Butchering Your Deer

Basic Steps to Prepare Your Deer

Just like beef, different cuts of venison require different cooking methods. Always trim off all fat and as many of the tendons as possible before cooking. Tender cuts, such as the loin, rib, and sirloin, can be broiled or roasted. Shoulder and hind cuts, like round steak and blade chops, are best cooked by stewing, braising, or pot-roasting. Use tougher cuts in stews and ground venison. Try to keep meat moist and do not overcook.

Many traditional recipes for preparing venison are found in Cy Littlebee's Guide to Cooking Fish and Game, available from the MDC Nature Shop.

Preserving Venison

Venison can make excellent sausages and jerky. Avoid using deer fat in the sausage; it overpowers flavor and does not store well. If you choose to add fat, pork fat works well with ground, processed meats because it adds flavor and moisture to the meat and keeps well. The amount of fat you add to your sausage can vary with your personal taste and dietary needs.

For more tender jerky, ground venison may be substituted for the venison strips when using a dehydrator. To make thin strips, use a jerky gun or roll out meat between two pieces of waxed paper by using a rolling pin. Form into strips by shaping with a pizza cutter. Place strips on drying racks.

Butchering and Freezing Venison

Hanging improves taste and tenderness

image of deer carcass prepared for hanging

For better venison, hang the deer before processing. Leave the skin on to prevent dehydration and to keep the meat clean. A handy way to hang the carcass (and also remove scent glands) is illustrated to the right. Hang the deer to drain blood and cool to 50 degrees within six hours of harvest. Prematurely freezing the venison leads to tougher meat.

You don't need to hang or age the meat longer, but you can improve the taste and tenderness if you store it at 34–40 degrees for up to eight days.

Processing tools

You'll need the following tools for home processing:

  • hand saw
  • cutting board or solid table
  • flexible knife for boning
  • stout knife for trimming fat and making larger cuts
  • knife sharpener
  • freezer paper
  • plastic wrap
  • masking or freezer tape and a marker
  • large plastic or metal tubs or bowls to help sort meats for stewing and grinding

Processing methods

There are many ways to process a deer, and experienced processors often have their own special way of doing it. These are some general guidelines for a beginner:

  • Remove the skin and avoid placing the hair side near the carcass.
  • Be sure to remove as much fat as possible (deer fat has a strong flavor).
  • Trim any bruises or gunshot damage and wash the outside.
  • After dripping dry, the carcass is ready to be cut.

The boneless method

The boneless method of cutting a carcass produces a milder flavor. Don’t forget that young-of-the-year deer are so tender that the whole animal can be cut into steaks. Remove all bone, and use the more tender muscles for steaks, roasts, and stew. Grind the less tender muscles for hamburger. You can also use wholesale-cuts method to make rib, T-bone, sirloin, and round steaks. Combinations of the two methods may be used.

The wholesale-cuts method

image of meat cutting diagram

Use these charts to produce wholesale cuts similar to those at a grocer. Start by removing the neck for boning and cutting down the center of the backbone to split the carcass. Then, either bone or cut with the bone-in cutting method as used in beef cutting. Sawing through bone spreads the bone marrow across the cuts of meat. This can create a bad flavor, so scrape away any marrow or bone fragments if you saw through cuts. Also, carefully remove all animal hair.

Place the half carcass on a cutting table and remove the flank, breast, and shank. Remove the shoulder by cutting between ribs 5 and 6 perpendicular to the backbone. Separate the rib from the loin behind the last rib, and cut the loin from the sirloin in the middle of the last lumbar vertebra. The wholesale cuts of deer are neck, shoulder, rib or rack, loin, hind leg, foreshank, breast, and flank.


Label each package clearly with a permanent marker. Make the letters large enough for easy reading. Labels should include the following:

  • owner’s name
  • address
  • telecheck confirmation number
  • name of the cut, quantity, and packaging date

Freezer storage time

Venison can be stored in the home freezer at 6 degrees or lower for about one year.