The hunt was amazing. You snuck with range and delivered an ethical and lethal shot on the animal of your choosing. You planned all summer and finally put one on the ground! Now is the moment where the work truly begins, starting with a pack out and ending with some organic, mountain-raised meat in your freezer. Some hunters take every animal they harvest to a local butcher; however, there are a lot of benefits to butchering your own meat, starting with the most obvious: the cost.
Let’s face it, hunting out West can be expensive even if you are cutting corners and trying to save money. For example, the travel could be hundreds if not thousands of dollars; out-of-state tags, hundreds of dollars; gear, food and other miscellaneous expenses all add up along the way. Then, when you finally put a big game animal on the ground, you have to decide how you are going to get the meat from the ground and off the bone to the freezer. Of course, the easiest way for you is to take it to a local butcher and let them process your animal, package it and freeze it for transport. The biggest problem with this is that a local butcher often charges $300 to $800, depending on the cuts, meat sticks, sausages and pork fat that you are looking for. Though taking an animal to the butcher is the most convenient way to butcher an animal, it is another expense that is avoidable, especially if you are on a tight budget. Instead of taking it to a butcher, invest in some Saran Wrap, butcher paper and freezer bags and keep the rest of the money in your pocket. Aside from cost, there are several other benefits to butchering your own meat.
When it comes to butchering an animal and getting it ready for the table, no one will take better care of the meat or make sure that it is very clean than you. Though most butchers are clean, you never know if they will leave a few hairs, some dirty meat or gristle in your burger or steaks. Personally, I like to take the time to clean my butchering area, clean my meat thoroughly, remove all hairs and remove all gristle, unwanted fat and arteries before packaging it and freezing it. In the end, this leaves me with a product that I trust enough to give away to non-hunters and cook for all skeptics. Cleanliness is important in meat care so take the time to do it yourself and do it right.
When going to the grocery store to buy steak or burgers, we often get disconnected as to where this meat comes from on an animal. When you first start to butcher an animal, you may feel that you have no clue what cuts come from where. It may do you some good to do some simple internet research and understand what cuts come from where on the animal. Then, decide what you want or do not want based upon what you want to eat. This is the biggest determination of what cuts you should make and how you should butcher your game. Personally, I am not a big roast fan so, instead of leaving a large rump roast, I cut some steaks, cubes or fajita strips out of muscles that other hunters may leave for roast meat. I also have a family with young kids so we eat a lot of burger meat and I am always inclined to turn more into burgers for a quick and delicious meal. When you butcher your own animal you can connect with your cuts and understand what you like and do not like. After a few animals you will be an expert and make quick work of an animal.
One big concern I alway have when taking my big game animal to a butcher is understanding if I got my own meat back or a mix of other people's deer and elk. After all, most butcher shops are processing multiple animals at one time and once your tag is off the animal, then meat is meat. The biggest difference to me is that I know that I took time to cut up my animal correctly, I know that the time from the field to my processing and butchering my meat was reasonable and that there was no feces or urine contaminating my meat at any time. What I do not know is how any other hunter took care of their meat post kill. This is just another reason I prefer to butcher my own game.
The final reason I love to butcher my own meat is to get some comradery with some friends while reliving the hunt. Grab some knives, a cutting board, a six-pack of your favorite beverage and a friend or two and you can make quick work of the harvested animal while gaining some laughs along the way. A large animal like an elk or moose can take an entire day to butcher and pack; however, I promise you that you will have more pride in your product and have some fun along the way.
We are blessed to live in a country where we can have convenient options like backcountry butcher shops; however, it doesn't mean you should always use it. Hunting has many complex parts to it; it just isn’t about killing and putting a rack on the wall. A big part of hunting for me is connecting with nature and the experience, but another part of it is the meat. I find that butchering my own meat gives me a great connection with nature and the animal, which is why I tend to complete the process myself from start to finish. It is important to note that sometimes butchering your own meat is not feasible. I have had times when I had a flight to catch or had extremely hot temperatures where I chose to take the meat directly to a butcher. However, when those variables are not present, I choose to do it myself whenever possible. The next time you put an animal on the ground, consider taking it back to your garage and butchering it yourself. I guarantee you will get more fulfillment out of the experience and create another event that you will enjoy with some friends and family.