How to Process a Deer at Home: Part 1
Part One: Skinning and Butchering Basics
Many hunters each season harvest a deer and pay a processing facility to butcher the animal. One of the comments we saw a lot when we made our video on butchering a deer at home was the amount of meat that many processors waste. That’s exactly why we wanted to put this guide together.
There is a special relationship you will find knowing that you harvested your venison, dressed, skinned, and butchered the meat, and made a meal that your friends and family will talk about for years. You can butcher a deer at home and know that you wasted nothing, plus you'll save money. Once you know the best way to butcher a deer, you can do it quickly, often finishing the major steps in less than half an hour.
Skinning Your Deer the Right Way
A properly harvested deer begins with good shot placement and field dressing the animal quickly. We have put together guides for you to properly field dress a deer in print and on our Youtube channel.
For this process, we are going to use the Outdoor Edge RazorMax. This knife has interchangeable blades, so you can quickly switch from a 5” boning knife to a 3.5” drop point. You can purchase our favorite knives right from our website.
Begin skinning your deer by making a cut down the back of the hind legs. Be careful not to cut the Achilles tendon, as you will hang the deer from that at a later stage. After you have made the incision, you can start to pull the skin down the leg, like removing a sock. Keep the meat as clean as possible. Disposable gloves are a good idea, and you should change them when they are contaminated.
As you pull the skin down, you will find a joint. You can make an incision with your knife around and into the joint and snap the lower leg off. Continue pulling the hide down and rolling it so that the hair does not touch the meat and expose the tendon. Do this for both back legs.
You can go to the front and do the same thing as with the back legs. Simply find the joint, make an incision, and snap the lower leg off. Now you are ready to finish skinning your deer.
Hanging Your Deer
The easiest way to skin a deer is by hanging it. We are lucky to have an overhead hoist in our butcher shop. If you don’t have access to a hoist, there are a number of ways to hang a deer. You can use a chain fall and gambrel from the rafters in your garage. You can even use a sturdy tree. Placing a kiddie pool underneath will help with cleanup.
If hanging a deer to skin is not possible, it can be done on the ground, but it is much more difficult and you should plan on making sure your carcass stays clean. Use tarps.
You will fit the gambrel through the tendons of the back legs and lift the carcass up to about chest level. This will give you good leverage to push the hide down. You'll hardly use your knife as you skin the haunches. You can finish your cut through the groin and pull the skin back to the haunches.
When you start to work along the front of the legs, be careful not to cut the flap meat. You will find a membrane that holds the flap, and you want to make sure not to cut into it. You want the flap meat to stay on the carcass, because it will make pulling the hide off much easier.
At this point, you can pull the hide down and cut through the tail. Continue to grasp the hide and push down with your hand or fist. Be careful to avoid contaminating your deer. Change your gloves regularly. When you have gotten down to the chest area, you should raise your deer up again if possible.
Finishing the Skinning Process
The hide will be more difficult to remove in the neck, particularly with a buck. If you're not cutting the cape for a shoulder mount, you can cut the hide down the throat to the jaw. This will make it easier to pull the hide off. Use your knife to cut through the spine at the base of the skull. Cut through the esophagus and pull the hide off the rest of the way.
Pull the esophagus through. Now you will have an opening through the neck. Your carcass should be pretty clean without any hair on it. You can rinse the cavity out to get rid of any blood. If your deer was gut shot, you should not rinse it. All you are doing is spreading contamination around. You will need to cut the contaminated parts out and discard them.
Skinning an animal is a skill that takes practice to get good at doing. When you first start out skinning, it will take you a long time to do the job, and that’s fine. You should be patient and be careful to make sure you remove the hide cleanly without damaging your meat.
A few tips that can help a lot:
Start with a Sharp Knife
This may seem obvious, but you wouldn’t believe how many times we have seen mangled, hacked up deer because someone tried to use a dull knife. You should become skilled at sharpening a knife and you should have a basic knife sharpener with you on your hunt. Regularly ensuring the blade of your hunting knife is kept sharp will speed up your skinning process. Even the best knife in the world will not hold an edge forever. One of the reasons we recommend the Outdoor Edge knife is the quick-change blades. This way, you don’t have to stop halfway through the process to sharpen a blade.
Use Correct Knife Technique
A sharp knife makes it easy to cut, but you still must be cautious about the way you use your knife. Always be aware of where your hands, or a helper's hands are when working with a knife. It’s unbelievably easy to accidentally cut someone or yourself when skinning. Make short, precise cuts away from yourself. Keep your knife handle clean. A non-slip handle is very beneficial.
Gloves will significantly help your cleanup process, but most importantly, they help prevent spreading contaminants around while you are skinning and butchering. It is particularly important to prevent spreading hair around on the meat. Changing your gloves periodically while skinning will help to keep the hair on the hide and off your dinner.
Use the Buddy System
Skinning any large animal is a chore to do by yourself. Once you have plenty of experience, it won’t be as difficult, but an extra set of hands and eyeballs can really come in handy for balancing the carcass while skinning and butchering.
With these tips and our guide, you should be able to start skinning like the professionals. Practice makes perfect, so keep at it. Offer to help others who are skinning, just so you have the opportunity to see and experience the process. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. For a visual breakdown of the process, make sure you check out or video below.
Next, we will show you how we butcher a deer so that you can learn to do it at home, save money on processing charges, and get the cuts of venison you really want. Later, we'll show you some of our favorite ways to prepare venison and share some family favorite recipes and techniques.