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How to Butcher Your Thanksgiving Deer

A Beautiful Buck

A Beautiful Buck

I grew up in the country, and back in the old days, in order to make ends meet, you either had to hunt or rely on a good neighbor that would give you some meat. There are a few things that one should know if you plan on taking wild game to eat. I am not talking about the sheer thrill of trophy hunting, which I totally disagree with, I mean your survival is relying on this as food.

Bleeding Out Your Game

A deer must have the blood let out thoroughly and as quickly as possible after the kill. If your animal is shot in the spine, or neck or above, that won’t be enough to rely on. Even if it has been shot in the chest or abdomen, the blood is still in the body. Cut the throat immediately after you get to a downed animal. A beginner can do a side-to-side cut at the base of the neck. Most hunters that have learned to butcher their own meat will usually cut upward from the breastbone. Place the animal’s head downhill, or hang it off a tree branch for the best release of blood.


Dressing (or Gutting) Deer

Remove the viscera as soon as possible, preferably while still in the woods. Removal of this material will keep your deer from spoiling and cool it down faster. Put the animal on its back, spread the legs, and tie its legs to whatever you can in the woods if you don’t have any help to hold the legs. Cut the animal open from neck to rear end.

In certain states, the sex organs must remain intact. If you’re hunting in one of those states, cut around the scrotum or mammary glands and leave that skin attached. The sex organs won’t hurt the flavor, but the scent glands could reinforce the gamey taste. They are located on the hind legs, just below the “knee,” facing the animal. Most people settle for the wild taste, but an experienced hunter will carefully remove them. Be careful with this. Secretions still on the hair or on the knife blade could get on your hands and contaminate the meat.

Cut the skin in a straight line from the lower end of the abdomen to the anus. Don’t cut into the intestines. The best way to do this is to hold them away from the knife with your non-cutting hand as soon as the opening is large enough for you to get a hand in there. If your animal is female with milk-filled glands, circumvent those and cut TO the rectum, but not into it. Then go back to lift and cut out the mammary glands. For a male, cut around each side of the penis and around each side of the rectum. Be careful not to cut into the penis or rectum. Any contaminated meat will have to be cut away, if that occurs. Tie off the rectum so that no contents escape, and drop the tie off into the body cavity.

Cut around the edge of the muscular diaphragm that separates the abdomen and chest to get to the lungs and heart. Carefully reach forward in the chest to cut the gullet and windpipe, located in front of the lungs. Now pull out the heart and lungs, and then turn the animal on its side. Split the pelvic bone by putting the blade of your knife between the seam of the two halves of the pelvis. Tap on the end of the knife handle and pry downward. Carefully and gently roll out the sex organs, bladder and intestines. If there is any accumulated blood in here, drain it out. Slit the muscles holding the windpipe and gullet and remove them.

Edible Organ Removal

Cut the heart free from its pouch. Carefully cut the gall bladder from the liver. You’ll have to remove part of the liver without cutting into the gall bladder. Remove the liver and both kidneys. For the tongue, cut through the underside of the jaw deep enough so the tongue can be pulled through the opening and cut off near the base of it. To get the brains, open the skull with a meat saw, or an axe, if you don’t have one. Carry them back home in a waterproof bag. The organs won’t keep as well as muscle meat, so if you’re camping out, eat those first.

Cooling Your Meat

Cool the meat quickly to prevent spoilage. If you have to leave the carcass for a while, put it in the shade on logs or rocks with the cavity propped open for air circulation. Put a few fresh boughs over it to keep birds away. If you split the backbone between the shoulders with an axe, cooling will be greatly expedited. If the weather should be unseasonably warm, skin before cooling and cover carcass or quarters in cheesecloth or cotton bags to keep the flies away. Don’t use any other materials that won’t let air circulate(plastic), which will cause spoilage.

If You Choose to Skin

In above-freezing temperatures the meat will cool more slowly with the hide on. If it is below freezing, the easier it is to get the skin off the hide if you have a fresh kill. Also skin before the hide has a chance to freeze on, and meat will stay fresher when air can get to it.

If You Don’t Choose to Skin

Thawing and freezing will reduce meat quality. If the temperatures fluctuate a great deal during day and night, it will keep the temperature of the meat more constant with the hide on. If you want to age the meet, the hide will prevent excess drying.

Skinning Your Meat

Hanging the animal will make this so much easier. A skinning knife has a curved blade, but any sharp butcher or hunting knife will do. Have some cornmeal or flour handy in case you cut into the flesh and blood gets in the fur. The flour or cornmeal will stop the blood flow. Skin before the hide has set on firmly. On a warm or fresh kill, the skin can nearly always be pulled away and that takes just a few minutes. On a cold animal, it must be cut away, which increases your chances of puncturing the hide.

