A Game Warden's Field Dressing Tips for White-Tailed Deer
In years past, it was not unusual for a game warden to have to field dress a road killed deer. The key was to do it quickly and cleanly. You can learn from the method developed and used by game wardens. DO NOT USE THIS METHOD ON A DEER THAT YOU WANT MOUNTED.
- Approach a downed deer from the rear as a safety precaution.
- When you’re certain it’s dead, unload your firearm and set it out of the way.
- Move the deer so its head is uphill, even if only slightly, and roll it onto its back. If you have a companion, ask for help to keep the animal in proper position, otherwise prop it up with rocks or wood.
- Next, while standing at the tail end and facing the head end, make a cut from just above the anus to the base of the jaw. Make this in several steps and always cut to one side of the penis and testicles or milk bag.
- At the bottom of the abdominal cavity, lift a pinch of skin and slit it. Don’t cut down. Great care is needed to avoid puncturing the intestines or paunch. If you shot the deer with an arrow and have not retrieved the broad head, caution must be used so as not to injure yourself on it while completing the rest of the field dressing. Insert the tip of the blade into the small opening you made in the abdominal cavity. Make sure the knife point is toward the head of the deer and the cutting edge is up. Insert two fingers of your free hand in the slit on either side of the blade. With the back of your hand, hold down the intestines and paunch as you gently slit up the belly. Cut all the way to the bottom of the rib cage. At this point, the knife will meet the sternum.
- The sternum is a very white bone. Do not cut into it. Instead cut to one side where the ribs attach. This is best done with a saw or hatchet. The bone is soft there. You may have to straddle the deer and cut upward. Never cut toward yourself, but always towards the deer’s neck. If the deer’s head is to be mounted, stop cutting before you reach the brisket. If not, cut up through the neck area to the base of the jaw. If the deer is to be dragged far, don’t cut up through the neck area; rather, stop at the brisket until you get to camp. This will help keep dirt out.
- Now go back to the pelvis area and slit the skin from the stomach area to the anus. Always cut with the blade between the meat and the skin. This way hair is not cut. Cut in the direction away from you.
- Next, cut the meat down to the pelvic bone. The pelvis can then be easily split with a hatchet. With a little patience you can split most pelvises with a hunting knife. Just feel for a small bone nubbin on the inside of the pelvis. Feel this nubbin with your finger. It’s near the stomach where the intestine goes through the pelvis. The pelvis is connected together at this point. It can be split easiest if the split is begun directly above the center of the nubbin.
- Now walk toward the head end and reach inside and grasp the windpipe. Pull it out and cut off as high up as possible. This may mean cutting in close quarters, so be careful not to injure yourself.
- Now use the windpipe to pull out the lungs and heart. You may have to cut around the windpipe where it enters the chest cavity.
- When you reach the diaphragm, cut it loose from the rib cage, being careful not to puncture the paunch.
- Again grasp the windpipe and carefully but firmly, without jerking, pull out the stomach, lower gut, bladder, penis/vaginal tract, and rectum. Pull the entire mass gently toward the rear, making sure all of it is free in the cavity. The large intestine should pull through the split pelvis.
- All entrails should now be outside of the deer. Cut off the anus and all is separated from the deer.
- Now you should have a cleaned animal. Lift the deer by the front legs and let the cavity drain. Or tip the deer over on its stomach, keeping the head and shoulders higher than the rest of the animal, so it will drain by itself. If you intend to save the heart, cut it free and put it in a plastic bag. You should have a bag for this purpose.