Whole beast butchery for hunters November 07, 2014 16:04

For last year I've been accumulating training, licenses, and equipment to begin hunting deer. Having never butchered a large animal before, I found it helpful to attend two workshops with EatWild, a really cool local company that specializes in hunter education for city slickers (my description, not theirs). I had a bunch of pictures from their Hunter Field Skills Workshop, a comprehensive 3 day course located at beautiful Singing Lands Ranch just north of Kamloops. In particular, I wanted to show some pictures from the "Shot to Table" exercise, wherein we skinned and butchered a lamb (a stand-in for the buck that wasn't in season). Sadly the memory card malfunctioned. The second course was right here in town - EatWild's Butchering Workshop held at Harkness & Co Butchers on Broadway near Fraser. DSC_1368

In the workshop we worked with two animals to learn about two totally different approaches to butchery. Patrick of Harkness walked us through the professional meat cutter's approach to breaking meat into retail cuts, and Dylan of EatWild worked with us on the hunter's technique.


Seen here, Patrick of Harkness shows how a professional butcher breaks the carcass first into large "prime cuts" and then into smaller portions. It's an orderly method that employs saws, mallets,  and cleavers to make nice neat cuts. It's an ideal way to break down a carcass if you have an orderly, well equipped facility and you aren't worried about getting the animal out of the woods and back to your truck. Everybody got a chance to practice their technique.


Here you see the advantage to the butcher's method - it's more involved, but you can get really deluxe cuts like the rack of lamb Patrick's working on here.


While the butcher uses just the right tools to prepare neat cuts, the hunter uses minimal tools and works with the anatomy to separate meat and bone. I was surprized to find a certain zen to it; the hunter's knife follows joints and muscle groups and takes the animal apart along its natural seams. Here, a participant fillets the muscles off the rib cage.


If you're carrying a harvested animal out of the field on your back, it's ideal to pack out only the parts of the animal you're planning to eat. That's one reason the hunter's approach emphasizes shaving as much meat as possible off the bones. Above, Dylan holds up the strip of meat we filleted off the rib cage.


The neck is loaded with great stew meat. Slicing the meat away from the cervical vertebrae requires some dexterity and a good sharp knife.  We used a narrow filleting knife like you would for fish. The hind and forelegs are visible in the right of the image. I lost the photographs, but these were removed with the same small-but-sharp knife by cutting all the way around each joint. Dylan had a good trick for removing the feet too, but the images were on the dead memory card.


The very best cuts are the tenderloins, located under the spine in the lower back. Here, a participant easily slices the whole muscle group from the carcass as a unit, rather than cutting across the bone to form medalions.


This shows a tenderloin removed as a unit, and a participant removing the sinewy fascia. Removing the muscle whole preserves the integrity of the cut, and requires only a small sharp knife. It can be frozen as a unit and cut into medalions before cooking.


Protect your hard work by packing the meat well for freezing! We used folded butcher paper here. Thanks again to Patrick and Dylan for their instruction!  For upcoming EatWild workshops, see the calendar here. Questions, comments, other thoughts?  let me know what you think!