Field dressing, skinning, and quartering a deer is a touchy subject for some and I’m sure I’ll probably receive lots of hate for posting this instructional from anti-hunters, but it will be worth it if I have helped other hunters or potential hunters in the process.
If you are thinking about deer hunting you need to know what to expect upon harvesting the deer. The following photos are not censored in the least bit. If you have a weak stomach, please prepare yourself.
Although the photos may be gory to some, if you’re going to hunt the following steps must be done. However, you could pay a professional to do it all for you and that’s perfectly fine–to each their own. However, lots of hunters do this themselves. I personally feel it is an important step that all hunters should experience at least once.
People all over the world hunt and not everyone does field dressing, skinning and quartering in the same manner as we do. This is simply an instructional post in hopes that we can encourage people to hunt and process their own venison by feeling confident in that they can do this–it’s simple. Just follow along.
On a side note, I’d like to thank our friend Ed Ozment for being gracious enough to let me take photos of his deer while he, my husband and our son did the work. I slowed the process down by taking photos and trying to get the perfect shot. I greatly appreciate their hospitality.
So, let’s get started!
Hang the deer for skinning:
There is a soft layer of skin between the tendon and leg bone, about halfway down the back legs of a deer.
Take a knife and puncture a slit in the soft spot on both legs.
Using a big game gambrel, insert the gambrel into each hind leg where you made the slits.
Then with a winch raise the deer up to where the area you will be working on is about chest level. You can raise or lower the deer at any time during the process. Place a catch pan of some sort below the deer.
Cut a circle completely around the front leg at the knee joint. The hide will separate.
Then cut the tendons that hold the knee joint together on both front legs and the bottom half of the leg will come off.
Below where you hooked the gambrel cut an even circle around each back leg taking care not to cut the tendon or the deer will fall.
Start at one of the circles on the hind leg with your knife and go down the inside of each back leg cutting downward making the slits meet.
As you can see below, the slits from each hind leg meet.
Next, starting from the slits you made down each leg, cut down the belly to the neck. It’s best to use a knife with a gut hook.
Please take precaution and do not go too deep or you can cut the stomach.
Below, the cut has been made all the way to the neck.
Now we will start skinning. It’s easier to start with the white side of the fur and using your knife gently peel the skin away from the meat.
Then start on the brown side of the fur and cut the hide away, working around the side of the leg toward the back side of the legs.
Then work down the back legs.
At this point, you should have the hide down to the rectum on both legs. Cut the hide away from the hams down past the rectal area on each side.
Be careful of the poop chute, which is locked and loaded!
Take the tip end of your knife and put it on the tailbone as close to the body of the deer as you can. Hold the knife steady and straight with one hand and using the other hand hit the handle end of the knife to separate the tailbone from the body. Without doing this, the hide will not release from that area.
Gently peel the skin away from the deer by pulling downward on the hide and using your knife at the seam where the hide is pulling away from the meat. Do this all the way down next to the shoulders.
Continue pulling downward on the hide…
Continue pulling downward on the hide…
Split the hide down the knee. Peel the hide from the shank of the front legs the same as you did the back legs.
Note: If you didn’t notice, the above photos already have this step done, but that happens when you have more than one person working on a deer. It goes by much faster and is much easier when you have help.
Now you are ready to bring the hide down past the shoulders using downward pressure on the hide, and gently lacing your knife along the seam.
Continue pulling the hide past the shoulders…
Below, the hide is pulled completely down to the neck. You’ll be able to clearly see the broadhead entrance behind the shoulder.
To get the neck meat, continue cutting all the way to the base of the head at the ears.
Cut a circle around the neck behind the ears, completely down to the neck bone. Then cut the head free from the body with a bone saw.
As you can see below, the hide has been completely removed from the deer. If you plan to use the hide, store it in a safe place for later.
Now it’s skint!
…and yes, I know that’s not a word, but ask anyone from the Appalachian mountains and it is.
Now you are getting ready to start taking sections of meat from the deer–shoulders, neck, backstraps, tenderloins, hams. Before we get started I cannot stress enough how important it is to rinse each piece of meat thoroughly and cool as soon as possible.
If you’re planning to put it in the refrigerator, have bags and/or large tubs ready and make sure you have enough room. If you plan to use coolers make sure they are clean and have plenty of ice on hand.
Firmly grab the shank of either shoulder and on the inside between the shoulder and ribs start cutting the shoulder from the body.
There is no shoulder joint. Only muscle and tendons hold the shoulder to the deer.
For the neck roast, cut the neck off just in front of where you cut the shoulders from using a bone saw or hacksaw.
What a beautiful neck roast! You’ll need to remove the esophagus when you trim the neck up later after aging.
To remove the two backstraps, cut a slit on each side of the spine starting at the end of the spine toward the hams. Start here.
Cut down to where you just cut the neck roast from.
Then at the ham end of the backstrap, you will feel a bone about three inches long, going side to side at the end of the spine. Cut the backstrap along that bone, down to the rib cage, forming a 90 degree cut with the cut you just made down the spine.
Gently pull the backstrap away from the body while using your knife to cut the backstrap away from the top of the rib cage.
Do this all the way to the end of the backstraps on both sides of the deer.
Note: If you don’t make a close enough cut you will be leaving meat on the deer. That’s ok–you can always go back and get it.
Next, are the tenderloins, but the deer will need to be field dressed before you can get to the tenderloins, so let’s cover that first.
