How to Field Dress a Deer

How to Field Dress a Deer

Once you harvest your deer, it's time to take care of it so that you have good meat for your table. The difference between gamey meat and good meat depends on how it was taken care of in the field. Knowing how to field dress your deer is vitally important to ensure you remove as much heat as you can from the carcass so bacteria can't make your meat taste bad.

Field Dress a Deer

What is Field Dressing?

Field dressing a deer entails removing the organs out of the main body cavity to lighten the animal for carrying and also to remove the heat from being transferred to the meat. The deer's digestive system makes a lot of heat, which transfers to the rest of the animal. Field dressing enables you to get at organ meats such as the heart and liver, plus it also makes it easier getting the tasty tenderloins out as well.

What You Will Need to Field Dress a Deer

You will need some basic tools to field dress an animal. These tools include:

A tarp to protect your meat A large, sharp knife with a gut hook A field knife sharpener A small field hunting saw made to cut through bone Disposable gloves made of rubber, plastic, nitrile, or latex Clean bags to store organ meats and tenderloins

Start at the Throat or the Back End?

You can start your cut either at the throat or the anus. Both are valid ways to field dress and many people simply choose their method of gutting according to how they've learned how to do it first. The method in this article uses the throat version.

Getting Your First Cuts in

Lay down the tarp spread out so you can work on it easily. Lay your deer on the tarp. Position your deer on its back with its legs splayed away from its body. (Deer seldom go in the position you want them so if you have a bit of rope or another hunter with you, you can at least get the deer in a manageable position.) Cut the deer in the center of the base of the jaw and make a shallow cut just through the skin, fat, and membranes. Follow the line of the throat towards the sternum, make a cut that bisects the deer down the neck and across the sternum. When you get past the sternum, you will want to just cut the skin and then turn the knife around and use the gut hook to cut the fat and membranes, to avoid piercing the stomach or the intestines. Work downward toward the anus, keeping the proof of sex (testicles and penis for bucks; mammary glands for the does) until you get to the anus, itself. Cut around the anus while still leaving the bowels intact.

Sawing through Bone

At this point, you need to saw through two areas. The first place is the chest and the second is the pelvis. Place your saw at the top of the ribcage where you made your cut down the sternum. Put your saw next to the sternum along one side (either side is okay) and cut the bone and connective tissue parallel to the sternum so that you cut down the chest perpendicular to the legs, themselves. When you get to the end of the ribcage, grab both sides of the ribs and pull apart. There will be a lot of cracking and resistance, but you should be able to spread the chest cavity open.

Now, go down to the pelvis. There is a small bone that crosses the bowels before the intestines meet the anus. Cut through that bone with your saw, being careful to not nick or cut the intestines. Push on both hind legs and spread the pelvis as wide as you can. You may need to use your feet on each leg. Push until you hear a crack and the legs spread out easily.

Getting the Organs Out

Now it is time to get the organs out of the deer. Find the windpipe and esophagus at the highest point of your cut and cut them perpendicular to the long cut you just made. Take your knife and gently cut the connective tissue from the windpipe and esophagus and pull them out and down. As you pull on them, you'll note that there are connective tissues and fat hanging onto them and holding them to the interior of the deer. Keep pulling and cutting them away from the organs. You'll find that the lungs and heart come out easily until you hit the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a big muscle that runs across the chest cavity and pushes up on the lungs that enables the deer to breathe. You'll need to cut it from the body wall so you can keep removing the organs.

As you get to the abdominal organs, you'll want to cut carefully to avoid nicking the bowels and the bladder. Both can spoil meat quickly. Along each side of the spine are the tenderloins, which can be easily nicked if you aren't careful. Just keep pulling the organs and cutting the connective tissue, using the windpipe and esophagus as a handle, and get them out of the body. When you get to the anus, make sure it is cut free and pull the organs onto the tarp. You'll find the heart between the lungs and the liver next to the stomach. Use your knife to free them and put them in the bag you have for that purpose.

Drain the Blood

At this stage, you should flip your deer cavity side down on grassy or rocky ground to drain the blood from the animal. Congratulations! You have now field dressed your first deer!

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