Butchering and preservation techniques (lecture session)

Your program participants are novice hunters, they may have never skinned any animal or dealt with any carcass. It's quite possible, that if they are lucky enough to bag a deer after they graduate their program, it may be the first animal they have ever killed. Needless to say, all this may have them a little rattled. You need to make them comfortable with handling a carcass, butchering and that they can do all this and keep the meat safe for their families.

For new, food-motivated hunters, the two biggest questions they have when they start out are:

1) What do I do if I kill a deer?

2) How do I safely take care of all the meat?

This section and the previous section on field dressing, deal with those issues. For both of these topics, we recommend a live demonstration with student participation. We also recommend that a skilled butcher from USDA Cooperative Extension System or State University present this section of the class. Contact the Cooperative Extension Specialist at your state university for potential presenters.

If the location of your class, time or other factors prevent a “live’ presentation, we've collected several videos on deer processing including an excellent four-part series from The Indiana Department of Natural Resources. But even if you use the videos to teach this topic there are a few issues you should cover with your class before your play the videos.

Key Teaching Points:

The importance of proper field care

Venison is a high quality, organic protein. However, its quality is dependent on how well it was taken care of in the field and while being processed. See the “Field Dressing” for more information on this topic. In general, keeping the carcass clean, dry and cool will help ensure high quality meat. 

Cooling and aging

An important step in deer processing is cooling the carcass as quickly as possible. However, it should not be allowed to freeze until it is fully processed and packaged. In some situations, cooling the carcass may require that the carcass be quartered rather than kept whole. Having cool air circulating around the carcass greatly helps in the cooling process.

Aging deer can help make deer tenderer, if it is done properly. Aging allows the muscle groups to start to breakdown under controlled conditions. Aging deer properly requires that the carcass be kept at a nearly constant temperature between 34-38 degrees Fahrenheit for several days. However, unless you are equipped to properly age a deer, it is recommended that deer be processed as quickly as possible. Allowing deer to undergo fluctuations in temperature can encourage meat spoilage.


Once the animal is field dressed and brought out of the field, the hunter can Bucher it themselves or take a commercial deer processor. Most hunters elect to take their deer to commercial deer processors. An Internet search should produce a list of local deer processors.

Maintaining cleanliness is critical throughout this butchering process. All equipment, including the cutting surfaces you are working on should be thoroughly washed with soap and water and them wiped down again with a strong bleach solution. This process should be repeated often during the butchering process to maintain a clean butchering environment. Disposable gloves are also recommended.

If butchering/processing is selected to be part of the class, you should ensure your students that while it requires a little study and effort they can absolutely butcher their own deer.  People have been butchering deer since prehistoric times with little more than a sharp rock. Your students have better knives, access to refrigeration and YouTube on their side.  We recommend that you involve one or two students at a time and let them actually dismantle the carcass, remove and package cuts of meat. Everyone won't get to do everything but they will see it done and get to hear their classmates talked through it.

$_57 (5)-500x500.JPGHome deer processing can generally be accomplished with a few sharp knives. Having specialty knives helps, but having sharp knives is essential.

Two handy knives are a skinning knife and a boning knife. A skinning knife is generally a bit heaver with a strong curve along its first one-third (from the tip). The curved tip allows for long slices between the meat and the skin. A boning knife is a medium length knife with a thin flexible blade. This flexibility allows the blade to follow along the contours of the bones and remove a greater proportion of the meat efficiently. A fish “fillet” knife will work fine for this purpose.

Additional equipment include:

  1. A bone saw to remove the legs
  2. A “hooked” linoleum knife to aid it making the initial cuts for skinning
  3. A large cutting board(s)
  4. Freezer wrap or food processing vacuum
  5. Marking pens to identify the cuts
  6. A meat grinder

An old carpenter’s hand crosscut saw can be used to cut off to skullcap if the antlers are going to be saved. However, this saw, once used, should be designated for this purpose only and is not used again for carpentry work.

Often, hunting groups get together soon after the hunt to process the deer taken. In these situations, they will buy “group gear” such as meat grinders that may be used by everyone in the group


Each cut of meat has different properties that affect it’s cooking and is generally separated during the processing.

The neck and shoulders are a little tougher and make great burger or stew meet. They can also be left in larger pieces for roasting in a slow cooker. Mark your wrapped packages “shoulder for stewing” or “shoulder for the slow cooker” to avoid mistakes in a few months when you are defrosting dinner.

Tenderloins and backstraps are the tender, boneless cuts that many say are the best venison has to offer. They are great for steaks.

Hindquarters are mostly prime steaks and roasts with a few scraps for the burger bucket.

Scraps from the entire process and the meat from between the ribs generally go into the burger bucket for burger or sausage once the larger cuts are packaged. Better scraps can also be saved for stew meat.