Deer hunters carry a heavy responsibility, wildlife officials say. The general public needs them. The game departments need them in order to manage the deer herd. The deer need them.
Humans have done much to disturb the natural habitat, fragmenting the landscape and creating urban and suburban areas. Yet deer are so adaptable that their numbers continually threaten to grow beyond the carrying capacity the public will tolerate.
Without hunters controlling the growth of the deer herd, serious consequences occur in the form of deer-vehicle collisions and crop damage complaints.
Deer hunting is not just about trophy antlers or meat, wildlife officials say. It’s about sound biology and management, and hunters are very important in reaching our goals. The problem is the lack of new hunters being recruited and a lack of old hunters being retained.
As hunters take to the field this season, they say, the non-hunting humans should realize that hunting big game is not only an exciting sport or a chance for gathering venison for the larder: It is a necessity.
Hunters also have the responsibility to go by the laws and to insure the safety of themselves and other hunters, as well as landowners who have given them permission to hunt.
The knowledge of the background where a bullet may go is especially important in Kentucky, where high-powered rifles are permitted for hunting deer.
Author Hayley Lynch, an award-winning writer for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, shares below her way of making delicious venison jerky.
Each year I look forward to making deer jerky. The scent of spicy marinade fills my kitchen as I thaw, cut, soak and dry, gradually emptying my freezer full of deer meat. I beam like a kid on Christmas morning when I lift the top of the dehydrator, revealing tray after tray of perfectly dried strips of venison. I pack the cooled jerky into plastic bags with various marinade labels, and can’t wait to give them to friends, family and co-workers.
If I seem over-enthusiastic about making jerky, it’s probably because I can’t cook. My attempts have led to small kitchen fires, burnt breakfast pastries and even my Mom’s classic dinner-table comment, “Well, at least we have a good dessert.”
My point is, if I can make jerky, anyone can.
TRIAL AND ERROR
Entire books are written on this subject, and there are many ways to do it well. But there are a few things I wish I’d known when I started. Through trial and error I’ve learned to use a lot of meat, clean it well, cut it consistently, marinade it for just a few hours, and dry it longer than it seems to need.
It takes a lot of deer meat to make a small amount of jerky. Ever heard the saying that our bodies are mostly water? The same is true of deer. Ten pounds of venison becomes about two pounds of jerky after drying. So set aside plenty of meat if you plan to share. It’s amazing how quickly your jerky will disappear. People love this stuff.
The cleaner your meat, the better your jerky will taste. Remove the whitish membrane, or ‘silver seam’, from the outside of the meat, as well as all the gristle and sinew that you can cut off. If you don’t plan to make jerky right away, wrap the meat tightly in butcher paper and freeze it, then move it to the refrigerator a couple of days before you’re ready to begin. Meat that is still partially frozen is far easier to cut than completely thawed meat.
I use only the large muscle groups like hams and shoulders for jerky. Large sections of meat are easier to cut and dry more consistently than smaller, more irregularly shaped pieces. Save the small cuts for stew or hamburger meat, and the tenderloins for steaks.
Be consistent in your cutting, making all strips the same thickness. It’s a pain to remove jerky from the oven or dehydrator in shifts, but that’s exactly what you’ll be doing if your meat isn’t a uniform thickness.
BRITTLE OR CHEWY
If you like brittle jerky, cut across the grain. If you want chewier jerky, cut with the grain. Some people prefer to turn their venison into hamburger first, then use a jerky gun to make uniform strips. I prefer the texture of cut jerky, but either method can yield good results.
Soak the cut strips of meat in marinade for a few hours to overnight, depending on how strong you want the marinade flavor. Turn the meat several times while it soaks. Marinating too long can overwhelm the taste or lead to mushy, stringy meat.
An oven works just fine for jerky making, and many people prefer this method. I prefer a dehydrator. It takes a lot of the guess-work out of the process. I know exactly how long it will take to dry a quarter-inch thick piece of venison, and I know that every piece is drying at the same temperature. Besides, making jerky is messy, and I can throw my dehydrator racks in the dishwasher. I’d rather dress a deer than chisel dried, caked-on marinade out of my oven.
Dry the jerky a bit longer than it seems to need. The jerky’s surface should crack when you bend it, but the piece should not break apart. Moisture will build up during storage, and pulling it too soon will result in sticky jerky within a day.
For marinade recipes, storage tips and more, buy a good jerky-making book or search online. There’s plenty of information out there to create this convenient, high-protein snack. Best of all, even the worst cook can make great deer jerky.
Reach G. SAM PIATT at [email protected] or (606) 932-3619