Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Butcher your own deer

The price of butchering a deer ranges from $75-150. I don't know about you, but that is a little much when you can butcher your own for free in about 4 hours. If you are content with paying someone so that you don't have to worry about it then you have more money than me.

When I lived in Wisconsin I routinely harvested about 10 deer per year. I donated 5 to a family in less fortunate circumstances than me and butchered the rest myself. In those days, I would help my friends and they would help me. We could get 2-3 deer done in a matter of a few hours. The cost savings for me were between $370-750.

These days I don't get an opportunity at anywhere near that number of deer. I hunt primarily public land in a state that doesn't allow baiting. Last year I shot only 1 deer on public land and a deer on private land. So my butchering skills are not as financially valuable as they once were.

I butcher my meat the way that I want it. If I want a roast I just set some meat aside for that purpose. I always trim away all fat and tendon (white tough stuff that surrounds the meat) which is something that goes against the grain at most butcher shops. I imagine you could find one that will do that but, somehow I think the extra work would cost a bit more.

If you are someone like me that hunts for the shear value of it... learn the techniques I am about to present.

After harvesting your deer always field dress the deer in the woods. This will make the deer lighter to get out of the woods and provide the birds of prey and coyotes with a morsel. The list that follows is my routine. You assume full responsibility for the cleanliness and safety of your meat and to yourself while preparing it. There is always a chance of meat contamination if precautions aren't taken.

