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Written By: Cal Kellogg, March 8, 2014
Okay, for the past two issues we’ve spent our time butchering deer that were killed near the road. As a result a vehicle could be used to transport the animal back to camp where most of the butchering could be done.
When you hunt the rough country, especially if you hunt alone or with only a single companion, dragging a buck back to camp for butchering simply isn’t a realistic option. Yet, on public land it’s often the roughest, steepest country that offers the best chance of success. What’s a hunter to do?
That’s simple, hunt the rough country, tag you buck and butcher him on the spot…here’s how!
Field butchering a buck takes preparation. First ,you’ll ultimately need a pack frame for packing out the meat. I leave that in my truck. While hunting you’ll need to carry a daypack with a few essentials in it. Mine contains a full or queen size bed sheet and a large pillowcase. I find that cotton sheets work better for my purposes than game bags.
In addition to the sheets I carry 100 feet of 550 paracord and a role of electrical tape. For the actual butchering a knife, knife sharpener and saw are essential equipment. This season I used my Leatherman Wave and Hunter Honer sharpener to do the entire job. I didn’t have any problems, but I will say that a standard belt style knife paired with a folding bone saw sporting a 10 to 12 inch blade would have made the job quicker.
I’ve used folding limb saws designed for gardeners in the past with good results, just make sure the teeth on the saw aren’t overly large. If the teeth are too large and aggressive controlling the saw when starting a cut will be difficult and the last thing you want to do is saw a chunk out of your finger!
One essential that is easy to overlook is a headlamp. Not a flashlight a headlamp. In recent years I seem to have developed a knack for knocking off bucks just before dark. Trying to work with your hands and hold a flashlight at the same time is a recipe for frustration. A headlamp, on the other hand, projects light right where you’re working, leaving your hands free.
Boom, dead buck! The tag is applied and photos are taken, let’s butcher. I take my sheet and spread it out near the deer.
I flip the buck onto his back and make a long cut through the hide that extends from just below the jaw, down the throat, down the chest, ending at the anus. Don’t break the abdominal muscles. Just split the hide, we don’t want the internal organs busting out.
Next make similar cuts extending from the initial incision that travel up the inside of all four legs ending at the knee. At this point use the knife to separate the knee joints and remove all four lower legs.
Take a breather for a moment and then roll the deer onto one side or the other. It doesn’t matter which. Skin the front and rear legs on the upper side. With the legs free of hide work the hide off the chest and the hindquarters working toward the spine. As the hide comes off, don’t allow the wet flesh side to touch the ground. Keep spreading it out flesh side up and repositioning it as more hide becomes available. You’ll need to extend a cut from the incision going down the throat. This cut should follow the neck around just below the buck’s jaw.
Once you reach the spine along the length of the body keep on working downward toward the ground until you can’t work any more hide loose without flipping the carcass.
At this point, fillet off the front shoulder place it on the sheet and fold the sheet over such that flies and other insects can’t get to the meat. Next bone out the meat on the upper side of the neck and remove any useable meat from the upper side of the rib cage. Put all the meat on the sheet. Now it’s time to free the rest of the hide…
Carefully roll the carcass over with the loose hide laid out neatly such that the skinned side of the carcass makes minimal if any contact with the ground. Basically you’re using the loose hide as a barrier between the exposed meat and the ground.
Repeat the skinning process on side two of the buck. When you’re done the hide should be completely detached, lying beneath the carcass. Remove the second front shoulder, remove the neck meat and any useable meat on the rib cage. Stash all this meat on the sheet and cover it up.
At this point fillet out the back straps. I store these separate from the rest of the meat in the pillowcase. With the backstraps removed, roll the buck back onto it’s back, open the abdominal cavity and remove all the organs from the diaphragm to the anus.
Reach into the abdominal cavity and fillet out the tenderloins. If you’re a heart and liver eater like I am, work up into the chest cavity and remove both the liver and the heart. I put the heart, liver and tenderloins in the pillowcase with the backstraps.
We are nearly done! Allow the carcass to roll onto one side. Using your knife, work the upper hind quarter loose and separate it from the carcass at the hip joint. Place that hindquarter on the sheet. Finally using your saw, cut through the spine, freeing the second hindquarter. This quarter will weight more then the other one because it has that piece of spine and pelvis attached to it.
Let’s protect the meat. I like to pack out a buck in two trips, so I open up the sheet and cut it in half. I place half the meat on one section of sheet and the other half on the other section. I try to make both piles even in terms of weight. Gather up the corners of the sheet and knot them together. Next using paracord and tape, fly proof any holes or gaps. When I’m done I have two bags of meat.
The final step in the butchering process is cutting out the buck’s antlers.
If I killed the deer in the morning and figure I can pack it out before dark, I head back to the truck, grab my pack frame and haul out the meat. If it’s dark or too late in the day to pack out the meat I hang it in a tree using paracord and pack it out the next day.
When I get the meat back to camp I wipe it down with a wet cloth and put it in the cooler, using the same icing technique I described in Part 2 of this piece.
Great venison doesn’t happen by accident. The more time and effort you put into butchering and meat care the better your end product will be. Don’t rush the field butchering process. Take your time and do the job right. Once you’ve field butchered a buck or two, you’ll find that you get much faster at the process.
Once I get home I do all my own meat cutting and grinding in my garage, but that’s another story for another time!
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