hunt, butcher, cook deer meat

Oh Deer! Learn to Hunt, Gut, Butcher, Process, and then Cook Deer Meat

An MSB reader said…

The one skill I have wanted to learn forever was field dressing a deer. Frankly, I’ve always thought anyone can shoot a deer (rifle of arrow), but then what? Knowing what to do, to at least get to a point to bring it to a processor is priceless. Even better is how to go beyond and process yourself. I’ve watched videos on it but I’ve never been able to actually go on a hunt and get my own experience. Some day..

Ken adds… There was a thread of conversation about the recent deer hunt over on the Open Forum that fits perfectly with Prepping Level 4. So I thought I would capture some of that information for a stand-alone post. Oh, by the way, Level 4 is about self-reliance and self-sustaining techniques. Self-sustainability to the extent possible.

[ Read: Prepping and Preparedness Level 1-4 Series Overview ]

‘Plainsmedic’ reports…

A successful deer hunt. The butchering begins. Thankfully, I have two hand-crank winches to handle deer. Makes for much easier handling of the whole process. Weatherman says cold/cool enough to hang for a couple of days. Two deer are skinned and hanging outside. Both are high enough to foil scavengers. Butchering is truly a skill. I have respect for those who do this to make a living. We simply do it to provide meat throughout the year.

I’m always surprised by the number of folks who have never done anything like this. Gutting a deer in the field.
Skinning a deer. Cutting the meat from the bones, etc. etc. I encourage folks to participate and learn how to do some of these things. Maybe you have a neighbor/friend who hunts? Offer to help. Soon, you too will have respect for butchers. Though it’s a lot of work, we know what we have in the end.

We own a commercial grade small meat grinder. We buy clear plastic and freezer paper by the “industrial” sized rolls. For our family, it’s a routine part of deer hunting. Even the grandkids are involved with grinding/packaging. None of our family is “horrified” at getting a little blood on their hands. It’s normal. A yearly task. Joys of country livin.

Glad to report: This old man can still shoot. Not as good as I once was, but still pretty good.

The Complete Guide to Hunting, Butchering, and Cooking Wild Game: Volume 1: Big Game
(view on amzn)

‘Minerjim’ said…

I love to cut meat. If I can hang my deer up and keep them at 34F or less, I try for 7 days. Sniff them every day. If they ever start to smell like butter, butcher immediately! I was taught to completely de-bone all meat before freezing. Bone in contact with cut meat will make meat taste “gamey”. You are absolutely 1000% correct, everyone should watch or do it once, so they know what’s entailed. Making sausages after butchering is a kick too!

Best way to learn is to just drop a deer and get after it. There is a first time for everything. First deer I field dressed took me and hour. It takes me 10 minutes now. Point is, you can’t really screw it up too bad. Taking one of your “locals” might be tough the first time, but suggest you take the oldest one you see (it’s had a good life, and a quick death is better than one in the wild). So just go for it. If you have questions, just ask, we’ll help.

‘Kulafarmer’ adds…

Just be careful to not poke any holes in the guts. I learned to take straps and quarters without fully skinning or any gutting. It’s way easier, keep it clean, no hair!

‘Paleo’ said…

I like to hang the deer from the front legs and use a fixed blade knife to open it up from the bottom as the intestines fall out on the ground. Bacteria is more contained.

Once open, I split the ribs down the middle with a hatchet. Cut the organs free and remove some of the trachea. I then split the pelvic bone with the hatchet and clean up as needed. It’s easy after the first one.

Now a days I prefer to drag them to where I can use the game hoist on my truck and just swing them in when done. I call it the deer cranker-upper.

‘Calirefugee’ added…

In my younger years, when I hunted for the freezer, I knew how to cook but I was still learning. As I grew older I became a much better cook. I learned about butchering from a man that ran a shop where I helped him refinish his floors at the new location. He also gave me an old chart of a cow and a pig showing where cuts come from.

Joy of Cooking has such charts in their book. Over time I noticed that many who loved to hunt were indifferent about cooking. I have always enjoyed the whole field to table experience. Joy of Cooking also has info about cooking venison and bear. Even feral pigs are different than grocery store pork in that the fat content in feral pigs is much lower because they spend a lot of time walking/trotting and running. Any recipe that deals with slow-cooking of lean tough meats will work on wild game.

