What’s Next: Skinning, Preserving And Taxidermy
- 1. Tagging your deer
- 2. Field-dressing your deer
- 3. Bringing your deer back
- 4. Skinning the deer
- 5. Aging the meat
- 6. Processing the meat
- 7. Taxidermy
This is the end of the hunting guide! I am glad that you have made it this far! Now, I would like to discuss about what you should do after getting your trophy. Most of the time, hunters prepare significantly for what they will do for deer-hunting, but most hunters oftern disregard what they should do after. After a day’s work, you may want to plan out how you want to maximize the amount of value you can get from the deer. If you handle it properly, you may be able to get more value from your trophy.
Here are some steps you can consider to adopt after the shot.
1. Tagging your deer
The first thing to do after shooting and making sure your deer is dead is to tag it. This is required even before you move the carcass. You should not take this lightly or you could receive a fine. You will need to follow the tagging methods required by your state conservation department because it is different in every state. Some states will require you to attach the permit to a buck’s antler while some even require you to tag deer using your smartphone. So, be prepared with the required tagging procedures before you even get out on the field.
Here’s a video on how you can tag your deer.
2. Field-dressing your deer
Field-dressing is the process of removing the deer’s internal organs. This is done to ensure a rapid loss of body heat. As soon as you have tagged your deer, you should start to field dress the carcass. Do this as soon as possible to prevent bacteria from growing all over the carcass. It is an important step in preserving the deer meat for safe consumption and to maintain its quality. Field-dressing also makes it easier and more manageable to carry the heavy deer out of the area.
The tools you will need for field-dressing include:
- A sharp knife
- Rubber gloves
- A gut-hook tool
Before you begin, remove your watch or jewellery and put on your pair of gloves. You should also recover your arrow and broadhead if you hunted the deer with a bow.
Step One: Cut a ring around the anus
The field-dressing process will officially start with lying the deer carcass flat on its back or its side, then cutting a ring around the anus by using your knife. Make sure your knife is well-sharpened for this step. The cut should be a couple of inches deep through the skin around the anus.
Step Two: Position the deer
Place the deer carcass on its back. If you have a partner with you, spread the hind legs of the deer while having your partner keep them apart to hold the body in place. If you do not have a partner with you, you can place two rocks or logs under the hips and shoulders to hold it. If the deer is not a big one, you can simply hold the deer down with one hand while working on it with the other.
Step Three: Start the cutting work
From the initial cut you have made around the anus, use a gut-hook to cut a slit right up along the belly of the deer up to the breastbone. This is because you want to make an opening to empty out all the internal organs. A gut-hook is like a knife with a hook to separate the skin from the organs as you cut. This eases your cutting work. If you do not have a gut hook, use one hand to separate the skin from the organs with your fingers and another hand to guide your knife. Be very careful not to puncture any organs.
Step Four: Empty the insides
Start by cutting away the connections that hold the organs together. Firstly, cut away the diaphragm which is the membrane that separates the chest from the abdomen. By cutting this away, you can reach the organs in the chest cavity. Cut the diaphragm away from the walls of the cavity. Then, cut the windpipe and esophagus of the deer as far up the neck as possible. Use your hands to pull down hard on the windpipe to free the internal organs. All of them can be removed together with just one pull on the windpipe. If the organs do not come out easily, cut any tissue connecting them to the deer carcass.
Step Five: Drain the blood
Turn the carcass over and spread its legs on the ground so that the blood will drain out. Avoid letting any dirt get in contact with the meat. If a tree is available, you can also hang the deer up for about 20 minutes to let the blood drain out of the body cavity. You can hang it up by the head or antlers, but if you wish to keep the head for a trophy display, hang the deer by its hind legs instead.
I admit that field-dressing a buck is no easy task. Here is a short guide on how you can do field-dressing.
3. Bringing your deer back
Once the field-dressing is done, you will need to transport the carcass home or back to the camp that you were in. Do this by wrapping a piece of cloth around the carcass so that you can keep it away from dirt and foliage as you drag it out of the woods. A common way to drag a buck out of the woods is by its antlers. An easier option would be to use a deer cart to drag it out. You should never carry the carcass out of the woods on your shoulders. This is because another hunter may mistakenly shoot at the deer on your shoulders.
When you reach back, continue to hang the deer up to further drain the blood. Make sure the temperature is not too high because you do not want meat spoilage. The temperature should be below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. If needed, use ice to cool the carcass until you are ready to process the meat. At a temperature of below 40 degrees, you can hang your deer up to a week but keep it only up to a few days if it is any higher than that.
4. Skinning the deer
The tools you will need for skinning your deer include:
- A sharp knife
- Strong ropes to hang the deer
- Rubber gloves
- A bone saw
Hang the deer up with strong ropes so that the skinning will be easier. In removing the skin, you want to skin the deer such that the hide can be pulled away in one piece. Start skinning from the ankle of the deer’s hind leg and make a cut all the way down to the back of the leg. Do the same to the other hind leg. Be careful not to cut into the meat and not to cut the tendon. Make sure your knife blade is facing outward as you cut. With each cut, peel the hide or skin away from your cut. Now that the skin is no longer surrounding the joints, make a cut on both joints of the legs and twist them to break off.
