Many hunters prefer to process their own deer. However, with Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) found in the Northwoods for the last several years, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) have put together some recommendations for hunters to be sure they minimize any possible risk of exposure to the always-fatal neurological disease affecting cervids such as white tailed deer. While there a link to humans has not been proven, it also has not been ruled out, and experts err on the side of caution, recommending humans not eat meat from an infected animal. It is also recommended that hunters and others not eat the eyes, brain, spinal cord, spleen, tonsils or lymph nodes of any deer.
In the interest of keeping the meat safe, however, hunters still process their deer, even if they would prefer not to consume that meat if the animal’s test comes back positive for CWD. Quick processing, especially in the warmer weather of the early season, is critical to high quality meat.
Organs should be removed and the deer “gutted” as quickly as possible to facilitate cooling. Skinning the deer can also help cool the meat more quickly.
Hunters should avoid cross-contamination by using one knife for cutting out organs and tarsal glands and another for processing meat. The tarsal glands are the scent glands inside the back legs of the deer. These can harbor bacteria, as can other organs.
The DNR has put together a list of recommendations for those looking to process their own deer and to limit exposure to the prions that cause CWD. The following are some of those recommendations:
• Wear rubber gloves.
• Minimize contact with the brain, spinal cord, spleen and lymph nodes.
• Use knives and utensils dedicated for field dressing.
• Remove all internal organs.
• Keep meat from individual deer separate.
• Do not cut through the spinal column except to remove the head. Use a knife designated only for this purpose.
• Remove all the fat and connective tissue. This will also remove the lymph nodes.
• Wash all knives and other equipment with soap and water to remove all organic material and rinse with water.
• Clean knives and other equipment by soaking them for an hour in a 50/50 solution of bleach and water for non-stainless steel items. For stainless steel items soak for a minimum of five minutes.
• Wipe down counters and other work areas with a 50/50 solution of bleach and water, and let them air-dry.
Each year there are processors across the state who partner with the DNR to hold “Learn to Butcher and Process Deer” trainings. More information about those opportunities can be found on the DNR website dnr.wi.gov by inputting keywords “Deer processing” in the search bar.
Beckie Gaskill may be reached via email at [email protected].