DIY deer processing: shoulders

Doing it yourself is cheaper, faster and better than taking a deer to a game processor.
DIY deer processing: shoulders

Related articles: Deer processing—a rural art form, Preparation is everything when processing deer, DIY deer processing: backstraps, DIY deer processing: hams, DIY deer processing: tenderloins

Here is a simple step-by-step method of boning a deer.

First have a “cleaning station” established (see sidebar) where a deer can be brought back to a camp-like area with good light, a hose and other gear available for skinning and boning the animal.

Once at the cleaning area, hang the deer by its hind feet on a gambrel (see sidebar), skin the animal, and remove the head and forelegs with a skinning knife and saw. There is no need to remove the viscera.

Now, with a sharp fish fillet knife, trim all fat away from the carcass and discard. Be meticulous to trim along the backbone and hams, where much fat accumulates.


A shoulder is “free floating,” meaning the shoulder bone and blade are not attached by bone to the main body of the animal. Thus they are easily trimmed away from the carcass with a sharp, thin-blade fillet knife. To do this, simply stand facing the belly of the animal, grab one foreleg, and pull it out slightly away from the carcass while making quick vertical cuts with the knife between the leg and body. The shoulder blade extends a foot or so toward the rear of the deer, and this should come off in one complete piece with the foreleg. Repeat on the other foreleg, and when cutting, avoid tissue that was damaged or bloodied by the bullet or arrow. Such tissue should be discarded.

Store both entire forelegs (as well as other meat to follow) in a large cooler with abundant ice. Trimming the forelegs of fat and sinew can be done later in a kitchen-like setting.

Leg meat around the shoulder blade is very tender and is good when boned for marinating and grilling. Most other foreleg meat is best for grinding, stews and jerky.


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