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Fishing season giving way to deer season

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This might be the end of the open water season for many anglers in the Bemidji area. The surface water temperatures in the lakes are still in the mid 40s, but the abrupt change in weather and the opening of the rifle deer season Saturday may keep most anglers off the lakes until they freeze.

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The timing of the latest cold front is good news for deer hunters planning to be in the woods this weekend. The cold seems to get the deer moving and a little snow on the ground is good for tracking and showing fresh signs.

The cool weather will allow hunters to hang their deer outside before processing the meat. Spoilage is kept to a minimum with air temperatures 40 degrees and colder.

Deer hides are much easier to remove when the hide is still warm. After the deer cools, the hide tightens up and is harder to remove. Allow the hide to freeze and each inch of hide is a battle to remove.

More hunters should be able to cut up their own deer. The basic process of deboning a deer is not that difficult and can be done in only a few hours without having to cut through any bones.

The first move after the hide is removed is to cut the legs off at the knee joints and be sure the meat is cool before processing begins.

The back straps or chops are the first thing to be removed. The chops run on both sides of the spine and run from the neck all the way to the rump. They can be made more visible by removing the layer of fat over the top of the chops.

Cut across the chops starting at the top and tube out the entire long muscle until hitting the pelvis near the rump of the deer.

The chops are considered the best cut of meat by most hunters and are eaten as steaks. The chops can be trimmed and cut cross grain and packaged in packs appropriate for the size of your family.

There are also two small muscles inside the deer towards the back legs along the spine. These are the equivalent of fillet mignon or tenderloins in the deer and are the smallest and most delicate of all the deer steaks. Be careful not to damage them by accident when gutting the deer.

The back legs of the deer can be separated without cutting any bones by cutting along the spine all the way into the hip joint and around the leg until it separates from the deer.

The muscles in the back legs are held together by connective tissue and each muscle can be separated and made into steaks by cutting across the grain. Sections of the muscles can be saved as roasts.

The steaks are always cut across the grain and can be trimmed as they are cut. The connective tissue can be removed with a fillet knife just like removing the skin on a fish.

Most people keep a big bowl handy for the lean trimmings to be made into sausage or hamburger, with the fat, connective tissue and areas around the bullet wounds discarded.

The front legs can easily be separated by lifting and cutting underneath with a sharp knife.

The front legs have a lot of connective tissue, so they are usually best suited as trimmings for hamburger or sausage.

Once all four legs and the back straps have been removed and made into steaks, the rest of the deer carcass can be trimmed with any lean meat saved for hamburger or sausage. Strips of meat can be saved to make deer jerky or some of the steaks can be cut into strips for the same purpose.

Hunters can cut up their own deer with a little time and effort and the result will be better meat because of the extra care they can give processing their own deer.

The bulk trimmings can be brought to several different places in town, where they can be blended with beef or pork to make hamburger or can be processed into other products.

Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235.

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