Cook County News Herald

Big Game Meat — Part 1.



A common topic among hunters is the weight of the animal they just shot. Some people can estimate weight fairly well, but most cannot, especially the weight of bear. Those who have their field dressed (all internal organs removed) animal actually weighed are often surprised that the weight is less than they expected. Of course, the next thought is usually what the live weight may have been. Occasionally some wonder how much meat they will have after processing.

As Area Wildlife Manager with D.N.R. in Cook Co. and part of Lake Co. for many years, I necropsied many deer, bear, and moose and obtained data and samples for numerous studies. That data included whole weight, dressed weight (described above), skinned weight (internal organs, head, hide, and feet removed), of all three species. The weight of boneless meat from a number of them was obtained on my personal time. My definition of boneless meat is just that. All bone, fat, and as much as feasible of the tendons and connective tissue covering the meat is removed. Few people take the extra effort to remove these, but it does improve the flavor of deer, bear, and moose meat.

I will present the average percentage of weight lost in each step of processing of these three species. However, the actual percentages involved in the averages varied considerably from individual to individual; therefore, calculations using these average values are not likely to yield exact weights for any particular animal.

My largest data set is for deer killed throughout the year, primarily by vehicles. I first separated the data into 6 sets: fawn, yearling, and adult for both males and females. For 1027 deer, the average percentage of whole weight lost by field dressing for the 6 data sets only varied from 23.7% to 26.3% for an overall average of 25.4% (range 14% to 39%). The percentage values within each of the 6 data sets ranged from the mid to upper teens to the low to upper 30’s. Therefore, neither age nor sex of the animals had an undue impact of the resulting averages. I repeat my earlier caution that one should not expect exact estimates for any specific animal. This is not just for field dressing of deer; it pertains to all percentages for all 3 species at each step of processing.

For skinned weight of deer, 43.1% of the whole weight was lost (96 deer, range 36% to 48%), as was 22.4% of the field dressed weight (100 deer, range 17% to 31%). The final step to the amount of boneless meat found that 67.5% of the whole weight was lost (29 deer, range 60% to 75%); 56.0% of the field dressed weight was lost (32 deer, range 47% to 64%); and 43.4% of the skinned weight was lost (32 deer, range 35% to 52%).

The percentages for moose are fairly similar to those of deer but are worth listing. Going from whole weight (except for blood lost in field dressing as I did not have access to a scale to weigh whole moose) to field dressed weight an average of 27.8% of whole weight was lost (108 moose, range 10% to 43%). For skinned weight, 46.2% of the whole weight was lost (108 moose, range 34% to 57%); as was 25.5% of the field dressed weight (110 moose, range 21% to 33%). I only had the opportunity to determine weight of boneless meat from one moose, 310 pounds from an adult cow. It was killed after the above figures were published so is an additional moose to those above. Weight loss from whole weight to boneless meat was 67.5%. Loss from dressed weight to boneless meat was 55.1%. Loss from skinned weight to boneless meat was 40.8%.

A good friend in Manitoba with a similar sample size of over 100 moose found that weight loss from whole weight by field dressing was 30.6% for bulls and 31% for cows. He found the loss from whole weight to skinned weight to be approximately 50%. Our percentages differ by only a few percentage points.

For bear, many of the weight loss percentages were similar to those for deer and moose. However, going from whole weight to dressed weight in bear was only 17.8% whole weight loss (129 bear, range 9% to 29%) compared to 25.4% for deer and 27.8% for moose. One reason for this may be that the bear digestive system is quite similar to ours and does not involve the bulky and heavy fermentation system of deer and moose. Another reason may be that the bear skeletal structure is much more massive as it is designed for greater brute strength than that of deer and moose.

Skinned weight of bear involved a 41.2% loss from whole weight (22 bear, range 35% to 56%) and a 29.3% loss from dressed weight (23 bear, range 22% to 48%). The amount of boneless meat obtained was a loss of 67.4% from whole weight (12 bear, range 62% to 73%); a loss of 61.1% from field dressed weight (12 bear, range 56% to 67%); and a loss of 44.9% from skinned weight (11 bear, range 39% to 56%).

In general, only about one-third of deer, bear, and moose live weight will be boneless meat. Even after skinning the animal, one will be throwing away about 40% of the remaining weight as being inedible unless they prefer to package it anyway. Some folks in very remote locations prefer to bone out an animal on the spot (if the law permits) to minimize the weight and bulk they need to carry for a long distance.

Over 60 years ago I read somewhere that deer lost 25% of their body weight in field dressing. No mention was made of variation from deer to deer, but the average of 25.4% for my 1027 deer makes me wonder if that person had data to back up his statement or if it was just a very accurate guess or estimate.

The next column will be on nutritional and health benefits of wild meat and some long held bogus beliefs.

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