Continue cutting the skin away down to the tail bone. Make sure your knife is sharp for more effectiveness. Cut through the tail bone by gently pressing against the knife until you have split it. Then continue skinning off all the deer hide from the tail area. Carefully cut off the skin from the forelegs up to the stomach and breastbone by peeling and separating skin from the muscle with the edge of your knife’s blade.
If you plan to mount up your buck head, you will need to leave a good amount of deer hide from the neck down. You may need to leave the cape long enough until it reaches the mid of the deer belly. Cut the hide at the length where it reaches the mid belly then remove all hide from the lower portion. Then, use a bone saw to cut off the head of the deer. Pack up the head with the cape of hide connected to the neck and prepare to take it to a taxidermist.
If you do not want to mount the buck head up, continue skinning the hide all the way to the throat of the deer. Then start pulling the skin off the carcass. Use a bone saw to cut off the deer’s head and completely remove the remaining hide.
5. Aging the meat
After removing the hide of the deer, use cold water to wash and cool the meat. If you wrap it straight away after skinning, the meat will spoil due to the heat. Hence, spend time drying and cooling the meat. Then, you will need to leave the deer meat for a couple of days to allow it to age. You cannot immediately cook the meat because the deer muscles will go into rigor mortis which is a stiffening of the muscles upon death. If you cook the meat during this time, the muscles will contract, and you will get deer meat that is too tough.
The process of aging is the breaking down of the collagen and connective tissue in the meat. This will tenderize the meat texture. Aging for around 7 days usually gives you the best quality deer meat. If you caught an older buck, letting it age a little longer will be good because it will have more connective tissue to break down.
6. Processing the meat
Finally, when the aging is done, you can break the meat down into different parts like the ribs, stew meat, loins and others. With the carcass hanging off a strong rope, use a knife and bone saw to cut up the parts. Many butchers use a hook with their free hand to pull and position the meat while using their other hand to move the knife. It takes about 30 minutes on average to debone the skinned carcass but be prepared to spend more time if it is your first time.
Getting a grinder will be useful for turning the meat from the deer’s shoulders and neck into hamburger meat. Most of the meat on the front will be good to be grounded for stew meat. Back straps are also often cut into steak which is an easy way to process the meat.
If you plan to freeze most of the meat, make sure to clear out enough space in your freezer. Wrap the meat in freezer paper then keep it in a freezer zip-lock bag. Label the wrappings with the date and type of cut. You should not put the meat into the zip-lock bag without wrapping it because this will result in freezer burn. Freezer burn occurs when the moisture escapes from your frozen meat, causing discoloration typically due to improper storage conditions in the freezer. While food that has freezer burn is safe to eat, the texture and taste might have already been affected.
There are some hunters who prefer not to process the deer meat themselves. You could take that route too by leaving the processing to a deer processor by just paying a fee. However, it will be great to gather a bunch of friends to do it together and have a good feast. You will also need all the help you can get, especially if it is your first time!
If you want to preserve the head of your buck for mounting up as a trophy display, you will need to look for a taxidermist. A good taxidermist can perform various tasks to meet your special requests like turning the buck head at different angles and customizing pedestal mounts. There are a few things that are important to note before bringing your specimen to a taxidermist.
One of the most obvious things is that you should try your best not to damage the deer cape in the field. The cape is basically the taxidermy skin. This is because a damaged cape is likely going to cost you a lot more for a taxidermist to fix it up. Be cautious when dealing with the cape especially when you need to drag the deer carcass. Avoid any sharp branches or rocks on the ground. You should drag your deer by the antlers rather than by the back legs to avoid any friction between the cape and the ground which will damage it. If you use a deer cart, make sure the wheels are not rubbing against the cape too.
A common problem faced by taxidermists is that hunters do not leave enough cape on the deer. Depending on the position you want to mount the taxidermy up, it might even require cape as long until it reaches the mid of the deer belly. Hence, when skinning your buck, make sure to leave on enough skin.
Another thing to note is that all your cuts should be made from under the deer skin. This is so that you can keep the hide looking the best condition as possible. Many hunters make cuts from the wrong side of the hide which may mess up the hide and cause some loss of hair. Cutting from under the skin is a good way to keep your knife sharp too because cutting through hair and hide will dullen your sharp blade over time.
Most taxidermists prefer the deer head intact. This means that they would rather do the job of removing the hide, ears and nose from the deer carcass than fixing any mistakes attempting to do that. With the head intact, they can also take a better measurement of the buck for mounting it up. This is good news for you because you will not need to mess with the deer head. All you need to do is to pack out the head with the neck hide, leaving a long cape of hide still attached to the head and get it to a taxidermist as soon as possible!
This should comprehensively cover what you should do after killing a deer. This is to ensure that your effort does not go to waste, making sure that every part of the buck is utilized for your benefit. If you have any other ideas on how we can maximize the benefit we can get after the shot, feel free to share!