‘SDman’ commented…

We tagged out with three bucks for rifle. No bueno on archery. We process our own (one every other day) and came out with 190 lbs total in the freezer.

Good book on recipes is Buck, Buck, Moose by Hank Shaw. Still haven’t tried them all, but what I have tried is delicious. Also much to do with harvest, hanging and processing.

Never shoot a running deer as there is lactic acid and hormones built up in the meat which will taint it. Hanging like Minerjim noted for 7 days is also key. Once processed accordingly, cooking properly is the final step as the cuts are much leaner with less intramuscular fat, thus, method matters.

Buck, Buck, Moose: Recipes and Techniques for Cooking Deer, Elk, Moose, Antelope and Other Antlered Things
(view on amzn)

‘Plainsmedic’ chimes in again…

I agree that paying others to process deer is easier. As a preparedness item, I sincerely believe it’s an important skill. When ya do your own, you can remove ALL membranes and fat. In a deer those things taste awful. Professional processors, butchers, will not take the time and effort to do it right. They can’t, they would go broke. What we end up with is probably the best tasting venison.

In shtf there will be no professional processors. No health inspectors. We’ll all be left to deal with everything. In my opinion, learning and making a few mistakes now, is much better than not knowing how. Gutting a deer is not a pleasant task, but after you’ve done a bunch of deer, it doesn’t take long.

Like most everything in life, the more ya do it the better ya get. At this point, I wouldn’t allow anyone else to process deer for me. It’s a lot of work, but ya get better and better at doing it. We have developed our routine ways of cutting the meat from the bones. This allows easier removal of the membranes.

Even the very best venison steaks are mediocre. We don’t even cut steaks from deer. We make steak fingers from the back-strap and fry them with some batter. Yummy finger food. The rest is ground into burger using beef fat. Venison is very lean. It NEEDS fat, but not deer fat. Pork fat is very good too. Typically, we make significant packages of jerky meat, no fat at all. In the end, well worth the effort. Just my opinion.

‘Dennis’ has a tip…

Nobody has mentioned what I consider the tastiest part of the deer (my opinion)…and that is the “sweet meat”. Some hunters don’t even know what it is, or misconstrue the backstrap as being the sweet meat.

The “sweet meat” runs along the underside of the backbone, inside the ribcage, and is much smaller than the backstrap…but is melt in your mouth tender even when grilled over open flame…which I normally do when dressing a deer in camp. Leave it over the fire just long enough to brown the outside, then eat it straight off the grill like candy.

Met a lot of folks who never even paid attention to it before having it pointed out to them. You remove it much the same as you would the backstrap.

Confirmed by ‘Plainsmedic’ who said, “Dennis, Yep, we call ’em the inside tenders. The very best of the best for steak fingers. Best cooked soon and not frozen. The meat is striated and very tender. Harvest these soon after the kill. They dry out easily.”

‘Minerjim also said, “Around here we call that the tenderloin. Sweet Meat is an apt name. I usually cook that up when i am cutting and wrapping. Butter and chopped garlic and a pinch of salt. Yum! On our mule deer, it is about 1-1/2 to 2″ in diameter, pronghorn maybe an 1″, but elk they can go to about 3″ in diameter. (I forget how big they were on bison, but big) Best part of the animal, but i like it all.”


One last comment on butchering, Someone noted the best thing to do is: Jump in with both feet. Just start in. Yes, you’ll make a few unfortunate cuts, but it’s no big deal.

I/we have refined our methods over the years. Haven’t changed anything for 15 years or so. Must have it about right. I’ve been butchering deer and small game forever. Ya may as well learn now. In shtf everyone will be a butcher. Either that or go hungry. The more ya do it, the easier/better it is. Go for it!

Tip: Following the harvesting of meat livestock, a period of ‘hanging’ will improve the flavor and texture by giving natural enzymes time to break down tough muscle fibers. The temperature range for hanging harvested meat livestock is 33 to 40 degrees-F. Fresh meat and poultry will rapidly deteriorate in temperatures above 40-degrees-F, so be wary of this. Without a refrigerated room, hanging meat can only be done during the cold months of the year. Hanging times range from 24 to 48 hours, sometimes longer for a more tender meat.


