How to Skin Deer, Elk, Antelope, Goat, or Sheep


Skinning is a straight forward endeavor if you follow the body’s built in guidelines. This is because the skin and muscle tissue are naturally separated from one another by protective membranes. Simply make the initial cuts, and then pull the skin off, as if you are removing the deer’s coat. When you peel the skin, it easily separates from the meat along these membranes. After getting a clean start, there is little risk of tearing the skin or the meat. So all you need to do is use your hands and body weight to pull and pry the skin from the deer. It is generally a ten to fifteen minute process. 

The biggest mistake you can make is trying to cut the hide off with your knife. When you use a knife to slice the hide from the deer you inevitably violate these layers, making the whole job harder. Once the meat is cut into, you are no longer working with the natural division between meat and hide. You usually end up removing large chunks of meat, as well as putting cuts and holes in the hide. These cuts (also called scores) and holes open up and enlarge easily, increasing the amount of work at every stage of the tanning process.

The membranes that encase the meat also protect it from flies and deer hair. When you cut into the meat you create moist and protected habitats for flies to lay their eggs in. If you peel the skin, the muscle layers remain intact, the outer membranes dry out, and flies will not lay their eggs. For some reason, most modern hunters do not know this and that makes finding well skinned hides a real challenge. There are absolutely no advantages to knifing a skin off. It is not faster!

How To Skin 

Hanging the deer makes it easy to use your body weight to pull the skin off. It also assures that the meat will stay clean. You can either hang it from the neck or from the legs. Most people prefer one way or the other. I like them both. Deer should be hung using strong ropes (I had one fall on me once when the rope broke. The antler tines hit my forehead. Those things hurt!). Do it within a few hours of the deer’s death and it will peel off especially easily. Make sure your knife is sharp, and proceed as follows:
If you want to get better hides, tell your friends who hunt about
good skinning techniques, or post a flyer around town.
To hang a deer by its back legs, find the large tendon that connects the lowest leg segment with the rest of the leg. Poke a hole in between that tendon and the leg bone. Use your fingers to feel the lump that is created by the double jointed bone. Then sever the lower leg at the lower of the two joints as illustrated.

How to Prepare Lower Leg For Hanging

Cut skin and tendons around the joint, then snap it over your leg. 

The two main options

Make the incisions as shown in the illustration. Once you’ve made the initial incisions, put that knife down. Then use your hands and body to pull, yank, and pry the skin from the deer.

Getting a clean start: use finger tips and thumbs to separate the hide from the meat. Notice how clean and encased both the meat and hide are.

Once you’ve gotten a good start, grab the hide with your hands and pull. You can also push your thumbs, fist and elbows in-between the skin and meat to release areas that are sticking.

Use your body weight to help pull.

There will be a very thin layer of meat that wants to come off with the hide. This is the muscle that the deer uses to twitch flys off of its back. Nobody that I know of eats this meat because it is so thin and membraney. It is easily fleshed off later, so most folks let it come off with the hide.

Removing The Brains 

Deer conveniently come with just enough brains to tan their own skin. If you are planning to tan the hide right away, the simplest place to store the brains is in the intact skull. To remove the brains from the skull you first need to cut away the skin that covers the area between the eyes and the back of the antlers (on Does just go to where the antlers would be). Then use a hacksaw to make a V shaped cut into the skull. The antlers can be used as a lever to remove the cut bone. A messier but equally effective alternative is to smash this section of skull with a stone. Be careful not to cut yourself on bone shards. Once the skull is open use a spoon, fingers or straw to remove all of the brains. Protect the brains from flies.