There’s more than just corn and soybeans harvested in Indiana. In 2019 the DNR reported over 114,000 deer were harvested statewide. Here in Newton and Jasper Counties the DNR put the tally at over 2000. With additional antlerless options available in many counties this year, that harvest is going to increase in 2020.
The various brothers, nephews, cousins, in-laws and outliers in my family are proud to have participated in this harvest for many years and for multiple reasons. We all love the outdoors and being outdoors. In these “Covid” times our family gatherings were diminished, so hunting was a chance for at least some of us to get together.
In the end, for my family and for the other successful hunters, regardless of why we hunt, the result is a large amount of lean, healthy, locally grown, organic meat. How much? In general, a field dressed (entrails removed) deer in this area weighs about 125 pounds. Bucks are usually bigger, does smaller. There are big bucks over 175 pounds and young of the year deer less than 75. Regardless, by the time the skin, antlers and most of the bones are removed, the actual amount of meat from a 125 pounder is around 70 pounds.
Just as in beef, pork and other types of meat animals, there are the prime cuts, the less tasty or tougher portions and trimmings which are normally run through a grinder to make burger. Some hunters prefer to take their deer to people or businesses who process and package the deer for a price. Others, like my family, learned to do it ourselves.
Other than convenience, one of the reasons some individuals or families prefer to take their deer to a commercial processor is because most of these places have the equipment and know-how to make sausage, snack sticks and other tasty products. To the uninitiated, the only thing more mysterious than how to cut a deer into edible portions is the process of making sausage from the trimmings or the part of the meat best suited for burger.
Realistically, neither self-butchering a deer or making do-it-yourself sausage is a process better reserved for specially gifted individuals. The butchering process is basically a “learn as you go” undertaking. It helps to have a mentor or to watch YouTube videos, but anyone with a sharp knife and a bit of determination can become quite competent. If you can make meatloaf you can make sausage.
The only “specialized” equipment needed is a meat grinder. Hand operated models start at less than twenty-five bucks. I’ve used them but they take a lot of effort and time. I’ve used inexpensive electric models and very expensive commercial models. As with many things, paying more increases speed and efficiency. They all make ground meat.
Though some people prefer to add beef fat or pork to their venison burger, I make my venison burger 100 percent from deer meat. If I want to make some of the ground meat into sausage products, that’s when I mix in some ground pork. I use 30 percent pork — 70 venison.
The simplest sausage is no more than ground meat mixed with herbs, spices and a few other ingredients, depending on the recipe. The Italian sausage I made this year included fresh parsley and white wine in the sausage mix.
Making sausage in links requires some sort of stuffing tool. I’ve used some which are not much different than a caulking gun, others that attach to meat grinders and stand alone tools to makes several pounds at a time. Just as with meat grinders, all of them work. More expensive models increase speed, efficiency and volume.
Our family of hunters gather each year to make a wide variety of sausage products. This year’s “sausage day” resulted in bratwurst, Italian sausage, breakfast links, ring bologna and snack sticks. Venison, it’s what’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner!