With venison’s lean and flavorful profile combined with the fact that it can be ethically hunted and sourced, it’s no wonder why deer meat has been a popular food source for centuries. But when it comes to harvesting, one common question that many people ask is, “How much meat can I expect from a deer?”
Naturally, there’s no perfect answer to this question, as the amount of meat you’ll be stowing in your freezer will depend on a wide variety of factors such as the species of deer, the animal’s size and age as well as the processing techniques being used.
However, we’d say on average, a typical deer harvest will provide around 50 pounds of meat.
Be aware that this number should be taken with a grain of salt and is very much a ballpark figure. If your butcher is sending you away with less, you haven’t necessarily been shortchanged.
The fact of the matter is that the amount of venison you’ll receive highly varies based on the factors that we’ll be discussing further in this blog. So whether you’re a seasoned hunter or just curious about the topic, this post will provide you with valuable insights into the world of deer meat.
Setting the Record Straight on Deer Meat Yield
We suspect that much of the confusion surrounding meat yield comes from hunters who have field dressed and weighed their latest kill. After all, how can a carcass that weighs 120 lbs fully dressed come away with less than half of that weight in meat?
A good rule of thumb is to estimate your meat yield to be around 35 to 45 percent of your field-dressed weight. Based on the average weight of whitetail deer, this typically comes to around 50 lbs.
How to Calculate Deer Meat Yield
- Weigh the dressed carcass: The dressed carcass refers to the deer after it has been field dressed and the internal organs removed. For even more accurate results, remove the hide, antlers, legs, and other anatomical features that won’t be yielding you any venison.
- Consider wastage, trimming, and bone loss: Trimming and bone loss will inherently subtract from your dressed carcass’s weight, meaning you should account for it in your estimation. Meanwhile, even the most experienced butchers will lose some of the yield due to wastage and human error.
- Calculate your meat yield using a formula: (Total dressed carcass weight * .485). This percentage is based on a study conducted by the Ohio DNR which found the average deer meat yield to be 48.5% of the dressed carcass weight among sampled harvests.
- Alternatively, use a meat yield chart: A meat yield chart provides an estimate of the amount of meat that can be expected from a deer based on its weight, age, and sex. Use the chart to determine the expected yield of meat.
By following these steps, you can get a fairly accurate estimate of the amount of meat you can expect to yield from a deer.
The Biggest Factors that Affect Deer Meat Yield
The challenge in creating this article lies in the fact that there are simply so many variables to keep in mind when providing a solid answer to the original question. Deer meat yield is not an exact science, and estimations are made even more difficult by the following factors:
- The sex and age of the deer
One of the most significant factors that affect the yield of deer meat is the sex and age of the deer. Bucks tend to have more meat than does. This is simply because bucks have larger body types, which is even more evident as they mature. Younger deer tend to have less meat than older deer, as their bodies are not fully developed.
- The species of deer
Every species of deer boasts a different body type (and therefore meat yield). Whitetail deer are the most commonly hunted species, but if you’re harvesting a mule deer or a red deer you should expect your meat yield to vary. We’ve laid out average meat yields for different deer species in a section below.
- Field dressing and processing techniques
If done incorrectly, field dressing can accidentally cause contamination of the meat or damage to internal organs, resulting in less meat. Similarly, improper processing techniques, such as not properly removing connective tissue or cutting the meat too thinly, resulting in wastage.
To mitigate these concerns, you should consider taking your deer to a third-party processor, in which case your meat yield can depend on how much you’re willing to pay to be processed, along with what types of cuts you choose to receive.
- The quality of the meat.
Factors such as the deer’s diet, health, and overall well-being can influence the quality of the meat. Deer that have had a varied and nutritious diet tend to have better-tasting meat. Proper handling and storage of the meat after harvest is also critical in ensuring that the meat maintains its quality and is safe for consumption.
Average Meat Yield by Animal
The amount of meat that can be obtained from a deer will vary depending on the type of deer. To keep this list manageable, we’ve listed the most common cervids (aka members of the deer family) found throughout the United States.
Here is an overview of the average meat yield for these common deer types:
- On average, a mature buck will yield between 40 to 70 pounds of meat.
- Mature does, on the other hand, can yield between 30 to 55 pounds of meat.
- The total yield will also vary based on the size and weight of the deer.
