Process Your Own Deer Part 1—Quartering

Hunter looking at a deer horn on the ground

It’s a job many of us pass off to a commercial processor on the drive home from deer camp without a thought—the ancient task of transforming a whole animal into a winter’s worth of meat. We’re not going to lie. Butchering a deer is a lot harder than writing a check. But it’s nothing you can’t do, and it doesn’t take any special tools. The rewards are worth the trouble—by butchering your own animal, you get your venison faster, save money and have the satisfaction of taking your hunt full circle with your own two hands. Best of all, the skills you build after getting a few deer under your belt transfer over to virtually any big game animal. Here’s how to do it.

1. Front Quarter Removal A
With the deer hung from the neck and skinned, use your knife to make a first cut to remove the front legs. Make your incision at the front of the shoulder where the leg meets the ribcage. Loosen the tissue as you pull the leg away from the body.

Two men cutting into the front of a deer in a shed

2. Front Quarter Removal B
There is no joint in the front legs. They’re connected to the body only by muscle and tissue. Pull the leg away from the ribs toward the backbone and remove.

Two men removing the front quarter of a deer in a shed

3. Front Quarter Removal C
The last few remaining cuts free the front leg from the carcass. Do the other shoulder the same way.

Two men finishing the removal the front quarter of a deer in a shed

4. Hind Quarter Removal A
On the hind quarters, begin by making a cut between the last rib and the hind quarter. Cut through and down toward the tail. Following that line, work your knife down at that angle until you get to the joint that holds the rear leg to the pelvis.

Two men starting the removal the hind quarter of a deer in a shed

5. Hind Quarter Removal B
On the inside of the carcass, make a cut that separates the back legs about midway on the deer. Keep pressure on the quarter and pull away from the natural position as though you were bending the leg behind the deer’s back. Meanwhile, use your knife to loosen the tissues.

Two men continuing the removal the hind quarter of a deer in a shed

6. Hind Quarter Removal C
Now you should be at the ball and socket joint, where the rear leg bone and pelvis meet. Working your knife point into the joint, sever the cartilage and apply pressure. There’s not much connective tissue that holds that joint together, so when you cut through it, the leg will be held to the body by just meat.

Two men removing the hind quarter of a deer in a shed

7. Hind Quarter Removal D
Cut through the last meat tissue, and the rear quarter will fall from the carcass. Add that to the meat table, and then repeat the steps for the remaining hind quarter.

Two men finishing the removal the hind quarter of a deer in a shed

8. Tenderloin Removal A
With the deer hung from the neck and skinned, use your knife to make a first cut to remove the front legs. Make your incision at the front of the shoulder where the leg meets the ribcage. Loosen the tissue as you pull the leg away from the body.

Two men removing the tenderloin from the front legs

9. Tenderloin Removal B
Make another incision just above the pelvic bone. You can feel where that bone is with your finger. This is a terminating cut at the bottom of the carcass.

Two men making an incision just above the pelvic one on a deer leg

10. Tenderloin Removal C
At the top by the neck, fillet meat away from the rib cage and the spine. It will be like pulling a large meat rope down from the animal’s rib cage. Using the knife, work the tenderloin away from the rib cage, pulling down and away from the carcass at the same time.

Removing skin from the meat on a deer leg

11. Tenderloin Removal D
Now it gets easier. Pull down on the slab of meat, while separating the tenderloin from the carcass by probing and cutting with the knife along the ribs and backbone.

Removing the tenderloin from the leg bone of a deer

12. Tenderloin Removal E
Now you’re down to the terminating cut you made earlier. Cut down until you encounter the bone, and then remove the loin.

Continuing the removal of the tenderloin from the deer leg

13. Tenderloin Removal F
Properly removed, this piece of meat should be 2 1/2 to 3 feet long, depending on the size of the animal. You’ll remove the silverskin from the top and the fat pieces that are stuck to it later.

Showing the removed deer tenderloin

14. Tenderloin Removal G
With the tenderloin free and clear from one side, get back at it and remove the other side. Lay those jewels on the meat table! Here you can see the near-white spine ridge covered in fat as the second tenderloin is removed.

Removing the other tenderloin from the other deer leg

15. Pelvic Meat A
At this point, small bits of meat can be removed to your discretion. Any remaining meat will come off in chunks to be used for stews and grinding.

Removing pelvic meat from the deer

16. Pelvic Meat B
Here’s a good example of quality stew or grinding chunks that are located at the bottom of the deer, between the pelvis bone and the tail.

Removing more pelvic meat from the deer

17. Neck Meat
There are small strips of meat that can be removed from the neck area, if you like. These are best used for grinding. Be careful not to include fat in any of your strips.

Removing neck meat from the deer

Final Parts
Here are the entire parts of a deer after quartering. From left, pelvic and neck meat chunks, front quarters, hind quarters and tenderloins.

All collected deer meat layed out on a table