How To Clean And Process A Deer: Butchering A Deer Step By Step

deer sunset

If you want to learn how to clean a deer, this is the right place. It turns out that butchering a deer isn't hard, once you know the process. In this article, I'll show you how.

As you know:

Scouting an area, setting up, and making a clean kill are only the beginning for being successful at hunting deer.

Here's the thing...

If you have never completed the entire process from the scouting, the kill, and to the processing the deer you really are missing out on a feeling of accomplishment and self-reliance.

Here I will provide a step-by-step guide on what to do after the kill.

These techniques can be used to clean and process any type of antlered game. Once you learn the basics and gain some experience, it will become second nature to you.

One of the main tools you will need is a good knife. We have several recommendations for a skinning knife that all work great.

How To Clean A Deer

Field dressing is a critical step in preserving the meat of the animal and should be done immediately after the kill.

This serves to keep bile and intestinal content from contaminating the meat.

It also saves you from dealing with a stiffer, bloated deer that can make puncturing the stomach or entrails a more likely scenario if you wait too long.

You will need a sturdy, sharp knife. The knife should have a guard and a good grip to prevent slipping onto the blade. A small bone saw will also be key in a quick and clean field dressing session.

Here is a step-by-step list of how to effectively clean a deer.

Step 1

You need to either hang your deer or position the body so that the head is facing uphill, ventral side up. This will make pulling out entrails much easier. Make gravity your ally.

Step 2

Before we start, we should discuss the best way to hold and cut with your knife. You should always use upper strokes when cutting.

The knife blade should be facing upwards. As you cut, you should make a slight forward and up motion with the knife.

This will prevent cutting too deep and nicking stomach and intestines. It also makes cleaner cuts and keeps extra hair from falling into the cavity.

Step 3

You need to first cut around the anus. Start your cut several inches up from the anus and make very shallow cuts around the anal opening.

Now make deeper incisions around the opening, freeing the colon from the surrounding pelvis and muscle. You should now see a visible tube, which is the colon.

Step 4

A lot of people will tie the anus closed using string or zip ties to prevent spilling. For doe, the urethra can be cut around and tied off at this point. For bucks this step comes later.

Step 5

Now you are going to cut down on each side of the pelvic ridge that you can feel running above the anal opening. The urethral tube also runs along the pelvic ridge for males and cutting it can spill urine into the animal.

Step 6

Carefully cut along the one side of the ridge through hide only up to the scrotum and penis. Most states require gender verification so only cut the scrotum on one side so it can hang off the other side of the deer through the rest of the cleaning process.

Step 7

Now cut along that same line down into the meat until you reach the pelvis bone. Follow the same procedure on the other side of the pelvic ridge.

Step 8

Take the small tube (urethra) that is running up towards the scrotum and cut it near the genitals. You might want to tie off the end of this tube to help prevent urine spilling into the meat.

Step 9

From here you can cut the hide, starting from the opening cut you have made down the midline of the abdominal cavity to the sternum. It is best to first only cut the hide.

This aids in not slicing open entrails. If you do not plan on mounting your deer, you can cut past the sternum to the junction between it and the neck. Again, use upward cutting motions.

Step 10

You are now ready to open the abdominal lining. You need to be most careful during this step, as it is the most often step where the entrails are punctured.

We recommend starting at the sternum and cutting down towards the pelvic region. At the end of the sternum, make very shallow cuts until you have made a space where you can insert two of your fingers and pull the abdominal lining up away from the organs.

Step 11

Slide two fingers underneath the lining and lift. Slide your knife between your fingers and use the upward cutting motion, splitting the muscle lining. Continue this motion down the midline of the deer until you have exposed the entire abdominal cavity.

Step 12

If you are not planning on visiting a taxidermist, move back up to the sternum and cut through it down the midline with your bone saw.

At this point you can crack open the sternum revealing the heart and lungs. The heart can be harvested and is an often-neglected source of excellent food.

Step 13

Go up as far as you can in the cavity and cut the windpipe. This will allow you to pull the entire set of organs from the deer in one step.

Step 14

Before removing the organs you need to cut the diaphragm, the wall looking muscle separating the stomach, liver, and intestines from the lungs and heart. Cut the diaphragm along the rib cage where it is connected.

Step 15

Now grab the windpipe and pull it down towards the back end of the deer. There will still be some connective tissue that might warrant some effort behind the pull or some more cutting. This is the step where using gravity can really help the process.

Step 16

Some people will harvest the liver and kidneys at this point. The rest of the organs can be discarded.

Congrats, you now have a cleaned deer. Your first few times might be messy and not go as smoothly as planned, but give it some time and you will be able to have a deer field dressed in 15 minutes!

How To Butcher A Deer

Before we get into butchering a deer, lets list some tools that you will need.

  1. Sharp knife
  2. Hacksaw or bone saw
  3. Cutting gloves
  4. Meat grinder (for ground venison)

If you cannot process the deer immediately, it needs to be kept at cool temperatures (34-40°F).

