I enjoy hunting.
I enjoy the preparation and the planning. I enjoy getting out in nature away from everything and everyone. I enjoy the anticipation and waiting for the shot. I enjoy the shot and harvest. While a TON of work, I even enjoy bringing my kill down off the mountain.
And I enjoy the meat.
While there are a number of reasons why I hunt, having the wild game to eat is pretty much at the top. While it is one of the most labor-intensive parts of hunting, I prefer to butcher the elk I shoot myself. There’s something neat to be able to be involved in the entire process from shot to fork!
Here is the typical process I go through to butcher an elk:
After successfully shooting an elk, I quarter it, and get the backstraps, tenderloin, and all other neck and rib meat off that I can. I pack it all into game bags and pack it out to my vehicle and home. If I’m packing the meat out a fair distance I may need to debone the quarters up on the mountain, but if it isn’t too far, I’ll usually just bring the quarters out whole.
Once at home I like to skin and clean all the meat as soon as possible. I always like to try to wash the meat off after skinning to get any hair or dirt off of the meat before butchering.
Depending on your own set-up you may be able to hang your meat for a period of time but I don’t find it to be necessary for most elk. If I know it will be a while, I’ll actually throw the meat into the freezer until I have time to butcher it.
When it comes time to butcher I get everything set up. Here is what I typically have:
– A couple of sharp knives ( I have an entire game processing kit, but you really only need a couple knives to do the entire thing.
– A cutting board
– 3-4 big plastic or glass bowls
– Meat grinder (I have a meat grinder attachment to my wife’s mixer that works great!
– Butcher Paper
– Small kitchen scale
– Masking tape and a permanent marker
I recommend that you have a large table to work on. My wife allows me to use our kitchen table, but even a table in the garage or something will work. You will be surprised how much space the entire procedure will take!
Once I have things set up I start with the quarters. I deboned them, and put them in two main groups. The hindquarters I separate into big pieces of meat that I use for roasts and for whole muscle jerky. I work carefully to remove as much of the tendons and “silver skin” as possible and can usually come away with a number of roasts and whole muscle pieces. The front quarters I normally do not try to get any roasts from but instead cut off all the meat and can and cut it into smaller pieces that I will later grind up to make hamburger.
After the quarters are finished come the best part of the elk. The tenderloin is some of the best meat you will ever taste and so I jealously guard those! The two backstraps are also great pieces of mean and so typically I like to use all of the tenderloin and backstrap for steaks.
To get prefect-sized steaks from a backstrap, take the entire backstrap and stretch it out. Trim the edges so that you have a solid section of meat. Take your knife and cut each piece about 1 inch thick. If you are dealing with a smaller backstrap, you can butterfly the piece of meat to make it bigger. I cut up all the backstrap and tenderloin and put it in a pile for packaging up later.
Lastly I deal with the neck meat, other meat around the rib-cage, and any smaller pieces left over. All of this I cut into small strips and grind up to make hamburger. This ground meat I use for a number of different purposes. While whole-muscle jerky is my favorite, I will make a fair amount of jerky from ground elk. The process is much easier and in the end can taste pretty good.
A lot of the ground meat I will use some for hamburgers or other ground meat for cooking. Some people like to mix elk and beef in a 50/50 ratio and this will produce a good quantity of meat that can hardly be distinguished from just straight beef.
After butchering the entire animal, I really have it divided into the three categories (steaks, roasts, and ground). The last step it to package it all and put it away in the freezer. Depending on your family and your desires you can package them it whatever size is
convenient for you. I usually like to do the steaks in sections of 4-5. I do a variety of roast sizes usually dependent on how nice I can clean up the piece of meat. After grinding all the other meat, I try to package the ground in 1 pound packages. This is convenient for any cooking or making jerky later.
For packaging you have a wide array of options. While it is a little more expensive, I have found freezer paper works best for me. Usually I get my wife to help and we can package up the meat fairly quickly! Once it’s all taped up and labeled, all that delicious meat is ready for the freezer.