Deer processing—a rural artform

October 24, 2012

Skinning, cleaning and boning a fresh-killed deer on your own has evolved into kind of a rural art form in recent years. Today, with whitetail populations at record-high levels and hunters collecting more deer than ever before, many sportsmen have learned that processing a deer for the grill or freezer is no big deal.

In fact, my mother, Phyllis, could clean a buck with the best of ’em, which sometimes made for humorous moments around city folks. When cocktail party patrons in Chicago (where she lived, though she was raised in rural North Carolina) heard she cleaned deer, their eyebrows would rise, questioning her skills. But she’d look ’em right in the eye, and say with authority, “Cleaning a buck is just like cleaning a big rabbit — ’cept the meat’s heavier.”

Today a lot of deer hunters take great pride in doing it all afield, from leasing land, to scouting it, placing stands, making deadly shots, recovering game, and processing venison exactly the way they want it. In a primitive sort of way, some hunters actually find it kind of enjoyable.

Not only are deer cut into portions the way a hunter prefers, but an animal also is cleaned quicker and cooled faster. In regions where the closest commercial butcher is a long drive away, on-your-own processing is the most practical way of dealing with harvested game. Moreover, during the height of the season in a good deer camp with 20 or 30 hunters, it’s not unusual to have a dozen or more deer hanging by the end of a weekend. Lugging all that venison to a processor is a time-consuming and expensive chore. So do it yourself —it’s not difficult and even can be done quickly to provide meat for dinner the night of a successful hunt.

I’ve seen guys who could skin and quarter a deer in under eight minutes, and I’ve viewed video clips of pros doing it in less than three minutes. My son and I can do a whole deer, working together, in about 30 minutes, because for us this is no race. In fact, there’s a special satisfaction in cleaning and boning a deer on your own — as it harkens back to old rural ways when a man was measured much by his self-reliance.