10 Questions Deer Hunters Should Ask Their Meat Processor

Okay, you’ve shot or arrowed that prized deer so now what do you do with it?   Even though many hunters are choosing to cut up and package their own meat these days, other hunters still prefer to pay having these services provided by a professional.   Certainly nothing wrong with that…but how does one know whether they’re getting the best value for their money along with wholesome food safety?

Remember, even the basic processing and packaging costs can run upwards of $100 per deer.   Tack on specialty processing like sausage making, curing or smoking and the final tally on the cash register could easily approach $300 for a large deer.   Here’s a list of some basic questions you might consider asking a meat processor before you engage their services this fall:

1. Is the facility registered by MN Dept of Ag?   Make sure the processor in which you’re dealing with abides by the meat handling rules set forth by the State of Minnesota.

2. When last was the processing facility inspected?  Keep in mind the Minnesota Dept. of Ag has a designation for meat processors called “Custom Exempt Meat Processor” which means less frequent sanitation inspections.   If the meat processor is not regularly selling over-the-counter meat to the public you might want to ask about when their facility was last inspected by the state.

3. What is your trimming policy around any wound channels?   Now with the recent concern regarding the potential for lead toxins due to bullet fragmentation, processors are being asked to be aggressive in cutting away damaged meat.   The processors make more money by the pound, but ensure you’re getting the safe meat you want by discussing this concern.

4. Will my meat be commingled with venison from other hunters?   Quite often it is because to make it worthwhile to do a batch of sausage, bologna, etc. it typically requires some volume.   If this practice concerns you, now is the time to discuss it with the meat processor to discover any alternatives that may be available.

5. Are grinders being regularly checked for lead fragments and cleaned?   Impress upon your meat processor the importance of thoroughly cleaning equipment before any of your venison is ground.   It should be done this way between customers, anyway.

6. How is the meat packaged?   Explain how many servings per package is ideal for your family.   Also, if the meat will likely be in the freezer for some time, consider paying a bit extra to get all cuts double-wrapped to further prevent freezer burn.

7. When will the cutting occur?   Unlike beef, most venison is not purposefully aged before processing.   Asking this question is more about learning how busy the processor is and discovering how the meat will be stored in the meantime.

8. How soon will the meat need to be picked up?   Are there storage fees?   Good questions to ask for schedule planning.

9. Can I see a price list?   Can you estimate the final cost?   Always request a price list.   Knowing in advance what your total costs could amount to will help avoid any “sticker shock” situations.   It also helps for family budgeting just to know in advance.

10. Is there a money back guarantee for processed venison items?   A good processor will have samples for tasting when you bring in your deer to write up the order.   The expectation is for your meat to taste similar to those samples.   If that situation doesn’t occur and you discover the meat to be rather unpalatable, what recourse will you have?

Now, granted some of these questions might hint as though you’re questioning the meat processor’s integrity.   Well, my experience has been that a reputable and responsible professional will gladly answer any concerns you might have about their food handling practices.   After all, the service they are providing can ultimately concern the health and well-being of your family and your friends.

As a final note, several meat processors are again this year accepting donations under the Minnesota Venison Donation Program sponsored by the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, the Minnesota DNR, and the Minnesota Department of Ag.   If you have quality, wholesome venison to donate…please consider this worthwhile program that helps fill area food shelves.

© 2009 Jim Braaten.   All Rights Reserved.   No Reproduction without Prior Permission.

Discovering The Unusual In The Out-of-doors

Spend enough time outdoors and you’re apt to experience some strange encounters.   Take, for instance, my friend, Mitch, who several years back was doing a little fishing on a rural stream when something soon caught his eye in the river.   Nope, it wasn’t the flash of a large fish.   In fact, it turned out to be a cash register tossed from a bridge and now laying submerged in the river bed below.

Many years ago I pulled into a field approach preparing to do some pheasant hunting and again, something out-of-the-ordinary happened to catch my attention.   There, laying in the ditch, partially obscured by tall grass was a red purse.   I approached it cautiously because my mind couldn’t comprehend a plausible reason why it would be there — except for possibly a crime.   As soon as I finished pheasant hunting, I quickly went home and called the sheriff explaining my unusual discovery.

Another friend, while scouting some new territory for deer, happened on a site where a group of “dopers” had obviously been partying quite recently.   Ashes from a campfire remained along with drug paraphernalia was scattered throughout the area.   It appeared almost as if the party-goers got scared off without bothering to ever come back.   Again, concerned these items could wind up once again in the wrong hands…the police were called.

Just last week StarTribune.com reported on an incident at the Sherburne wildlife refuge where a person out walking had located a stash of 60 marijuana plants growing.   He subsequently tipped off the authorities so an arrest could be made.   Again, someone stumbled upon something unusual and did their part to become a “crime buster.”

IMG_0419Two weeks ago I allowed my farm to be a training site for various SWAT teams from four different counties in southern Minnesota as they simulated a meth lab bust out in my woods.   As an observer watching the scenario unfold, it was a vivid reminder of the unsuspecting dangers that sometimes lurk in the out-of-doors.   Our law enforcement officials practice and prepare for it, are you ready for such a possible encounter?

Let’s face it, when you go out for some Sunday afternoon squirrel hunting you don’t expect to encounter dangerous criminals cooking meth — but it happens.   The Minnesota DNR even warns outdoor enthusiasts of this potential danger on their website.   Check out the precautionary notice HERE.

