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Posted on December 14 2015

‘Cause There’s a Lot of Ways to Do It Wrong

by Jason Ross

The first deer I killed, I was twenty-two, out in the middle of nowhere and I had a mess on my hands. I’d blasted the mule deer with my muzzle loader and it just looked like a pile of guts, blood and meat. I needed to “phone a friend.” I called my old cowboy father-in-law.

“What do I do now?”

Twenty years and hundreds of animals later, I know what I’m looking at when I see an animal on the ground, but there’s actually a lot to getting the animal from the ground to the table — especially if you expect your wife to be any part of the cooking equation.

ReadyMan is your “phone a friend” and I’d love to walk you through basic animal butchery. In a grid down scenario, you might well be in a position to feed your family with a live animal, so I thought we’d start with the most common — a cow. I’ll write this and future articles so that you can use them as a guide if you find yourself with a beast to eat.

Here are the most-basic steps, along with the biggest ways to screw it up. By the may, most of this applies to other ungulates as well (deer, elk, moose, etc..)

Killing, Gutting and Hanging

  1. Killing a cow. Watch the video and you’ll see. It’s trickier than it sounds. Preferably, you’ll kill the animal with one, unsuspected shot to the brain. Worrying the animal allows adrenaline to pump through them, tainting the meat a little. Our preference: shoot the cow right in the ear directly from the side. Don’t forget, if your rifle is sighted at 50 to 100 yards, you’ll have to hold over a couple inches, because you’ll be shooting close.  Make sure you kill the cow somewhere you can either lift it with a forklift or use a big tree or rafter to hoist it up. Make sure it doesn’t die somewhere you’ll have to move it around a bunch.
  2. Cool the cow down as quickly as possible. The guts need to come out and the hide needs to come off ASAP. 
  3. Cut off the lower legs from BELOW the knee. WARNING: there is a big tendon that goes from the rear muscle group to the knee. You need that tendon as a good place to hook and hang the carcass — which you’re going to need to do to gut and then age it. Don’t cut that tendon and make sure you don’t compromise it when you’re cutting off the lower legs. On a cow, the easiest way might be to take your battery-powered reciprocating saw and just cut the lower leg bone below the knee. With a deer or elk, you can work through the joint, being careful to leave that tendon attached.
  4. With the hide laid back (see Step 5), saw open the brisket (chest) with a bone saw or reciprocating saw. This isn’t necessary on deer or elk, but it still works.
  5. Remove the hide. With a cow, you’ll remove the hide and then the guts. With a deer or an elk, you’ll probably gut them in the field, then drag them with the hide still on, so your meat doesn’t get beat up.  
    1. Put a couple of four-by-fours or other chocks under the loins of the cow to hold it with his legs sticking straight up.
    2. Cut a ring just under the hide around each leg just BELOW the knee (as if it was standing up).
    3. Cut a single slit from each ring around the leg to the centerline of the belly. This will land around the udders/dong in the back and around the chest up front.
    4. Cut a single slit from between the rear legs all the way to the underside of the throat. Be VERY careful not to cut through the thin muscle of the gut and expose guts. You’re not ready for that quite yet.
    5. Peel back the hide, with the help of your sharp knife, around the legs and from the belly. Lay back that hide.
    6. Lift the carcass up with a hoist, come-along or forklift by running a rope or chain through the hole behind those tendons on the back legs. Then, you can work on the backside without getting dirt on the meat (not the end of the world, anyway.)
    7. Work around the butt-hole and cut through the tail with a saw or with your knife. Be careful not to knick the piss tube.
    8. Peel the hide down to the neck, then cut the head off along with the hide.

5.  Gut the cow. With the carcass lifted up from the back legs, the guts will slosh down toward the front of the cow. This is good, because you want to open it up without a lot of pressure against your knife. Start from the top between the legs and cut open the body cavity going down toward the ribs. Once you get your starter hole, put your finger over the tip of your knife so that you don’t puncture guts or the bladder. You just want to cut the thin flesh open. As you make your way down, the pressure will build behind your knife as you get into more and more guts. Keep cutting until you hit the chest. If you cut the chest open with a saw, all the guts will pour over and they’ll start making their way to the ground.