Skinning the Deer

  1. If it is warm outside pack the cavity with a bag of ice to bring the core temp down.
  2. Cover your deer if it will be exposed to exhaust fumes. I drive a truck and I just lay the deer in the back uncovered.
  3. When I get home I tie a thick rope around the deers neck and hang it in a tree until its legs are off of the ground. Caution: use a thick enough limb to support the weight of the deer or obvious complications will result. There are hoists that you can buy at Bass Pro Shop and Academy Sports for this purpose. I have never used them, but they may be of some benefit if your budget allows. Admittedly, I have butchered a bunch of deer with one, but just know that they are available. I have skipped the hanging step and skinned the deer in the back of my truck before. This works alright, but it's a little easier if you hang the deer from a tree. I don't hang my deer for long periods of time for the sake of the meat. When I am in the Wisconsin hunting camp I will hang the deer to get back to hunting. But, in WI it is usually well below freezing and meat spoilage isn't a concern.
  4. Get a sharp pocket knife and a knife sharpener (very cheap at any sporting goods store, $2 or less usually).
  5. Make initial cut 360 degrees around the neck.
  6. Then pinch the fur on top of the front legs after the first articulation (first bend after the hoof). Make a cut into the flesh (perpendicular to the leg)... then turn your knife around so that the blade is facing up and hold the knife with your hand palm up and place your index finger on the dull side of the blade. Pick up the skin above the initial incision and put your blade in the hole. Cut the skin in a straight line up to the neck. Repeat this for both front legs and then do it to the rear ones with the only difference being that cut the skin to meat the incision you made when you field dressed the deer.
  7. After you have made those incisions; grab the skin on the front legs and pull it up and away from the leg. You will see a bunch of fibrous, white tissue immediately below the skin. Use your blade to cut the fibrous tissue while pulling with gentle traction. This should be pretty easy and you should be seeing the skin peel away from the leg.
  8. Repeat the step on the other front leg.
  9. Now is where you will have the fun. This step is where you will see if you have a thick enough branch. Grab the skin around the neck and start to pull it away from the body use your knife you did on the arms to cut away at the fibrous tissue. All you will need to do is peel enough that you will be able to get a very solid grip with both hands.
  10. Pull the skin all the way down until you get to the back legs.
  11. Repeat the same steps as you did before on the front legs here. If at any point you feel that you can peel the skin by hand then do it and save yourself some time.
  12. You will need a saw (or a your knife may work) to cut the tail off. Once it is off you should be able to pull the skin off.
Quartering the Deer
  1. There are two rear quarters, two front quarters, back straps and tenderloins. This process may require a small amount of trial and error if you have never done it before. If you have the least bit of dexterity it will be easy after you take the first quarter. Don't let it scare you. First, stand between the hanging deers legs push the deers right leg to your left and make cut where the fibrous tisse connects the leg to the chest. Follow the fibrous tissue until you get the the bone. At that point I like to really push out on the leg in the same direction you have been this will either expose the ball and socket joint of the leg or at least give a since of where it is. Try to expose the ball and socket so that you can see where to cut without having to cut the bone. I believe that it makes it easier.
  2. Staying against the ribcage cut the meat all the way around the body until the meat starts to thin. When the leg is off of the body lay it in a clean unscented heavy duty trash bag. Don't worry you will be washing the mess out of this meat.
  3. Repeat the same thing on the other front leg. When removed from the body into the trash bag it goes.
  4. Rear quarters are about the same. Put them in the bag too once they have been removed from the body.
  5. Now get some freezer two to be exact. Write on one Back straps and on the other tenderloins. The very best cut of meat are the tenderloins. With my friends the person who helped me track the deer also helped me skin it. So I will usually save that cut for that person and I to enjoy as a victory meal for a good harvest. It has been a great tradition for me and my friends. Now its time to take the backstraps. Find the backbone at the base of the neck just below where the hair still remains. Put your knife in the thick muscle tissue that resides directly to the left of the backbone. Then make the incision to the right of the backbone. Make the incision all the way down the backbone until you reach were you cut out your rear quarters. The blade should touch the backbone on the side of the blade and ribs at the tip as you run the blade down the length of the body.
  6. Now move your blade about 3-4" to the left of the backbone. Once the incision is made go back to the top connect the incisions with a transverse (side to side) incision and start to free the muscle from the bone. I do this by grabbing the muscle and pulling up with some light traction from my fingers. I then slowly, run the blade perpendicularly down the spine. You should be pulling up a really thick and very long steak. Repeat the same process on the other side.
  7. Now grab a flashlight and shine it in the deers body cavity. If you look at the area of the spine you will find that there is a band of muscle on either side. Trace this mucsle with your knife and free it from the bone just like you did with the tenderloins.
Cutting the meat into steaks, stew meat, roasts and burger
I don't use any special formula for dividing my meat other than this.
  • Rear quarters, tenderloins and back straps are best for steaks.
  • Front quarters are good for jerky and burger.
  1. Get a butchers knife. Cut the ligament (or the white cordlike structure that looks like something you would have a hard time chewing), which is toward the bottom of the leg.
  2. You should make an incision into the meat along the length of the bone. Once you have made the incision down to the bone you should try to pull the bone out of the meat or the meat off of the bone. It may be necessary to use the knife to accomplish this. On the front quarter this will be much more difficult then on the rear. Be careful to get whatever meat that you can off of the bone. I wouldn't spend forever trying to accomplish this but you will get the idea as you go along.
  3. Keep the front quarter meat and the rear quarter meat seperate.
  4. Now take the rear quarter and decide if you want a roast. If so keep it in mind as you proceed through this step. There is a thin layer of muscle that looks bubbly on top of the thigh. Lift this up and off of the rest of the meat. Put it aside to add to the burger. The rest of the rear quarter meat will be your steaks and/or roasts. Cut the meat to sizes that you like thick or thin.
  5. Cut the thick white material off from the outer edge of the steaks.
  6. The front quarter meat will be kind of stringy. Try to cut what ever thick white stuff that you can away from this meat. Then cut the meat into as small pieces as you can to facilitate easier grinding to make burger. Keep in mind that the more of the tendon and ligament that your remove the less chewy it will become.
  7. Clean the steaks and all meat under cold running water. Try to get any hair or dirt off of the meat.
  8. Bag the meat in the amounts that you will use them. I like to use a vaccuum sealer. They are very inexpensive and will keep your meat for a much longer time than regular freezer bags. I have used freezer bags before but after a month or so they start to get a little freezer burnt.
  9. Write the date of packaging and what type of meat (back strap steaks, rear quarter steaks, etc).
  10. Cook your meat and enjoy.
I hope that this helps. Don't be afraid to experiment with different techniques of butchering. Sometimes my method isn't as pretty as you will find at the butchers shop but it tastes just as good.

God Bless,


Anonymous said...

Thanks Sean, going to try butchering myself for the first time this season. That is if I get one.

sean is a bitch said...



Anonymous said...

Taking 10 deer a year in wisconsin.... No wonder the population is down. Nice one.

Anonymous said...

The population in WI is still way up retard. This year I've seen way more deer than I have in previous years. If I was in a rifle zone, I would have been able to shoot at them :p

Anonymous said...

Why r you such an ass?

Anonymous said...


thanks man. my teenage stepson and I seem to only have bow hunting in common these days. butchering our own deer will certainly give us more time together, and save me money - a win win. thanks for posting. sorry about the little potty mouths who've posted on here. what do they do? search for deer hunting info and then post nasty messages? Glad I hunt, and don't waste my life posting garbage onto posts written by good people just trying to help others.

Anonymous said...

Great tips Sean! Maybe I'll try to dress my deer this year but the butcher shop I use only charges $50

Fred Gill said...

Interesting blog. This is one of my favorite blog about hunting and I also want you to update more post like this. Thanks for sharing this article.

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