Deer Processing 101 | Steps from Gutting to Butchering
More than enough effort goes into even being able to get a shot and ultimately successfully harvesting a mature whitetail deer. When that deer hits the ground and that feeling of excitement and relief that all that hard work paid off, the real work begins. Many hunters take pride in processing their own deer from field to table. This deer processing 101 guide goes through the steps from gutting to butchering to ensure you get the most out of your trophy. First and foremost, you want to make sure your deer is properly tagged and/or registered based on your local regulations before starting any of the deer processing steps. Once tagged, you are ready to grab your Havalon® knife and begin working through the steps in this deer processing 101 guide.
Let’s begin broadly with the three stages of processing your own deer. First, you have to gut the animal then skin and hang it and finally process all that natural, lean venison into table-ready cuts. Within each stage, there are multiple steps involved to do it right and put quality meat in the freezer.
How to Field Dress a Deer in 7 Easy Steps
Field dressing a deer is the process of removing all the internal organs. Gutting a deer as soon as you can after a kill is important to help cool the meat and prevent any meat from spoiling from bacteria growth or contamination from internal decomposition. How to gut a deer is as easy as these seven steps.
- Start by positioning the deer on its back and spread its hind legs. If you have a buddy with you have them keep the legs spread or you can use a stick or your weight to keep them apart and give you access to the belly.
- For a buck, cut around and remove the testicles. This will then be your starting point for opening up the cavity. If it is a doe, start your incision where the hindquarters come together behind the belly. Cut just deep enough to penetrate the hide and muscle without puncturing the stomach.
- Carefully use your finger to lift up the hide off of the stomach organs while slicing the belly open and opening the cavity up to the sternum.
- With the stomach cavity open, remove all the entrails by cutting the organs away from the cavity and pulling everything out and away from the deer. Cut off the lower part of the intestines that connects to the anus, being careful to not get any feces on the meat, to completely remove the entrails. The remaining intestines and anus will be removed in a later step.
- The lower cavity should now be empty, exposing the diaphragm, which is the thin wall of muscle the separates the chest cavity from the stomach cavity. Cut along the inside of the ribs to remove the diaphragm and expose the heart and lungs. Reach up and cut the esophagus and pull it out along with the heart and lungs. An easier way to remove these organs when field dressing a deer is to use a bone saw to cut through the sternum to open the cavity but this is not necessary.
- Switch to a Havalon® bone saw blade to cut through the pelvic bone. Be sure to not nick the bladder and taint the meat. With the pelvis cut, the remaining intestines, anus, and bladder can be trimmed out.
- Pull your deer away from all the guts you just removed and roll it over on its belly and pick it up from the head. This will help to drain out any remaining blood in the cavity. That is the final step in field dressing a deer and you are ready to transport it out of the woods.
How to Skin a Deer
The next stage in deer processing 101 now that your trophy is back at camp or your house is to skin it out. It is always a good idea to wash out the cavity before skinning once it is out of the woods to flush out any dirt or containments that may have got into the cavity or on the meat from gutting and transporting the animal. After that, you are ready to begin the skinning process with these steps.
- The best way to skin a deer is to start by hanging it upside down. A gambrel positioned between the back legs helps to control the deer and keep it stable while skinning. Hoist it up on a stable garage beam, large tree limb or sturdy meat pole.
- Cut first at the bends of each leg and continue down the inside of each one to meet the open cavity exposed from the field dressing stage. These preparation cuts help to remove the hide in one piece in the next step.
- Slice along muscle and connective tissue as you pull the hide down from the hindquarters to separate it from the meat. A sharp knife blade is an advantage in this step and where the ability of a Havalon® knife to change blades makes removing the hide much easier and faster.
- Continue to slice the hide from the muscle around the front shoulders and finish pulling it down to the base of the neck. Once the hide is pulled to the base of the neck, simply use a saw to remove the head and the hide from the skinned deer.
- Finally, wash off the skinned carcass with fresh clean water to remove any hair or other contaminants from the skinning process. With the skinning deer processing steps complete, you are ready to move on to processing your meat for the table.
When it comes to deer processing 101, it is worth noting at this point that greater care has to be taken if you are planning to have your trophy mounted. Skinning has to be more deliberate when you plan to have a shoulder mount or even a full body mount done. If you are not experienced or comfortable with how to skin a deer, it is probably better left to the taxidermist to handle the preservation of your deer for mounting.
Aging Deer Meat and Why It Matters
One intermediary step between skinning and butchering many hunters forego is aging their meat. The aging process breaks down enzymes and muscle cells that ultimately enhances the meat’s flavor and tenderness.
Deer meat naturally becomes tough immediately after the deer dies and this toughness can last for about a day. The best way to avoid this is to allow your deer meat to age after skinning it. Aging meat can take anywhere from a few days to two weeks. Aging deer meat has to be done properly, however, to avoid spoiling the meat. Hang your skinned deer in a cool, 34- to 40-degree environment. Avoid freezing temperatures when aging and also avoid temperatures above 40 degrees to prevent bacteria growth and ruining the meat.
Aging meat depends a lot on personal preference. Generally, a younger deer needs less aging for the meat to become tender than an older deer. Factors that affect meat flavor and tenderization when aging meat include the deer itself, temperature control and the overall environment where the deer is aging. Keeping a consistent, temperature controlled environment is key to having a properly aged deer ready for butchering.
Cutting Up Your Deer
The final stage when it comes to deer processing 101 is cutting up your deer meat. Your deer is skinned and the meat has aged property, now it is time to cut it up into useable meat. Deer processing costs add up quickly especially when you start talking about having specialty products made like bologna and snack sticks. Being able to cut up your own meat saves you a lot of that cost.
Butchering your deer at this stage can be as complex as you want to make it. Many of the same cuts you get from beef can be obtained from a deer. Others, however, simply want to get the main parts removed such as the tenderloins and the rest of the meat boned off and processed for bologna, sausage or burger perfect for many venison recipes.
In order to keep all your meat fresh for either later use in the CanCooker for a meal or for further processing, it has to be stored properly. Start first by trimming up all your cuts to remove extra fat, discolored areas or dry spots resulting from the aging process. Split meat into meal sizes or by type and vacuum seal it before freezing. Freezer wrap can also work but the meat will keep longer frozen if you vacuum seal it. Mark each package with the date and type of meat so you know exactly when the meat was processed and to keep it separate from other meat in your freezer.
Deer processing 101 involves how to gut a deer, how to skin a deer, aging deer meat and finally butchering up your meat so it is ready for the table. These deer processing steps will help guide you through handling your next whitetail trophy more efficiently and getting that good venison ready for the table faster.