The point is there’s a lot of land in Minnesota that hasn’t recently been traipsed on since probably late last fall.   When situations occur, Minnesota hunters can become the eyes and ears to aid our law enforcement agencies in doing their difficult job.   It happens all the time.   Sooner or later it could happen to you.

Moreover, it’s also important to appreciate that criminal activities, such as meth labs, can pose a definite danger as these individuals don’t usually act very rational.   Trust your gut feeling…if a situation just doesn’t seem right get out of the area and report your suspicions to the authorities.

As luck would have it, a person just never knows what type of unusual situation one might encounter when recreating outdoors.   Still, it’s prudent to be somewhat mentally prepared to know how you might want to react when the discovery you just made doesn’t seem to be right.

© 2009 Jim Braaten.   All Rights Reserved.   No Reproduction without Prior Permission.

Guess What I Did Five Years Ago To This Very Day…

Any ideas?   C’mon…I’ll give you a hint.   It has something to do with this blog.   Actually, it makes today sort of a monumental event in this blog’s existence.    That’s right, you probably guessed it…five years ago to this very day I posted my first blog message on this board.

All I can say is WOW…has the time sure flown by.   I entitled that little entry as “Let The Journey Begin.”   Now, as I reflect back, I can definitely say this blog has been a journey.   Oh, sure, there’s been a few bumps in the road.   Every journey worth traveling is going to have them.   But all in all it has been a wonderful experience.   I must say, if nothing else, it has helped me hone my outdoors communication skills.

In that first blog post I kept things pretty short and sweet.   Here’s a snippet of what I said:

At times I will likely write about my daily experiences in the out-of-doors here in southern Minnesota. At other times it will be tackling some tough issues and how they affect the outdoor world we all enjoy. I don’t expect you to agree with everything I write…in fact, a good blog site will challenge you to see things from a different perspective. I do expect, however, that the topics covered will be varied and interesting (at least 90% of the time).

Those very words still ring true today.   In fact, I’ve learned that tackling the controversial topics can be very enlightening.   Countless times I have taken a company to task and eventually received a response from the owner or the company’s CEO.   Indeed, I can attest the power of blogging is very real.   I’ve discovered that.   Now, others are discovering it as it seems everyone these days has a blog.

I’ve also had folks strongly disagree with my posts and challenge me to look at a certain topic in another way.   Such has been the case with my last blog entry posted to the StarTribune.com and linked to from this site.   When I posted it I knew it would raise some eyebrows and be controversial in some people’s minds…that’s just how it works for some topics.   Still, I’ve learned to write about what I believe in and let the chips fall where they may.   Besides, if you’re proud of what you do and say isn’t that really all that matters?

Five years ago when I began blogging the outdoors communication world did not take blogging serious.   Ha!   Boy, have they sure learned their lesson.   Today, the term new media (which includes the likes of bloggers, podcasters, vidcasters, etc.) have taken the world by storm.   Many happen to have journalistic training…others, well let’s just say they produce content that appears a little rough around the edges.   Still, folks are getting the word out to the best of their abilities and I have to say it’s all very inspirational.

Lots has changed in my life during the past five years while I’ve been blogging, too.   I left the confines of being employed (doing ambulance work) to become self-employed on a full-time basis.   Oh, it was scary at first…but I had confidence it would all work out.   And it did.

Other life events also occurred.   Nearly 4 1/2 years ago I married the love of my life, Roberta, who has been such a true inspiration to me.   Not only does she keep me in line (somebody eventually had to do it, I guess), but she has added so much to my life in ways I could not have imagined before getting married.   And let’s face it…getting married for the first time at the ripe old age of 42 had some challenges in and of itself.   But, I’ve learned it’s possible an old dog can learn some new tricks, so to speak.

Then came along the next biggest event in my life 15 months ago also to this very day.   My daughter, Elsie, was born and has totally transformed this hard-core outdoorsman into discovering another important life role — that of being a daddy.   Honestly, I am blessed with so much good in my life at times I almost feel guilty.   Instead, I choose to cherish it all and not take anything for granted that the good Lord has provided for me.

Changing gears just a bit, it might interest you to know that over the years my blog site has averaged about 250 unique visitors each day which totals almost a half million visitors during the short lifetime of this blog.   To me that’s just crazy!   Oh, I know many other popular blogs do much better…but these stats far exceed my expectations when I started this crazy thing.

As I look ahead, I hope to have time to do even more blogging during the next 5 years of my life.   It likely won’t happen that way…but in a perfect world it would.   Most of my blogging efforts today are posted over at the StarTribune.com and then linked to from this site.   We’ll see how much longer that relationship happens…but, in the meantime, I hope you will continue to check out my postings on that site, too.

In closing, I want to thank all who have faithfully been along for this fascinating ride.   And to celebrate this anniversary milestone, I’m giving away 10 FREE Sportsman’s Blog Caps to the first 10 people who send me their complete mailing address.   That’s right…simply drop me a line at jim7226@hotmail.com and indicate if you want your cap to be: #1. Fishing themed; or #2. Camo themed; or #3. Blaze orange themed (only choose one).   Limit one per blog reader.   Available only to the first 10 parties who send me their complete mailing address and cap choice.

NOTE: The Sportsman’s Blog caps have all been spoken for…thanks to everyone who made a request. (9/22/09)

Keep enjoying the outdoors!!

© 2009 Jim Braaten.   All Rights Reserved.   No Reproduction without Prior Permission.