Skinning & Butchering A Deer On The Ground

As fair warning, this is fairly graphic, and this is because I have had more than a few requests asking me to show how to skin and quarter a deer.  I do it with just a boning knife, and in this case I did not have the luxury of having the deer hung up for me.  Neither Patti nor I, even together, can hoist a deer up right now, so it had to be done on the ground.  We put a plastic tarp on the ground in the front yard, dragged the deer over to the tarp, and, well, this is it.  Photos are not meant to be aesthetic.  Just informative.  I am not a professional meatcutter or butcher, and I am not advising anyone on how to do this.  I am just showing how I do it.


So on Monday morning it was in the low 20s and windy with some fresh snow.  Temps stayed below freezing until this morning when it finally warmed up a bit, breaking 32 degrees at about 9 am.


Not pretty as far as a picture goes, but when you are doing this on the ground, this is the position you start the deer off in.


Slide the knife under the skin, sideways, on the inside of the leg up to the hilt, then turn the knife so the cutting edge is up and cut through the skin.  Word of advice:  Always cut from the inside out, or you will end up with a lot of sliced hair covering the meat.  You are going to get hair on the meat anyway, so no point getting any more than just happens.IMG_2451

This is the tarsal gland, located at the “elbow” joint above the foot, though literally, it is just where the heel is, because deer stand on their tip-toes, not what we would think of as a foot.  Anyway, you do not want to cut into this when you are butchering a deer.  The oils from the gland will make any meat you later touch with the knife just nasty tasting. IMG_2453

This is as far down the leg as I skin it.  At this point I have given myself plenty of room to work with the muscle groups later when I debone it, while not cutting into the gland in any way.  Work the skin off and around to the outside of the leg, carefully cutting through any connective tissues while not cutting into the skin, or the meat, if you can help it.  Keep your knife sharp.  I sharpened mine twice while doing all of this, and started out with it freshly sharpened as well.IMG_2454

Now the leg has been exposed and I start working the skin off to the backbone along the whole length of the deer and over the front leg.IMG_2455

This is the front leg of the deer, hide pulled back off of the ribcage.IMG_2456

I cut straight up the middle-front of the deer, well up the neck, and work the hide completely off of the shoulder and side of the neck.  Here you can also see were I shot her.  I try to take all my deer in the same way:  Just in front of the shoulder, halfway between top and bottom of the deer.  I lose some neck meat this way, but of all the meat on the deer, this is pretty low on my priority list.  The front shoulders of the deer have quite a bit of meat on them, and we save the organ meat as well (heart for us, liver, lungs and kidneys for the dog) so I really do not want to put a shot through the body of the deer if I can help it.IMG_2457I had Piper sit on a chair to watch.  It allowed her to be close to me, not messing with the deer, and I gave her plenty of treats as we went along so she was happy.


At this point I am done skinning this side of the deer.  The meat you can see on the inside of the skin are the muscles the deer uses to twitch its hide, are not connected to any bones, and I am not interested in them at all.IMG_2459

First cut into the meat is where the rear leg’s hip juts towards the backbone.  I slide the knife around the hip, and along the spine all the way to the rear of the deer.IMG_2460There was a good two inches of fat on the deer in this area.  Surprised me.  I have not seen this much fat on a deer since I stopped hunting in the far north.  Maybe this means it is going to be a long cold winter.  <shrug> We will see. IMG_2461I cut the leg muscles from the pelvic bone, letting the knife follow the bone until I get to the hip socket.  Then you push the leg down to expose the inner ligament which holds the leg bone in the hip socket.  The ligament, shown above, you cut through and the leg just comes off if you have cut the rest of the meat from the pelvic bone and spine. IMG_2462

This is what it looks like when the leg has been completely detached.  Right side is the leg, far left is the pelvic bone, and left-middle is the spine area. IMG_2464

This is really a huge piece of meat and why you never never never shoot at a deer’s rear end, even if you think you can drop the deer that way.  75% of the meat comes from those two legs.  Pic just shows the leg laying on the hide next to the rest of the deer.IMG_2465

Next is the front leg from the same side.  Deer do not have shoulder joints like we have.  The shoulder blade is not attached by any bones to the rest of the body.  You make your cut from the middle of the chest, flat to the ribs, from the front to the back of the deer while pushing the leg to the outside.  When your cut has separated the leg muscles from ribs, finish separating the piece from the deer.  Your cuts should not impinge on the spine area.IMG_2466

This is what it looks like just before the last muscles are cut through.IMG_2467

And that is what both parts look like once separated. IMG_2469

Next is the backstraps.  This is the loin of the deer, commonly called the chops (yeah, as in pork chops, same muscle) or the ribeye (which is the same muscle in a beef) and it is a simple operation to remove it.  First cut is the length of the deer, from the back of the neck to the hip, right along the spine.  There is a raised ridge that runs down the center of the spine which guides your knife.  You cannot cut too deeply as the tip of the knife will hit the ribs as you go, and the spine keeps you from cutting into the other side of the deer.IMG_2470

Then, with your fingers (no knife needed for this) just peel the layer of fat and sinews off of the backstrap to the ribs exposing the whole muscle.IMG_2471

