DIY: How to butcher a deer

Venison steaks

Why pay a shop to prepare your meat when you can do it yourself? There are just as many methods for butchering wild game at home according to expert woodswoman and hunter Emily Burt.  In this article she will outline the way that she prefers to butcher deer.


The first preparation for butchering any game is procurement of storage space.  The most popular method of meat storage is freezing, although meat may also be canned or jerked.   Most likely, you will require freezer space.  Back in my college days, I fitted the venison from my deer into the small freezer section of our refrigerator (mainly because there was no other food in the freezer).  I now have a small deep-freeze and highly recommend this.  On average I find that the meat from one deer will fill slightly more than a produce box.  Plan storage accordingly.

Next, gather other necessary items. I suggest:

  • Family members or other willing help
  • Several sharp knives
  • Knife sharpener
  • Hacksaw
  • Large cutting boards
  • Large bowls or pots
  • Freezer paper
  • Freezer or masking tape
  • Plastic wrap
  • Permanent marker
  • Optional: meat grinder


This step cuts the deer into four manageable segments.  First, and this is critical, cut the backstraps from the carcass.  Backstraps are the meat directly attached to the spine of the deer and are considered the best meat on the deer.  Set them aside and save them for steaks or small roasts.  Also, remove the meaty portion of the neck to be used later.

Cut the deer in half using the hacksaw. Begin at the pelvis and cut up the spine to the neck.  Now, remove all four leg portions.  To remove the front legs, cut behind the shoulder bone.  To remove the hindquarters, cut through the narrow portion of the deer where the ribcage meets the hindquarter.  You can choose whether or not to use the meat found on the ribcage.


Now opinions begin to vary widely.  There are some guiding principles, but each home butcherer has her/his personal cutting preferences.  I’ll give you the guiding principles and my opinion.  Throughout the process much meat will end up in random pieces.  This is some of the most useful meat in my opinion.  Set all these valuable scraps aside in a large bowl.  I cut extra meat into one-inch cubes and label it “stew meat.”  It can be used in stew, shredded taco meat and dozens of other recipes.  This meat can also be ground and made into burger.

Start butchering with the neck. Leave it whole, or cut into smaller roasts.  Always trim the fat from every piece of meat, including the neck.  After the neck, cut the backstraps and then move to the front quarters.  Two major pieces of meat should be cut from the front quarters; the rest can be added to the stew-meat pile.  Cut the large blade roast, the portion of meat resting on the shoulder blade, from the bone.  The second large roast on the front quarter is the underblade roast, a thick portion of meat hanging behind the shoulder blade.  Either of these roasts can be cut into steaks if preferred.

Begin with the hindquarters by laying it flat side down.  Cut away the large muscle at the far “back” of the deer.  This is the rump roast and it is the best meat on your deer, after the backstraps.  The rest of your hindquarter will be cut into a variety of roasts that you can leave whole or cut into steaks or stew-meat. To cut the roasts, use your fingers to pull apart muscle groups.  Use your knife to cut the silvery tissue between muscle groups.  Do your best not to cut into the actual flesh until necessary for separation.  When you can no longer find large muscle groups, cut the remaining meat from the bones and add it to the ominously growing pile of stew-meat.


All meat must be wrapped, labeled and frozen for proper storage.  Only one type of venison per package, i.e. steaks in one package, roast in another.  After the meat is wrapped in plastic, wrap it in freezer paper, available at grocery stores near the saran wrap.  To wrap, lay the meat on the uncut paper.  Then, pull the sides together to the center of the meat and roll until the meat is covered.  Then tuck the ends and tape.  Be sure to lay the meat on the shiny side of the freezer paper.

Use a permanent marker to label all packages as washable ink, when frozen, can smudge off.  I always write the type of meat such as: steak, chuck roast, backstrap, neck roast, etc. on each individual package.  I also make sure to label the package with the current year to ensure that all meat is used at its freshest.  Properly wrapped meat can actually last for several years in the freezer although there’s probably a government guideline to discourage you from keeping it so long. (True – the guidelines say 3-4 months for “variety meats” which includes the soft organs such as liver and heart, and 6-12 months for steaks and roasts. Kelly.)


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