Breaking Down Big Game in 8 Simple Steps
While hunting is an enjoyable sport, it’s important to remember that we’ve taken to the woods as hunters for centuries, first and foremost, to provide food for ourselves and our families. And because no one knows your preferences better than you, it makes sense that you take care of butchering harvested animals yourself.
While it may seem difficult, breaking down a big-game animal can be done in just a few simple steps, and with some extra hands around to help hold the carcass, gather up scraps or transport quarters for cooling, the process will go even faster. It’s a fun, exciting way for you and anyone else involved to learn more about their food, like where it came from and how each piece of meat should be cleaned, trimmed and stored. Doing the work ourselves allows us to be certain that our meat is prepared exactly how we want it and isn’t tainted by unwanted chemicals.
Having a variety of knives at your side will help with the butchering process. At the least, I try keeping a short bladed paring-style knife, a replaceable-blade Havalon or Outdoor Edge knife, and a larger boning knife ready for use depending on what I'm cutting. You'll need a stout blade for removing the quarters from the carcass, for example, while a sharp, flexible blade works better for removing fat and silverskin.
1. Remove the tenderloins. Ideally, this should be done shortly after field dressing to prevent drying out. It’s pictured here to show what tenderloins look like and where they are on the animal (under the spine, just behind the ribs).
2. One at a time, pull the front legs away from the rib cage and cut where the shoulder meets the body.
3. Since they aren’t attached to any other bones (they are held in place mainly by muscle), the front legs should be quick and simple to remove. When removed, be sure to set them on something clean to make your later processing easier.
4. Remove the flanks and the meat that lies on top of the ribs. Try to take it off in large chunks. This makes it easier and more efficient to work with when processing. While it's perfectly OK to switch steps four and five, doing this first makes it easier to find the lateral part of the vertebrae when removing the backstraps.
5. To loosen the backstraps, make a cut down both the lateral and vertical sides of the backbone (the backbone makes an L shape). Start up by the hind quarters and stay as close to the bone as possible. Continue these same cuts down towards the neck, loosening the loin until you’re able to peel it free.
6. Trim meat from the neck and ribs. Slide your knife between each individual rib to remove the small strips of meat found there. Trim any remaining meat from the front half of the carcass. Like the flanks, this meat will be added to the grind pile, so feel free to cut and slice however you need to get it off the animal.
7. If your animal is hanging, remove the boned-out portion by cutting through the spine, just ahead of the pelvis. Work your knife in-between the vertebrae to help severe the tie. If it’s being stubborn, twist the lower half. It should pop off fairly easily and leave you with just the hindquarters hanging on the gambrel.
8. Now it’s time to put down your knife and pick up your bone saw. Saw between the hindquarters, directly through the pelvis. This will separate them, leaving you with smaller, easy-to-process sections.