  1. I often hear from folks that: “venison is gamey”. Some folks either hate it or are OK with it. My observations note that: those that like lamb chops are OK with the flavor of venison. If a person does not like lamb chops, they will not like a lot of things out there.

    Venison has a flavor that is unique and I will not deny that. Roasted cuts of meat do well with some type of fruit sauce or with lots of garlic. Trim all fat and as much of connective tissue as you can.

    Venison works well in spaghetti sauce using marinara as a base. I use venison in chili and I also stir fry the meat. If I make venison stew, I add my own fat and use beef bouillon, red wine and a 14 oz can of diced tomatoes as the base for the broth. The fat comes from the veg oil I use to braise the meat in. The stew is thickened with the pan drippings mixed with flour to make a roux.

    1. Calirefugee,
      DW and i love the taste of venison. our favorite way to cook it is just to slice it into small steaks and fry it with salt and pepper, sometimes with garlic. deer chili, oh hell yea.
      my thing has always been, if someone doesn’t like the taste of it, why did they shoot it ?

  2. In regards to butchering/processing meat in the field: Kula brought up the tip about not poking holes in the gut. The tough part is to cut what needs to be cut and leaving the rest intact.

    For this delicate work inside the carcass, I like using a smaller knife blade with a drop point which allows me to place my forefinger along the spine of the blade while I cut the windpipe as far up the neck as I can reach.

    I use one of my CRKT knives that have a lock blade and the blade itself is 2-3 inches long for work involving removal of innards and skinning work around the head and neck. I also bring a sharpening stone with me in the field. This is not the place for the “rambo knife” that so many youngsters like to purchase and carry.

    The more I did this, the higher likelihood that I carried several small drop point folding knives with me into the field in order to spend more time field dressing and less time sitting on my butt sharpening my blades.

    Time is of the essence when you find your animal at dusk and it has started to snow on you. Hunters and folks helping out on the hauling out need to be aware of one fact I have observed as a medic: This is where most hunters cut themselves in the field. Hunting is only done once a year by most folks. For those that are successful, field dressing with sharp knives is done even less. Please be careful out there.

  3. Cali,
    I field dressed the exact same way. You are gonna have to stick your arm up into the chest cavity (after you cut the diaphram) and cut the windpipe, then slowly pull with one hand while guiding the knife to cut loose lungs, heart, etc. You are going to get blood on your arms.( or you can buy a cheap pair of arm length gauntlet pvc gloves at harbor freight and avoid some of the mess). Don’t rush, otherwise you’ll cut yourself as Cali said. (Cut myself several times before I learned this lesson). I have field dressed an animal to start it cooling off as soon as I could, but pulling an opened carcass to the truck is inviting dirt and bacteria contamination. I will usually stitch the gutted animal’s cavity up with twine until I get it drug out and in the truck. Then I cut the twine, split the rib cage up the sternum and prop it open with a clean piece of wood.. Cooling the carcasses quickly s possible is a big part of eliminating “gameiness”, imho.

  4. breaking a deer or any other large animal down is a process. there are many good videos on how to do it on the intertube, check them out before you start.

    sharp knives are essential before you start, it makes the job a lot easier and safer.

    de-boning a large animal is a whole other subject and it only comes from learn by doing/trial and error, and learning the anatomy of the animal.

    if you end up with a lot of small pieces the first few times just use it as stew meat. it’s all good.

    good luck all

  5. Sharp knives,
    There is no shame in using a razor knife (box cutter). Especially, if ya hafta skin a frozen deer. Whatever it takes.

  6. i have killed only a few deer in past several years but i always take to the processor. i have watched the video’s but i just don’t feel comfortable, but i think if i get one this month during alternative or next year during regular season i will try. i know lot of people have said this but i just am afraid i will cut wrong place and spoil the meat.

