Field Dressing – So You Want to Field Dress a Deer

Field dressing a deer is some kind of job. You’ve got to have a very strong constitution for it. It’s all blood and guts, after all. But you’ve decided to be a deer hunter, so you’ve got to be able to do it and do it well. Sure don’t want to waste your catch by spoiling the meat. Prepare yourself. This is one experience you’ll never forget.

You’ll need a handful of tools for the field dressing procedure. At the minimal, you should have the following:

– very sharp knife that’s comfortable in your hand

– disposable latex or vinyl gloves

– small saw for cutting through bone

– short light rope around 10 feet in length

– very clean cloth (several is better)

– sealable bag for the heart and liver (if you’d like to save them)

Now you’re ready. Okay. You’ve gone and caught a deer. It’s time to get busy.

There are two very important rules to keep in mind at all times. One: Don’t rush. You’re working with a very sharp knife. Two: Don’t take your eyes off of your work when your hands are moving. Cutting your hands will slow you way down for they’re the ones doing the work. If you do get a cut, seal it well to protect yourself from the deer’s blood. You don’t know what it may be carrying.

First thing is to ready your work area. Move the deer to a visible location, especially visible to other hunters in the area. Place a bright orange cloth (or something as noticeable) high overhead on a tree branch. Lay your tools out by the carcass at a safe, reachable distance, preferably in the order you’ll be using them. Remove heavy coats and wrist units. Tie back whatever may block your view, or fall into your work space.

Be in the right frame of mind. Don’t go handling a very sharp knife if you’re tired, upset or distracted. Even if you are just overly cold or have numbing fingers. Most important, don’t use a dull knife. It’ll overwork you, frustrate and upset you. This promotes accidental injuries or stray cuts that could spoil the meat. Safety must come first.

The straight cut. Place the carcass with its back on the ground, head facing up and higher than the rest of the body. With your gloves on, your first cut will be an incision just below the breastbone (sternum) with the knife’s edge facing up. Insert your index and middle finger, facing up and through the cut. Form a “V” and push the hide upwards. Position your up-facing knife between your fingers. This will help prevent cutting of internal organs which would result in tainting the meat. Following the direction of the hair, continue your incision, with knife between fingers, all the way to the penis of a buck or to the udder of a doe.

First removal stage. Make a 2 inch deep incision around the rectum, cutting in a circular motion as you move around it. If fecal matter is present, tie off the rectum. Pull it into the body cavity so that it is now only attached to the intestines.

– For a buck, remove the testicles. Reach into the body cavity and remove the

penis at its base.

– For a doe, cut all the way around the udder and remove it.

Second removal stage. While it isn’t necessary, it is recommended that you split the sternum and the pelvic bone in half with a saw. It will facilitate cooling of the carcass and make it so much easier to remove the internal organs. Locate the bladder as a pear-shaped sac in the lower abdomen. Pinch or tie it off and cut it free, taking special care not to leak any urine that may be present (use your cloth). Place the bladder a safe distance away from your work space. If necessary, use the extra clothes to clean away any leaks coming from the internal organs before and after they are removed. Keep an eye out for dirt or debris that might’ve entered the body cavity and remove it.

Roll the carcass to one side. Most of the internal organs will come loose at this point. Cut away all connective tissue still holding any organs and intestines in place. If necessary, roll the carcass to the opposite side and cut what tissue still clings. Roll it back over. Be sure that the body has drained of all fluids before proceeding.

Remove the diaphragm to have access to the chest cavity. This is a strong membranous muscle that separates the chest cavity, with heart and lungs, from the abdominal cavity. Reach up as far as you can to remove as much of the windpipe as you’re able. Now remove the remaining organs, heart, lungs and liver. Use the sealable bag to save the heart and liver, if you like. And you’re done.

Please, properly dispose of all organs that were removed, including any and all body parts. Use the rope to drag the deer out of the field. This is most popularly done by the feet and not the head.

There you have it. A fast and straight forward procedure for properly field dressing a deer. Be careful out there. Be safe. And good luck!

July 2008