6.  Cut around the anus from outside and inside, freeing all the connective tissue around it. You’re going to pull it through the pelvis in a minute, so do your best to get it free.

7. Carefully find the bladder. It’s pretty obvious. Tie it off securely with a piece of twine or a zip tie. Cut it off and toss it away.

8. Carefully tie off the poop chute the same way you tied off the bladder. Pull it through the pelvis and use it as a handle to pull on the guts — cutting away the connective tissue to help the guts out of the body cavity.

9. With almost all the intestines on the ground, you’ll see the diaphragm — it’s a membrane between the stomach/intestines and the lungs/heart. The esophagus passes through the diaphragm to get food from the mouth to the guts. You can cut away the diaphragm and remove the heart and lungs. Go ahead and save the heart, and the liver too, if you’re into that.

10.  Pull everything out and you should be looking at an empty carcass. With the skin off and the guts out, the meat should be cooling rapidly.

11. Cool the carcass. Cut the carcass in half if you have a big enough storage fridge. Cut right down the center of the backbone with a saw, clean chainsaw (no bar oil) or reciprocating saw. Quarter the carcass into four pieces if you must. Get the carcass to around 35 or 40 degrees fahrenheit if at all possible. If that’s not possible, you can age the beef for just a couple days, then you’re going to have to dry it or lose it.

12.  Quartering the carcass. Cut between the 12th and 13th rib and then through the backbone.

13.  Hang the carcass.  Hang the parts for several days to three weeks, depending on how cold it is and how much fat is on the carcass (more fat = longer.) Smell test the meat frequently. If it Smells like it’s rotting, butcher it immediately. Don’t worry too much about mold growing on the skin. You’ll be cutting that off anyway.


  1. Slice of the fascia. There will be a thin, dry layer over all your meat. It’s largely inedible and needs to be sliced away. Use a sharp knife and be careful to pare away as little meat as possible.
  2. Remove connective tissue, like tendon. You’ll see lots of tendon on the front and back quarters. You’re going to have to cut that away in feed it to the dogs.
  3. Cut through the backbone, making steaks. Pick your desired steak thickness and cut through the backbone and then the meat, leaving your T-bones and Ribeyes. These are your best cuts, with the best meat (along the backbone and below the backbone.)
  4. Remove the back quarters. Be careful not to jack up the backstrap (meat along the spine) as you remove the back legs. Find the natural point of separation along the pelvis and cut away the back leg, looking for the socket. Pick your way around the socket, cutting the connective tissue and releasing the back leg.
  5. Remove the front quarters. The front quarters aren’t actually attached to the body via bone. The scapula bone can be pared away from the body easily once you find the natural point of separation.
  6. Separate out the muscle groups from the hind quarters. Find the natural divisions in the meat and separate out the large muscle groups. Throw anything that’s too small to steak out into a “grind” bin for hamburger.
  7. With the larger muscle groups from the front and rear quarters free of fascia and tendon, either leave them whole and vacuum seal them — so that you can steak them later OR use them as roasts. In the alternative, steak them out now if you’re sure you’ll be eating them as steaks. IMPORTANT: cut the muscle groups into steaks of your desired thickness by slicing ACROSS the grain of the meat. If you cut your steaks along the grain they will be very tough.
  8. Grind up your grind, or leave some of it as “stir fry” if the meat is nice but too small for steaks. Don’t bother trying to grind your tendon material as it’ll gum up your meat grinder.
  9. Freeze everything. If you’re in a survival situation, you’re going to have to cut everything up into very thin pieces and dry it. That’d take hours and hours with a cow or an elk, but it’d probably be worth it.
  10. If you want your wife totally “in” on the deal, mark the packages with the cut of meat, the year and the kind of animal.



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