Processing can be simpleFor Bill Hesselgrave of Superior, the sequence has always been natural: Hunt, harvest, process and consume.
By: By Paul A. Smith/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Superior Telegram
For Bill Hesselgrave of Superior, the sequence has always been natural: Hunt, harvest, process and consume.
A deer hunter and professional butcher for more than 40 years, he has been eminently qualified to tackle the job from start to finish.
While most hunters have no problem with three of the steps, the processing part often has been left to a local meat cutter or seasonal venison handler.
“The processing of a deer can seem intimidating to someone who hasn’t tried it,” said Hesselgrave, 66. “But it really is simple and rewarding, if you give it a chance.”
Today, with warnings from health officials about chronic wasting disease and lead bullet fragments, it makes more sense than ever to control the processing of your deer.
For an increasing number of Wisconsin hunters, that means skinning and butchering the animal at home.
Hesselgrave, who shot and processed his first deer when he was 14, has emerged as one of the Midwest’s leading authorities on at-home deer processing.
“My theory is if I can do it, everybody can,” said Hesselgrave. “It’s not that complicated, once you see how the animal comes apart.”
Hesselgrave began producing videos and giving seminars on wild-game processing in 1991. With a down-to-earth teaching style, he soon was in demand as a speaker at sports shows.
The first step to mouth-watering venison meals begins in the field. Hesselgrave advises hunters to carefully gut the deer and avoid splitting the pelvis and not split the chest above the brisket.
“Anything that lets dirt and bacteria into the animal is your enemy,” he said.
Keep the animal clean and cool, placing ice in the chest cavity if necessary, and process the deer within 24 hours if possible.
“I’m not a fan of aging deer,” said Hesselgrave. “The best result comes from processing the deer right away.”
Whereas he used to split the carcass and saw it in pieces, Hesselgrave became convinced that the highest quality meat was obtained by filleting the cuts off the bone. Now he takes the meat off without sawing a single bone.
The simple list of equipment includes a knife, sharpening tool, table, wrapping paper and marking pen.
A sharp knife is probably the most important item. He prefers a 5-inch boning knife to do most of the work.
The first step is skinning the deer, which is best done by hanging the animal by its back legs and peeling the hide down to the head. Hesselgrave uses his fist to work the hide away from the meat.
Once the skin is off, Hesselgrave lays the deer on its side on a table. Any common 6- to 8-foot-long table will do.
He begins by separating the hams and roasts on the hindquarters. He then moves forward, always allowing the margins of the muscle groups to guide his knife.
If there is any damage from a bullet or arrow, it can easily be cut away from the meat.
Shortly after working to debone the carcass, a sumptuous mound of venison will take shape: sirloin tip, shoulder roast, back-strap, tenderloin.
Use heavy freezer paper or a vacuum sealer to package the cuts. Trimmings can be either ground at home for use in burgers and other meals or taken to a shop to make sausage or other prepared meats.
For more information, visit www.hessvideo.com
— Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services