How to Skin a Deer (Step by Step)

Christian | |

Before you can make your first venison hamburger, you have to get the deer’s hide off. That fur isn’t going to cook well on the grill.

A lot of new hunters are intimidated by removing a deer’s skin. There sure is a lot of it after all. In reality, though, skinning a deer is a simple and relatively fast process. To save time and hassle, follow the easy steps below. 

Materials Needed

  • Field knife: You will need a knife to cut through the fascia or connective tissue that attaches the skin to the muscle. You may even have to cut through tendon or ligament to fully separate the hide. For this reason, the sharper the better.
  • Meat pole: You’ll need to hang your deer from something. The easiest way is a meat pole suspended between two supports or trees, though some hunters like to make a meat pole consisting of an arm attached to a single support.
  • Gambrel hook: A gambrel hook is the best way to hang your deer from your meat pole because it hooks perfectly into its two hind legs. The best way to attach the hook to the pole is with a pulley system, which is often included with the gambrel hook. This allows you to easily hoist the deer carcass to its skinning position.

Deer Skinning Tips and Tricks

Use Two Knives

While you only need one field knife to skin a deer, having an extra on hand is a good idea. This way you can trade them out if one knife begins to get dull or, more importantly, if it gets a lot of hair on it. 

Wash the Carcass After Skinning

Once you’ve completely removed the skin, it’s always smart to use a hose at low pressure to rinse off the outside of the deer meat. Even if you were super careful, it’s likely you got some hairs or dirt in the meat, and you don’t want to find that in your hamburger later. 

Just keep the temperature in mind. If you’re going to hang the deer to age it, you don’t want to spray it down if the temperature is going to drop below freezing. This is a sure way to get freezer burn. Similarly, if it’s getting warm, getting the meat wet will speed up how fast it spoils. You can still wash it. Just butcher it as soon as possible afterwards.

Find a Buddy

You can certainly skin a deer by yourself, but the constant movement of the suspended deer gets annoying fast. The process goes much more smoothly if you have a buddy there to stabilize it. This can be a hunting buddy, your wife or even a bucket if it’ll keep the deer from swaying around.

Skinning a hanging deer the traditional way
Skinning can be a relatively fast process, but it’s much easier with a buddy to stabilize the carcass

Skinning a Deer Step By Step

1. Hang the Deer

If you haven’t already hung the deer, that’s your first step. You should stick the hooks of the gambrel in the rear part of the deer’s knees between the joint and rear tendon.  

Once you’ve secured both legs to the gambrel hook, use your pulley system to hoist it up. It should be completely off the ground but not so high that you have to hold the knife above your head to skin it. That would be tiring. A good height is to have the deer’s rump at eye level.

2. Cut the Legs

The first cuts you make will be to the legs. Make one set of cuts around all four of the deer’s legs just above the knees and another set along the interior of the legs, running from the cuts you just made to the cuts you made when you field dressed it. The idea here is to loosen the skin on the legs, which will let you more easily peel off the hide without having to slice your entire way through.

3. Skin the Legs

Once you’ve made your precuts, use your knife to skin the rear legs. Gently pull away the skin using the flap you created with the interior cut, and slice through the fascia to separate the skin from the thigh muscles and bones. This works best if you have a sharp knife and hold the skin taught.

4. Peel the Torso

After cutting the skin away from the rear legs, you’ll have enough to get a good grip. First, roll these flaps of skin so that the hair is tucked away beneath the skin. This helps prevent hair from getting in the meat.

Next, peel the skin down away from the deer’s entire torso. This should be pretty easy, and ideally, you won’t even have to use your knife. However, if you occasionally need to use your knife to help the peeling along, this is fine.

5. Skin the Shoulders

While the skin will peel away from the torso easily, it should stop at the deer’s shoulders. Here you’ll have to use your knife again to slice through the fascia and separate the skin from the rest of the deer’s body. 

As you cut the skin away from the shoulders, you’ll also have to skin down the deer’s front legs to meet the circular cuts you made in step two. Additionally, skin the neck up to the deer’s throat.

6. Cut off the Head

The last step is to remove the deer’s head either with your field knife or a bone saw. With the head gone, you should be able to completely remove the skin.

Step by step video of deer skinning

Deer Skinning FAQ

How Long Does It Take to Skin a Deer?

Skinning a deer usually doesn’t take that long, only 20-30 minutes. If you’re totally new to the process, it may take a little longer, and, of course, experienced hunters may go even faster. It’s better to take your time to make sure you don’t get any hair or dirt and the meat and end up with a deer that’s easy to butcher.

Who’s the fastest? Well the guy in this video can skin a deer in 1 minute and 48 seconds: https://youtu.be/cTPMUAn-ZCE

Can You Skin a Deer the Same Day?

Yes, you certainly can. In fact, you probably should. Skinning and butchering the deer immediately after killing it is the best way to keep it from spoiling.

Should I Skin My Deer Before I Let It Hang?

The exception to the immediate skinning rule is if you want to hang your deer to age it. In this case, whether to skin the deer or leave the hide on is a big debate in the hunting community. Leaving the hide on helps protect the meat from drying out or freezing from exposure to the air. However, it’s much more difficult to skin the deer after aging. 

Personally, I would leave the skin on unless you live in a place where you know it will stay a constant 38 degrees the entire time you’re hanging it—and that’s almost nowhere.

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