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Shoot, Survival / November 20, 2016

Why I butcher my own kills

Written by: Justin Park

To those who don’t know how to self-butcher game, the process can seem… intense. It’s messy, time consuming, and it puts a lot of hard-earned meat at risk of spoilage.

So I cast no shade on those folks who take an animal to a professional to be processed. It’s right to be realistic about the amount of time and energy butchery requires. Half-hearted or hurried self-butchery is a sure way to waste a fresh kill.

That said, I choose to butcher my own meat for a number of reasons.

For one, it’s the surest way to ensure the meat I bring home is from the animal I killed—many processors combine meat from multiple animals. I’m particularly careful to not contaminate my kills, but I can’t be sure other hunters have shown the same diligence.

I take great care when field dressing my kills, so it's important to me that the meat I take home is from my own harvest.

Hunters who self butcher often develop an appreciation for lesser-used parts of the animal.

The DIY approach also ensures that I go home with exactly the butchering cuts that I want. Since I first learned how to self-butcher game, I’ve developed a taste for some pretty specific cuts.

That’s due, in part, to the lessons taught by home butchery. Cutting my own meat has forced me to learn more anatomy and cooking than I ever would have otherwise, and has helped me develop an appreciation for oft-neglected parts of the animal.

“You broke it, you bought it,” writes author Hank Shaw. “It’s only respect for the animal to use as much as possible.”

So I’ve found uses for offal (organ meats like the heart, liver, and kidneys), and have roasted bones to make stocks for soup.

There are still parts of every animal I don’t like, of course. But I’d encourage anyone to try lesser-known cuts like the neck roast. Though it looks like a mess to the novice butcher, the neck can actually be transformed into one of the most flavorful meals from an animal.

Where to start

The “how” of butchering is complicated and beyond the scope of this post, but I can offer some paths to success based on my own butchering journey.

If you have a hunting buddy who butchers his or her own meat, start there. Read some of the books listed below and then ask if you can lend a hand the next time he or she downs an animal.

Alternatively, ask that friend to help you butcher your own kill. If you choose this route, it’s generally good practice to sweeten the deal by sharing some of the meat.

Nothing teaches like experience. If possible, volunteer to help your friends who butcher their own meat.

Practice makes perfect. Field-dress and self-butcher kills whenever you have the opportunity to do so with expert supervision.

Absent a personal connection, look for a local artisan butcher shop. While a dedicated butcher shop might seem like a bit of an anachronism these days, most major urban areas have a few. And if they’re of the meat evangelist bent, they likely offer demonstrations, classes and/or workshops that can get you some hands-on experience.

The following books are the best materials I own, and I still reference them before I cut into a quarter:

“Buck, Buck, Moose” by Hank Shaw has the advantage of being a cookbook as well, which comes in handy once all that meat is in the freezer.

“Whole Beast Butchery” by Ryan Farr is rich with images. Though there’s no substitute for actually handling meat, this book’s photo walkthroughs are pretty close.

“Basic Butchering of Livestock and Game” by John Mettler. The book’s line drawings leave much to the imagination, but the advice is straightforward and accurate. Reading through the differences between beef, pork and venison is instructive, even for those who only plan to butcher deer.

Learning how to self-butcher game is a messy process, both literally and figuratively. But those who master this skill are rewarded with superior meat and a deeper understanding of the animals they harvest.

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about the author

Justin Park

Justin is a Breckenridge, Colorado-based videographer and writer with strong roots back home in Upstate New York. His passions alternate between the shamelessly frivolous and the ruthlessly practical. There’s backcountry skiing and mountain biking for the sheer thrill of it. There’s hunting, foraging, spearfishing and cooking to put food on the table.

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