Starting from the neck, making C or half-moon shaped cuts along the ribs, carefully work your way down the entire muscle, separating it from the ribcage.IMG_2472

There it is, laid out next to the deer.IMG_2473

This is the entry hole in the neck where I shot the deer.  I am cutting neck meat off here but I do not take any of the shot meat.  I leave a couple of inches around the hole, which would have to be a lot more if I was using a rifle, but with a shotgun slug the bullet integrity is generally not compromised due to the lower velocity of the bullet, so the only issue is bone chips and blood clots in the surrounding tissues.IMG_2474

That is the neck with the meat removed from that side, from the shoulder up to the base of the skull.  IMG_2476

To finish the skinning I work the whole skin up towards the front of the deer.IMG_2477

With the leg exposed, I cut it off in the same manner as I did the other leg.IMG_2478

When done cutting off the other leg and backstrap, I cut through the connective ligaments between two of the vertebra in the neck, and this part is done:  you are left with just the spine attached to the ribcage, and a hide attached to the neck.  On a yearling or one and a half year old deer I will take the ribs for us, but this is a three year old deer so I am leaving them for Piper.IMG_2479Then the meat comes into the table in the kitchen for finishing cutting.  Notice that I removed the layers of fat from the muscles before bringing them inside.

So, that is it.  None of the deer goes to waste.  Every scrap that is not for consumption by us, either goes to Piper (exposed meat that has dried or is otherwise discolored), and the large chunks of fat go into a suet feeder for the birds.  We started Piper on bones as a pup, so she knows how to eat them.  In a doe the only part she cannot eat is the skull, which I leave attached to the hide which I give to a friend who tans hides and does leather work.  On big bucks she cannot handle some parts of the spine which then go to a larger dog in the neighborhood.  In a typical year, from deer hunting season, the bones and scraps last out to sometime in February.  Even on top end commercial dog food her coat is dull looking, and she gets hot spots.  With deer hunting season, her coat turns glossy, and she gets chunky for a few months.    <grin>

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8 Responses to Skinning & Butchering A Deer On The Ground

  1. stone says:

    My mouth is watering… Haven’t had a nice Bambi in a while.
    Some very nice pictures of the process.
    Did you ever peruse the pics that I posted?
    Of course, butchering a deer that’s been hit by a car isn’t as clean and tidy… I was a bit concerned re the tastefulness of the post…
    Does the dog get to help?
    My cats used to get started while I was finding a sharp knife…
    Seeing the cat pull a deer quarter out of the bucket and start walking off with it was always funny…
    So… Where’s the pics of the deer being cooked?

    • Tom says:

      I had not seen that posting. I too have picked up a few car hits, always when I have witnessed them myself. I think though that either your deer are a lot smaller than ours, or your cats are much larger. A hindquarter from the buck was about 40 pounds. Would need to be a heck of a big cat to walk off with that.

      But the cats and the dog get to eat plenty. All of the fat and scraps go to them, and the dog eats all of the bones except the big parts of the spine on the bucks which she cannot chew. My retarded wolf does much better on whole animal protein than she does on dog food, and I buy the high end dog food when I have to. She is keeping herself properly stuffed. Cats though do insist on it being cut off of the bones for them. Spoiled cats.

    • Miftahul says:

      How about a KitchenAid mixer with the grinder atcanhmett? It’s a real work-horse, and I’ve been really happy with it. I grind pork butt for sausages and haven’t had any problems with it. It’s also great for grinding up chicken to use in place of ground beef since it’s healthier. Plus, there are a ton more uses for the mixer besides deer meat. Double plus good!

    • Tom says:

      yeah. I am leaning that way. Pack away the hand grinder and get the attachment for the mixer. Use it almost only for making bread now. Still would have the hand powered stuff, but time is precious and I have little of it.

  2. mjc says:

    I think this explains it all…

    A dog thinks: Hey, those people I live with feed me, love me, provide me with a nice warm, dry house, pet me, and take good care of me…..They must be gods!

    A cat thinks: Hey, these people I live with feed me, love me, provide me with a nice warm, dry house, pet me, and take good care of me…I must be a god.

    • Tom says:

      yeah. that is pretty much how cats are.

    • Rishi says:

      i bought one over deer hunntig weekend for $ 50 (on sale) and my fiancee broke it some plastic part broke on the on/off switch it was a Better Homes brand .i had never heard of them before, but at the time it was my only option for a meat grinder .just recently i saw an ad in the Cabela’s flyer for meat grinders and had i had the money, i would have gotten one of those instead They are completly stainless steel and you have the option to chose how much HP you want .since we wouldn’t use the grinder that much i would have gone with maybe a 1/2 HP meat grinder but since it sounds like your husband is a big hunter and would definitly put the meat griner to work you could get him the 1 1/2 HP meat grinder There are only like 7 Cabela stores in the US, so if you don’t live by one, you could shop online Another option would be to check out Black and Decker maybe? I haven’t seen a meat grinder by them, but they make like everything otherwise, try searching Ebay for one just remember bigger the HP the more power it will have and you DON’T want plastic steel is the best.

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