How Much Meat Should You Get From Your Elk or Deer?

by Sep 30, 2019Wild Cooking

Hunting season is well underway across Canada, and hunters are busy filling their freezers with healthy wild game meat. Game animals are big, and it is hard work processing and packing them out of the mountains. But after all your hard work, have you ever been shocked when your butcher hands over a small box of meat when you come to pick up your deer order? Are you thinking you got ripped off? Deer, elk and moose are big animals, but how much meat should you expect get back from your harvest?

In 2003, a couple of studies were done at the University of Wyoming to answer this very question. Researchers were determined to measure how much boneless meat a typical animal should give you.

In the study conducted on Rocky Mountain Elk, bulls had an average field-dressed weight of 437 lbs and cows had an average of 339 lbs. A field-dressed carcass is an animal that has been gutted with the lower legs and windpipe removed but still has the head and hide on it. Skinning and removing the head drops about 73 lbs off the average field-dressed weight of a bull elk and about 45 lbs off a cow elk.

Researchers reported that bull elk yielded an average of 218 lbs of boneless lean meat and cows yielded an average of 169 lbs of boneless lean meat. Lean meat is defined as meat with less than 1.4 % fat. Researchers were purposely trimming off the game fat, and the meat was also aged for 14 days before all the final weighing was done.

Since many hunters take their elk to a butcher already skinned with the head removed, you can expect to get back around 60% of the weight of your skinned-out headless elk as boneless lean meat.

When the University of Wyoming looked at mule deer, they found that the average field-dressed weight of a buck was 114 lbs and a doe was 93 lbs. Bucks yielded, on average, 55 lbs of boneless meat and does yielded 44 lbs. Removing the head and hide drops around 18 lbs from the field-dressed weight of a buck and around 14 lbs off a doe.

You can expect that the yield of boneless lean meat you will get back will be around 59% of the weight of a skinned-out mule deer buck and 56% of the weight of a skinned-out mule deer doe. White-tailed deer will yield less than a mule deer, and moose will yield more than an elk. It would seem reasonable that you can use a rule-of-thumb measure that ±60% of the weight of your skinned-out headless game animal will be your yield of boneless lean meat.

Of course, these boneless lean meat yield values can vary a lot because of several factors. The size of the animal is dependent on its age. Older animals are larger so they will provide you more meat. For example, a 3 ½ year old bull elk can give you around 200 lbs and a 10 ½ year old bull about 270 lbs of boneless lean meat. A 3 ½ year old mule deer buck can give you around 72 lbs of meat and a 7 ½ year old upwards of 100 lbs.

Losses of otherwise good meat can add up when the meat is not kept clean in the field or if there is a lot of damage from the bullet(s). Animals hit in the hind leg or front shoulder can cause additional losses of 2 to 3 % of the meat yield, and trim waste can be upwards of 20 lbs on an elk if the meat is dirty or if you (or the butcher) is not meticulous in recovering all edible portions.

If an animal is boned out in the mountains before it is packed out, your meat yield will be lower since cutting the meat off the skeleton in the field leaves more meat behind than compared to when de-boning is done in a controlled setting like a butcher shop or your home.
Additionally, the longer meat is aged, the more moisture is lost from the meat, so the weight yield of boneless meat will be lower. Aging improves the quality (tenderness) of the meat, and weight losses from moisture loss shouldn’t really be a concern when the meat is more tender. If you get fat added to your burger or sausage, this will increase your yield because fat is adding weight back into the recovered meat.

One of the goals of a responsible hunter is to utilize as much as possible from each animal harvested. The University of Wyoming studies discovered that the yield of boneless meat from a butcher shop was less than what the researchers recovered because researchers kept the meat cleaner and the harvested animals for their studies were mostly all shot once through the rib cage as compared to game animals brought to a butcher that were not as clean and had more bullet damage.

So, to maximize your meat yield, the number one rule is to keep your meat as clean as possible in the field. Cleanliness is next to Godliness. Losses from meat getting dirty in the field or during transport is totally preventable. Bullets placed through the ribs behind the front shoulder will cause less damage thereby minimizing your meat loss. Unless you are way back in the mountains, packing out whole quarters rather than boned out meat will yield you extra meat back home (plus the bones for bone stock).

Literally every part of an animal is edible, so taking care to keep all the trimmings for burger will add more to your freezer. I keep flank, rib, shank, neck and brisket meat and even carve as much meat off the skull and out from between the fins of each vertebra as I can. I add all that meat to the grind pile, and it adds up! The saying, “Waste not – want not” is a mantra of responsible hunters.

In addition to the meat, using as much of the animal as possible is simply the right thing to do. Heart, liver, kidneys, caul fat and tongue are all edible portions and they are all downright delicious! Rendering fat has many cooking uses including bear and duck fat. I recently read a social media post from an Indigenous hunter on coastal British Columbia who rendered and canned all the fat from a mountain goat. Where most hunters I know have a distaste for the tallow-types of fat, the goat tallow was a treasure to him.

Of course, keeping all the bones and making bone stock should also be considered as “yield” from your game animals. I read that the intestines from seals can be cut into rings, battered and fried. When prepared like this, the little rings apparently are just like calamari. It’s one of my goals to try this on a deer. Oh, by the way don’t forget them buck nuts. Nackers, dabbled with a little hot sauce, beer and courage, are wild protein too!

Finally, learning to cut and wrap your game at home is another way you can increase yield from your harvested game animal. Butchers are on tight timelines when processing all the game in their shops, and they may not be as meticulous in saving all the little bits of meat that you are capable of if you take your time. Processing your own meat at home is a rewarding extension of the self-reliant aspects that come from sourcing your protein from the wild.


Cover Image: © D&Jfoodstyling / Adobe Stock

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