I began processing my own deer a long time ago when I worked in the meat room of a little grocery store, and while I’ve forgotten more than I remember, I know enough to butcher my own deer with satisfying results.
You don’t need expensive tools to do the basic job. With my method you need no saw, but you do need a couple of sharp knives and the right surface to work on.
I use a heavy maple cutting board I got from my dad, but you can use a piece of plywood or a wide plank made from pine. It protects your countertop from your knife and gives your knife edge a working surface that won’t make it dull. It’s also easy to clean up by washing and rubbing salt into it.
What kind of knife? I still have my R. H. Forschner boning knife from my teenage years working in a meat shop, and I’ve picked up a couple more at garage sales. Another knife I really like is the Havalon Baracuta knife with a fillet blade.
Cutting up a deer is much easier than you might think, but it is serious work. Little mistakes may not amount to much, but there are some big mistakes you need to avoid. Basic principles you will follow all the way through the process is to cut muscle groups off as large as possible, always cut muscles against the grain, and make a pile of small pieces to grind later.
In seven steps, here’s what I do:
I skin the deer with the deer hanging head down. This allows the blood to drain from the hind quarters into an open area. (Put a bucket under it.) Get the hide off as soon as possible and the deer will cool more quickly. Remove the head with the hide.
Cut loins out of the deer from the back to the front (or top to bottom). Remove the silvery membrane. Slice to preferred thickness or to roast size.
Cut one shoulder off. (There is no joint holding the shoulder to the body of the deer.) Debone the meat, then repeat with the other shoulder. On larger deer you should be able to get a shoulder roast from each side. If you don’t want roasts, then trim for grinding.
Cut through the spine at the narrowest part of the back and leave the hind quarters hanging. Bone out the remaining meat on the neck, spine and rib cage for grinding.
Cut off one hind quarter by finding the ball and socket joint and severing the tendon that connects them, keeping as much of the meat with the hind quarter as possible.
Cut the quarter into muscle groups, some pieces as roasts and others as steaks. Repeat with the other hind quarter.
Trim remaining scraps of meat from the pelvis for grinding.
Package meat in zippered freezer bags. Get as much air out of the bags as possible before freezing. This process takes me about two hours on a small deer, three on a large deer.
When my kids were growing up I learned a few tricks that result in good venison when it lands on their plates. I made sure everything on their plates was easily edible.
- Not using a saw eliminates bone chips and bone marrow.
- Trim away all fat before cutting. Venison fat tastes awful.
- Trim all silver skin. Otherwise your meat will be chewy.
I probably wasted a little meat with my method, but it taught my family that venison is good. I’d rather waste it in the butchering process than waste it on the plate.
Nearly anyone can butcher a deer at home if you give a little thought to it. Next time, a few tips on aging, grinding and cooking.
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.