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Processing your deer extends the hunt

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Enjoying the outdoors and the thrill of the hunt are major elements in the excitement of hunting any game species. Considering the game species most of us hunt, harvesting a deer yields a significantly larger quantity of meat, and putting meat in the freezer is important for many hunters. Yet most deer hunters take their deer to a processor and miss out on an opportunity to extend their hunting experience. Lack of knowledge and temporary storage are probably the most common reasons for this.

The best way to eliminate these obstacles is to simply get started. Have someone with experience show you, or review some of the many available videos and publications explaining equipment needed for skinning, quartering and processing prior to harvesting your deer. Then don't worry about messing up. Any cutting mistakes made while quartering can be addressed later. The key to meat safety is using clean equipment and keeping the carcass and meat clean and cold at all times.

A quartered deer consists of two hindquarters, two shoulders, two backstraps, two tenderloins, two flanks, two sides of ribs and the neck (due to small meat yield, some elect to discard flanks, ribs and neck). Tenderloins and backstraps are boneless pieces of meat, just like beef or pork loins, and are ready to cook after trimming off fat and connective tissue, and cutting to desired proportions. Meat from the shoulders can be kept whole and smoked or boned out. Hindquarters can also be kept whole and smoked or boned out into roasts, cut into steaks or ground. Trimmed meat and meat from cutting mistakes can be used for grinding or for stew.


femur bone
After removing the leg from the hindquarter, the femur bone is easily removed.

Quartered meat can be temporarily stored in a refrigerator with wire racks to allow circulation of air around the meat. Ice chests with block ice in plastic containers can also be used. Boning out meat allows more room for storage. Either method of storage will easily keep meat for three or four days if kept below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, allowing plenty of time to process and package each quarter. Be prepared by arranging for one of these methods of storage before harvesting a deer.

Processing and packaging meat goes a lot faster if you enlist help from family or friends. Reward them by putting a few steaks on the grill to share after the work is done. The work is easy, and anyone can get the hang of it after one or two deer. So extend your hunt and take satisfaction in the fact that you process your own deer and can handle every step, from taking meat in the field to putting it on your table.

remaining meat

The remaining meat can easily be separated by muscles for further trimming and packaging. Once all fat and connective tissue have been removed from muscles, they can be left whole to cook, cut into steaks, cubed for stew meat, or ground for sausage or hamburger.

Russell Stevens served as the strategic consultant manager and a wildlife and range consultant at Noble Research Institute. He received a bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology from the Southeastern Oklahoma State University and a master’s degree in animal science (range and wildlife option) from Angelo State University.