First, a warning: I don't want anyone to be surprised by the photos in this instructable. It shows a deer that is dead and it shows lots of muscle and blood but is graphic only in it's reality. If you are at all queasy and maybe you're just looking for pretty pictures of deer, don't go any further in this instructable.
My parents asked me to help them with their deer this season. My dad is in a wheelchair and my mom just had her second hand/wrist surgery a few months ago. But rather than let this deer season pass by and leave them at the mercy of meat from wal-mart, I decided that it would be a good way to spend a day or two. And, I was happy to take payment of half of the meat for my little family of three. Shortly after my parents moved to Arkansas, we were vegan and nobody had any designs on shooting anything. After a fateful bite of some grilled venison tenderloin in a secret sauce, my dad was pushed over the edge. My mom loves to hunt, and has shot the majority of the deer for the family. They are at the point now where it is simply unhealthy for them to eat beef, and chicken is oftentimes not much healthier. Venison meets their requirements of being completely organic, free range, hormone free, and lean like crazy. This is why it is the main meat that they eat during the year. Taking care of your meat needs directly from the source also has some spiritual advantages. Seasoned deer hunters will look at the way we cleaned this deer in shock. Everyone has different purposes for getting a deer. My parents like to eat backstrap steaks and grind the rest of the meat for use in chilis and lasagne etc. My job was to complete the task to their specifications.
There are many ways of skinning a deer, almost as many ways of cooking the meat. This way is a relatively clean way that avoids getting into the body cavity of the animal. There is some meat inside the body cavity that you will be missing doing it this way, but when you hear the coyotes cry out in the middle of the night, you will know that the meat was not wasted. You will see us use two different types of knives in this instructable. You don't have to use any special type of knife. Certain shapes of knifes make it safer and easier to clean the deer, but the only real requirement is that your knife be sharp.
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Step 1: Prepare Your Equipment
Before anyone takes a gun and goes anywhere, you need to be ready for when they bring back a deer. You will need:
3 bags of ice
1 large cooler
1, 5 gallon bucket
sharpened knife or knives: buck knife and uluchet
1 or 2 gallon ziplock bags
I used a curved knife called an uluchet. It is like a small hatchet and an ulu knife. Uluchet
It is good for skinning because it has no point with which to pierce the hide or belly.
Step 2: Hang Up the Deer
You can definitely do the skinning and cleaning with the deer laying down on a surface, but if the deer is suspended in the air, preferably with pulleys, you can maneuver the deer and make the process less strenuous.
Make sure the the rope goes under the chin of the deer around the neck at the base of the skull. You'll want to have clear access to the meat at the top of the neck.
Step 3: Make Cuts in the Hide
Cut the hide around the neck and make one long cut from the neck down the chest until you reach the belly. For this step, I used a regular buck knife with a slightly curved blade. You want to cut through the hide until you get to the meat. There is an area between the hide and the meat which is watery and thin. Take it easy when you make your first cut. Once you cut through the skin, you'll see the red meat underneath. When you sense that you have cut through the skin, stop and continue your cut all the way around the neck and then down the chest.
Step 4: Start Skinning the Hide Away
You will want to make sure that you only cut the membrane that is between the meat and the skin. If you do this, you will not make holes in the beautiful hide and you will not waste meat.
Grab hold of the hide and keep tension on it so that you can see the membrane between the hide and meat. Your goal is to simply separate the hide from the meat all over the whole animal without cutting either part.
Step 5: Make Cuts Down the Front Legs
Once you have skinned down from the neck to the beginning of the legs, you will want to make cuts down the legs to the knees. After you have made your new cuts, continue separating the hide by cutting the membrane between the hide and the meat, all around the legs.
I choose to separate the hide from the genitals as we are going to use the hide. A deer has mother nature's perfectly seamless bag. There is no reason to waste it if you are already skinning the deer.
You'll need to repeat this leg hide cutting when you reach the back legs. Continue until the hide is free from the deer.
Step 6: Pictures of the Skinning Progress
Step 7: Removing the Meat: Start at the Neck
When you remove meat, place it in your cooler full of ice and water. We did this outside because it was cold enough that flies did not appear.
Start at the back of the neck and do one side at a time. Make a cut through the meat until you hit the bone of the spine. Then, choose one side to start with. Take your knife and cut down the spine on one side 7 or 8 inches.
Then, cut the meat around the neck on your side of the spine. The photographs show better than I can explain in words.
Each muscle group is fairly separate from it's neighbors. What I found to be most natural was to remove each group starting from the outside where you can see obvious divisions and work your way down to the rib cage. My dad had other ideas, so we did one side in each fashion.
Step 8: Removing the Backstraps
The backstrap is the part of the deer that is used for steaks. It is almost entirely devoid of sinew and fat. It basically runs along the whole spine from the neck to the hips and goes into the deer until the back side of the rib cage. My first picture is of the cavity where the backstrap used to be. Once you see what you are trying to accomplish, you will be able to get your bearings before you start.
Step 9: Cut the Meat Into Chunks and Process It
Take your meat out of the cooler and cut the backstrap into large hunks for freezing. Put them into ziplocks and fill the ziplocks with water. Then off into the freezer they go. The rest of the meat can be cut into chunks that will fit into your grinder. Grind it all up and put the ground meat into ziplock bags. Then wrap the ziplocks with one layer of freezer paper and label them with the date. Wrapping them with more layers of freezer paper doesn't do you much good, but if you don't use at least one layer, the meat will begin to brown over time. Meat kept like this will be fine for at least two years.
This deer was only a four point buck, but yielded enough meat for four adults for one year, eating venison two times per month at least.