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Butchering Big Game

Posted on November 6, 2012

When you do your own butchering, you know that the meat has been handled with care, and you get the cuts you prefer. You will probably be willing to take more time trimming than a butcher would,so your finished cuts may have less gristle, fat and silverskin on them.

In most cases, the animal is butchered while still hanging from the skinning process. Use caution when butchering a hanging animal. When you cut out each portion, you must catch it, and this can be tricky with a knife in one hand. A deer leg, for instance, can weigh 20 pounds or more, so you may need a partner to help.

Be absolutely certain that your partner stays clear of your knife, and never allow him (or her) to cut at the same time. For safety, some hunters prefer to butcher on a large table.

The photo sequence that follows shows how to cut up a deer that is hanging from the head. The procedure is somewhat different if the animal is hanging by the hind legs (at right). You will not be able to cut out the hind legs because they are supporting the carcass. Instead, remove the front legs, backstrap and ribs as described, then place the hindquarters on a table to finish cutting.

1. Push the front leg away from the body, then begin cutting between the leg and the rib cage. Continue until you reach the shoulder. It helps to have someone steady the carcass, but make sure he or she is safely away from your knife.
2. Remove the front leg by cutting between the shoulder blade and the back. Repeat with the other leg. Remove the layer of brisket meat over the ribs (inset). Moose and elk brisket is thick enough to be rolled for corning. Grind thin brisket for burger. 
3. Cut the meat at the base of the neck to begin removing the backstrap. There are two backstraps, one on each side of the spine. Backstraps can be butterflied for steaks, cut into roasts or sliced thinly for sauteing. The lower part, or loin, is the most tender.
4. Make two cuts between the shoulder and rump: one along the spine, the other along the rib tops. Keep your knife close to the bones, removing as much meat as possible. Cut off this first backstrap at the rump, then remove the backstrap on the other side of the spine.
5. Begin cutting one hind leg away, exposing the ball-and-socket joint (arrow). Push the leg back to pop the joint apart, then cut through the joint. Work your knife around the tail bone and pelvis until the leg is removed. Repeat with the other leg.
6. Cut the tenderloins from inside the body cavity after trimming the flank meat below the last rib (inset). The flank meat can be ground, or cut into thin strips for jerky. Many hunters remove the tenderloins before aging the animal, to keep them from darkening and dehydrating.
7. Remove the ribs, if desired, by sawing along the backbone (dashed line). Cut around the base of the neck, then twist the backbone off. Separate the neck and head. Bone the neck to grind for burger, or keep it whole for pot roasting.
8. Trim the ribs by cutting away the ridge of meat and gristle along the bottom. If the ribs are long, saw them in half. Cut ribs into racks of three or four. If you don’t want to save the ribs, you can bone the meat between them and grind for burger or sausage.

Information and photos courtesy of  Preparing Fish and Wild Game