When hunting an animal, not all of its weight is edible meat. Once it has been killed and dressed, the organs, head, and hide removed, the overall weight has decreased significantly. Even less of that total weight will be edible meat once the animal is finished processing, so how much meat can a hunter expect to take home from a kill?
As a general rule of thumb, a hunter can expect around a 55% boneless meat yield from a clean headshot on an animal, though this varies depending on the age, size, and species of the kill. That means that a carcass that weighs 115 lbs will yield around 55 lbs of boneless meat.
So, which big game animals will yield the most meat? Are all big game animals worth hunting for their meat— that is to say, are they tasty? Let’s take a look at some of the most popular big game animals and see what exactly a hunter can expect from each.
As the great giants of North America, moose can get up to 8 feet tall at the shoulder and weigh around 1,500 lbs on average, though moose weighing more than that are not uncommon. The Alaska Department of Hunting and Fishing reports that around 6,000-8,000 moose are hunted each year.
A bull moose weighing 1,600 lbs will have a dressed weight of around 950 lbs, depending on the age of the moose and its horn size. A moose of this size will yield around 500 lbs of meat, which is by far the highest yield on this list.
Alaska is a popular place for big game hunting, as its large wilderness and colder climate make it host to many larger species. One of those bigger animals is the elk, which is larger than a deer but not quite as large as a fully-grown moose. A fully-grown bull is around 5 feet tall at the shoulder and is estimated to weigh anywhere up to 1,300 lbs. For reference, that’s about the same weight as a small speedboat!
An elk with a live weight of 1,300 lbs dresses out to around 800 lbs once the hide, innards, antlers, and skull have been removed. Of that dressed-out weight, around 450 lbs will likely be usable meat. However, it should be noted that that weight includes the weight of bone-in meat.
The age of the elk will also influence the meat yield, as older animals are typically larger and more fruitful. A bull elk that is around 3 ½ years old can give you around 200 lbs of boneless lean meat (meat with less than 1.4% fat), whereas a 10 ½-year-old bull elk will yield around 270 lbs of boneless lean meat.
For example, according to a study done by the University of Wyoming, 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. You can also expect to lose some meat if the kill is not kept clean in the field or if there is significant damage from the bullet.
The same study found that “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.”
Animals weigh more in the later months of the year, as they pack on pounds to prepare for the winter. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game reports that the average live weight of an adult Sitka blacktail deer in October is around 120 lbs for a male and 80 lbs for a female. However, it is not unheard of to bag kills that are closer to 200 lbs.
A blacktail deer with a live weight of around 100 lbs will have a dressed weight of around 60 lbs. Of that weight, around 35 lbs will be edible meat, around the same weight as a cinder block. That is around a 58% yield from the skinned-out weight or 35% of the initial live weight.
The red stag is among the most prized big game animal in existence and is one of the largest deer species. Its meat is highly sought after for its tenderness. An adult red stag on average weighs around 440 lbs, though larger ones are not unheard of.
A hunter can typically expect around a 50% meat yield from a red stag, about 220 lbs, or around 60% of the dressed weight. Of this meat, only around 54% will be high-quality cuts like steaks and tenderloins.
Whitetail deer are a species of deer that can be found in habitats from southern Canada all the way to South America. Being a highly adaptable species, they are among the most commonly hunted animals in the U.S.A. Its meat is also very good for you, as it is packed with nutrients and vitamins, and it is lower in fat than most store-bought meat. Its flavor is also much milder than some gamier kills, making it a popular target for hunting.
According to the Ohio Harvest Community, the average white-tailed deer will yield 52.19 lbs of venison. This was found by calculating the average meat yield for 115 deer, both with and without antlers, and combining the averages. An antlered whitetail deer with a field-dressed weight of around 130 lbs yielded around 63 lbs of meat. That is around a 48% meat yield. The average meat yield for un-antlered deer would be closer to 49%.
Measurements taken by a different source found that a whitetail buck of around 150 lbs would yield 53 lbs of meat, while a whitetail doe yielded 100 lbs would yield closer to 40 lbs. Combining both of these averages, around 50% of a whitetail deer’s skinned-out weight will be useable meat.
This confirms the rule of thumb measurement offered by the Hunter Conservationist Blog, which says that in general, more than 60% of the weight of a skinned-out headless game animal will give you an accurate estimate of your boneless lean meat yield.
