Field Notes of a Rookie Sportsperson: The Basics of Butchering a Deer

A week later, I was back in class, learning more about how to cook wild game from professional wild game chef Jason Nauert.
Wild game chef Jason Nauert instructs Rookie Sportsperson class on the basics of butchering a deer
Wild game chef Jason Nauert instructs the Rookie Sportsperson Program members on ways to get the most out of your big game harvest.

A week after my pronghorn hunt, I was back in class, learning more about how to cook wild game from professional wild game chef Jason Nauert. 

Wearing a black Prosper Meats hoodie and a hat with a Colorado logo and a forearm loaded with tattoos (are you even a chef without them?), Nauert told us about his background.

He attended the Rocky Mountain Institute of Meat after leaving a career in law enforcement due to an ankle injury. In 2014, he began working with Special Forces units to develop a program teaching soldiers how to harvest, field dress and prepare animals in the field. Now, when he’s not traveling around the country teaching these skills at U.S. military bases, Nauert imparts his knowledge at classes like this one.

Nauert showed us how to process a deer, demonstrating different cuts and explaining his techniques as he went.

Nauert demonstrates the basics of deboning a deer leg.

It was incredibly helpful to see how a professional breaks down an animal into its different cuts of meat. He had great tips for cutting and preparing every part of the animal, such as the deer’s legs or “shanks.” 

“With shank meat, a lot of people waste their time cutting all that connective tissue, the silver skin, apart,” Nauert said. “Don’t waste your time. If you braise these in tomato sauce, or something with acidity, they’re fantastic. And you’re not wasting your time trying to cut all that silver skin off. You can tie butcher’s twine around a shank, then let it braise for six to eight hours. The meat falls off, you’ve got a beautiful dish.”

Nauert shares tips for cutting and preparing deer legs or “shanks.

Nauert also dispelled the myth that some cuts of meat have to be tough.

“Some of the biggest reasons people end up with tough cuts of meat are, one, they cook it too long,” he said. “Two, they don’t use the right marinade if they’re trying to marinate it. And three, they cut it wrong.“

Another trick is cutting across the grain of the meat.

“If you cut with the grain, you’re screwed,” he warned. “If you cut against the grain, it’s going to be beautiful. Try not to cut super thick cuts either. It’s wild game. It’s not a cow. You can’t get away with three-inch pork chops or something like that. You want it thin.”

Nauert prepares square-cut shoulders for the smoker.

Nauert had prepared a few dishes ahead of time to show the class what the results of cutting and cooking wild game could be. The delicious smell of venison carne asada and venison chili wafted around us and we all dug in to the delicious dishes.  

Game meat prepared during the Rookie Sportsperson class.
Game meat prepared during the Rookie Sportsperson Program class.

At the end, Nauert wrapped up the different cuts of meat from the deer and everyone was able to take home a cut of their choosing. My girlfriend, Jamey, and I chose a roast.

For dinner the next evening, we took chopped carrots, potatoes and onions and put them in a slow cooker with salt, pepper and garlic. Then we added broth and water to the pot and cooked it on high for about eight hours. The result was a delicious dinner for our family for the next two evenings.  

For our final month of RSP, we’ll be participating in an ice fishing class and then have a final banquet consisting of wild game prepared by participants in the program. You’ll be able to read all about it in the next installment of Field Notes of a Rookie Sportsperson


Travis Duncan is a public information officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in Denver. Travis has lived in Colorado nearly 20 years and loves the outdoors. If you have a question, please email him at travis.duncan@state.co.us

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