The art of fork-tender venison

Does the anxiety level of a deer after it is shot effect the tenderness of the venison? According to the experts, it does. Ive long believed that a stressed deer which runs for some distance after the shot will likely be more tough on the dinner plate than one that drops in its tracks. In fact, some of the most tender venison Ive ever eaten came from clean bow kills when deer never even knew they were hit. Scientific data seems to support this phenomenon. I read an article recently written by renowned whitetail expert Charles Alsheimer. In it he quotes a number of biologists who lend credence to this theory. John Stransky, a research forester with the U.S. Forest Service, said a stressed deer makes for not only tough venison but gamey tasting venison as well. Wounding or even the threat of danger instantaneously triggers the release of adrenaline, which accelerates the animal's heartbeat and constricts visceral blood vessels, Stransky said. This chemical-physiological chain reaction then floods the deer's muscles with blood - the fuel for defense of flight. Stransky said the extra blood in muscle tissue produces a build-up of lactic and pyruvic acids both metabolic waste products. Adrenaline in blood-engorged muscles, in combination with unlimited metabolic wastes, is the principal cause of tough or gamey-tasting cooked venison. Further, when a deer runs a great distance between wounding and death, there is a good chance it will expend all its glycogen reserves which are stored carbohydrates used for short term energy. When this happens, the pH level of the meat increases, speeding bacterial growth, Alsheimer wrote. It is for this reason that many experts do no advocate hanging this type of deer to age the meat. Im not sure I agree 100 percent with that assessment, and I assume Im not the only one. Hanging a deer to age the meat is a time-honored tradition in many camps, including my own. Personally, I believe aging meat especially when done in a temperature controlled environment allows enzymes to break down some of the complex proteins in the carcass, improving venison's flavor and tenderness, stressed or not. Beef is aged for the same reason at between 35-39 degrees for a minimum of 10-14 days before it is sold for public consumption. But, according to Alsheimer, few hunters have the facilities to properly age deer meat such as a walk-in cooler. Therefore, he believes it's not wise to age meat, especially if the deer is less than two years old. According to Alsheimer: There are two important points to remember for aging venison. First, don't attempt to age a deer that was stressed before it died. Second, pay a professional to age your deer in a temperature-controlled cooler. Obviously, the experts advocate striving for a clean kill to avoid a stressed deer scenario - but that is sometimes easier said than done. I am always reminded under such circumstances of something my great grandpappy used to say whenever someone complained about chewy venison: Itd be tougher without it. Hard to argue with that. Cedar Shakes We had a scare with our newest family addition last week. My Deer Search pup, Cedar, became very ill and for a time we weren't sure if she was going to make it. The original diagnosis was an obstruction in her intestines, so the capable folks at Adirondack Veterinarian Hospital did exploratory surgery on her. It turns out she had an infection in her cecum, a small organ that connects the small and large intestine. While dogs do not have an appendix, it would have been very near the equivalent of appendicitis in humans, Im told. Poor little thing was pretty listless for awhile, but is now back to her electrical cord chewing, deer chasing ways. And, now she and I can compare scars like that scene from the movie Jaws. John Gereau is managing editor of Denton Publications and an avid outdoorsman. He can be reached at johng@denpubs.com.

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