Processing 101: Big-Game Hide & Hair Removal Tips
Growing up under the watchful eye of a custom butcher, there were a few things my brothers and I learned quickly: keep your knife moving away from your body, grinder blades face outward, use as much of the animal as you’re able and keep everything clean from start to finish. It might be hard to believe that my most painful memories from my father’s butcher shop don’t involve careless slips with just-sharpened blades, but it’s true. They involve keeping each piece of meat I handled as clean as possible. They involve neck cramps, blurred vision and involuntary cussing. They involve hair.
Amidst the craziness that rolled around each fall with the onset of deer season, us kids were taught several different methods for removing hides and hair from game. While not always foolproof, these tips can help you with this tedious process. –Melissa S.
STRATEGIES FOR HAIR REMOVAL
When field dressing your kill, begin at the animal’s breastbone. The knife will be moving with the natural front-to-back growth of the hair, not against it, and less will be pulled loose.
Skin, rinse and repeat.
Keep a bucket of water nearby. Every so often, dunk your hands and any skin that has touched the hide into the water to remove loose hair that may have stuck to you.
Give it a good rub down.
Once the animal is completely skinned, dip your hands into a fresh bucket of water, place one on either side of the carcass, and run them over the meat in a downward motion, forcefully wiping from the rear legs toward the neck. Be sure to shake your hands off and dip them into the water again before rubbing down a new area of the animal.
Get fired up.
Quickly run a butane torch over the skinned animal. This should be done very quickly. Beneath the flame, you’ll be able to see any remaining hairs fizzle away almost immediately.
Pro Tip: If some chunks of muscle pull off with the hide, simply trim them off and set them aside. They can be added to your grind pile.
Big-Game Hide Removal In 6 Steps:
1. Starting just above the “knee” joint at the rear shank, cut around each leg in a circle, separating the hide completely. Do the same on the two front legs.
2. Where the hide is separated, cut down the inner part of each rear leg toward the pelvis. Repeat this step on the front legs by cutting toward the chest. Peel the skin away from the flesh, using your knife when necessary.
3. Now that the hide has been loosened, try to use your knife as little as possible throughout the rest of the skinning process. Instead, use your fist to push down where the hide meets the flesh, freeing it from the haunches, back and sides of the carcass.
4. If the deer has been sitting in freezing weather for a few hours, it may be difficult using your fist. When this is the case, use your knife as a supplement, cutting through stubborn sections.
5. If your arm tires, or you're finding the hide is simply too difficult to remove (this is likely to happen as you get closer to the shoulders), grab the hide with both hands, pull it taut and place your knee between the animal and your handhold on the hide. Using your body weight, push down on your knee to free the hide.
6. Split the underside of the neck, then work the tip of your skinning knife between the first vertebrae and the base of the head, both in front beneath the chin and in back at the base of the skull. Twist the head until you are able to sever it at the atlas joint. You'll need to use your knife to remove the head completely.