Cut around each of the four “knee” joints, then slit along the inside leg up to the center where the viscera was removed. Extend stomach incision right to the neck, just below the lower jaw. Remove the head by cutting completely around the neck, behind the ears, antlers, and jaws. Slit the skin on the underside of the tail, and then cut the skin from the body. Venison has a thin, white layer between the skin and flesh. Cut through this layer in long, easy swipes with a very sharp blade. It will help if you have someone else pulling the skin taut, while you’re cutting it loose


Split the body in half along the backbone, as quickly as possible to maximize cooling. Quarter by cutting between the second and third rib from the rear and the vertebrae. You will need a meat saw or axe for this. Place the quarters in cheesecloth sacks. If you won’t be home in a day or two, salt the hide. Rub salt all over it, with more on the thicker pieces, and get into all crevices.


A large buck can dress out to 200 pounds or better. Some people will bone the meat to get the weight down. Don’t drag the meat out. Make several trips if you have to do so. Use a horse, a cart, whatever you can get in to where your animal is. If you use a horse, balance it well. Pack the front quarters or the hind quarters on each side of the saddle, and fasten down with a diamond hitch.

Again, keep the meat as cool as possible. Your deer will be better on the trunk of the car than the hood, due to engine heat.


Trimming Meat

Chill as much as you can before butchering. Cold fat is firmer, so any meat is easiest to cut when cold. Wild meat is lean, so it will move more. It is best to have one person trimming fat, and another butchering. Wild game fat becomes rancid quickly, so get it all off, if you can. Wherever the bullet passed will be torn and bloody. Trim this all out, or throw the entire section away. It will not look or taste good. Remove all the black bits. A well-bled animal shouldn’t have many of them. If some of the meat has begun to spoil, cut it away. Wrap and freeze. REMEMBER: upon thawing, cook meat immediately and thoroughly. Trim away the tough, outer parts from your steaks at both ends and rip the rest across the middle.


Cutting Up Hindquarters

This contains the Achilles tendon, which is how you hung the animal to bleed and the large, rear haunch. The haunch is the entire hind leg. Cut the haunch at the hip joint, which starts just below where the ribs end. You’ll have to guess at the correct location. You need your meat saw to go through the bone. Cut the haunch into thirds, from top to bottom.

The top or widest third is round steak. To get big, round steaks, cut across the grain and through the bone of the whole haunch. Or you can just separate the muscle bundles, which avoids sawing across the bone for every steak. The largest bundles are the top round and bottom round cuts. You can separate the two bundles, and cut across into steaks. The other muscle bundle is the sirloin. Cut across the grain for your sirloin steaks.

The middle third of the haunch is usually made into roast. You could even strip it from the bone for jerky or hamburger. The nice, long strips are great for jerky. The bottom third is just stripped of meat for hamburger. Finally, you have a soup bone.

Backstrap and Ribs

There are two strips of muscle along the backbone. The outside strip is the backstrap, or tenderloin. It is the choicest and best meat of the animal. You can bone out these muscles by cutting away from the backbone and slicing into steaks.

From the front end of the animal, you have club steaks, then T-bone steaks, and finally sirloin steaks. Some people will make a roast of the last third(sirloin). Just leave it whole.

Cutting the Front Quarters

Cut the front leg from the ribs as you might a chicken thigh, pulling the bone away from the body until it is severed from where it joins the chest. It should pop right out of the joint. This is called the arm. Make hamburger or jerky from a small animal. If the arm is big enough, you can get a blade roast from the top third.

Remaining Front Quarters

The meat along the outside of the backbone is the extension of the tenderloin muscle. Cut steak or tips from it, like you did on the hindquarters. You can section up the ribs for either ribs or stew meat, depending on the size of he deer.



Deb Hirt (author) from Stillwater, OK on January 22, 2013:

Thanks, moonlake. When I grew up, everyone did their own butchering.

moonlake from America on January 21, 2013:

My husband always butchered his own deer. He did the quartering and packing in our kitchen and I hated that but where else could they go.

The kids take their deer to someone else and most of it is turned into sausage. Good information. Voted up

Deb Hirt (author) from Stillwater, OK on December 28, 2012:

Thanks you, collegedad. Yes, butchering your own is always much better, and you also know where it has been, too.

collegedad from The Upper Peninsula on December 23, 2012:

Enjoyed the hub. I've always butchered my own deer. It allows me to best utilize the meat.

Deb Hirt (author) from Stillwater, OK on December 18, 2012:

Chris, I have the utmost confidence that you can do it with my instructions. Nothing tastes as good as deer meat.

Chris Mills from Traverse City, MI on December 16, 2012:

Deb, I grew up on a dairy farm, so I've seen it done, but that is still a long way from doing it myself. But I will do it, hopefully in a year.

Deb Hirt (author) from Stillwater, OK on December 16, 2012:

Hey, Chris! Some people like the heart and gizzard, but it is certainly worth trying. Yes, by all means, give it a go to butcher your own deer. The experience will be good, then if you want to butcher a cow, it will be basically the same.

