The pleasure of bringing down a big and powerful deer is immense, but then comes the part that many hunters can feel a bit queezy about! An adult deer means almost 50 pounds of meat which can last you many days. But this isn’t a butcher shop, you are out in nature and you are going to need to field dress your kill to make sure you preserve your kill and maximize it’s flavor. However, for an inexperienced hunter, it’s not a simple task. So to help you out, we’ve prepared a complete guide on how to field a deer.
Why Do You Need To Field Dress A Deer
In the field, it’s critical that you appropriately field dress your prey. The primary reason is to ensure that food you’ve harvested from nature doesn’t go bad as a result of bacterial growth and also so that the meat is as juicy and delicious as possible.
Without field dressing, the body temperature of your target will be retained for longer. This is part of mother nature’s grand design and provides the necessary temperatures for bacteria and microorganisms to move in and begin the decomposition process. Obviously this is wonderful news for the great circle of life, but not so good if you are trying to take your hunting spoils to the family.
To Field dress means to remove the internal organs and blood from your kill. Most importantly, this helps the meat to cool quickly and prevents any bacteria from building up and gradually deteriorating and spoiling your delicious bounty. A quick removal of the organs and blood mean that the meat is usable.
If you happen to have punctured the stomach of your target, its even more important that you quickly and effectively field dress the deer, as the stomach acids can rapidly ruin the meat and the partially digested contents will attract bugs and bacteria even faster than normal.
Bugs and bacteria aside, even if you are lucky enough to avoid this risk, it is regularly quoted in hunting circles that a poorly field dressed deer, or worse still one that wasn’t field dressed at all, is easily recognizable from the meat’s taste. Meat that was field dressed correctly in the field will be much more juicy, tender and delicious when cooked when compared to the tough and gamy-tasting meat of a poorly field dressed kill.
How To Field Dress A Deer Like A Pro
It’s not a pretty task, there’s no denying that, but as we’ve described it’s a necessary one if you really want to enjoy the spoils of your hunt.
Many hunters are clueless about field dressing, but we’ve got you covered. All the delicious meat from your kill is still covered in skin, attached to the bone, and there’s a whole bunch of undesirable organs that need to be removed. So lets’ begin!
Step 0: Have The Right Gear and Know How To Use It
Your knife is your best friend during this task. You need a super sharp blade, and you need to know how to use it. At points, you will also need a bone saw, so unless you have both of these things, just give up now. You’d be better dragging the deer all the way back to your truck and doing it at home than trying any of the remaining steps without the proper equipment.
Knife work requires practice. A great tip for beginners is to work with your blade facing upwards wherever possible, away from the animal and towards you. This is counter-intuitive from a general safety point-of-view, but it makes a lot of sense as it significantly reduces the risk of puncturing the animal’s innards.
Pointing the blade upwards also stops you from pushing the animals hair and fur into the carcass, which can get messy. If you have a super sharp knife, work slowly and carefully, to ensure you actions are precise and as safe as possible.
In contrast, when working with a bone saw, don’t be afraid to give it some elbow grease. Bone is tough and requires a reasonable amount of force to saw through. Judge the thickness of the bone before you cut and as you think you are about to break through, slow down and be a little more careful. You may even want snap the bone with your hands to avoid unwanted organ punctures.
Now, get ready. It’s time to do this!
Also Read: Where to Shoot a Deer with a Bow?
Step 1: Prepare Yourself Mentally
While the tools needed for field dressing are simple, basically just a sharp knife and maybe some gloves and an apron or coveralls, the spirit needed for cutting an animal and then removing its innards is a big challenge for your mind and your stomach!
Don’t ignore this step. Take few deep breaths and calm yourself, particularly if your adrenaline is still running high from the thrill of the hunt. Pay your respects to nature and your target and prepare to give this delicious feast the respect it deserves!
Step 2: Recover Your Projectile
When hunters bring down a deer, the projectile almost always remains in the target’s body, but in some cases you can’t locate it.
As you prepare to field dress, you need to ensure that your arrow or bolt is removed. If you’ve been using bullet or field points this is usually quite easy, but it’s likely you’re using broadheads or expandable heads, which can be a bit tougher.
Just remember to be sure the arrowhead is not left in your kill as it you may seriously cut yourself when you finally stumble upon it during the field dressing process or fail to remove it and it could taint the meat.
