Quartering and Processing Whitetail Deer
Investing your time and pursuing outdoor tradition during deer season is sure to pay back great dividends in experience, legacy, and premium protein for your table. Whether you are a first time hunter, or have multiple seasons under your belt, the ultimate goal of a successful deer season is wholesome and nutritious deer meat that you can share with your friends and family.
When the investment into deer hunting pays off and you find yourself signing your name across a filled deer tag, it’s time to consider processing your trophy for the freezer and for the table. Once the initial tasks of removing the deers internal organs and hide is complete, you are presented with a whole deer carcass ready for quartering and processing. Here are some details to consider when it’s time to process your deer.
Quartering a Deer –
Quartering a deer is a general term referring to separating the deer carcass into four parts, or four quarters. Each of the deer legs is attached to its respective quarter. However, the quartering process’s end result is five parts, instead of four, the neck, spine and ribs make up the fifth part of the carcass.
“YouTube is a good place for getting knowledge, so we’d thought it be a good idea to show how we quarter a deer. Again I don’t pretend I know it all, I don’t know it all, but this is how Stevie and I grew up processing deer, whether I didn’t have the money to process or hunting all over the country for big game with bone collector, a lot of times you can’t take a deer, or an elk, or a moose and throw it in the back of the truck or a utv so you have to learn the basics of skinning and quartering up an animal.” – Michael Waddell
Deer Quartering Tools
Any job worth doing deserves the right tools, quartering a deer is no exception. Tools to have on hand for quartering a deer include:
- Single Tree or Gambrel – Hanging your deer provides the best working environment for quartering and butchering. Whether you are working under a tree in a pasture, hanging your deer in a barn, or under a carport, hanging the deer is ideal. By hanging your deer up it’s much easier to get to all the parts of the deer during the skinning and quartering process, and gravity even helps you along.
Utilizing a heavy winch, come along, or rope block to hang your deer from a single tree or gambrel allows you to lift and lower the deer as you work.
- Sharp Knife – A sturdy knife made from quality steel that holds an edge is optimal for quartering and butchering. Look for a knife that fits your hand well, and is balanced.
The dressing, skinning and quartering process is best done with two blades in mind. A scalpel sharp precision blade works perfectly for skinning, while a heavier sturdy blade makes the best work of butchering, quartering, and boning. Keep a honing steel, sharpening stone, or some other type of sharpener nearby to keep your knife’s edge keen while you work.
- Reciprocating Saw or Bone Saw – Cutting off hooves, cutting through the deer’s spine, and separating the rear deer legs from the pelvic bone are all chores that are made easier with a saw.
A general purpose wood or wood with nails blade in an electric reciprocating saw will make quick work of cutting through deer bone. A battery powered saw can be a super handy tool for deer camp chores and quartering a deer is definitely on that list of chores. A traditional bow saw or folding camp saw will both work for deer quartering as well.
Butchering Deer Quarters
The front shoulder and shank of the deer is referred to as a single quarter, thus there are two front quarters. The rear leg “ham” and lower rear leg shank, make up the rear quarter. There are two rear quarters.
Once your deer is quartered you will have the following pieces to work with, break down, and butcher:
- Two Front Quarters – The front shoulders of deer are generally used for slow cooking and braising. Some trim pieces from the front shoulder can be used for grinding, making burger and sausage.
- Two Rear Quarters – Rear quarters are made up of the rear “ham” or the muscle groups that make up the rump and hip, and the lower leg shank. Rear quarters produce a number of venison roasts including: rump, sirloin, and round. If you want to try your hand at brining a deer ham, the fresh ham cut is in the rear quarters and ready for brining.
- Spine, Ribs, & Neck – After removing the front and rear quarters, the backbone, ribs, and neck are left as one large section. This part of the deer provides the “backstraps” or loins from either side of the spine on the outside of the ribs, the inside loin or “tenderloin” lies on the inside the ribs along either side of the spine just ahead of the pelvis, there are two racks of venison ribs, and the neck meat.
Venison tenderloins are fantastic and tender on the grill or seared in butter. Backstrap or loin cuts make amazing medallions or fillets for the grill or smoker, seared rare or medium rare, it’s a fantastic cut to share with your friends. The neck produces some roast cuts along with plenty of smaller pieces of trim for the grind pile. Finally, the venison rib racks can be cooked low and slow in a braise, or grilled with sauce.
Taking Off the Front Shoulder Quarters of a Deer –
Interestingly enough, the front shoulders of a deer are attached to the carcass only with soft tissue, there is no socket joint in the front shoulder to deal with. After cutting off the front legs somewhere near the knee joint, and skinning your deer, use a sharp knife to separate the front shoulders from the carcass. With a little lifting, twisting, and cutting the shoulders and the front shanks will come off fairly easily.
Taking off the Rear Quarters of a Deer –
Separating the rear quarters, one at a time, from a deer carcass takes a little more work than the front quarters did. After removing the lower leg, hoof, and hide; you can detach the rear quarter from the carcass using just your knife, but the help of a reciprocating saw can really speed things along here.
If you’re using just a knife, cut around the rear muscle groups, separating the hip and ham muscles from the pelvic bone. Lift the rear leg and cut down the inside of the upper leg bone toward where the leg bone socket fits into the pelvis. With some twisting, maneuvering, and cutting of the tendons that hold the socket together, the rear quarter will come free.
In the case of using a saw to help you along when removing the rear deer quarters, you can cut down toward that same socket joint with your knife, and then simply cut through the rear leg bone, freeing the rear quarter.
Deer Meat for Dinner –
Now that your deer is quartered, the pieces and parts will be much more manageable. It’s time to separate roasts for the crockpot or the smoker, trim fresh red meat for ground venison, and of course get ready to fix venison back straps medallions on the grill.
The pursuit of deer by hunters is a tradition and legacy that reaches way back into millenia. Hunters have been harvesting and consuming deer since before history is recorded. When you do your part, and successfully harvest a deer this season, enjoy the process and the food!