Eric Gahr

Eric Gahr of Prior Lake processed his own deer meat this season instead of taking it to a local butcher to do the work.

What does it take to butcher a deer for the first time?

For Eric Gahr of Prior Lake, it took about three hours with help from YouTube.

“I found out it’s one of those things that’s hard but also easy,” Gahr said. “The whole process took about three hours. Make the cut, watch the video. Make another cut, watch the video.

“If I do it a second time, I won’t need YouTube,” he added.

Gahr is new to deer hunting. Last year, he went on his first hunt with a friend from high school on 40-acres of land near Taylor Falls, Wisconsin. He successfully shot his first doe, but had a professional butcher carve up the meat.

Gahr went to back to the same area this fall to hunt with his friend and two other hunters. He again scored a deer, but decided this time he’d process the meat.

Gahr has been an avid duck and pheasant hunter for years. He’s butchered his own birds, so he figured why not carve up a deer.

“Birds are pretty simple, but everything has its own little secret to it,” said Gahr, a science teacher and head boys track coach at Eden Prairie High School. “It took me a while with the deer, but I know the second time around will be easier.”

Pandemic impact

COVID-19 has been disruptive to the deer hunting season. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, there was 59,717 deer harvested in the first two days of the season, which was down 21% from last year.

The archery and youth deer hunts were up from last year heading into the firearms season. But that didn’t continue as the firearms season was also down 16% from the state’s five-year average.

The pandemic does not shoulder all the blame. The DNR has reported than warmer and windier weather may have had impact and fewer antlerless permits were available following last year’s deep-snow winter in some northern counties.

When hunters do bring a home a deer, getting it processed has been a little more difficult. Many larger butcher shops are at full capacity and back logged due to temporary COVID-19 closures in the spring.

Barbara Keller, the DNR’s big-game program leader, told MPR News back in September that deer hunters could find that some butcher shops may turn their business needs away due to back-logged orders from other meat prior to the hunting season.

However, Gahr had a different reason for not taking his deer to a butcher. Not only did he want to learn to do it himself, but he wanted to make sure it was just his meat being processed and not scraps from other deers getting in with his.

Gahr recently ate smoked venison for dinner. He has sausages and brats ready to go, along with ground burgers, cherry cheddar venison and tenderloins.

“I don’t see why I’d ever take a deer back to a processor now,” he said.

Tom Schardin covers sports for Savage and Prior Lake. He is dependable, sarcastic and always joking around. Tom enjoys running and swimming and is often busy coaching his two kids' sports teams.