Step 3: Ensure You Move The Deer To An Appropriate Spot
This is particularly important if you are on your own, as getting the deer into the right angles and positions for each step of the field dressing process can be quite tough when doing the job solo.
You will probably need to drag the deer somewhere that has some more space to maneuver it and yourself and is also on a slight incline. If you can’t find an appropriate include, then you may be able to move the deer near to a large rock or a small tree that you can prop your kill up against to create the elevation.
You are going to have the deer on it’s back, so have a little gully or crevice you can wedge the deer into will also help. Again, if you can’t find a natural formation, try gathering some rocks and branches you can use to provide support to the sides of the deer.
Either way, be sure to drag the deer to an appropriate spot before you open it up, it will make the later steps much easier.
Step 4: Position the Deer
To make the job as easy as possible, position the deer on its back. With a partner, this is usually quite manageable, but still takes a bit of practice. Solo, it can actually be a real challenge.
You want the head to be slightly elevated relative the hind quarters and you want it legs to remains spread apart so you have easy access to it’s underside. You may need to place some rocks or branches underneath the deer’s upper back and neck to get the required elevation.
You also don’t want the deer to roll to the left or right as you are field dressing, so wedging it in a natural gully or crag is perfect. Obviously you need to be lucky to have one nearby, so you can again can use rocks and branches to provide support to the sides. Failing that, you can use ropes to tie up the deer’s legs against trees on opposite sides to keep them apart and provide support from the side.
The goal is to position the deer in a way that as its upper body stays slightly elevated, the ribcage remains steady and the hind legs are kept apart. This allows all the organs to be easily removed and the blood and guts to fall down towards the ground without making a huge mess.
Step 5: The First Cut – The Coring
This is my least favorite part, but you just have to get it done. Remember, it’s about preserving the meat and giving it the respect it deserves. It’s careful work, so don’t rush! Once you push through this bit, you’ll have the momentum to do the rest.
To start, you will be piercing your knife into the deerskin, not its flesh, in the center of the body about 30cm up from its anus, carefully slicing the skin away towards the side of the anus, knife blade facing up, as discussed. Repeat towards the other side of the anus. You don’t want to go too deep with your knife yet.
As you approach the sides of the anus you should be able to slowly push the knife deeper to the sides, not towards it’s butthole. This should open up the membranes that keep the colon in place without actually puncturing the intestine. It should now be easy to see the colon and you can cut around the tube-like structure to slice the remaining membranes and free it up.
You are now going to carefully open the pelvic area up more. Start by carefully cutting deeper between the anus and your original incision. You should working slightly off-center, on one side of the animal’s genitalia, trying to avoid the thin pipe-like urethra and slowly cutting deeper as you try to locate the pelvis.
Some states require you to leave evidence of sex on the carcass, so don’t cut off the genitalia as you do this, just move it out of the way and continue to slowly cut deeper, being careful not to cut the urethra or colon or the juices will taint the meat.
Once you reach the hard pelvic bone, work the other side of the urethra until you again reach bone. You should be able to hold the urethra up between your incisions and peel it away from near to the anus, where it connects with the bladder. To get it out of the way cut the urethra up towards the animals genitalia, not down by the anus, to avoid getting urine on your kill. This should now just fall away near to the anus.
You did it! We’ll come back to cut away the pelvic bone later.
Step 6: The Upper Cut – Joining The Upper And Lower Body
Your next task is the first step in removing the inner organs. Again, this is slow work and if you rush you can accidentally slash through the stomach lining and release the horrid contents inside, ruining a large chunk of the flesh.
Your deer should still be on its back, and it should have it’s ribcage thrusting forward into the air. Start slicing the hide at the peak of the ribcage but do not puncture through it. You goal is to work your way down to the base of the ribcage to the fleshy area which contains the stomach.
As you go from the top-most point of the ribcage, working down the midline, feel for the point which the bone of the ribs no longer shields the organs. It should be a very obvious. This is the sternum and the point where you need to start being more careful with your cuts.
As you reach the sternum with you knife, do you best to pull the skin upwards, away from the organs. Pinch the skin and lift it before you cut, slowly working down until you connect your slices with the original incision from Step 4. You’ve now drawn yourself a good guide line for the next part.
It’s time to cut deeper, but it’s also time to be super careful. Return to the sternum, pull up the flesh and cut deeper into the cavity below the ribcage, but only an inch or so. Push two or three fingers into the cavity and tear open the area another inch or two, giving you are clear window into stomach cavity. You should clearly be able to see a flesh sack. This is the animal’s stomach.
