The Pennsylvania Game Commission is not qualified to provide specific food safety advice. However, in addition to the advice already provided on safe handling of game in the field, certain recommendations can be made. If in the course of field dressing and processing game a successful hunter encounters no abnormal odors, colors, or textures to the meat it should be safe to consume if cooked to an internal temperature of 160F for mammals, and 165F for birds as determined by a meat thermometer used according to the manufacturers recommendations
As a rule, hunters should follow a basic checklist to ensure the quality of their venison. First, tag the deer and remove the entrails. Next, remove it from the field, skin it or pack ice in the body cavity until you get it to a butcher shop or home. Please don't display the deer on a roof-rack or in the bed of a pick-up with the tailgate down. It's not a sight everyone is interested in seeing.
If you plan to process the deer yourself, the next step is to wash out the body cavity and remove the hide, if you haven't done so already. The hide comes off easier when you cut off the front legs at the elbows, and the rear legs just below the knee joint, with a saw. Use a knife to cut the hide from where each leg was cut back to the body trunk. Cutting the rear legs at the joint also makes it easier to hang a carcass on a gambrel or meat hooks. Hang the carcass by the large tendons on the back legs.
Next, the hide is pulled from the carcass, starting at the rear end and working downward toward the head. Peal it from the hind-quarters first, then cut the tailbone and pull it down to the shoulders. Work the hide over the shoulders and pull it away from the legs. Finally, pull the hide down the neck as close to the base of the skull as possible and cut the carcass free from the head with a clean saw. Remove the trachea.
The remaining hide-free carcass, should be washed down immediately. It's also a good idea to remove large fatty deposits to improve the quality of your meat. It helps lessen that "game taste" many people dislike about venison.
Following these steps will prepare your carcass for hanging in a meat processor's refrigerator. If you hang the carcass in a garage, or out of the sun and away from insects, it will keep for at least several days as long as the air temperature in the garage or where the carcass is hung, doesn't exceed 60 degrees. If the air temperature is in the 30s or 40s, the meat can hang safely for a week or longer.
Hunters who are interested in becoming more self-sufficient also can de-bone the carcass. The cuts are relatively simple and can be made while the deer is hanging or from a plastic sheet-covered table. Use a plastic fluorescent light cover for an inexpensive cutting board. They can be purchased at any home supplies store. First, remove the front shoulders with a filleting knife. This can be done without cutting a bone by cutting behind the shoulder-blade. Next, remove the meat from the shoulder with a filleting knife.
Hindquarters can be removed from the carcass next by using a saw. If you plan to have steaks or jerky made from them, don't make any cuts. Leave them intact.
Inside the body cavity, against the backbone, are the tenderloins, considered the best cut of meat on a deer. Use your hand, and a knife when necessary, to pull them free. Outside the cavity, along the backbone, are the back-straps, which also are outstanding cuts. Using a filleting knife, slide the blade along the spine to separate each back-strap and then finish each piece by cutting in along the base of the muscle to the first cut you've made.
The remainder of the carcass can be de-boned with a filleting knife. Try to trim fat from meat where you can and wash off blood whenever it is encountered. De-boning can be done relatively quickly, but remember, every ounce of meat you remove pads your trimmings for sausage, bologna, meat sticks or other products. De-boned meat can be taken to a meat processor immediately, or later frozen. Hindquarters may be frozen for jerky or dried venison. Steaks must be cut fresh.
The Game Commission offers two free brochures on venison care and field-dressing deer. The first, To Field Dress a Deer , offers step-by-step instructions - with illustrations - on how to field-dress a deer. The second, Venison Needn't Be Pot Luck , offers field-dressing instructions and cooking tips. Learn about Warm-Weather Venison Care.
Additional publications from Pennsylvania State University Food Science.