Chris Mills from Traverse City, MI on December 15, 2012:

Deb, this was supposed to be my first year deer hunting, but circumstances prevented it. I'll try again next year. Since I decided to hunt, I've also wanted to butcher the deer myself. As I read, I was amazed at how clearly you were making each step. I do believe I could do this. Using the middle third of the haunch for jerky sounds great to me. I also like the idea of using keeping the edible organs. I don't know if most hunters bother with them or not, but I certainly will. Thanks, this is a great hub.

Deb Hirt (author) from Stillwater, OK on November 15, 2012:

Find yourself a deer, and I will show you how to do it. Nothing to it!

gamby79 on November 14, 2012:

Although I don't plan on dressing my own deer....if I ever do, I certainly know where to come to for guidance. lol I must say that my Mom used to make deer jerky every year and by the time I would visit, it would always be gone, so it must have been delicious! Still hoping to try some some day!

Deb Hirt (author) from Stillwater, OK on November 11, 2012:

Well, when one grows up in the country, you can learn so much, especially when you have to fend for yourself. I spent many hours watching the sun rise and set, too, but for different reasons.

Shining Irish Eyes from Upstate, New York on November 11, 2012:

Hey friend- How are you? Great job with this. Many who first meet me are very surprised at my hunting background. This was very thorough for someone new to the subject.

I spent many dark hours watching the sun come up out in our woods with brothers and cousins who were avid hunters.

Your talents and interest are endless.

Deb Hirt (author) from Stillwater, OK on November 10, 2012:

kashmir, thanks so much. You know, I thought that I would take a chance on doing this, and so far, it has been very well received. I wonder how many people will be having deer for Thanksgiving?

Deb Hirt (author) from Stillwater, OK on November 10, 2012:

BLACKANDGOLDJACK, thanks for sharing your experience. I have often wondered what really happens at places like that, as well as how clean they really are.

Deb Hirt (author) from Stillwater, OK on November 10, 2012:

I'm sure that you two will want to eventually do your own butchering. Butchering a deer is similar to a goat, so it is a very useful skill to have. Nothing like some good venison!

Thomas Silvia from Massachusetts on November 10, 2012:

Hi my friend great and interesting information. Although i may never use it if someone ask me how to butcher a dear i can tell them, or have them read your hub .

Vote up and more !!!

Jack Hazen from Blitzburgh area on November 09, 2012:

Excellent article.

No road kill for me, thank you. Did that once, never again. My buddy Ed called me and said some guy just hit a deer with his car. So Ed took it and told me me he'd give me half if I helped him butcher it. First time we tasted it we threw it all away.

Some reading this article may wonder why butcher your own deer instead of taking it to one of those processing places and paying a hundred bucks or whatever to get it all done for you. Well, let me tell you. Some years back Ed and I both got a deer within a few hours on the first day. We have some special places we scout out beforehand.

Anyway, we take the deer to the processing place and drop them off. So we go back the next day to see what's up, how long it will take, etc. One guy in the place tells us the head honcho is out back. We walk out back. There's around a hundred deer lying on the ground. A rat runs out from under one of the deer and the head honcho stops it with his boot, picks it up by the tail, and tosses it. Also, I suspect that when you go to pick up your deer meat, you are not necessarily getting the same deer you brought in.

And the motto of the story is, if you want it done right, do it yourself. Exactly how you said in the hub.

Melissa Propp from Minnesota on November 09, 2012:

Very interesting. My husband just got his first deer last weekend. He did the field dressing, but we took it to a local processor who butchered it for us. Now we have a lots of deer steaks and chops. Maybe some day we'll work our way up to doing the whole thing ourselves. Thanks for sharing your expertise!

Deb Hirt (author) from Stillwater, OK on November 09, 2012:

I haven't seen a butcher shop for about a year now. I figured with deer hunting coming up, that someone might be interested in this.

Deb Hirt (author) from Stillwater, OK on November 09, 2012:

Glad to hear that we butcher venison the same way, whonunuwho! You know, the best meat that I ever had was road kill. The deer finally saw the car as it was hit, so it had no opportunity to make any adrenaline to toughen up the meat.

Martin Kloess from San Francisco on November 08, 2012:

Thank you for this, though I doubt I'll be butchering a deer in my lifetime. I will be lucky to call my butcher to place an order.

whonunuwho from United States on November 08, 2012:

Great info,aviannovice, my friend. I am an old deer hunter, myself, and the advice and diagrams are very good in helping butcher the venison the right way. Thanks again. who

Deb Hirt (author) from Stillwater, OK on November 08, 2012:

Thanks, Billy. These are the things that country folk learn.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on November 08, 2012:

Well there is a title I have not seen in ten months. :) It's not everyday on HP you get to learn how to butcher a deer! I love it! Thank you so much for taking me away from recipes and mundane reviews and giving me something interesting to read. Well done Deb!

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