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Written By: Cal Kellogg, February 17, 2014
When we left this discussion in the last issue of The Fish Sniffer we had our field dressed deer in the vehicle and were headed back to camp.
Okay, we are now back at camp and it’s time to hang the deer. Conventional wisdom says that the proper way to hang a deer for skinning is to hang the deer from the hind legs. I only skin a buck this way if I’m having it mounted. If not, I find that hanging the deer from its antlers and working from its neck down is the easiest, fastest way to skin a deer.
Once the deer is hanging I make a cut around the neck right at the jaw line and then add a cut down the front of the throat and proceed down the middle of the chest until the incision reaches the incision I’d made previously during the field dressing phase.
Another cut follows the general path of the spine from the cut around the neck all the way down to the tail. Finally I sever all four legs at the knee and I’m ready to remove the hide.
Start working the hide off one side. Use your knife when you have to, but if the deer is still somewhat warm much of the skinning can be done by forcing your fist between the hide and muscle as you pull and pressure the hide with your free hand. You’ll find that by working from the head down the hide “flows” off the body with much less effort then when working backward from the rear legs downward.
When you get down to the genitals, sever them close to the hide and leave as much of the underlying tissue intact as possible.
Once the hide is removed I take a wet towel and wipe down the exterior of the buck’s body to remove loose hair and any other debris.
A lot of guys would wrap the buck in a game bag at this point and let the deer hang until dropping it off at the butcher. I prefer to quarter the deer in the field, stash the meat in an ice chest and process the meat at home in my garage. Here’s how I do it.
Once the deer has been wiped down the first thing I do is remove the back straps. This is the second best cut of meat on the entire deer, so take your time.
Find the ridge of the spine with your fingers and make a long vertical cut tracing the edge of the ridge from the front edge of the front shoulders all the way the leading edge of the bucks hips. Using one hand to work the meat away from the spine, continue making long sweeping cuts with the knife until you reach the ribs. Work the blade along the ribs and “fillet” the back strap off the rib cage. When the meat separates you should have a strip of meat that is about 24 inches long and 3 to 4 inches around.
Set that back strap on a clean surface and repeat the process on the opposite side of the spine. With both back straps removed, give them a rinse in a bowl or bucket of water, put them in a sealed plastic bag and get them into the ice chest.
Now it’s time to remove the front shoulders. Grab the buck’s lower foreleg and wrench the front should away from the chest. Working from the “armpit” towards the spine, use your knife to remove the entire shoulder from the ribcage. Place that shoulder in the ice chest and then do the same thing with the opposite shoulder.
With the shoulders removed you’ll probably want to pull the deer up higher in the tree as the next step is to remove the hindquarters.
Recall that we left the bladder in the deer when we did the field dressing. The bladder may well still be full of urine. Reaching down inside the abdominal cavity locate the bladder with your fingers and you’ll quickly be able to determine how much urine is present.
If there is much simply squeeze it and the urine with be expelled through the remains of the genitals. Try not to get any urine on the meat, but if some does get on the hindquarters don’t panic; it will rinse off without doing any harm.
With the bladder empty it’s time to use a saw, small hatchet or large knife to sever the pelvis between the deer’s hind legs. Once the pelvis is split removing the bladder, anus and remnants of the lower intestine is easy.
After a quick rinse, it’s time to remove the first hindquarter. Starting at the leading edge of the hindquarter make a horizontal incision that ends against the spine. If you don’t have a saw the quarter can be removed by dissecting and severing the hip joint.
If you have a saw things are much easier. All you have to do is put some pressure on the leg to open up the horizontal incision you just made. Insert your saw and continue the incision by sawing downward along the edge of the spine until the quarter is removed. It will be heavy, so make sure you’ve got a good grip on it. When it comes free toss it into the ice chest.
I remove the final quarter with my saw, leaving that quarter attached a short section of the spine and place it into the icechest.
Okay, we are nearly done. The next step is to remove the tenderloins. These are the smallest, highest quality cuts of meat on any deer. To locate them reach into what once was the abdominal cavity and feel along the spine. You’ll find two strips of meat that are about 12 inches long. Fillet both of these out, rinse them and store them with the backstraps.
I love to eat venison liver and I enjoy the heart as well, so the next thing I do is reach up into the chest cavity and remove both the liver and the heart. Once again, rinse, bag and chill them in the cooler.
Scan what’s left of the carcass and fillet away any useable meat. The final step is to remove the neck. To do this I simply lower the carcass down and sever the neck from the rib cage using my saw or a knife. Then I repeat the process and sever the neck from the head at the base of the skull. There is a lot of quality meat on the neck. Place it into your cooler with the other meat.
Okay if you’ve followed these directions you are well on your way to having a excellent supply of winter meat. The next thing I’m going to tell you to do is considered very radical by the old timers, but it is one of the biggest factors that makes my venison so mild and largely free of any “gamey” after taste.
I open the drain on my cooler and prop the cooler up an inch or so such that the drain is on the low side and then I completely cover the meat with crushed ice. If the quarters were warm when you put them into the cooler the ice will melt within several hours. As the cold water drips over the meat it carries away any residual blood and contamination with it and exits the cooler via the drain.
Once the first application of ice melts, the meat will be chilled. At this point you can butcher the meat or if you are going to remain in the field you can ice it back up and store it. The second application of ice will melt very slowly as the meat will already be chilled. I still leave the cooler’s drain open, but I close the cooler’s lid tightly and don’t open it.
Yellow jackets and flies will try to enter the cooler through the drain, but they are easily stopped by blocking the drain with steel wool, a piece of gauze or even a piece so “scrubbing” sponge. This allows any water to escape, while keeping pests outside the cooler.
This method is considered radical by guys that say you should never get venison wet. Sorry guys, I’ve got to tell you you’re dead wrong. I stored my 2103 buck in a cooler for 5 days and the meat is some of the mildest, tenderest venison I’ve ever brought home.
Processing our theoretical “near road” buck was easy. In the next edition of The Fish Sniffer I’ll run the third and final installment of this tutorial. Things will get more difficult when we field butcher a buck way down in a steep unforgiving canyon - Cal Kellogg
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