Burchfield: Care for your deer in the field

Items that will aid in deboning a deer in the woods. All for less than $25, price of the knife excluded.

Many give little thought to changing their ways once a deer is harvested and it is on the ground. The process is fairly simple. It’s a procedure handed down from one generation to another. Simple enough, but is there a better way?

Recently the Kinzua Quality Deer Cooperative held its annual kickoff event held at the University of Pittsburgh, Bradford Campus. The event showcased the Cooperative’s 74,000 acre area situated in portions of McKean, Warren, Elk, and Forest counties and provides hunters free access on a mix of public and private lands.

A number of great deer hunting related seminars were conducted at the kickoff event. Two of the presentations relating to the processing of deer complemented each other perfectly.

Ben Moyer, an Outdoor Writer and Naturalist, conducted the first deer butchering seminar. Moyer offered, “An improvised, but practical approach to woods butchering”.

Merlin Benner of Wildlife Specialists complimented Moyer’s presentation that included a live step-by-step demo on how to debone a deer in the field.

Combined, the pair of presentations outlined a common sense approach to the field care of the white-tailed deer that few of our fathers and grandfathers and generations beyond would have considered.

“Deboning the deer in the field has opened up new areas to hunt. In my case I live in Fayette County where the terrain can be rugged. Steeply sloped and deep valleys present difficult terrain from which to recover a deer. Across the state and elsewhere I have come to learn that many others have faced similar situations,” Moyer said.

Moyer went on to say, “Like so many other hunters, the first thing I did when harvesting a deer was to complete the tagging process, then I field dressed the animal. The next chore facing me was to drag the deer from the woods back to my truck, then return home or camp to remove the hide. But no more.”

“Today, after tagging the deer, I begin the deboning process by inserting a gambrel between the animal’s rear legs. A length of rope is then tied to the gambrel. Next the opposite end of the rope is thrown over a tree limb and the deer is suspended off the ground. The deer is skinned enough to expose the muscle groups that will be removed and packed out,” Moyer said.

An advantage to field butchering is only the edible meat is removed, then the meat is placed in a field dressing bag then packed out. The poundage difference is considerable.In the early 1980’s at Penn State’s Deer Research Facilities, a group of deer were carefully subjected to measurements. One of the findings included determining the live weight vs field dress weight and the amount of edible meat.

For example, a whitetail weighing 119 lbs. field dressed and with a weight of 97 lbs. would produce about 53 lbs. of edible meat.

Moyer pointed out, “Before moving the meat from harvest site, the harvest tag affixed to the ear is removed and retained with the meat. I also cover the carcass with sticks and leaves to disguise the remains from avian predators.”

“I’ve quickly come to realize it’s much easier to remove fifty pounds or so of venison in my backpack from the field. Besides, upon returning from the field with the deboned venison, my harvest is close to being ready for the freezer.”

Wildlife Specialist Merlin Benner is a certified wildlife biologist and has worked for Tennessee State Parks, the Pennsylvania Game Commission, and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. But most of all he enjoys hunting the white-tailed deer.

Merlin also debones the deer he harvests. But the technique he uses differs in several ways when compared to Moyer.

Benner and Moyer use dressing gloves. Their knives differ though. Moyer uses a boning knife while Benner prefers a small folding knife.

“I don’t hang my deer to debone the meat. The deer remains on the ground laying on its side,” Benner said.

As the hands-on demonstration began, Benner opened the deer’s hide beginning at the neck along the backbone and ending at the tail.

Benner said, “I begin at the front shoulder and remove the skin that covers the entire shoulder. The first leg joint and the lower portion of the leg is separated one from the other. Next hold the leg portion of the shoulder up, then cut it away from the rib cage.”

Next Benner removed the hide enough to expose the back straps, taking the hide halfway down the ribcage. Benner said, “We’ll come back to this area later.”

Benner then moved to the rear of the animal and said, “Next we’ll work on the hind quarter. We’ll move to the hind quarter and remove the hide that covers this thick piece of meat by slicing the hide down the middle and on the inside of the meat. Now remove the remainder of the hide covering the meat. Finally removed the muscle groups of meat from the bone.”

Benner went on to say, “I leave the removal of the back straps for last. The meat is cut from the back of the animal to the front. By using this technique the piece of prime venison is taken out in its entirety.”

The tenderloins located in the upper portion of body cavity are easily removed. Benner demonstrated the procedure by removing a section of meat located behind the ribcage. He gently rolled the organs inside to expose the meat for its removal.

Generally field dressing a deer requires about 20 to thirty minutes to complete. Then there is the time and energy to remove it from the field. The deer needs to be skinned then taken to the butcher shop or processed at home or camp.

Benner said, “This style of deboning a deer on the ground or on the tailgate of a truck can be accomplished in 30 to 40 minutes, which represents a real timesaver.”

For those who want to learn more about the deboning process, Merlin Benner’s entire hands-on demonstration can be viewed by logging onto Facebook and searching for Kinzua Quality Deer Cooperative. Then check out the October 27 th post. The complete demonstration can be viewed there.

Charlie Burchfield is an active member and past president of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association, an active member of the Professional Outdoor Media Association, Outdoor Writers Assoc. of America and the Mason-Dixon Outdoor Writers. Gateway Outdoors e-mail is GWOutdoors@comcast.net