Venison Meltdown: The Disaster of Freezer Failure

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“What’s that smell?” my wife April asked when we returned home from a week out-of-town.

I answered that I thought it was the trash. Our garbage service picks up on Wednesday mornings, and we had left town on a Tuesday evening. Assuming my reasoning was correct, I wheeled the trash can out to the curb to be picked up the next day. We then went about our business that evening unloading the car, unpacking and getting ready to return to work.

The next morning, as April was going out to the garage to leave for her job and I was headed out to walk our dog, we both took a step back. This wasn’t the trash. For an instant, I thought something happened to our pipes. Something froze and busted. But as I looked out into the garage, it hit me.

There against the back wall sat my chest freezer. The little green power light on the front was dark. I tried resetting the power outlet. The green light stayed off. I checked the breakers. All were on.

Just shy of a year and a half old, my freezer died. I knew from the smell there was no hope of moving any of the meat to our upstairs refrigerator freezer. My supply of venison was lost.

My heart sank. The deer meat in that freezer was taken from nature with the full intent of eating it – whether consuming it myself or sharing it with others. Fortunately for some friends of mine, I had already given away several pounds of the ground meat. But the remaining ground meat, roasts, steaks, backstraps, even the tenderloins from the only deer I took during the 2014 season were gone. Not only had I lost all of that 2014 doe, but I still had some venison remaining from the three deer I took in 2013. It was all spoiled.

On that morning, there was no time for sorrow. Realizing the trash was coming later that day, I sprung into action. I told April I would handle it, and that she should head on to work.

Next, I grabbed a few trash bags and tried to prepare myself for the stench that was going to rise from opening the freezer’s lid. Our trash service was coming in a couple hours, and if I missed it, I didn’t know how I was going to dispose of the spoiled meat.

I can’t imagine any smells worse than the one that greeted me when I opened the lid. In fact, I would lean to believe the only people who have smelled anything remotely close are medical students, forensic investigators, or morticians. One thing was certain, my freezer quit working at thebeginning of our week out of town.

One package of meat at a time, I filled three trash bags, and I lost my breakfast three times as well. Once the meat was out, I still had several inches of blood and melted frost pooling at the bottom of the freezer. So I dragged the unit outside and dumped it, but I didn’t want to run the hose to clean it as temperatures were – wait for it – below freezing. My only choice was to return to it after work.

I sat at my desk wondering why the freezer stopped working. Did I buy a bad freezer from the get-go? No. In fact, I researched several freezers before making the purchase. This one was highly rated with positive reviews.

After work, I rinsed the freezer with a mixture of water and fabric softener, and by the following morning the smell had dissipated. But my sense of devastation remained.

“Gone. It’s all gone.”

That phrase repeated in my head for days as I slowly began to come out of a state of shock. Beyond the personal connection with nature, all the hours spent in the woods in pursuit of deer were for naught. I didn’t lose items you buy at the grocery store. My freezer wasn’t filled with frozen pizzas or ice cream. My freezer was filled with venison I hunted and acquired by my own hands. Sure, I can buy a steak, make up some beef hamburgers or get a roast to slow cook, but it won’t be the same. Friends have offered to share some venison with me, but even that won’t be the same. The spiritual connection of eating venison I harvested will be notably absent, and because of that, there’s a void in my heart. It’ll be a long offseason until that emptiness can be filled by once again completing the field-to-table cycle in the fall.

Unfortunately, the warranty on my freezer was only good for one year, which doesn’t do any good 16 months after purchase. Eventually I will buy another freezer – one with an extended warranty that also covers the cost for loss of food. I also plan to split up where I store my venison between that new freezer, our refrigerator freezer and even the freezer at my parent’s house. I don’t even want to think about, let alone deal with, losing all my venison ever again!

Have you ever dealt with a freezer-gone bad or suffered a venison-lost disaster? Share your story with us in the comment section below.

  • Jimmy Ernst

    In the second week of August of this year, it started raining. It rained a lot, and in less than three days, over 30 inches had fallen, most of it to my north. I live on low ground, southeast of Baton Rouge, and all that rain made it’s way into the river basins and those basins couldn’t hold it all. In the spring of 1983, the flood of all floods hit this area and the Amite River gauge at Port Vincent read 14.6″ at the peak. A record was set that no one ever thought would be broken. This time, they were predicting 15′. Then 15.5′, then 16′ and predictions finally settled on 17.5′ – almost three feet above the all-time record. The weather man warned us that even if they were off by two feet, it would still be worse than ’83 and devastating. Sunday morning, the water reached the house. It was already in the shed where I kept the freezer of deer meat, squirrel, hog etc. We had prepared as much as we could in the house the day before, not knowing what exactly was coming and we left around noon with water at the door and rising. It was Friday before we got back to the house and it wasn’t good. The house took on 14 inches of water. The shed and freezer, took 21″. The water was receding, but the damage was done.

    Priorities. A flooded house trumps deer meat. When I checked, much of the meat in the center of the mass of white-paper wrapped protein in the freezer was still partially, if not mostly frozen. Could I save it? I would have to go buy another freezer somewhere haul it, and the the meat (which was rapidly thawing in our August heat) to someplace that had not flooded. Everything flooded. Everyone flooded. Mom’s house was the only option and it’s over an hour away. That’s at least half a day to try to save some venison. I had to walk away from the freezer and begin work on the house, gutting it. Later on, I ended up loading the meat into ice chests and hauling it to a dumpster. It wasn’t rotten and I didn’t lose any breakfast, but I was sick to my stomach. Not the “I’ve got to hurl” kind of sick, but the kind you get when you have a huge loss that is heartbreaking. It significantly added to the sickening sight of flood damage and the “what do we do now?” thoughts.

    It’s December now and I’ve only been able to make a couple of short hunts and still no venison. The recovery process is seriously cutting into deer season. We have long, liberal seasons here in the south and I’m not done. The rut kicks in here in a few more weeks and I’ll get mine. I won’t be trophy hunting, because, as they say, “you can’t eat them horns”. But under those “horns” is plenty of organic, free-range protein that I am craving.

    My wife and I and the two dogs have been living in a camper in the back yard for three months now and will likely hit four months before moving back into the house. Progress is being made and we will come out of this in good shape, thanks to the tireless efforts of all the volunteer help that just showed up when we needed it, and the blessings of the good Lord.