly me, but I think the supplies for vacuum packing are expensive.

Meat mixer – For each deer I buy a 10-pound pork butt roast and have that ground. Once the deer meat is ground, both types are put in a clean large vat and mixed by hand. The approximate cost of a meat mixer would be around $150.

I had a dear neighbor in that Shickshinny neighborhood who although she didn’t butcher deer, butchered common expressions. She always said, when asked if she liked deer meat, “that it all depends on how you repair it.” Well, this is true. If you “damage” the meat, by letting the hide on too long and/or by letting the meat get warm, it won’t matter how sharp your knives are – you won’t be able to “repair” it. The meat just won’t have a good taste.

If you get a deer in the early season, during warm weather, hang and skin it as quickly as possible. Once the animal has been quartered, it will fit in a refrigerator (with all the shelving removed). Since doing with the family’s refrigerator will not make you popular, have an old refrigerator ready for duty in a garage or shed.

You may be weighing the cost of basic equipment against the convenience of having your deer processed by a butcher. I’ve done it both ways and find I enjoy the camaraderie of the deer processing party. Sharing the cost among hunting buddies is another option.

Sure, it helps to have a friend with a loader to lift the deer. Skin the hide from the deer as soon as possible, to help the body cool. That's friend Don Huebner skinning a doe. LISA PRICE/TIMES NEWS