After you’ve pulled the trigger

A skinning knife, gutting knife, hatchet and some twist ties are all that’s needed to prepare venison for the freezer.

Deer hunters face at least two tasks every time they head to the woods: killing a deer, then doing something with it to ensure that the tasty venison isn’t wasted.There’s little question the former is more difficult, even with burgeoning deer populations across the state. You have to find land on which to hunt, get permission from the landowner, figure out where and when the deer are sleeping, eating and traveling, and try to figure out how to get yourself in their way without giving them a hint you’re there.

Then there’s the matter of actually dispatching the trophy buck or 18-month-old doe with whatever weapon happens to capture your fancy and is legal for whatever season happens to be open.

Even though a great majority of the work is done when you obtain the assistance of a hunting buddy and lift your deer into the bed of your pickup truck, you’ve still only accomplished half of your mission. You’ve gotten him from the trees to the truck, now you have to get him from the truck to the table.

Sometimes hunters can give away the deer, but that’s much easier in some other Southeastern states that have had well-established programs that allow hunters to donate their venison to food banks for distribution to the poor. Or you can pay to have the deer professionally processed, in some cases, even field-dressed.

But a lot of hunters still do it the old-fashioned way by themselves. It’s not difficult, but there is a little bit of planning involved — and having the right gear to do the job.

Hunters have different routines they follow when field-dressing or rough-butchering kills. They cut this or that first, then this or that, then the other, and, voila, the steaks are on the grill.

But what all techniques have in common is equipment. Like comparing the yelping techniques of a handful of expert turkey hunters, each will have his own signature sound, but all of them will be similar in tone or cadence.

Here’s what most deer hunters often to carry into the woods:

• For field-dressing and skinning: rubber surgical gloves, light-plastic “gaiters” to cover the forearms of their hunting shirts or jackets, a couple of “twist ties” from bags of bread, a sharp, sharp knife, preferably with a “gut hook” and maybe a second knife with a drop point for skinning. Oh, and some rope and some kind of a gambrel on which to hang the deer.

• For rough butchering: a boning knife, a meat saw or hatchet and plenty of big, zip-lock plastic storage bags.

Oh, and a hone, whet rock or crock stick to make sure everything stays nice and sharp throughout the whole operation.

My father and I usually go through three deer a year. He gets one fully processed into steaks, chops, roasts and ground meat, and we rough butcher a couple, leaving the hams and shoulders whole and boning out the backstrap and tenderloins. That way we can provide friends — and a certain college swimming coach in the Boiling Springs area — with as much venison as they want or we feel like we can supply.

First, the gloves. I have big hands and need extra large surgical gloves. A box at the local drug store costs only a few dollars and will last me several seasons. I wear them any time I’m cleaning wild game, whether deer, turkey or quail.

As easy as they are to use, there’s no need to ever have bloody hands. My father goes me one better. For about a dollar at one of the big-box sporting good stores, he’ll buy a pair of plastic “gaiters” that will extend from his wrists to past his elbow, reducing the possibility of staining his hunting shirt or coat with deer blood. If you think it’s tough to get the scent of cigarette smoke or perfume off your clothes, try taking the smell of deer blood out of a shirt.

The knife is self-explanatory. Some hunters prefer small lock-back knives or even pocket knives.

I’ve got an Old Timer that has field-dressed a dozen deer. But it was reduced to cleaning fish when I received as a gift a knife with a gut hook, a hook-shaped indentation on the back of the knife blade that takes a tiny cut in the deer’s abdominal wall and can extend it all the way from crotch to neck without the possibility of accidentally cutting into the vital organs and getting internal juices on the meet.

We use the twist ties to tie off the bladder and rectum when cutting those organs away so that no urine or feces gets on the meat.

That takes care of field-dressing needs.

Skinning is easiest if you can get the deer’s hind legs off the ground. At deer camp, we have a steel gambrel that hooks through holes cut behind the deer’s hams, holds the deer up and spreads its legs when it is raised off the ground for skinning.

At home, I have half of an old hoe handle that serves the same purpose with holes drilled in the proper locations to tie in a rope that can be swung over a tree limb. Last year, over the jungle-gym section of a swing set that hasn’t been used in years, I skinned and rough-butchered a doe my teen-aged son killed.

A knife with a drop-point is made for skinning, but any knife — if kept sharp — will work. For skinning, one rule is the smaller the better.

When we rough-butcher a deer, the meat saw or hatchet is used to crack the pelvis and split the two hams apart. I prefer the meat saw, but it takes up a little more room in your pack when you head to the woods.

A boning knife really works well when you’re running the blade along the edge of the backbone to liberate the backstraps or separate the shoulders from the carcass. The tenderloins come out easy enough. The semi-butchered meat goes in the plastic bags.

From there, you can keep the hams and shoulders whole for barbecue on the grill. Or with the aforementioned boning knife, you can cut the hams into three roasts or bone the meat out and slice into steaks.

About Dan Kibler 887 Articles
Dan Kibler is the former managing editor of Carolina Sportsman Magazine. If every fish were a redfish and every big-game animal a wild turkey, he wouldn’t ever complain. His writing and photography skills have earned him numerous awards throughout his career.

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