- Blacktail deer are a bit smaller on average than whitetail, making for a meat yield that sits in the 25 – 55 pound range.
- As always, the total yield will also vary based on the size and weight of your animal.
- Mule deer are fairly comparable to the average whitetail, though they can grow to be larger as well. We’d say the typical meat yield will be similar as well, ranging from 45 to 75 pounds of meat.
- This figure is even more dependent on the size, weight, and sex of your deer, as mule bucks can mature to be quite large in their own right.
- A mature elk will typically yield between 160 to 220 pounds of meat.
- The amount of meat can vary based on the age and size of the elk, with younger elk tending to have less meat than older ones. Cows will also yield less meat than bulls.
- A mature moose can yield between 400 to 700 pounds of meat.
- Moose are incredibly large and can weigh nearly one thousand pounds when field dressed, and as such, they can provide a substantial amount of meat.
Processing Deer Meat
Field dressing and processing are important steps in the deer hunting process that can impact the amount of meat that can be harvested. Here are some tips and tools to make field dressing more efficient and effective:
Tools Needed for Field Dressing:
- Sharp knife: A sharp knife is essential for field dressing. A hunting knife or a fillet knife works best.
- Gut hook: A gut hook is a specialized knife with a curved blade that is designed to make opening the abdomen of the deer easier.
- Bone saw: A bone saw is useful for cutting through bone when removing the legs and ribs.
- Gloves: Wearing gloves can help protect against bacteria and other contaminants that may be present on the deer’s skin.
Tips for Maximizing Meat Yield During Field Dressing:
- Field dress the deer as soon as possible after it has been harvested. This will help prevent spoilage and ensure that the meat is fresh.
- Use the gut hook or a sharp knife to make a shallow incision along the belly from the pelvis to the ribcage. Be careful not to cut too deeply as this can puncture the stomach and contaminate the meat.
- Use your hands to carefully remove the internal organs, being sure to avoid rupturing the bladder, intestines, or other organs that can contaminate the meat.
- Remove the head, legs, and ribs using a bone saw. Be sure to cut through the joints to avoid damaging the meat. If you’re strictly concerned about estimating your venison yield, this will result in a more accurate dressed carcass weight.
By following these tips and using the right tools, hunters can maximize the amount of meat they can harvest from a deer and ensure that it is safe to consume.
Types of Deer Cuts and Their Uses:
- The tenderloin is a prized cut of meat that runs along the spine and is known for its tenderness and flavor.
- The backstrap, also known as the loin, is another highly sought-after cut that runs along the back of the deer and is ideal for grilling or roasting.
- Ground venison is a versatile option that can be used in a variety of dishes, such as burgers, meatballs, and meatloaf.
- The shoulder and hindquarters are tougher cuts of meat that can be slow-cooked to tenderize the meat and make it more flavorful. These cuts are ideal for stews, soups, and chili.
- Ribs and shanks are also tougher cuts that can be slow-cooked or smoked to make delicious, fall-off-the-bone meat.
Tips for Storing and Preserving Deer Meat:
- Use a vacuum sealer or freezer bags to protect the meat from freezer burn.
- Label the meat with the date and type of cut to keep track of what you have in storage.
- Consider adding a marinade or dry rub to the meat before freezing to infuse flavor.
Knowing how much meat to expect from a deer, as well as how to properly field dress and process the meat, ensures that you are able to get the most out of your hunting experience.
While the amount of meat that can be harvested from a deer can vary depending on a number of factors, hunters can expect to get somewhere in the ballpark of 50 pounds of meat from their downed deer. Factors such as the age and sex of the deer, as well as the species itself, will all play a role in how much meat any given hunter will be taking home.
For those looking for a mathematical formula for estimating their yield, the best method we’ve found is to properly dress and weigh your carcass and multiply the resulting number by .485. This yield percentage has been backed by scientific studies conducted by state DNRs.
When processing the meat, hunters should be sure to use the right tools and techniques, and to properly store and preserve the meat to ensure that it stays fresh and safe to consume. Different types of cuts can be used for different purposes, from roasts and steaks to ground meat and sausage.
By following these tips and techniques, hunters can maximize the amount of meat they can harvest from a deer, and can enjoy delicious and nutritious meat for months to come. Remember, hunting is a responsible and sustainable way to source meat, and can provide a valuable connection to the natural world around us.