Hunting in California and Butchering a Whole Deer

Mike with a cigar standing over my California mule deer buck


Skinning and Quartering a deer on the ground with my F&S Folder
Skinning and Quartering a deer on the ground with my F&S Folder

Skinning and Quartering a Deer on the Ground

This part wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. After cutting off the feet at the first knuckle on the deer with my Bacho Laplander, we made the initial skinning cuts up the legs. Apparently, you can do this with just a knife by separating the bones between the socket. However, I’m not experienced and went with the saw. I’m not sure if it’s a true story, but there are tales of these feet releasing some sort of scent that attract mountain lions. We opt to move them a few hundred yards away.

mule deer hind quarter ready for a game bag
Mule deer hind quarter ready for a game bag

When skinning, always cut from the inside of the skin to the fur side. This helps save the blade from dulling during the process. I didn’t have to sharpen my folding knife once throughout the process.

Separating the skin from the meat is easy. The pelt is held on to the meat by this foam-like tissue that jumps away from the knife’s cuts. I worked on one side of the deer while it was on the ground this way. After I got enough pelt off to get full access to the hind quarter and shoulder, I simply used the folder to take those chunks off and into game bags. The pack I had came with 4 game bags and were easily able to fit two quarters in each bag. The two remaining game bags are for steaks and ground meat.

We repeated the same process on the other side for the quarters, the tenderloins, and the back straps while adding miscellaneous cuts of meat into the grinding bag.

Home Stretch

With our carrying-weight reduced and the loads being independent, we still needed to carry everything up the walls of the canyon. We start our way uphill, through bushes, and over boulders. It was much easier than if we had continued to do our stick dance. We’re dehydrated, tired, and still have a ways to bushwhack back to the truck.

My mouth is a sticky-kind of dry and I’m letting my body carry me back as I think of other things. I mentioned how nice a strawberry-lemonade would be.. one with sugar around the rim. One foot in front of the other, we’re climbing 45-degree hills in the evening sun.

Padron 1926 40th Anniversary "Deer Killer" cigar
Padron 1926 40th Anniversary “Deer Killer” cigar

We finally get to the trailhead, but it’s more or less the same thing: downhill, uphill, over bushes, and broken road. I keep having to alternate the shoulder I’m using to rest my half of the deer on. The miscellaneous bag of meat tied onto my pack is swinging as I’m walking and I keep checking to see if the bow-knot I used to tie the head onto my pack has failed me.

The Deer Killer

We get to a point that’s accessible by car, shed our load, and start hoofing over to the water-trunk that is Mike’s truck. We both chug two bottles of water and eat the first real food we’ve had all day – a sandwich. It’s 5:30pm.

We both take a few minutes to reflect on the adventure we just had, the hard work we put in, and talk about how rewarding doing it “the hard way” really is.

Mike and I started a tradition last year to celebrate a successful hunt with a top-shelf cigar – the Pardon 1926 40th anniversary. We’ve given it the nickname “The Deer Killer” as it has become the celebratory stick awarded to the successful hunter. I got to smoke mine this year and it was wonderful.

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