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How to Butcher Your Thanksgiving Deer
I grew up in the country, and back in the old days, in order to make ends meet, you either had to hunt or rely on a good neighbor that would give you some meat. There are a few things that one should know if you plan on taking wild game to eat. I am not talking about the sheer thrill of trophy hunting, which I totally disagree with, I mean your survival is relying on this as food.
Bleeding Out Your Game
A deer must have the blood let out thoroughly and as quickly as possible after the kill. If your animal is shot in the spine, or neck or above, that won’t be enough to rely on. Even if it has been shot in the chest or abdomen, the blood is still in the body. Cut the throat immediately after you get to a downed animal. A beginner can do a side-to-side cut at the base of the neck. Most hunters that have learned to butcher their own meat will usually cut upward from the breastbone. Place the animal’s head downhill, or hang it off a tree branch for the best release of blood.
Dressing (or Gutting) Deer
Remove the viscera as soon as possible, preferably while still in the woods. Removal of this material will keep your deer from spoiling and cool it down faster. Put the animal on its back, spread the legs, and tie its legs to whatever you can in the woods if you don’t have any help to hold the legs. Cut the animal open from neck to rear end.
In certain states, the sex organs must remain intact. If you’re hunting in one of those states, cut around the scrotum or mammary glands and leave that skin attached. The sex organs won’t hurt the flavor, but the scent glands could reinforce the gamey taste. They are located on the hind legs, just below the “knee,” facing the animal. Most people settle for the wild taste, but an experienced hunter will carefully remove them. Be careful with this. Secretions still on the hair or on the knife blade could get on your hands and contaminate the meat.
Cut the skin in a straight line from the lower end of the abdomen to the anus. Don’t cut into the intestines. The best way to do this is to hold them away from the knife with your non-cutting hand as soon as the opening is large enough for you to get a hand in there. If your animal is female with milk-filled glands, circumvent those and cut TO the rectum, but not into it. Then go back to lift and cut out the mammary glands. For a male, cut around each side of the penis and around each side of the rectum. Be careful not to cut into the penis or rectum. Any contaminated meat will have to be cut away, if that occurs. Tie off the rectum so that no contents escape, and drop the tie off into the body cavity.
Cut around the edge of the muscular diaphragm that separates the abdomen and chest to get to the lungs and heart. Carefully reach forward in the chest to cut the gullet and windpipe, located in front of the lungs. Now pull out the heart and lungs, and then turn the animal on its side. Split the pelvic bone by putting the blade of your knife between the seam of the two halves of the pelvis. Tap on the end of the knife handle and pry downward. Carefully and gently roll out the sex organs, bladder and intestines. If there is any accumulated blood in here, drain it out. Slit the muscles holding the windpipe and gullet and remove them.
Edible Organ Removal
Cut the heart free from its pouch. Carefully cut the gall bladder from the liver. You’ll have to remove part of the liver without cutting into the gall bladder. Remove the liver and both kidneys. For the tongue, cut through the underside of the jaw deep enough so the tongue can be pulled through the opening and cut off near the base of it. To get the brains, open the skull with a meat saw, or an axe, if you don’t have one. Carry them back home in a waterproof bag. The organs won’t keep as well as muscle meat, so if you’re camping out, eat those first.
Cooling Your Meat
Cool the meat quickly to prevent spoilage. If you have to leave the carcass for a while, put it in the shade on logs or rocks with the cavity propped open for air circulation. Put a few fresh boughs over it to keep birds away. If you split the backbone between the shoulders with an axe, cooling will be greatly expedited. If the weather should be unseasonably warm, skin before cooling and cover carcass or quarters in cheesecloth or cotton bags to keep the flies away. Don’t use any other materials that won’t let air circulate(plastic), which will cause spoilage.
If You Choose to Skin
In above-freezing temperatures the meat will cool more slowly with the hide on. If it is below freezing, the easier it is to get the skin off the hide if you have a fresh kill. Also skin before the hide has a chance to freeze on, and meat will stay fresher when air can get to it.
If You Don’t Choose to Skin
Thawing and freezing will reduce meat quality. If the temperatures fluctuate a great deal during day and night, it will keep the temperature of the meat more constant with the hide on. If you want to age the meet, the hide will prevent excess drying.
