Tips for the hunter and DIY home butcher.
Earlier this week, I was able to kill my first buck with a bow. It was a nice little 8 point and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve killed does, turkeys, squirrels and other game with my bow. But, my first buck took over 2 years of hunting to tag.
Needless to say I was excited to have an opportunity to arrow the buck that evening. It was just a few minutes before sunset when he showed up. I waited for what seemed like an eternity for him to work his way across to me. The whole time, worried that I would lose light.
In the end it all came together. My arrow went right where I wanted it and the buck didn’t run far. I was able to find him quickly, and had him home as fast as I could. Before I knew it, the excitement of my first bow buck had merged into a little bit of dread for the work that lay ahead. You know what I mean, don’t you?
This wasn’t the first deer I’d shot at dusk and had to dress, skin and quarter in the dark. It probably won’t be the last either. But somehow, this night was different. It was easier than usual. I was working in the dark with a smile on my face. Why was this time so much better?
What made processing this deer at night, in the dark, so much easier?
I don’t think it was because I’d just shot a nice buck, although that helped. It wasn’t just because I made a good shot and didn’t have to deal with the guts spilling or a long tracking job, but again – that helped. No, I think that night was more enjoyable because I was prepared.
Below, I’ve compiled a list of the types of things that made the process simpler and more enjoyable for me. I keep most of this stuff in a small Pelican waterproof case that I can toss in the back of my Bronco.
Here are some things to keep in mind as you prepare to process deer, as well as some of the items I use in each category.
1 – Bugs.
If you’ve ever been around a deer that’s been dead for more than 37 seconds, you know bugs are going to be an issue. Here is Georgia, it’s ultra-important to have a plan for bugs. Flies, yellow jackets, and bugs of any kind can be a nuisance and promote cross contamination or spoiling of valuable meat. You need a bug plan.
Maybe you have a nice screened in area to work? Perhaps you can hang the deer inside the garage over a tarp? Maybe you’ve got a huge industrial fan to keep them blown off. Perhaps you have a teenager who needs some practice with a flyswatter? Just do something to keep those bugs off.
I used a Thermacell and was very pleased. I laid it beside where the deer was hanging and it worked like a champ. It took about 10 minutes for the unit to start cranking out enough scent to keep the bugs away, but once it did I was home free. I wasn’t swatting huge Georgia mosquitos the whole time, and my deer wasn’t covered in yellow jackets. What more can you ask for?
2 – Knives.
Have plenty of sharpness at your disposal. It might be a good idea to use one knife for dressing and skinning, and another knife for quartering to prevent cross-contamination. If you use 1 knife or 10, they need to be sharp! Having quality, sharp knives that can easily slice through hide and ligaments will make the whole process faster and safer.
I use my Havalon Piranta-EDGE for everything except de-boning. I gut, skin, and quarter with it. If at any point it gets dull (which takes a while) I simply replace the blade and keep working. I really am in love with this little orange handled beauty.
For all of the butchering, I’ve been using my new Dexter knives. They are commercial grade restaurant knives. They have good steel and hold an edge well. The large white handles are easy on my hands and maneuver well when cutting. They stay sharp, are easy to clean, and inexpensive.
3 – Tunes.
I like to shrug off the “Crap, I’ve gotta be at work in the morning.” funk with a little Dierks Bently. I had my phone lying beside the Thermacell with the I Heart Radio app cranking my bluegrass-country station. It helps to have some music to lighten the load and sing along as I’m elbow deep in sinew.
4 – Cooling.
Here in Georgia, 90 degree early season days are not uncommon. Having a way to cool the meat fast is important. I always have a cool-down plan before I enter the woods. How am I going to get that meat cooled off as quickly as possible?
Right now, I’m using a Coleman 100 qt cooler and ice. I’ve filled old milk jugs ¾ full of water and keep them frozen in my chest freezer. I can toss them into a cooler and take them with me. If I don’t get anything, they’ll only melt a little and can just be re-frozen. It’s low cost and more convenient than buying ice I may not use.
5 – Tools.
Some key tools made the whole process much easier. Here are a few items that I wouldn’t want to do without, especially at night.
Head Lamp. I’m using a Gerber Myth headlamp and have been very happy with it. I can work hands-free while skinning and quartering the deer. It puts out enough light to see well but isn’t so bright it’s blinding.
Hoist. I know I could skin and quarter on the ground, but having a hoist handy sure does help. I use a simple Gambrel kit like this one. Make sure it has the locking lever for the rope. You’re going to want that.
Guides. Resources to help remind me where to cut when butchering are very helpful, especially for the first deer of the season. As I’m sure you know, I love the book Gut It. Cut It. Cook It. by Al Camobronne. There are also good resources on the internet, like this video of a guy completely deboning a deer in 8 minutes.
Processing this deer at home was easier than many of the previous ones. The more I do myself, the faster and easier it gets. Finding tips like these along the way has helped speed things up and make them more enjoyable. So do you process your own deer? What tips and tricks have you learned? Please let us know in the comment section below!