One of the best parts about hunting is getting to consume the natural, sustainable protein we harvest. Going to the processor to pick up the packaged meat from our kill is a satisfying feeling. Even more satisfying, however, is the feeling of taking the animal from field-to-table yourself. There is something very rewarding in knowing how to prepare edible meat from wild game.
The first deer I killed I had processed for me. I dropped it off and picked up a paper bag of packaged meat. It was convenient, but I felt removed from the process. A few months later, I found myself with a deer that died trying to hop my fence in the middle of August. After receiving a salvage tag from my local sheriff, I was up all night learning how to break down this whole animal. YouTube is our friend in times like these. Armed with a Sawzall, a hunting knife, and the Meateater Guide to Large Game, I managed to make my way through the process, and it only took about eight hours.
What I learned is that while not an easy task, it is one that anyone could learn to do. With a few basic tools you could be saving $80 per deer and moving to the next level as a hunter. Another bonus of learning how to butcher is that on large game backpack hunts, the animal typically has to be boned out or quartered in the field before packing it out.
Things You Will Need:
- Field Dressing/Caping Knife: I recommend a good knife with sharp steel. Right around 3.5″ is perfect.
- Boning Knife: This is a culinary tool and similar to a fish filet knife. I prefer the stiff style of boning knife at right around 5 inches long, but if you like to get close to the bone and follow it while butchering, the flexible knives are great as well. Keep in mind that your knife will be dulled faster if you cut close to the bone.
- Deep Freezer. The freezer attached to your fridge is not typically cold enough to keep things at their best for long term storage. The constant opening and closing of the door means it takes more energy to maintain that 4 degree Fahrenheit sweet spot.
- Butcher Paper Dispenser: Great for steaks and even ground meat. Holds temperature well and can be written on (date, animal, part of the animal, etc).
- Meat Grinder: I recommend looking towards commercial grade appliances for butchering, but if you’re only doing one or two deer a season you could get by with something less expensive.
- Vacuum Sealer: Not necessary, but great for steaks, fish, and poultry. Again, I recommend going commercial-grade if possible. Food Saver type designs will work but may not last as long.
- Extras such as smokers, jerky guns, and a dehydrator can be beneficial to have, but start with the basics first.
- Cut Gloves: Don’t ask how I know. Just consider them an alternative to stitches. Wet meat and sharp knives don’t always mix.