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 – visit 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.