Some hunters like to field dress while they are still in the woods and some wait until they get back home or to camp. If you have a long drive and the temperature is above 35, it’s important for you to go ahead and field dress the deer in the woods. If your drive is short then you can wait until you get home, which is what my family does unless it’s during bow season and very hot.
The following photos and instructions are based on field dressing a deer at home. You can apply these same techniques in the woods, but I will include instructions for field dressing a deer in the woods later in the post.
Make a long cut down the center of the belly with a knife that has a gut hook, making sure not to cut too deeply or you’ll cut into the entrails.
Continue cutting down the belly…
The entrails will start protruding out, but you’ll have to help them along.
Insert your hand behind the big blob, which is the stomach, and gently push it forward encouraging it to come out further.
Do NOT push it with a lot of force!
The colon is still connected and you’ll have to make a cut and pull them away.
Try not to rip anything as you are cutting it away and also be careful not to let any feces come in contact with the hams or any other part of the deer that you are going to eat. If it does, rinse the meat immediately with water.
The colon is freed, so now continue gently pushing the entrails from the cavity. There is a diaphragm separating the vital organs (heart, lungs) and entrails (stomach, intestines, liver, kidneys). It’s a thin whitish layer. Trim the diaphragm away from the rib cage all the way around.
Continue pulling the entrails and organs out. If you’re going to save the heart or liver, now would be a good time to locate them before they hit the catch pan, but if they do hit the catch pan it’s ok. Just make sure you rinse them extremely well.
Continue clearing the cavity…
Now, as you can see below the deer cavity is completely empty and you’re finished field dressing. If you eat the liver and heart, and you let them fall into the catch pan retrieve them now.
As I mentioned before, I’ll include instructions to field dress the deer in the woods.
First, lay the deer on either side, spread it’s back legs, and start cutting straight up from the genitals. Cut through the hide being careful not to puncture any entrails.
Cut all the way up to its neck. Spread the sides apart to roll the stomach and guts out.
There is a diaphragm separating the vital organs and the guts. Trim it away from the rib cage all the way around.
Then if you have a sturdy strong sharp knife you can cut the rib cage on either side of the breastbone and pull the rib cage apart and remove all vital organs making sure to cut the esophagus loose because it will not pull out easily.
Now let’s get the tenderloins, aka sweet meat. These are inside the deer rib cage, opposite of the backstraps. It’s two strips of meat about 1-2″ in diameter and 8-10″ long depending on the size of the deer.
You’ll most likely need to remove some fat, etc… in order to reach the tenderloins. Cut from the upper end and remove the tenderloins in the same manner as you removed the backstraps.
Some people tend to miss these two delicious cuts of meat, so I added two arrows to help you find them. Trust me, you do not want to miss this.
You will need to remove some fat in order to start removing them. As you can see below, some fat was removed and you can see the tenderloins clearly now.
Remove the deer tenderloins in the same manner as you did the backstraps.
Tenderloins are my favorite cut of venison. They’re extremely tender and sweet. Many people call it the “sweet meat.”
If you harvest the ribs, using a bone saw, cut them from the spine. I’ll be honest unless it’s a huge deer we save the ribs for coyote bait and I have on occasion baked them in the oven and gave them to my Boxer. He thoroughly enjoys them!
The ribs don’t have much meat on them and by the time you remove all of the sinew (silver skin) and fat you’re not left with much, so I feel it’s best used as coyote bait or dog treats.
We didn’t save the ribs to eat from this deer, but just to give you an idea of where to cut I included a line going down the ribcage close to the spine. Just follow the line.
Now you have two rear legs (hams) and the spine hanging from the gambrel.
Starting at the finger length bone I mentioned earlier, where you started removing the backstraps from, start cutting the hams upward lacing your knife blade with the bone. Once you start cutting, you will then see this bone I’m talking about.
Note: Look at the photo below and you’ll see that someone (not mentioning any names) got knife happy and accidentally cut in the wrong place at first. After realizing his mistake, he lowered his knife and started cutting again in the correct place. It’s ok to make a mistake–we all do it–even those that are very experienced, so don’t sweat it if you make a mistake.
Then from the main bottom of the ham, start cutting the ham away from the spine and you’ll find the hip joint.
Separate the hip joint with your knife. The arrow is pointing at the hip joint. The socket side of the hip joint can be easily cut with a knife to help separate the hip ball and socket. Part of the socket in the photo below has already been cut away.
In the photo below, the hip joint is separated. The knife is pointing to the ball of the hip joint.
Below is the hip socket on the spine.
Then finish cutting the meat from the spine and the ham will separate from the spine and will still be hanging from the gambrel.
Do this on both hams, being careful not to let the spine hit you as it falls.
You should now have two beautiful deer hams hanging in the air still on the gambrel.
Hold the ham firmly with one hand and cut the ham bone, using a hacksaw with a new blade or a bone saw, just below the gambrel. Then using your knife, cut the tendon free. Do this with both hams.
What a beautiful ham!
Just another reminder, please make sure with each piece of meat, that you rinse it clean and cool immediately. For example, look at the photo above. At first glance, the ham looks clean, but if you look closely you can see some deer hair. You want to make sure you remove all of that and anything else that might be on it, but please rinse it even if you can’t see anything.
That’s it! You’re done!
As I mentioned earlier, there’s probably a thousand people with a thousand different ways of doing this, but this is the way that works best for our family. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to comment in the comments section below and we’ll get back to you soon.