Google “how to field dress a deer”, and you will get “about 848,000” results.
And probably about 848,000 different ways to do it.
Field dressing a deer at it’s simplest only requires three things: you, a sharp knife, and a deer. You make a slice along the abdominal cavity, and pull everything out as carefully as you can. It’s messy work. There’s no wrong way to do it. You just have to get in there and do it a few times to really get a handle on it.
I’m not going to do a walk through here. Instead, I’m going to give you five tips that will help make the process easier.
Tip 1: Have more than two hands.
I’ve field dressed a number of deer on my own. You can get by easily enough, but an extra set of hands will make it ten times easier. When you don’t have another person to help, cut two sturdy sticks a few feet long. Pound them into the ground on either side of the deer. Use these as tie off points – tie each rear leg to a stick. You do carry rope with you, right?
Tip 2: Put together a field dressing kit.
As I mentioned, all you really need is a knife. But putting together a small bag with a few other key items will ensure you always have what you need. I usually keep this kit in my truck – since my truck is never far away when I’m hunting. Yeah, if you are in the deep woods, put it in your pack. One nice thing about a kit is it can be shared across the hunting party. At minimum, you should have a smallish fixed blade knife, some paper towels, some nitrile/latex gloves, some bags for storing organs, a sharpener, and a bone saw or hatchet for splitting the pelvic bone. Which leads me to:
Tip 3: Split the pelvic bone.
Some guys will tell you not to do this, that you’ll spoil some of the meat. My preference is to split it. I’ve used a saw and a hatchet. I actually prefer to use a hatchet – you just need to be very controlled and careful in your swings. If you can’t do that, use a saw. With your knife, cut down to the bone in a straight line towards the anus. Expose the bone for about an inch on either side of this line, and then cut through the bone on either side of what you exposed, removing a chunk of the bone about 1.5 inches wide, give or take. You’ll have to judge the width of the cut based on your deer. Going this route, you don’t need to tie anything off, or use those “but out” tools. You expose the colon and urethra so you can free it to pull it through the channel.
Tip 4: Take. Your. Time.
Is field dressing fun? Not really. It’s messy. It can be smelly. You might be sweating your ass off from tracking the deer through thickets. But next to good shot placement, it is probably the most critical player in how your venison is going to taste. If you cut the bladder, the spilled urine is not going to enhance the flavor. The deer really won’t smell bad as you are dressing it – unless you knick the stomach with your knife.
Take your time here so you don’t cause any contamination. And also to learn. I approach it as an anatomy lesson. How are things connected? Are there any more useful parts I can harvest? Did I get everything out of the chest cavity? I had a doe “missing” a heart once. After 5 minutes of searching the gut pile, I found it was still in the chest… Oops!
While you don’t want to go so slow your meat starts spoiling, go slow enough to avoid mistakes.
Tip 5: Get all the good stuff!
If I’m going to kill an animal, it’s my responsibility to not let any part of that animal go to waste. Now, technically speaking, nothing goes to waste. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a gut pile that lasted more than two days in the woods. The coyotes, fox, raccoons, and birds will all enjoy their share. But still, I want to appreciate as much of it as I can. The heart and liver are the prime candidates. I can get about five personal lunches out of a liver. And pickled heart is one of my favorite sandwich components. I also grab any fat I can see. That lacy covering on the stomach? That’s called caul fat. You can actually cook with it. Most of the fat I grab will be rendered down and made into suet to help feed my feathered friends through the rough parts of the winter.
Just remember that there is no wrong way to gut a deer. As long as you cleanly get everything out, and start getting the meat cooled in a timely fashion, you’ve done it right. And no YouTube video will teach you as much as doing it yourself in the field. So hunt more to practice more!
Do you have any field dressing tips to share? Tell us in the comments section!