More deer hunters in Maine may need to learn to butcher their own kills as deer cutters turn them away because of increasing harvests. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

With Maine seeing an increase in deer harvests in recent years, deer cutters have been turning hunters away. And in warm weather like we’ve been experiencing so far in November, that can lead to spoiled meat for hunters who don’t know how to butcher a deer.

Last week, Laflamme’s Custom Meatcutters in Arundel, one of the state’s largest deer processors, posted on Facebook on two separate days that they had reached their limit of deer – and urged hunters to “make secondary arrangements to store deer.” 

Because of larger deer harvests, the state has started offering classes in how to butcher deer with the hope that more hunters might learn this ancient survival skill.

“It’s our responsibility as a hunter to eat the meat. It’s not acceptable to lose the meat if it’s too warm out. We want to demystify it. It’s really pretty straightforward,” said Ron Fournier, the director of the UMaine 4-H Camp and Learning Center and instructor of the state’s deer-butchering class.

Last year’s harvest of 38,947 deer was the largest in Maine since 1968. And while the number of deer permits this year – 96,340 – is down by 37% from last year, the new antlerless permit issued for the first time this fall lets hunters harvest a doe as well as a buck. As a result, state biologists expect an increase in the deer harvest.

The state’s deer processing classes typically use a decoy deer model – unless a Maine Game Warden finds a road kill or a department employee offers a freshly harvested deer. That was the case for the participants of the Becoming an Outdoors Woman class last month.


“It was beyond my expectations,” said Maine native Brenda Schilinksi, who traveled from Manassas, Virginia, to take the class. “He winched it up and proceeded to skin it and cut the meat off. And he allowed the participants to take some meat home. He told us about the different cuts. He talked about the tendons and how to clean it. It was just remarkable. It was amazing.”

While the state plans to expand its deer-butchering classes, for now the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife offers deer processing how-to videos.

Fournier said that “with a little bit of practice, it is not that intimidating.” He helped boil it down for us:


Hunters preparing to butcher a deer will need a clean work station – which can simply be a kitchen table or island covered in plastic – and a cold place to hang the deer before processing it. If that’s not possible, then you’ll need to quarter it right away to store the smaller pieces in a freezer. Fournier said it’s safe to hang it outside if it’s 37 degrees or colder.

“I spoke to a gentleman who lives in an apartment in the Bangor area. So he (quartered it) and threw it in a cooler. You just have to find a way,” Fournier said.


Mike Maines of the Royal River Rod and Gun Club has processed about 30 deer with his son’s help. He suggests hanging the deer for three to four days to age the meat to improve the flavor of the venison.

“It relaxes the muscle, makes it more tender,” said Maines, one of a dozen hunters in the club who butchers their own deer.

Equipment needed includes a good set of sharp knives, which cost about $50 to $70; a grinder (roughly $100 to $300); and freezer bags or, better still, a vacuum-pack sealer that compresses the air out of the bags (about $100). 

Some hunters invest in a dehydrator to make beef jerky, costing an additional $100 to $400.


With the equipment ready and the garage or kitchen counter clean, the next step is to skin the deer, which hunters often do outside on a game pole. Work the hide off slowly with a sharp knife.


Then the work of taking off the muscle groups begins. Start with the large muscles on the back, often called the backstrap. Two run down the spine on the outside and two smaller ones – the tenderloins – underneath.

Next: quarter the deer, cutting off hind and front legs. This is where the steak cuts will be had.

The other low-quality cuts, found at the neck and rump, can be taken off in smaller bits that can be ground into burger and sausage or used as stew meat. Many hunters and deer cutters blend in pork to add flavor.

“I mix 20% pork and 80% venison and grind it a couple of times. It makes beautiful burger and sausage,” Maines said.

For deer jerky, Fournier suggests cutting the meat in strips an eighth of an inch thick, seasoning it with meat rubs, then drying it in the dehydrator.



Once the meat is cut, the various pieces need to be wrapped, sealed and identified. Sealing it tight is important to protect against freezer burn. This is where a vacuum sealer comes in handy.

By law, all wild game needs to be labeled with the name of the hunter who shot it, their license number, and the date the game was harvested.  Should a game warden check, the game meat should be traceable back to the hunter who harvested it.

Leftover parts typically are disposed of in the woods of the hunter’s property or in the trash.

An average-sized deer, about 150 pounds, takes roughly four hours to process – though it may take six hours for a novice. You can expect to get 40% to 50% of the meat from a deer, so that 150-pound deer likely would yield roughly 75 pounds of packaged meat for the freezer.

“My family still solely puts wild game meat on the table. We never buy it in the store, other than a little chicken. It’s interesting that it’s so foreign to folks,” Fournier said.

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