Easy Steps to Processing Your Own Deer

venison meat processing, Hidden Hollow Whitetail Ranch

Now that you’ve shot the whitetail deer of your dreams, you’ll need to get it processed. It can be a little overwhelming to think about doing it yourself, but it doesn’t have to be. Doing it yourself gives you the satisfaction of seeing your deer from woods to table…and can save you a chunk of change that you’d spend at a butchering shop. We’ll walk you through some of the basics of getting some of the best venison you’ve ever had.
After you take plenty of pictures, field dress your deer, and get it home skinning should be the first step. The most common starting point is hanging the deer upside down to allow the blood to drain. Depending on where you are hanging your deer, many hunters place a tarp and bucket under the deer to collect the blood. This hanging position makes for an easy skinning position.
There are many methods to skinning your deer, from a more traditional approach to the golf ball technique that took the internet by storm.  We’ll talk about a more traditional, and simple, way to go about it. You’ll want to adjust the carcass so that the head is touching the floor as it hangs to help prevent the deer from moving while you work. Break out your sharpest knife and start at the groin and create a cut from the bottom of one ham to just past the knee and repeat for the other side. From here you will want to loosen the skin around each knee and cut around each knee joint so you can peel the skin from the back legs to tail. When you reach the tail area, the tailbone will need severed to be able to keep peeling towards the front shoulders. This might be a pretty smooth process, but you should keep a knife handy in case you have to free any skin.
Congrats, you’re about halfway done! The next step is cutting off the front legs at the knee You’ll probably need something a little sharper this time, lopping shears are often suggested. Moving towards the chest opening, find a starting point to slip your knife just under the skin and slice towards the cut end of each front leg. From this slit, you will be able to pull the skin off the legs and over the shoulders towards the base of the neck. Again, you should keep that knife handy in case you run into any snags. Just like that, you have a skinned deer! This is the point where many butchers would also slice through the neck and cut through the spine.
There’s a little bit of hunter’s choice involved when deboning your meat since some cuts can be bone-in or out. Leaving a bone in can be a bit tricky for beginners, so we’ll go the full deboning route. You’ll want to get two clean pans, one for good meat and one for the best. Let’s start at the legs. Grab a shank and start putting it away from the body. You’ll need another sharp knife here to cut the meat where the leg attaches to the rib cage and shoulder areas. You can just set the legs aside. Moving on up, let’s talk about the neck area. Cut off the neck meat, brisket, and flank and then toss it into the good pan. The prized backstraps are up next. You’ll need to make two long slits from the base of the neck down to the rump. One cut should be tight against the ribs, and the other tight again the backbone. Cut across the base of the neck, then run your knife down along the bone to collect as much of this meat as possible and set the meat in the best pan.
Remove the shank meat from the hind legs with the same technique as the front legs. This meat should also go in the good pan. For the rest of the hindquarters, you’ll run into a little more muscle than you have this far. It’s been suggested to start this area but separating the muscles first. You should be able to find natural seems in the muscles with prominently just your fingers. Slicing this muscles off the bone should help you get large cuts of meat to finish filling up your best pan. Any meat left on the front half of your deer around the front shoulders and ribs cut be sliced off and put into your good pan.
You might at this point be asking what the difference between the good and best pans are. The good pan is meat that tends to be tougher and fattier cuts. It is commonly used for things like ground burger, sausages, jerky, and stew meat. The meat in the best pan is leaner, and tend to be larger, so it is used for deer steaks, dry roasts, and fun things like kabobs.
Are you tired yet? Don’t worry. You just have one step left to trim your meat before you can enjoy it. Deer fat is not something you want to eat in any amount, unlike other types of meat. The meat you will be using for jerky and stew meat should have NO fat left on it. Leaving very small amounts on the meat you will be using for burger or sausage is okay, but minimal is still best. The meat in the best pan should have ALL fat removed before cooking. If you are freezing it for longer than six months, you can leave some on and trim before preparing to help protect it, but if a shorter time is expected you should remove it before freezing.
All you should have left in the pans at this point is the backstraps and a few parts of the hindquarters. The hindquarters should be left whole, and cut when cooking. You can leave any muscle on these cuts. A frequently seen mistake when processing the back straps is cutting them to the point where you are limiting their use. Making them into 10 to 12-inch sections gives you plenty of freedom to use them in a variety of ways – roasts, thick-cut steak, medallions, and thinner slices of steak are some suggested ways.
You did it! You processed your own deer, and now it’s time to cook some up to enjoy. Hidden Hollow Whitetail Ranch offers a range of recipes that utilize all cuts of your meat. You can check some of our favorites out here. We forgot to mention.. processing your own deer comes with extra bragging rights.