Field dressing, or gutting a deer can be a messy job, but with a little practice, a sharp knife, and some patience, you can be back at the deer camp sipping a beer and relaxing in front of the campfire in no time.
Always remember that speed is important. Depending on the temperature outside, you will want to clean the deer as soon as it is dead. This will prevent a loss in body heat and won’t allow much time for bacteria to grow on the surface of the meat. Always don proper PPE. Wash your hands with soap and water before and after you clean your kill. Remember to wear disposable plastic gloves to reduce your risk of disease or infection. Always remember to clean your knife frequently during the gutting process, this will prevent cross contamination in the meat should some nasty critters be lurking around in your deer. There are several ways to position your kill for field dressing. If you don’t have a vehicle, you can use a length of rope to tie one of the animal’s legs to a tree to spread open the hind legs for gutting. If you have a truck or a four-wheeler, you can tie a slip knot around the deer’s neck, and throw the rope over a sturdy tree branch while tying the other end to your tow hitch, drive forward a few feet and the deer will be hanging from the tree. This will allow the organs to fall out of the carcass easier.
To start the cutting process, start at the bottom of the breastbone, and make a shallow cut by lifting the skin and muscle together. Turn the knife with the blade facing towards the sky. Insert two fingers on either side of the knife blade in the shape of a “V”. Use those fingers to push the organs and entrails away from the knife blade. Do not cut into the entrails, as this could spoil the meat. Continue this incision all the way down to the pelvis. Once you finish that cut, remove the reproductive organs with your knife. While holding the knife upwards, split the rib cage and cut through the breastbone. You can use your knife or a small saw for this step, especially if the animal is larger. Follow your previous incision from the pelvis to the anus. Using your saw, split the pelvic bone and cut around the urethra. Be careful no to sever the urethra. Carefully remove the anus by cutting around it’s connective tissues. You can tie off the anus with a string or rubber band. Next, hold the rib cage open and reach in to cut the diaphragm from the rib cage down to the backbone. At this point, be sure to avoid cutting the stomach or intestines as this will spoil the meat (and smell bad too). If the deer is on the ground, roll it over to dump out the entrails, you may have to help some of them along. Remember to cut connective tissue as needed, and remove the windpipe and esophagus.
Once you are able to remove the entrails, check the meat for any foul smells or greenish color. If anything looks or smells out of place, then DO NOT EAT THE MEAT. If you have access to a hose, use it to clean out the inside a bit and then dry it out with a towel. If you plan to take the carcass to be processed, do this a quickly as possible. I’ve had processors stay open a few minutes late after an evening hunt so I can get the deer into a freezer. You want to keep the meat below 40° F to prevent spoilage. Some processors will remove the hide for you, some won’t, it’s best to call your local processor ahead of time to find out what his requirements are.
Field dressing a carcass is definitely takes some practice and it’s better to have someone there who have some experience, but it can be done by a first timer with proper preparation. Remember to wash you hands afterwards to prevent catching any diseases. Happy hunting to all this season and we wish you the best of luck!