How much Meat to Pack out on a Mule Deer?

white tailed deer on scale

White-tailed Deer on a Scale

It is one thing to drag a 100 lb white-tail across your grandfather’s pasture behind a 4-wheeler.

It is another thing to pack a mule deer carcass back to your truck in rough country above 8,000 feet and it turns into real work if you have to pack out an elk or moose.

The questions about how much meat is on an animal or how do you pack that much meat are questions I constantly hear and read. The best source I found that answers the question about how much meat is on the average mule deer is The Mule Deer Carcass, a University of Wyoming publications (download link at bottom of page).

These publications go into detail about the differences between live weight and dressed weight and about how much is weight lost from field dressing, skinning and de-boning. All good stuff to know.

Average Mule Deer Field Dressed Weight and Weight of Boneless Meat

Age class Bucks Does
Field Dressed Weight Boneless Meat Field Dressed Weight Boneless Meat
(years) (pounds) (pounds)
1.5 – 2.5             102           49              85           41
3.5 – 4.5             150           72              93           45
5.5 – 6.5             192           92             102           49
   7.5+             207           99             130           62


The publication also explains about aging meat and actual tenderness measurements (Warner-Bratzler shear values) and give important tips for handling the carcass from the time the animal is killed until the meat is in the freezer. But the part I am most interested for this post is the field dressed and de-boned weights of mule deer, because that is how much weight needs to be packed out.

Field dressed is defined as removing the viscera and feet. A field dressing mule deer weighs 70.4% of live weight on average. Field dressed bucks average between 102 – 207 lbs and the boneless meat weighs 49 – 99 lbs. You can see in the table that does are considerably lighter than bucks and range between 85 – 130 lbs field dressed.

The mule deer publication also states that the average mule deer head weighs about 8.4 lbs and the average skin weighs 9.3 lbs. So, if you had to pack a buck and wanted to keep the head and the entire cape, the head, skin and de-boned meat could weight between 67 – 117 lbs (on average).

That’s not too much to pack, but most of us already have a full day pack, water and a rifle or bow. I can pack that much meat with my packing frame, but I can’t fit that much into my day pack, so I would have to make a trip back to the truck with a small load, then return with my packing frame for the rest. If the distance to the truck is only about a mile or so, this may make sense, but it doesn’t make sense for longer distances or if it were getting dark.

Heaviest Mule Deer

The records I found for the heaviest mule deer was a 460 lbs live weight record and a 410 lb field dressed record (feet on or off? Heart & liver in or out?)  That could make the live weight of the field dressed buck at 582 lbs and put the field dressed weight of the 460 lb buck at 324 lbs. Those animals should have yielded 221 and 280 lbs of boneless meat respectively.

Such large bucks would have larger than average heads, antlers and skin. So total weight to be packed or dragged of boneless meat, head and hide could have been 243 and 302 lbs. We should all be so lucky, but the vast majority of mule deer hunters will never have to pack out more than 150 lbs (boneless meat, head and hide).

The last time I shot a small buck, I was alone. It was getting dark and I was about a mile from the road. Luckily, it was down hill, but I only wanted to make one trip. I quickly cut poles and rigged up a travois (a drag frame) (read post) that I used to drag the buck and my pack behind me. I estimate the total weight of deer (field dressed – feet on) and pack at about 180 lbs. It was not an easy or comfortable trip, and I stopped many times to rest and stretch, but I had the entire deer in the back of my truck in about 90 minutes.

Funny thing about strenuous outdoor activities, food is always better (fresh venison liver & onions) and I slept well that night too.

Download The Mule Deer Carcass, a University of Wyoming publications (Also The Elk Carcass).

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