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Harvesting venison

The White-tailed deer is the most sought-after game animal in North America and that fact is known by hunters all across the country. Meanwhile, as deer populations grow to record numbers, a great opportunity exists to feed needy families each year in Virginia through the Hunter’s for the Hungry Program www.h4hungry.org/.

Deer donated to this program feeds thousands of individuals each year. Over 6,106,606 pounds – 24.4 million quarter pound servings have been donated by hunters since the program began in 1991. Last year alone over 279,000 pounds of venison were donated in Virginia.

Maintaining this critical program for the needy in Virginia is important since in recent years many people are returning to processing their own foods, to include venison. Due to this interest, a need exists to be aware of certain precautions when obtaining, preparing, and preserving venison. Families who choose to pursue the white-tail are enjoying their own version of “grass-fed” meat that is both organic and safe.

Several controversies surrounding venison harvested from the field include more items than this article can address, but concerns from lead poisoning from deer harvested with lead ammunition, tick-borne diseases like Alpha-gal and, now, the more recent issue of consuming deer with Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) threatens humanitarian efforts and an interest from families to consume wild venison from the enjoyed outdoor privilege of hunting. CWD exists as perhaps one of the greatest threats to our whitetail deer herd, and hence CWD will be the remainder of the focus of this article in addition to some field and health tips.

Although CWD was detected in a single deer across the WVA line in Frederick County some nine years ago, an aggressive effort by the VDGIF to contain and monitor CWD had begun earlier since CWD threatens to decimate Virginia’s deer herd. Details on this research is quite lengthy, but know your state Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has an ongoing effort to monitor CWD. They are also working closely with Hunters for the Hungry staff to see to it that any venison testing positive does not enter the food chain. At the end of this article is the most recent information I was able to obtain in recent months, where a public hearing was held in Culpeper County August of 2019 (see video under “information for hunters” at https://www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/diseases/cwd/).

Venison jerky, sausage and canned meat can be easily prepared safely in your own home with a few non-expensive tools and preparation needs. According to Eric Bowen, extension food safety specialist with Virginia Cooperative Extension, 10 pounds of pressure for 90 minutes for canning with quart jars is sufficient for venison. Of course, there are processing facilities around the state that will process and package venison for you and do a good job for around $100 or more. Or, for around $1.50 cents per pound you can have meat processed if you bring the meat deboned in a cooler. Be sure to ask first, as some processors only wish that the deer be brought in “hide-on” as this can prevent some forms of contamination.

Wild venison is high in protein and contains less saturated fat than ham, salmon or lean roast beef. Only salmon compares favorably to venison in caloric content and cholesterol, and only chicken breast has less fat (but more cholesterol). In numerous books, magazines and websites devoted to healthy eating, venison is prominently listed and described in detail. Four ounces, (112 grams) of venison supplies almost two-thirds of the daily requirement for protein, depending on a person’s body size and activity level, and almost one-third of the daily requirement for iron, yet only has about 186 calories and 1.4 grams of saturated fat.

Heart disease and cancer are sometimes linked to overconsumption of some red meats because their relatively high fat and cholesterol content. Yet we all need protein in our diets, and meat is a good source.

Here are a few tips once you have safely harvested your deer and are preparing to preserve it. Many of these steps often are ignored, and good meat will either be compromised or wasted altogether. Three things cause meat to spoil – moisture, dirt and heat. In case of faulty shot placement only, rinse bile or feces with water and pat dry with a clean rag or towel — remember water can start the bacteria process for decay. Get your meat cool as soon as possible by removing all internal organs but particularly below the diaphragm.

Virginia boasts a healthy deer herd thanks to efforts of our game biologists, Deer Management Assistance Programs and hunters themselves who choose to go the extra mile to enjoy the pursuit of the whitetail. Below are some important facts from Virginia Wildlife Veterinarian Megan Kirchgessner:

There is no treatment or cure for CWD. Chronic Wasting Disease is not a bacterium but a protein that can remain active in deer for up to two years, and then active in the soil for a further period of time.

Not all deer “look sick” so testing is necessary for deer harvested within two Disease Management Areas (DMA’s) now in Virginia – 1) Clarke, Frederick, Shenandoah, Warren counties and 2) Culpeper, Madison and Orange counties. Ten testing stations were provided on opening day of the 2019-20 general firearms deer season in DMA 2 which was the most recent find — one deer in Culpeper in 2018.

If a deer is harvested within either DMA it should be tested prior to consumption

There are no FDA or USDA approved tests out there, so it’s the hunter’s choice still to consume the venison or not, even with a positive VDGIF test

3,480 samples of deer were taken in 2018 with 1,600 of these from Virgina taxidermists, and the rest from hunters and road kill surveys

Four take-home messages were:

Continue hunting but test your deer if harvested within either DMA (see mandatory and voluntary test stations at: https://www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/diseases/cwd/cwd-information-for-hunters/).

Do not move carcasses or carcass parts out of the DMA zones.

No deer feeding – remove mineral licks, which have a high percentage of CWD positive cases mainly due to transmission of prions between saliva and bodily fluids.

Properly dispose of your deer in a landfill, or double bag and place in dumpster.

Keep in mind this information is for central and northwestern Virginia efforts, however the entire Commonwealth needs to be aware of these efforts to take their own due diligence in maintaining a healthy deer herd for the future outdoorsman to enjoy from field to table. Visit USDA’s food preservation publication at https://tinyurl.com/s258lvn and specifically for venison sections 5-6 and 5-7. Also, Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Food Safety sections on canning at https://www.pubs.ext.vt.edu/348/348-585/348- 585.html.

You should now be better prepared to have a safe and responsible hunting season with family and whomever you choose to share this great privilege of hunting with this season.

For questions and additional information on deer management assistance, contact your area VDGIF wildlife biologist at https://tinyurl.com/sjyt9jd. For questions about this article, contact Jason Fisher at (434) 476-2147 x3389 or jasonf@vt.edu.