November 22, 2021
Looking down at the buck I had just shot, I felt pride in successfully completing a tough hunt. I also felt a bit uneasy. Behind me, the steep banks of a muddy, barely running river separated me from an easy extraction.
There would be no dragging this buck out whole, and miles of rough, gumbo-slick terrain meant a motorized exit was impossible, too. Instead, I would have to take the buck apart and pack it out the old-fashioned way: piece by piece.
If you’re hunting where you expect you’ll need to pack a deer out on your back, prepare. First, ditch the daypack and go with a comfortable backcountry, large-compartment backpack. Stow at least two pairs of latex gloves and one set of arm-length gloves inside to stay blood-free. Field wipes and extra water are required for your cleanup. They’re also great if you accidentally nick an intestine and need cleanup on aisle three.
Pack two small- to medium-sized knives and a lightweight sharpener. One knife is for field-dressing and breaking down the animal; the other is for detaching the head and for caping duties. Having two knives helps avoid contaminating your meat if the deer has chronic wasting disease. Folding saws are nice, but a knife can detach quarters and vertebrae without sawing and saves weight. Slice around cartilage connections and bones easily separate from each other.
Bring game bags and plastic garbage bags, too. Game bags protect meat, and lining your pack with garbage bags prevents blood cleanup later. Toss in zip-top bags for the heart and liver if you’d like.
Have two light sources and extra batteries for night extraction. Several feet of paracord can help tie back a leg for gutting in difficult terrain. A single hiking staff keeps you upright with a 100-pound load. Make sure you have adequate first aid equipment to handle cuts and gashes if a knife suddenly detours.
Use a quality hunting app, like HuntStand, to mark your kill and map a route out that offers the least resistance.
Unlike elk, which are heavyweights whether loaded with guts or not, there’s really no reason for the gutless method for deer. Place the deer’s head slightly uphill and zip the guts out speedily. This reduces weight and makes maneuvering the carcass easier while dismembering it.
A 150-pound buck produces about 75 pounds of boned-out meat. A 100-pound doe yields roughly 45 pounds of deboned meat. The antlers and cape can add another 20 to 30 pounds depending on antler size and if you remove the lower jaw.
Be ready to carry out what is required by law and then some. Most states mandate you remove the four quarters, backstraps and inside loins. Add to your burger and sausage fodder with trimmings from the neck, ribs and flanks as well. Check with state laws for precise instructions.
BREAK IT DOWN
To quarter a deer, follow these steps:
1. Slice circularly around all four knees to cut cartilage, then remove the lower legs to reduce weight and make maneuvering the carcass more manageable. Remove the hide on one side and use the other as a barrier against ground debris.
2. Slice from the front quarter to the rear quarter along the upper side of the spine and the side vertebrae that create a shelf that holds the backstrap in place. Then, finish removing this delicacy and place it in a game bag to protect it.
3. Next, lift the front quarter upward and begin sliding your knife along the underside as you slice toward the vertebrae. Keep upward pressure on the leg and you’ll see the final connective tissue to cut for removal. Drop the quarter in a waiting game bag.
4. Back quarters require more autopsy skills. Locate the ham and use a sharp knife to slice down along the pelvis. Keep cutting deeper until you expose the ball joint where the rear quarter connects to the pelvis. Once you locate the ball joint, slowly begin cutting around the ball and slicing the tendon that extends into the joint. Once the ball is separated, fillet the remaining meat away from the pelvis to release the rear quarter. Place in a game bag.
5. Inside the cavity, along the backbone and just ahead of the rear quarter, are the inner loins, or tenderloins. Fillet them out of the pocket and toss both in the game bag with the backstrap.
With the guts and half the meat removed, flip the carcass, using the hide again as a barrier against ground contaminants. Repeat all the steps above on the opposite side and fillet off any extra meat for burger from the neck and elsewhere.
If you’re planning to do a shoulder mount, cape out the deer. If not, simply remove the head. Either way, swap to your second knife for this stage.
Now you’re ready to start loading your pack. As you do, be sure to carry only what feels appropriate for your level of physical fitness and return for the rest if necessary.