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Skinning: Getting the hide off
Starting takes the longest; after you get it started it is very easy to skin a deer.Taking care not to cut the Achilles tendon, which would dump the carcass on the ground and not improve your day, make a horizontal cut through the thin skin and white hair on the inside of the leg, below where the stick is going through the leg. I tend to make a cut in several short cuts to control it better. Again, stay away from the tendon. Grasp the cut edge of the skin and pull it back a little, and then make a perpendicular downward cut down the leg towards the crotch. Now you can expand the cut, pulling the thin skin away from the leg as you go and slicing through the membranes that attach the skin to the body. This is easy and obvious; just lay the blade parallel to the body and draw it towards you across the connective tissue so that the skin comes away. Do this on both sides until you have cut all the way around the leg and the skin is starting to hang away from the leg. Keep pulling the skin away, making small slicing cuts through the membranes that attach the skin to the body. At some point you are going to have to saw off the tail to keep going. Grab the tail in one hand and saw rapidly at the base of the tail until it comes away in your hand. (I guess if I had plans to tan the hide for a rug or something I would be more careful.) Any saw is fine. I use a hacksaw. Here you see the very fatty deer butt with the tail sawed right off.
By this time you have the skin off the haunches and can shuck the skin off the back with a steady pull and a few flicks of the knife. Don’t worry when you start to pull the thin layer of meat away close to the shoulders. Unless you are planning to use the hide, it’s really such a small amount of meat that I just let it go until we get to the neck. If you are using the hide you’ll have to remove it when you are scraping the hide. More on that later. Here you see the hide halfway off. See the little bits of cellophane looking tissue you have to cut through as you are shucking the hide down- just like a sweater.
When you get down near the forelegs you can remove the skin the same way you did on the other end, with a lengthways cut along the inside of the leg, running in from the edge of the body cavity. I like to use as much of the upper joint of the foreleg as I can, because that tough gristly muscle makes delicious stew meat. Saw the leg off by grasping the knee firmly in one hand and sawing through the leg at a safe distance from your hand. Continue to pull the skin down the neck, like pulling off a sweater. At this point I do go through the muscle attached to the skin and it becomes more difficult to remove the skin, requiring lots of small slicing movements. The neck meat is great, so make the effort to go as far as you can before you saw the head off. I have a friend who actually does a chunk of neck in the crock pot and she says it is the best. I’m leery of spinal matter so I just try to get as much meat off those tricky cervical bones as I can with a sharp knife. Anyway, saw the head off by grabbing hold of an ear- or whatever works for your hand- and saw away until it comes loose. This is not rocket science.
Dispose of unwanted parts as responsibly as you can. I have a friend who uses my hides for tanning and to make drum heads. Some people make hooves into Native American style rattles. Deer legs are so thin and dry that they don’t smell or leave bloodstains, so they make a great gift for a dog. We live on a farm, so I just throw the bones including the grisly-looking ribcage out in the field and watch to see what comes to clean up the scraps. As for the guts, if you would like to avoid sending compostable biomass to the landfill, dig a really deep hole for what you don’t use and cover it with dirt and something heavy. Dogs will dig deep for such a treat and then you will wish you had dug deeper. I have been lucky with a foot and a half; about the depth you would bury a departed pet….