    1. 007,
      You can’t spoil meat by cutting it wrong.(you just get a weird shaped steak, or more meat for the hamburger/sausage meat pile). The only way you are going to spoil meat is not getting it cooled quickly enough, not washing the dressed carcass out ( I use vinegar and water mix to kill any bacteria), or maybe letting it get to warm when you hang it. Even if you accidently gut shoot an animal, it can be saved by getting it gutted quickly, washed out with vinegar water, and cooled quickly. I used to be “head swamper” for my hunting group. Once the animal was down, I made sure the meat was handled quickly and safely transported to camp. In warm years. I was the guy who headed back to town to buy bags of ice or to haul animals to a prearranged locker plant for hanging . In short, how good your game meat will taste depends solely on how well you take care of it after you get it on the ground. (You wouldn’t tie a filet mignon onto the trunk of your car and drive it around town now would you? So why would you do that to your harvested game?)

      1. minerjim, hopefully i will get one during alternative season this month and i will see how it turns out.

      2. Minerjim,
        you mentioned vinegar. that works great!
        once we get ours broken down into quarters we put it into ice chests with vinegar, salt and ice if it’s warm out.
        the salt and vinegar will pull the blood out of the meat. we’ll do that for a day or so changing the water every so often, then de-bone it and process it. we do our own processing.
        we know people who have it “professionally” processed and they will carry a hundred pounds of deer and pay for a hundred pounds of pork to make sausages and get a hundred pounds of meat back along with a large bill.
        i can buy pork fat at the piggly wiggly for .25 cents a pound and bacon ends for .70 . casings are cheap. and hickory for smoke is free at my place. it just takes a little effort. i wish i could get some mesquite.

  7. Ken these may me helpful for some people.
    NoCry Cut Resistant Gloves – Ambidextrous, Food Grade, High Performance Level 5 Protection. Size Large, Complimentary Ebook Included, on amazon

  8. I am not a butcher at all but I have processed many deer. I do not know how to do all the proper cuts but I can make many good meals from the dead animal. Many people will not harvest the liver, heart and kidneys. These are good to eat also.

  9. A couple of things to add.
    When cutting up a deer, avoid cutting into the glands. Not a tasty bit. There are charts showing the locations.

    I tenderize the steaks by salting them for at least one hour. Yes, the salt removes moisture, but that’s only for the first half hour and then the salt is in the meat bringing the moisture back in and tenderizing the meat.
    Next I marinate it with a half and half mix of olive oil and balsamic vinegar with a bit of herbs de provence for a few hours in the refrigerator. Then it’s off to the barbie to be cooked to rare – medium rare as after that venison will get tough.

  10. I have the neighbor on the North side if my property who is a butcher for a living. He processes an angus cow and a pig or two every week from scratch, and thats just for one of his customers. So I have to barter for his great meats he smokes on the side by repairing most anything he needs. That makes me being a machinist very handy when TSHF . . . Cause I have no butcher experience at all. The family on the west side same thing, only he is heavy into produce on his 3 acres, he too is frequently in need of repairs, some electrical, some power equipment. Over the years we’ve all been ready and have discussed the likely hood of things going down the tubes these days.
    Ha! even worked on some rifles not too long ago. One job the guy left a spent shell in the chamber for a least a year, corroded so bad I had to drill it out and re-polished it. Funny, after that I went and felt the need to go clean all my weapons.

  11. My first deer cost $4,800 in car damage, neighbor skinned and removed the meat for me explaining what he was doing -was suppose to be a learning thing for me, we left the gut intact because of the vehicle ruptured internals.
    That was I think 5 winters ago.
    My second was fresh roadkill, still warm 3 winters ago that I took care of myself.

    To me the best things I had was a new fillet knife and fine knife sharpener because the blade dulled fast.
    The skinning knife had it’s purpose, and full arm plastic veterinary exam gloves for the gutting.
    I used cavander’s greek seasoning and olive oil in freezer baggies, squeezed the air out, it stored well in the freezer.
    Removing the fascia was damn annoying, tedious.. tiring.
    Only bad thing was the liver flukes.. kinda icky.

    Leaving the reaming hanging for a while in the shed to shave treats off for the dogs and I caught my smaller dog hanging from it one day swinging in a slow circle, she was fine just trying to pull a chunk off.

    I don’t feel the need to kill anything yet but I have no issues with fresh deer roadkill.

