Two areas are important here: butchering skills and butchering gear. There are two sorts of people who are likely reading this article. The first is the guy who is planning on doing his own processing this season, and is researching ahead to ensure he has everything needed to get things done before taking to the field. The second, of course, is reading this off his mobile phone, standing over a deer, praying for overnight shipping. No matter which hunter you are, read on for some essential gear you’ll need to get you all the way from the deer woods, to the freezer.
A sharp knife
If you resemble the latter fellow, and you didn’t already think of this, I have some serious questions about what you thought hunting entailed; regardless, a sharp knife will be necessary both for field dressing and processing. Some hunters have a few different hunting/skinning knives: one for travel, one for the field, and one for butchering, but truth be told, you really only need a single knife. A good one to cover all three bases is the Gerber Vital Pocket Folder. An exchangeable-blade folding knife, the Vital Pocket comes with 6 replacement blades, to ensure you always have a razor-sharp option at hand. More replacements are, of course, available for purchase. Blade replacement is toolless and easy thanks to Split Sec Technology. While the knife is certainly geared more toward field dressing than processing, as you’ll likely have to use more than one blade to fully process a game animal, the flexible blade makes hugging bone easy, and is very effective in saving every last inch of meat. gerbergear.com; MSRP $52.00
Curious how much that deer weighs after you’ve got it all dressed out? You may want to invest in a hanging scale, like Ranew’s Outdoors’ Hanging Judge Gambrel. Not only is measuring and recording deer weights a great way to keep an eye on herd health, but if you’re the type who likes to hang his deer to butcher, this is a great way to kill two birds with one stone. thehanging-judge.com; MSRP: $92.89
One of the other absolute necessities in the butcher’s kit is a quality meat grinder. While choice cuts of meat are all the rage and garner most of the attention in the blogosphere, the fact is quite a bit of your meat will end up as hamburger, sausage or jerky–and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. While no one ever turns down a good steak, hamburger is often what turns deer from a rare treat, into a standard weekday staple. For a good grinder, look no further than the quality models over at Made with MEAT! From smaller, 500-watt models good for the weekend warrior, all the way up to full 1.5-horsepower models, Made with MEAT! will have what you need to grind everything that comes your way this season. meatyourmaker.com; MSRP: $119.99-$699.99
If you’re going with a standard knife, unlike the interchangeable blade mentioned above, you’ll need (and I do mean need) a quality knife sharpener. Now, if you already have a good bit of skill with cutlery, a standard whetstone or progression of whetstones will likely work fine. If you’re not, however, there is quite a learning curve, and stones take a good bit of time even for a seasoned sharpener. As such, a sharpener like the Ken Onion Edition Knife and Tool Sharpener, from Work Sharp Tools, will do the trick for most laymen. Abrasive belts spun tight against your knife on an adjustable-angle guide put on the sort of professional-grade edge that you’ll need after dulling your knife on bone, or simply through repeated butcherings. worksharptools.com; MSRP: $99.95
Now that you’ve butchered all that meat, you’ll need to preserve it until you’re ready to eat. While this obviously means freezing, you’ll need a way to protect it from freezer burn as well. There is no better way to do this than with a vacuum sealer. Once sealed away in such packaging, your meat will stay fresh for around three years, really extending the time you have to enjoy it. Made with MEAT! offers a great selection of sealers, with their line of easy-to-use and affordably priced external units being the best value for home use. meatyourmaker.com; MSRP: $79.99-$299.99
Still a little lost after reading this list? I don’t blame you; butchering is far from simple, and while articles like this are great for granting an understanding of what you’ll need, it’s almost impossible to fully comprehend the process without some real, hands-on training. For that, I’d recommend a trip over to From Field to Table. Not only do the experts there have a goldmine of information on their website, but if you sign up for one of their events, they will take you hands-on through the entire sequence; exactly as their name implies. fromfieldtotable.com