By Mike Raether
It was a fair question to ask of someone entering their sixth decade of life.
“At your age, why do you still backpack in to your hunting areas and pack the meat out on your back?”
A fair question deserves a fair answer.
“Because I still can.”
Backpack hunting offers many rewards. The solitude, the greater abundance of game, and the increased chance of bagging a real trophy. But for me, one of the greatest rewards is the satisfaction of harvesting game in the back country and packing out the meat. To test myself against myself, and then sit down to a meal centered on wild game I packed out of the wilderness always makes me smile. But packing out big game from the outback can be hard work. To make it easier I quarter the critter, drop the pieces into game bags, side the bags into my backpack and walk out of the woods triumphant.
If this thought appeals to you, then you’ll want to learn how to quarter your prize. That’s what this article is all about. Step by step, here we go:
Step 1. You’ll be butchering your prize one side at a time. Starting at the base of the head, make a slit down the center of the back to the base of the tail and then skin the animal from the backbone down.
Step 2. Remove the legs from the “knee.” After you’re done, the first finished side will look like this.
Step 3. Standing or kneeling over the animal and
at the animal’s backbone (with its head to your left) remove the front shoulder by grasping the shank and bending it back toward you, progressively cutting the shoulder free by making slices toward the backbone, staying close to the rib cage (be careful!). Keep making slices towards the backbone and the shoulder will come free.
Step 4. Now it’s time for the rear quarter. Again standing or kneeling over the animal at the animal’s backbone (with the rump to your right) grasp the shank, pull it toward you, and carefully slice between the body and the inside of the hindquarter.
Step 5. Progressively cut deeper until you encounter the socket that attaches the hindquarter to the body. Work the tip of your knife into the socket to cut the cartilage that holds everything together to free the ball from the socket. Keep cutting to free the hindquarter from the carcass.
Step 6. The prized back strap comes next. Starting about where the neck joins the body, slide your knife along the backbone (as if filleting a fish) to the point where you removed the hindquarter.
Step 7. Returning to your first cut near the neck, now work the knife back towards the hindquarter by sliding it along the top of the rib cage with the point of the knife following the backbone. Lift the back strap free.
Step 8. Now comes the tricky part: removing the tenderloin. It lies on the inside of the body cavity up against the backbone, beginning just about where the rib cage ends and continuing back about 9” (on an average size deer) towards the rump. To remove it, make a careful slice just under the backbone and just at the end of the rib cage (if you’re not extra cautious here you’ll cut the paunch – yuk). Reach in with your hand, feel along the underside of the backbone and you’ll find the precious tenderloin. Holding down the paunch with one hand, use the fingers of your other hand to work the tenderloin free from the backbone (it lives up to its name – it’s very tender and will come loose with a little encouragement).
Step 9. Now flip the animal over and do the other side. Note the finished product: one animal, quartered and ready to slip into game bags and then into your pack! At this point you can slit the belly open and easily remove the heart and liver without going through the whole gutting process.