    CWD last I herd is not in my area yet.

  12. – I use a second, separate knife (I have a Wyoming, but have used one of those snap-off for a sharp knife dollar store knives) for the initial cuts and skinning of the animal. My primary knife will get dull very quickly using it on the hide. So far as I know, no one has ever given my knife work a score, I just like to get done as quickly as possible. I try to keep my primary blade strictly to meat, although I have used a pocket knife more than once. I will sometimes use a small stockman three blade pattern when working inside the carcass. Cheap gloves from Harbor Freight or dishwashing gloves are handy.
    – Papa S.

    1. – Oh, and ditto on the vinegar and water, along with ice. Animals are designed by God to come apart at the seams, and deboning is the same way. The knife will find the joints, and they will come apart nicely.
      – Papa

  13. Well, from reading all the comments here, I figure a novice could just jump in and get it done.Ken, maybe we should do a similar article/thread on how to make sausage! I think we could all learn a thing or two from that conversation.

    1. Minerjim,
      Our meat grinder has the attachment for making various sizes of link sausage. It’s been several years since I’ve made sausage. Tried it both ways, synthetic casings and using gut. Somehow, I like the synthetic better. hmmm.
      I’d love to find a great sausage seasoning recipe. Everything I’ve done with deer sausage, turned out edible, but never anything great. Seasonings are the key! BTW I’ve got magic dust.

      1. Plainsmedic:
        You mentioned “Magic Dust”
        I recently made a few new batches myself. Cycled out the older stuff.
        Oh course the Jalapeno, Thai Dragon, and the Ghost.
        But I grew a bunch of Carolina Reapers for a buddy, and decided to try some “Dust” with them.
        Ohhhhh Myyyyy GOD!!!!! GREAT Flavor, but hotter than the ‘Hinges of Hell’ itself.
        If you really want to try something, give it a try, make DARN sure you powder it outside standing Up-Wind.
        BTW, I’m imagining it would go good in a Jerky or Marinade recipe for sure.

        1. NRP, Blue,
          Jalapeno is plenty hot for me. Years back, I tried tiny bits of some of the peppers you mentioned, WOW. Habenaro is another hot one, though not on the same level of heat. Some of that stuff is more weapon than food.

          It would take a brave man to powderize that stuff. A little bit goes a long way!!!!!!

        2. I heard that when you add your “magic dust” to your meat for Navajo Tacos, that it self-cooks the meat. LOL. You got a permit to produce that “Powdered Hell” Ol’ Son? Would hate to see Lightning Point become a Superfund site!

        3. Minerjim:
          Don’t have a permit, but DHS has visited me a few times LOLOL
          Also I finally figured out why the trees downwind are all dying. UGHHHH
          Seriously though doing a quick “singe” on the dried peppers adds a nice flavor to the “Dust”, I use a Wok on super high heat OUTSIDE over a Propane burner.
          And go ahead and ask why I keep emphasizing “Outside”.
          PS: I did not see Blue around for 3 days. DUH the dog is a LOT smarter than me…..

        4. Minerjim:
          PS: Not sure about the Navajo Taco meat, but I did have a Mallard fly through the vapor cloud.
          By the time it hit the ground from 75 feet, it was cleaned, plucked, marinated, and cooked ready for the table LOLOL
          Gata love living in the Country.

      2. Plainsmedic,
        Game meat is extremely lean, so I add fat. I mix 60% venison or elk to 40% pork shoulder meat. Seems to give the mix enough fat for me, which also helps carry flavor. I like to grind it all extra fine, add my spice mix, and regrind to mix well. Then refrigerate for 24 hours to let the seasoning permeate the mix before I stuff sheep casings. I do my own seasoning, which has been tweaked to my taste over the years. “Home Sausage Making” by Peery and Reavis has some good recipes as a starting point.

  14. NRP & Blue,
    So is that how you New Mexicans put on those big Thanksgiving feeds? You start a cookin’ up a batch of your “magic dust” while Ol’ Blue (wearing a gas mask) drives a flock of Rio Grande turkeys into the vapor trail? Boom! Dinner for 50!?!?! Lol. Ol’Blue sure is a good one, putting up with the likes of you!

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