Field Dressing a Deer
Here are the detailed instructions on how to field dress a deer.
- The key to safe and efficient field dressing is a sharp, sturdy knife. Use a knife with at blade at least four inches long, a guard, and a large handle. A small knife can turn sideways in your hand when it hits bone. A butcher’s skinning knife is ideal.
- Prop the deer on its back—head uphill, if possible—by placing two large rocks or logs under the shoulders and two under the hips. If the deer is a buck, and the state does not require that sex organs remain naturally attached as evidence of sex, remove the sex organs with a sharp knife. (See figure 1.) Starting between the hind legs, make a short cut all the way down to the pelvic bone.
- It’s best to slit the skin and peel it back before cutting through the muscle layer. This keeps hair away from the meat and makes it easier to see as you work. Make a shallow slit that runs all the way to the jawbone, unless you plan to have the head mounted. In that case, cut only to the breastbone, or just behind the forelegs. With a doe, cut to one side of the udder. Peel back the skin and fur. (See figure 2.)
- After making the slit, turn the knife blade upward and, starting at the pelvic cut, cut through the muscle layer along the same line, using the fingers of your free hand on either side of the blade tip while pulling the muscle layer up and away from the organs to ensure that the stomach and intestines aren’t punctured. If cutting up to the jawline, cut through the cartilage of the breastbone with your knife or a saw to allow you to spread the ribs for easier cleaning.(See figure 3.)
- Next, cut a hole around the anus, pull it to the inside and tie it off with a string to prevent spillage. Then quickly remove the windpipe, because it can taint the meat. (See figure 4.)
- Cut the windpipe and esophagus in two as far up the neck as possible. Put aside the knife, grab the windpipe with both hands and pull down hard. The entrails will pull free down to the midsection. (See figure 5.)
- If the entrails don’t pull easily, cut the connective tissue holding them next to the backbone. If organs have been ruptured by a bullet, keep the juices away from the meat as much as possible.
- Remove the stones from under the deer and roll the carcass onto its side. Slice through the diaphragm—a thin layer of tissue that holds the entrails to the ribs—freeing the intestines. (See figure 6.)
- Turn the deer over and do the same on the other side. Using both hands, firmly grip the entrails and pull down hard. All the entrails should come out of the deer.
- Spread the back legs open by lifting the deer up by the hind legs and placing a large rock under the rump. Place your knife against the middle of the pelvis to locate the seam where the bones grow together, and press down firmly. For safety, it’s preferable to use a saw. (See figure 7.)
- If a tree is available, hang the deer up by the head or antlers for about 20 minutes. If you plan to have the head mounted, hang the deer by its hind legs using a gambrel to spread the hind legs. Hanging the deer allows any remaining blood to drain out of the body cavity. If no tree is nearby, leave the deer resting on a slant to drain.
Finish cleaning out the deer and remove any excess tissue, including the windpipe. Use water only if exposed flesh has been spoiled by stomach contents. Prop the carcass open with sticks to promote cooling. (See figure 8.)
It’s easiest to remove the skin within the first two hours after harvesting, while the deer is still warm. You can start while the deer is draining. To remove the skin:
- Make a cut down the inside of each leg to the middle of the carcass.
- Cut the skin all the way around the neck, as close to the head as possible.
- Grab the skin with both hands at the back of the head and pull down hard. In most cases, the skin will come off down to the forelegs.
- Using your knife, work the skin off the legs and any other spot that sticks to the meat.