Even when processing and grinding you need to keep the deer and meat in cool temperatures to avoid spoilage.

Some hunters recommend storing the deer for 24-48 hours before processing to allow the meat to tenderize.

We will look at skinning the deer and then processing the deer into more manageable pieces. Deer butchering is pretty basic and comes down to a series of steps.

We will also look at some of the major cuts of meat on the deer and how to properly store your cuts of venison.

Steps For How To Process A Deer:

Step 1

Your first step is to remove the pelt from the deer, leaving the tissue and muscle. This is best done by hanging the deer from a pole or tree.

Step 2

Your first cuts should be one up each leg and then up the neck and around the base of the skull. Remember to use the same cutting technique we used in the cleaning process.

Step 3

Use a hacksaw or knife to remove all four legs above the knees.

Step 4

Start around the neck and begin skinning and peeling the hide away from the meat.

Step 5

This is also a good time to clean the meat as you proceed, removing as much hair as possible left behind on the meat.

Step 6

When you get to the tail, cut it off at the base of the tail and remove the pelt the rest of the way.

Step 7

Before you start butchering your deer, you need to remove areas around the bullet or arrow wound. A clean shot will minimize meat loss.

Step 8

You are going to want to remove as much of the fat as possible from your deer. This is not pork or beef where some fat adds to the flavor.

Too much deer fat left on your meat will lead to poor tasting venison.

Step 9

You will start with removing the two front legs at the shoulder joints.

Now we say joints, but there is just tendon and cartilage that attach the front legs to the rest of the body.

If you pull the leg out from the body, you can see a “hinge region”. Start cutting along that line and you begin to see how the leg and shoulder will be removed.

We will come back to these cuts later.

Step 10

For the back legs, you will need to cut the portion of meat and tendon that run from the side of the rib cage to the back legs called the paunch.

Once you have cut the paunch away, apply some downward pressure on the leg to help loosen the ball joint.

You will see the cut line as you go in and cut around the pelvis and ball joint to remove the back legs. We will come back to these cuts later.

Step 11

The first major cut of meat you should remove at this point is the backstrap. These cuts run along the spine from the start of the ribs down to the pelvis.

Cut along the spine all the way up to the end of the rib cage. Go back from the rib side and make another cut deep enough to meet the spinal cut.

You should now be able to remove the backstrap from the deer. This cut of meat is found on both sides of the spine.

Step 12

Your next major cut of meat is the tenderloin. Now a lot of hunters will remove the tenderloin in the field after field dressing to keep the meat from drying out.

These cuts are 8-12 inches long and run inside of the backstrap along both sides of the spine in the deer cavity down to the pelvis.

They are easy to trim and remove from the deer.

Step 13

Next, remove the paunch from both sides of the deer. Cut along the end of the last rib around to the spine to remove.

This meat can be trimmed up and used to go into your ground venison.

Step 14

The neck can be removed at the end of the sternum and last rib. Cut around the circumference of the neck and use a saw to remove the neck from the body.

Step 15

We now have the backstrap and tenderloin removed and the rest of the deer cut into four legs, neck, and ribcage.

Step 16

Some hunters will try to remove meat from the ribs, but you will find that there is not much meat to be had and most hunters discard this portion.

It’s your deer though and if you want some venison ribs go for it!

Step 17

The neck can be boned and trimmed for additional meat to be ground up. Some hunters like to keep it whole and use it for pulled venison.

Step 18

If you go back to your front shoulders and legs the meat is most often trimmed from the bone and used for ground meat. There are some cuts that can be made for blade roasts and shanks.

Step 19

The back shoulders and legs will give you some excellent roast cuts such as top roast and the sirloin (ball roast).

Nature has already provided you a cutting guide as the muscles are very easy to distinguish and cut from the bone.

Step 20

Silverskin on the backstrap and tenderloins can now be removed or left on the meat before freezing, but it will need to be removed before cooking.

Your cuts can be trimmed down into portions as you see fit.

Step 21

Using plastic wrap, wrap your venison up tightly, removing as much air as possible. Take the plastic wrapped cuts and wrap again in wax freezer paper.

Tape down the edges and label your meat! Your cuts are now ready to freeze.

Step 22

For your ground venison, you will need a meat grinder to grind the meat you have set aside. Putting the meat through the grinder twice is recommended.

Be sure to weigh out your desired amount to fit storage bags and crimp or tie off tightly.

Congrats! You have now successfully butchered your own deer.

Wrapping Up

As you can see, bagging a deer is only the first step in a long process of preparing a deer for the table.

Most hunters might view it all as an unnecessary nuisance and just pay the extra money to have someone else do the work for them.

We think they are missing out on a feeling of accomplishment that few other experiences can give you.

Hopefully, after reading this article on how to clean, process, and butcher a deer you are ready to head out into the field and experience it first hand.

It really is a piece of cake once you know how.

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