Again, push two fingers in and lift the hide and lift it away from the stomach. Piercing the stomach must be avoided, so really use some strength and pull the flesh upwards. Slide your knife, blade up as always, between your two fingers and continue to cut away the flesh, pushing your fingers in further and continuing to lift the flesh as you move along the center of the carcass towards your original incision from Step 5.
Connect up your slices from this and the previous step and you should have a nice fleshy channel from the peak of the ribcage to the pelvis, exposing all the organs. It’s now time to get out your bone saw.
Step 7: Bone Saw The Pelvis And Rib Cage
You can get a little rough again here. The first step of this is the hardest part. You need to reach into your now opened up carcass, just above the pelvis, and pull all the organs up towards the ribcage. This gives you enough space to vigorously saw without piercing anything untoward.
You need to cut away the pelvis on both sides that you exposed during Step 4. Feel along the bone and start sawing a couple of inches left of the center. Use some muscle hear, but be sure to keep the all those innards away. Repeat on the other side and remove the chunk of pelvis you’ve now cut away.
The hind legs of the deer should no longer be connected by bone. Widen the channel you’ve made between the upper and lower body by spreading the legs wider. This will ensure the next steps go more smoothly.
Now you’ve opened up the low body, use your bone saw to split the ribcage down the center, starting at the sternum. Face the blade of the bone saw up, again to reduce the risk of puncturing any organs. Slide the blade in with care, but rip upwards with vigor to cut through the bone.
Once you reach the top of the ribcage its time to…
Step 8: Open it up!
You’re nearly there!
Grab each side of the split ribcage and rip it wide open, exposing the heart. Pull up the sack the heart sits in and cut it free, placing the heart to the side ready to be preserved for later.
Find the windpipe and the esophagus which will be up towards the animal’s head. Get a good grip on the pipe, pull upwards and slice it free near to the neck. At the base of ribs you will see a muscular tendon which is still trying to hold the ribcage closed. Slice this away on each side, close the ribs, allowing the organs to more easily be removed.
All the organs and guts should be more or less freed at this point, ready to be pulled out. Grab the windpipe you’ve just severed and slowly pull down towards the pelvis. It should begin to roll the other organs with it, first the stomach and then the liver, kidneys and intestines.
Use both hands to pull the organs down towards the opening you’ve made at the pelvis. There may be some residual tendons and fleshy bits trying to keep everything inside, so you may need to give it all a bit of a yank as you go, but otherwise it should all roll down through the opened-up animal’s lower regions.
Take some care as you separate all the organs from the carcass, as you can still harvest the liver and kidneys, cutting them away from the rest of the organ tissue.
The rest can be left around if the state laws allow, however, we recommend considerate disposal, so burying the refuse is an excellent way to leave a clean spot.
It’s not easy, especially the first time, but you can do it. If you really want to be a pro hunter, its a necessary part of the trade and a skill you can pass along to others. So get yourself a bloody good knife and get cutting!
If you’re still struggling, check out this awesome video from MeatEater. Paired with our guide, you’ll be a pro in no time!
I’ve Field Dressed My Deer, Now What?
Take your kill home!
Fully opened up, the deer will cool quickly and your meat will be safe to eat and super delicious. From here, you are basically ready to load your field dressed deer up in your truck and take it home.
The hard work isn’t over yet though. You will still need to skin and butcher the deer to fully harvest your kill. This is another process altogether, and one you should definitely do if you really want to make the most of your kill.
Check out Jordan’s Harvest if you want to learn more.
It’s an often overlooked part of the kill, but deer tallow actually has a lot of uses.
Straight up though, don’t cook with it, I can guarantee you it will ruin almost any good meal, but there are a lot of other ways you can make the most of the tallow.
If you need some inspiration, check out these great ideas for ways to use deer tallow!
Conclusion: How To Field Dress A Deer
It’s not pretty, but it’s worth it!
Field dressing may sound like an undesirable and challenging step to many hunters. However, once you learn the technique, you can easily do it and ensure that you deliver your kill the respect it deserves and make sure you have delicious meet for weeks to come!
I hope our process helps you to understand this otherwise difficult task in simple steps, but it’s going to take practice. So get out there, enjoy the hunt, the don’t forget to field dress your deer with pride!