How to skin a deer: Preparation, techniques, and tips for skinning and field dressing

Taking the time to properly skin your deer is essential for preserving the quality of the meat and hide. Improper skinning and field dressing can result in lower meat yield or even spoilage. Proper technique is even more important for hunters who plan to mount their new trophy, as taking care to remove the hide without damaging it will ensure that their new mount looks great hanging on the wall. 

In this blog post, we will cover the key steps involved in skinning a deer, including how to make the initial cuts, remove the hide, and handle the meat. We’ll also discuss the tools you’ll need for the job and provide tips and tricks for making the process as smooth and efficient as possible. 

So, whether you’re a seasoned hunter or just starting out, here’s everything you need to know in order to skin a deer like a pro!

Preparing to Skin a Deer

Before beginning the skinning process, it is important to properly prepare your workspace and equipment. There’s nothing worse than starting the field dressing process, only to realize you left your bone saw back at camp. 

Here are some key steps to take before you begin:

Choose a good spot for field dressing and skinning:

Ideally, you should select a flat area to perform your work. Before you start field dressing, clearing brush or debris from your work area will let you focus on the task at hand without battling annoying obstacles. When skinning, many find it easier to hang the deer carcass with a pulley and rope system, making sturdy tree limbs or garages ideal work areas.

Gather your tools and equipment:

You’ll need a variety of tools to skin a deer, including a sharp knife or skinning blade, gloves, a pulley system or hoist, a tarp, and a bucket or other container for the waste. Field dressing your deer may require additional specialized blades like bone saws or gut hooks. 

Double-check that all of your tools are clean and sharp before you start! Dull knives are especially dangerous when you’re cutting through tough material like hide.

Dress appropriately:

Perhaps it goes without saying, but make sure you’re wearing clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty. The field dressing and skinning processes are messy. This is especially true if you’re still wearing your camo, as you run the risk of not only dirtying your clothes but also saturating them with scent that could blow your next hunt.  

It’s also important to wear latex gloves to protect your hands from bacteria as well as provide an added layer of protection from your own knives.

Skinning a deer: step-by-step

  1. Field Dressing: The first step in skinning a deer is to field dress it. Use a sharp knife to make incisions around the anus and up to the sternum, being careful not to puncture any organs.

    Follow this up by using a bone saw to separate the sternum. Many also find sawing the pelvis allows the hind legs to spread further, making it easier to remove the internal organs. Lastly, separate any connective tissue holding the organs inside the carcass and carefully pull them out and away from your downed deer. 
  1. Hang the Deer: Once you have field dressed the deer, hang it by its hind legs. You can use a gambrel or a sturdy rope to hang the deer from a tree branch or a meat pole. To hang the deer, you can punch a hole in its hind legs, typically at the thin areas between bone and tendon. Some prefer instead to hang their deer right-side up by the head or antlers. 
  1. Make an Incision: Starting at the base of the skull, use a sharp knife to make a circular cut around the neck of the deer. Then, make an incision down the length of the belly to the hind legs. If you’ve field dressed your deer, this belly incision will have already been made. 
  1. Remove the Hide: With the deer hanging and the incision made, it’s time to start removing the hide. Starting at the neck, use your knife to separate the hide from the meat by carefully cutting through the tissue that connects them. Continue working your way down the body, pulling the hide away from the meat as you go.
  1. Separate the Limbs: When you reach the legs, use your knife to separate the hide from the bone. You can then use a saw or a pair of shears to cut through the joints and remove the legs from the carcass.
  1. Remove the Head: To remove the head, make a circular cut around the neck, and then use a saw or a pair of shears to cut through the vertebrae.
  1. Trim the Meat: Once you have removed the hide, legs, and head, you can trim any remaining meat from the carcass. This is a great opportunity to remove any fat or connective tissue and ensure that you are left with high-quality meat.
  1. Remember to always prioritize safety when skinning a deer, wear protective gear like gloves and goggles, and use a sharp knife to make clean cuts. 

Advanced Skin Processing Techniques

While the basic skinning techniques will work for most hunters, there are additional skills that can come in handy when it comes to processing deer. 

Caping: Caping preserves the hide for taxidermy purposes and requires precise cuts around the antlers, eyes, and ears. Essentially, it’s a skinning process that requires even further consideration to avoid damaging the hide. If you plan on mounting your deer or creating a trophy of any sort, it is important to learn how to cape properly, but if you’re not confident you can pull this off, a local taxidermist will be more than happy to help you. 

Tanning the hide: Tanning preserves the deer hide for use in leather products such as gloves, bags, and jackets. This involves steps like fleshing, soaking, pickling, tanning, and conditioning. While it can be a time-consuming and involved process, it can be a rewarding way to make use of the entire animal.


Properly skinning a deer is essential for preserving the meat and preparing the hide. By following the key steps and techniques we outlined, you ensure that you make the most of your hunting experience and create high-quality products. With these skills in hand, you can take your hunting game to the next level and enjoy the fruits of your labor for months to come.

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