Skinning Your Meat
Hanging the animal will make this so much easier. A skinning knife has a curved blade, but any sharp butcher or hunting knife will do. Have some cornmeal or flour handy in case you cut into the flesh and blood gets in the fur. The flour or cornmeal will stop the blood flow. Skin before the hide has set on firmly. On a warm or fresh kill, the skin can nearly always be pulled away and that takes just a few minutes. On a cold animal, it must be cut away, which increases your chances of puncturing the hide.
Cut around each of the four “knee” joints, then slit along the inside leg up to the center where the viscera was removed. Extend stomach incision right to the neck, just below the lower jaw. Remove the head by cutting completely around the neck, behind the ears, antlers, and jaws. Slit the skin on the underside of the tail, and then cut the skin from the body. Venison has a thin, white layer between the skin and flesh. Cut through this layer in long, easy swipes with a very sharp blade. It will help if you have someone else pulling the skin taut, while you’re cutting it loose
Split the body in half along the backbone, as quickly as possible to maximize cooling. Quarter by cutting between the second and third rib from the rear and the vertebrae. You will need a meat saw or axe for this. Place the quarters in cheesecloth sacks. If you won’t be home in a day or two, salt the hide. Rub salt all over it, with more on the thicker pieces, and get into all crevices.
A large buck can dress out to 200 pounds or better. Some people will bone the meat to get the weight down. Don’t drag the meat out. Make several trips if you have to do so. Use a horse, a cart, whatever you can get in to where your animal is. If you use a horse, balance it well. Pack the front quarters or the hind quarters on each side of the saddle, and fasten down with a diamond hitch.
Again, keep the meat as cool as possible. Your deer will be better on the trunk of the car than the hood, due to engine heat.
Chill as much as you can before butchering. Cold fat is firmer, so any meat is easiest to cut when cold. Wild meat is lean, so it will move more. It is best to have one person trimming fat, and another butchering. Wild game fat becomes rancid quickly, so get it all off, if you can. Wherever the bullet passed will be torn and bloody. Trim this all out, or throw the entire section away. It will not look or taste good. Remove all the black bits. A well-bled animal shouldn’t have many of them. If some of the meat has begun to spoil, cut it away. Wrap and freeze. REMEMBER: upon thawing, cook meat immediately and thoroughly. Trim away the tough, outer parts from your steaks at both ends and rip the rest across the middle.
Cutting Up Hindquarters
This contains the Achilles tendon, which is how you hung the animal to bleed and the large, rear haunch. The haunch is the entire hind leg. Cut the haunch at the hip joint, which starts just below where the ribs end. You’ll have to guess at the correct location. You need your meat saw to go through the bone. Cut the haunch into thirds, from top to bottom.
The top or widest third is round steak. To get big, round steaks, cut across the grain and through the bone of the whole haunch. Or you can just separate the muscle bundles, which avoids sawing across the bone for every steak. The largest bundles are the top round and bottom round cuts. You can separate the two bundles, and cut across into steaks. The other muscle bundle is the sirloin. Cut across the grain for your sirloin steaks.
The middle third of the haunch is usually made into roast. You could even strip it from the bone for jerky or hamburger. The nice, long strips are great for jerky. The bottom third is just stripped of meat for hamburger. Finally, you have a soup bone.
Backstrap and Ribs
There are two strips of muscle along the backbone. The outside strip is the backstrap, or tenderloin. It is the choicest and best meat of the animal. You can bone out these muscles by cutting away from the backbone and slicing into steaks.
From the front end of the animal, you have club steaks, then T-bone steaks, and finally sirloin steaks. Some people will make a roast of the last third(sirloin). Just leave it whole.
Cutting the Front Quarters
Cut the front leg from the ribs as you might a chicken thigh, pulling the bone away from the body until it is severed from where it joins the chest. It should pop right out of the joint. This is called the arm. Make hamburger or jerky from a small animal. If the arm is big enough, you can get a blade roast from the top third.
Remaining Front Quarters
The meat along the outside of the backbone is the extension of the tenderloin muscle. Cut steak or tips from it, like you did on the hindquarters. You can section up the ribs for either ribs or stew meat, depending on the size of he deer.