The mule deer is a species native to western North America and is named for its large, mule-like ears. Being a larger creature, mule deer will have a higher meat yield than both the whitetail and blacktail deer, though not quite as high as an elk. The yield of boneless lean meat you can expect from a mule deer is around 56%-59% of its dressed weight.
An adult mule deer buck can weigh anywhere from 120-330 lbs. Another study done by UoW found the average field-dressed weight of a mule deer buck to be around 114 lbs, while a field-dressed doe weighed around 93 lbs. In this study, bucks yielded around 55 lbs of boneless meat on average, while does yield around 44 lbs. Of course, averages are not always accurate predictors of meat yields, as animals in the wild vary in size.
For instance, in that same study, a 3 ½-year-old mule deer buck yielded 72 lbs of meat while a 7 ½-year-old yielded more than 100 lbs. A different source reported that a dressed-out mule deer buck weighing 150 lbs would yield about 53 lbs of boneless meat.
Aoudads are horned sheep native to Northern Africa. However, you don’t have to travel to another continent to hunt these hefty animals. There have been Aoudads in the United States since 1900, and they can be found in the wild in Texas and New Mexico. Unlike some other animals, both male and female aoudads have large curved horns.
While the aoudad is a large animal that can yield a lot of meat, they are not particularly popular to eat, as their meat is often tough and gamey. Most hunters find that the meat must be aged before it is consumed, or otherwise used as jerky to get around the unpleasant texture.
Aoudad rams can weigh more than 300 lbs, with ewes only weighing slightly less. These sheep evolved to tough out the high heat of the African desert, and their size reflects that. A ram weighing 300 lbs would have a live weight of around 162 lbs and would yield about 103 lbs of meat.
Male bighorn sheep typically weigh less than 300 lbs, while the ewes weigh closer to 150 lbs on average. A 230 lbs ram can have an expected dressed weight of around 140 lbs, depending on age and horn size. From that sheep, you could expect around 80 lbs of meat. That is around a 34% meat yield from the initial weight of the animal.
The weight of meat can also change during processing. Meat that is aged will weigh less than a cut of the same mass that has remained un-aged, as moisture is lost. Fat content, cut, and environment in which the meat is de-boned are all likely to change the amount of meat yield.
De-boning meat in a controlled environment like a butcher shop not only allows you to keep more of it, it also decreases the likelihood of the meat becoming dirty.
While many people associate antelopes with the African savannah, the pronghorn antelope is native to North America. Unlike the African antelope, their horns are shorter and two-pronged. An adult buck antelope has a live weight of around 140 lbs on average, while a doe antelope weighs around 110 lbs on average.
According to experienced hunters, an adult buck antelope can be expected to yield around 35-40 lbs of meat, with larger antelopes yielding more. Female antelopes were said to yield around 25 lbs of boneless meat. This yield also depends on how clean of a shot was made, as antelope are among the smaller animals on this list, and a little bullet damage can remove a larger percentage of overall meat than it would on a larger animal.
A 350 lbs black bear will have a dressed weight of around 210 lbs and will yield around 120 lbs of meat. While bears are very large animals, they frequently yield less meat than one would think. This is because much of the bear’s weight is comprised of fat and hide. Bear meat is also typically very dark, many hunters only keep bear meat hunted in the spring when they have less fat and taste sweeter.
Bear meat can also be dangerous to eat if not prepared properly, as it may contain bacteria and larvae which cause trichinosis in humans if not fully cooked. Bears that have fed mainly on salmon can also have a rather fishy, unpleasant flavor to their meat, another reason they are mainly hunted in spring before they have done much fishing.
Another popular big-game target in Alaska, the caribou prefers the colder weather of the boreal forests and tundra. Unlike other deer species, both male and female caribou grow antlers.
An adult caribou bull on average weighs around 350-400 lbs, while a female caribou weighs around 175-220 lbs. A 400 lbs bull caribou will have a dressed weight of around 240 lbs and yield around 100 lbs of boneless meat.
Oryx, or gemsbok, are prized for their unique color and long, pointed horns. The oryx became extinct in the wild in the 1970s due to irresponsible hunting but were reintroduced into the wild after breeding in zoos and captivity. Now they are closely monitored to preserve their populations, though poaching is still an issue in certain areas. The oryx is native to arid climates.
An adult oryx or gemsbok typically weighs around 550 lbs and has a dressed weight of around 315 lbs. From this, you can expect around 180 lbs of boneless meat once the animal has been processed. Typically, you can expect an oryx carcass to have a meat yield equal to around 60% of the dressed weight.