It had always been our dream to hunt. We truly believe that hunting is the best way to harvest meat. Better, even, than growing your own meat animals.
We love the fact that the animal lived its life in its natural environment, running around freely, eating straight from nature, as much as it wants, whenever it wants, and what it wants. In a nutshell, it is free-range, organic meat, the kind you pay top dollars for in the grocery store.
Hunting seems to shed a different light on your relationship with the land. A deeper, much more meaningful connection. Sitting at the edge of the field or in the woods for hours in complete silence, watching, listening, waiting that the universe will give you an opportunity to feed yourself and your family is magical.
It’s a blessing.
Is it easy? Hell no. But we choose to eat meat and we’ll be damned if we let someone else do our dirty work.
Hunting has many benefits beyond getting this great meat for ourselves. Controlling the population of deer, helping farmers protect their crops, contributing to a healthy local economy, and feeding the hungry are just a few. If you would like to learn more about the benefits of hunting, read this short publication.
We, also, wish for our kids to see where food comes from and how it is processed and prepared. We want them to be part of the journey because, at the end of the day, the most valuable lesson we can teach them is how to feed themselves.
We wish to be as self-sustained as we possibly can. Now that we are out in the country, close to the farm, we have the opportunity to do much more towards this goal and hunting is part of the plan.
This is our second year hunting and processing deer. Truth is, we don’t have a whole lot of experience but we are learning from the best.
We have a few friends that are very experienced hunters and we are all working together (hunting together, sharing the meat, and donating what we can). This deer that you see in the picture was not shot by my husband, but by one of his friends. It actually was a one in a lifetime kind of shot because he killed two deer with one shot. They stood side by side and the bullet went through the first doe and cut the other one in the neck, killing both of them immediately.
So I’ll show you how we butcher deer here on the homestead, but be sure that there is not just one way to do this. Some people like to gut the animal, others don’t. Some keep the meat on the bone, some debone it… It all depends on your personal preference.
You do want to make sure that it is fairly cold outside when you do this so flies don’t find your meat. Hunting season starts in late fall so it should be cold enough outside by then especially in the early morning hours.
We bring the deer home right after it is killed. The guys don’t do anything to it in the field, it’s all done here on the homestead.
(Update – on our third year of hunting, once we felt that we had most of the basics down we started using more of the animal. We do gut the deer now and use the heart and tenderloins. We use the ribs for a dog snack and bury the guts in the garden. I turn deerskin into buckskin for clothing, purses, belts and so on, and we use the antlers for buttons and knife handles. This post shows you how we started. It’s almost impossible to do things perfectly the first time, you have to start somewhere, but as you go through the butchering process think about how you can use more of the animal. It gave its life for you, making the most of it is simply giving it the respect it deserves. I know not everyone wants or can work a hide or make a knife, but keep your ears open, someone around you might want those parts).
After you got yourself a deer, find a nice spot on the homestead to hang it. You can get a gambrel at a local outdoor store like Feild & Stream or Bass Pro Shops, or you can get it on Amazon.
Bring the gambrel all the way to the ground and make a cut behind the joint that is above the hoof of the deer. Stick the hook of the gambrel there.
Here is another view.
Carefully pull the gambrel up…
Until the deer is in the air.
Ok, time to skin this deer. You will need a couple of sharp butchering knives for this, preferably with a short blade so you have better control of the knife.
Make a small cut right in between the hind legs. You don’t want to cut the meat, only the skin.
Then, insert your knife under the skin and cut from the inside out in two diagonals toward the hooves.
Here is another view.
When you get to the joint, cut all the way around it.
Keep working from the front to the back, around the tail, separating the skin from the meat. On a deer, this is not hard at all, just make sure you don’t cut into the meat.
Keep going down the belly…
And down the back…
And the front leg all the way to the knee.
This is what you are left with.
Next, use a metal saw to cut the head off.
