Skinning Head Up Versus Head Down

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Way back when the author was a long-haired freaky person, his father taught him the head-down method of skinning. He has stuck with it.
Way back when the author was a long-haired freaky person, his father taught him the head-down method of skinning. He has stuck with it.
Steve Sorensen
Steve Sorensen
Contribiting Writer

Hanging a deer head up versus head down for skinning is always a hot topic among hunters. I doubt I can end this debate, but I’ll try. Here, I’m offering all the reasons I can think of for both methods, and then you can decide.

First, the benefits of the head-down method.

1. Hanging the deer head down is easier. With my deer on the tailgate of my truck I back under my hanging station, trim the hide around the Achilles tendons, and insert the ends of the gambrel into the spaces between the tendons and the main leg bones. Then I hoist him up and drive away.

If it’s a buck, a rope around the antlers is easy enough (although the antlers can come loose), but if it’s a doe a rope around the neck isn’t nearly as efficient. Here’s a clue to what the best method is: no gambrel is designed to hang an animal with the head up.

2. With the hind legs up, far less hair gets on the meat because every cut through the hide can be made from the inside. That means you can avoid cutting any hair at all. If you do happen to cut hair, it’s mostly the short hair on the lower part of the legs. When you cut the hide from the head — the last step — you can do that as far away from the deer as you want, to keep hair away from your meat.

I checked an online video of the head-up method to see if I was wrong. I wasn’t. I saw plenty of hair drifting in the air, and clinging to the butcher’s gloves. That’s a prescription for hair on your meat. Besides, cutting through hair will dull your knife.

3. With the hind legs up, gravity helps make your meat better. Whatever blood and fluids remain in the deer will mostly drain into the deer’s head or out the throat. Put a bucket under it to help keep your floor clean. If you hang the deer with the head up and the hind legs down, some fluids will settle into the hind quarters where they stay in the meat. With the head down, you skin the deer, remove his head and discard it.

If you’re keeping the head for a mount, you can’t skin the deer with the head up. In fact, in the video I watched the butcher advocating the head-up method said the head-down method was the only way to do it if you plan to mount the head.

4. When you skin the deer with the head down, you don’t have to move the deer to proceed with butchering. As the deer hangs, I cut every deer up in this order: tenderloins (inside at the small of the back), loins (backstraps), shoulders, ribs, and then hind quarters (which have the largest muscles).

That means, depending on how quickly you work and how careful you are about the temperature, the hind quarters have more time to age. Plus, they’re up high where Fido or Felix can’t reach them.

The benefits of the head-up method

I can’t think of any head-up benefits. The butcher who recommended the head-up method in the video I watched actually couldn’t either. He did say the armpit area is easier to skin if the deer is hanging head up, but that point is countered by the fact that the hind quarters are easier to skin with the head down.

His number one reason for skinning deer head up was that his father, a commercial meat processor, taught him to do it that way. But before you conclude professional meat men favor the head-up method, he admitted that all commercial meat is butchered with the head down. Go figure.

So there you have it. It’s not that I care how you do it. Do what you want. Do it the way you were taught. But do it well. I’m not trying to change your mind, but if you try the head-down method, you might change your own mind.

When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, www.EverydayHunter.com. He writes for top outdoor magazines, and won the 2015 and 2018 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.

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Steve Sorensen
Steve Sorensen of Russell, PA is an award-winning outdoor writer whose column, The Everyday Hunter®, offers hunting tips, strategies, and insights on how to think about hunting. His byline has appeared in the nation’s top hunting magazines including Outdoor Life, Sports Afield, Deer & Deer Hunting, Pennsylvania Game News, Fur-Fish-Game, North American Whitetail, Bear Hunting Magazine and more. He contributes regular website content to Legendary Whitetails and Havalon Knives and is a field editor for Deer Hunters Online. Steve is also in demand as an event speaker, presenting programs on do-it-yourself Alaska moose hunting, whitetail deer, wild turkeys, and eastern coyotes, with new programs coming. E-mail him at EverydayHunter@gmail.com to invite him to speak at your next sportsmen’s dinner (or to tell him where your best hunting spot is).