The obvious next big step after harvesting a deer is to carefully field dress and de-skin the game.
As it is a huge animal, you cannot start cutting it irregularly and in random patterns. The job needs you to follow few steps to procure the meat quickly.
If you are tired of seeing the neatly wrapped meat in a white wrapper from your butcher after giving them your game and feel detached from the entire process, then it is about time you learn to skin the deer yourself.
The skinning process is divided into field dressing, hanging, and skinning. Allow us to go through these steps to teach how one can butcher a deer skillfully.
Primary Essential Tools
Every butchering job needs specific primary essential tools to go through the process.
We recommend that you settle up your tool bag way before you go on your hunting trip.
Equipment for field
- Knife – You will need a great knife, especially with a gut hook, to get things started. Of course, it needs to be sharp. You can even purchase a knife set that usually includes a big knife, a skinning knife, and a bone saw. You can use a scalpel knife with disposable blades as you won’t need to keep sharpening the tool that often.
- Gamebag – A gamebag might seem unnecessary for few people who like to carry the deer as is, but if you stay away from the hunting spot or wish to avoid other external factors contaminating your deer, then consider buying a game bag. This bag would keep the flies away.
- Latex gloves – Few pairs of disposable latex gloves are essential to keep the meat and your hand clean. For the field, keep 2-3 pairs handy for each deer.
- Plastic bags and zip ties – If you are fond of barbequing heart and liver, you will need a zip lock bag to keep these organs safe and clean. Few zip ties will surely come in handy for attaching a tag or holding it during your transit.
- Strong stomach – Seasoned hunters and butchers are used to the field dressing, but novice hunters might need to control their gag reflex while carrying out this task.
Equipment for home
- Boning knife – A boning knife is extremely sharp and cut smoothly through the meat ligaments and tendons without any extra pressure. You want a blade that is sturdy yet operates and glides like butter.
- Hacksaw – Hack saw will make your chore of cutting ribs and shanks extremely easy. You can also use this saw to cut chops. You can easily do most of the work with your hands and a sharp knife.
- Gambrel game hoist – A gambrel is an essential tool while skinning the deer. It will make your job extremely easy. If you are hunting or skinning alone, consider this your best friend.
Step-By-Step Guide To Skin A Deer
As mentioned above, there are three essential steps required to complete the butchering process.
Let us go through each and understand the process in detail.
Field dressing the game
Field dressing is the first step after you pull and bring the shot deer in front of you. You cannot skin the deer with all its entails inside.
You must hollow the entire animal to carry it and avoid an extra messy home or working area. Don’t forget to remove your jewelry and watch while dressing your fresh game.
Cutting the coring ring
Place the deer on the ground with its belly towards the sky. Get into a comfortable kneeling position, locate the anus, and cut the coring ring of the deer a few inches deep. Slide the knife a little deeper into its pelvic canal and remove the last inches of the colon. Keep a steady hand as you do not want to puncture the colon; puncturing would undoubtedly taint the meat.
Make your first cut
Look at the stomach area and grab the skin between the rear legs. This portion will be just below a buck’s testicle or doe’s milk sac. Start cutting an extremely shallow 1-inch slit, barely cutting anything except for the hide and the outmost later. If it’s a buck, cut the genitalia at this step.
Cutting up the midline
Use your first incision as a starting point, and with the help of your gut hook, cut the entire belly. You also can do this with a skinning knife but make sure to stretch the initial hole and proceed further.
Your main goal is to separate the hide from its organs. Make sure not to puncture the organs while slicing the belly. It will make a mess and contaminate the meat. An excellent way to avoid this is to hold your knife’s blade towards the sky.
Cut the diaphragm and windpipe (Oesophagus)
The diaphragm is a fragile membrane that separates the chest from the abdomen. Start cutting it to reach organs residing in the chest cavity. It would help if you worked your way up to the spine to cut the part accurately.
After removing the diaphragm, dig deeper and reach up to grab the windpipe situated above the heart and lungs. Swiftly sever the windpipe to free the organs.
Remove all the entails
As you have cut the anus and diaphragm and severed the windpipe, you can now easily remove all the parts like the stomach, intestines, liver, lungs, and heart in one strong pull. It is common to leave the gut pile as is in the forest but check the local government regulations before doing so.
Draining out the blood.
You need to turn the body over and spread its legs to help the pooled blood spill and seep onto the ground.
Hanging the deer correctly
Now that you have your gutted deer in your butchering place, garage, or basement, you can carry the next step of hanging the deer correctly. A proper hanging will result in easier hide removal.
Open the skin of the front legs and start slicing through. You can use a hack saw to trim the legs from the knee joint. Usually, the front legs do not have meat, so you can cut the lower part from the joint and dispose of them for easier handling.
You need to find the knee joint of the rear legs and start cutting towards the inside of the leg by scoring the skin 3 inches deep. Apply pressure and begin cutting toward the hip bone. It would be best if you continued till you reach the base where you did your first incision while field dressing.
Peeling and cracking the bone
Start peeling the skin back around both the legs to reveal the knee joint. Peel the skin away till you see two leg joints. Cut through the middle of its joint to snap the legs.
You should see the tendons that can be used to hold the deer as you hook it to a gambrel. Once you have done hanging, the entire body should:
- Be upside down
- Devoid of front legs entirely from the knees
- Hooks – holding the entire body from the back legs. The toes and rear skin should be hanging from the body. Avoid cutting it as it would help you while skinning the deer.
Skinning the deer
Pulling back the skin
You should start with the base of each leg and start pulling away from the chest cavity towards the back. The flesh should slide right off very easily because of the white membrane attached to the muscle. Ensure that you are not cutting the white membrane while peeling the skin. The membrane tremendously helps to remove the hide without any extra effort.
Peeling it toward the tail
Now that you have the hide unattached from both legs, you can start working with the fur from the backside. Apply a little pressure, and the layer should start coming right off. Pull the hide by keeping the tension till the tail.
Cutting the tailbone
When your hide reaches the tailbone, swiftly cut it from its base. You might need to apply a few strokes of the knife here and there during the process.
Now that the hide is flapping over try to hold the loose coat with your left hand. After this step, make a loose fist of your right hand and use this fist to apply pressure on the edge of the skin while your other hand pulls the hide simultaneously. This pulling and pushing method is an effective way to slide the coat.
Skinning the neck
As we have cut the front legs, the skin quickly gets separated from the legs. At this point, your hide should be hanging over the deer’s head completely free from the legs. Face the stomach part and make an incision at the throat and neck area with the hide.
Cutting the fur from the neck will make the skinning process of the neck easier. Remember that it gets tricky to roll the skin away from the neck as the white membrane gets thicker in that area. You will indeed need a knife to peel off at some places.
Chopping the neck
Once the hide reaches the utmost end of the neck, you can cut the head in a few moderate pressured strokes. You will have a carcass without the skin and skull. Go ahead and make a slit to the throat to remove the remaining part of the esophagus.
Your meat should be entirely hollow from the inside. You can hose down the body to remove the extra blood or dirt accumulating in the crevices of the deer.
Cut the meat accordingly to get the sirloin tip, front shoulder, back ham, and back straps. Few people do not take ribs as there isn’t any meat on them, but most deer have a good amount of meat, so don’t forget to cut the ribs too.
That was our step-by-step guide to gut and skin the deer. The method shown above will give you the best results.
If you aren’t confident with the skinning process, we highly recommend watching a few fellow hunters do it. Your first cut won’t be the neatest, but once you learn the technique, each skinning session would be quicker and cleaner.