Just the tail is left…
Work around the tail with your knife…
To remove it.
Wash your deer good from all the hair and blood. Also, wash your hands and knife and you are now ready to butcher it.
The first thing we are going to remove are the shoulders. Pull the shoulder away from the torso and cut parallel to the rib cage.
Until it comes off.
Use the saw to get rid of the lower part of the leg…
Wash it well…
And you have your first cut of meat.
Do the same with the second shoulder.
Next, we remove the back straps. Find the spot right where the back connects with the ramp, the hip, and make a cut from the side to the backbone.
Next, run your knife down right next to the backbone…
And start removing the back strap.
Here it is. You’re going to have two of those, so you got to do this one more time.
laso, make sure to remove the neck meat (I don’t have a picture of that here), there is a nice chunk of meat there.
We choose not to gut this doe. If you do gut your deer, you will find two small pieces of meat, the tenderloins. Those two pieces are small and we decided that they don’t worth the work of gutting the animal especially since in this case the bullet went through the stomach and probably tore things up inside which means it was going to be a mess.
Last year, we did gut one of the deer we hunted and got the tenderloin but also the ribs. We tried cooking the ribs but there wasn’t really much on them to eat. We ended up giving the dogs one rib at a time every couple of weeks as a chew toy. They loved it and it lasted for quite a while. We will probably do it again this year with one or two deer.
So, to remove the middle part of the body, saw the backbone right at the hip…
Until the whole belly part disconnect from the hind legs.
We threw it in the burn pile (together with the head and the skin). We would have loved to throw it in the woods for other animals to feast on it, but we have a coyote problem around here and we don’t want them to learn that there is food around here. Another option is to bury it.
One thing I really want to learn but haven’t yet is how to treat and use the hide. I wold love to not waste it and use it for something.
So now you are left with the back legs. Some people choose to cut the hams off of the bone, we leave the meat on the bone at this stage. Then, when we pack the meat before it goes in the freezer, we cut the meat off the bone and cook the bone. We take as much as we can from the meat that was left on the bone (it is easier to remove it after it’s cooked and we usually get another meal from this meat), and we give the bone to the dogs as a treat.
To separate the legs, cut the meat in between the legs…
And use the saw to cut the bone.
Once they are separated, use the saw again to cut the lower part of the leg…
Make sure to wash the meat before you put it in the cooler. There is so much meat on one hind leg! You can get many meals from this piece.
Dogs love to chew on the hooves, so keep the hooves for them.
If you think you are done, think again. There is still a lot to do.
You place all the meat on ice inside a cooler (after you washed it)…
And cover it with some more ice. The meat is going to stay on ice for 24 to 48 hours. Place the cooler off of the ground, maybe on an outdoor table, and during the time the meat is in the cooler drain the cooler every few hours through the drain plug and add more ice if needed.
What you have left to do now is package the meat. This takes a couple of hours to do so plan accordingly. You want to wash each piece again, remove fat and white tissue, cut it however you want, debone it if you like, ground some of the meat if you like, and wrap each piece in freezer paper.
This is a lot of work, my friends, but it’s so satisfying to know that you are eating healthy, natural meat right from nature that you harvested yourself.
We need four deer every fall to feed our family through the year (family of six) and to be able to donate some. Venison is our main source of meat. We make stews, wrap it in bacon and bake it in the oven, make jerky for snacking, fry it on a pan, ground it and make meatballs or a hamburger, bbq it, and on and on…
Venison is considered red meat, I think, but it’s light and doesn’t give you a heavy kind of feeling after you eat it. Sometimes we add a little bit of fat to it when we cook it, like beef fat or pig fat. It doesn’t have a gamey flavor, at least I don’t taste it anymore.
I’d love to hear from you, do you hunt? Do you skin and butcher your meat the same way as I showed here or do you have a different way of doing it? Do you have a favorite venison recipe to share with us? Please comment bellow and share your experience and your thoughts.