Ten steps to complete field dressing

To field dress a deer, you’ll need a sharp, sturdy knife. Wear a pair of shoulder-length plastic field-dressing gloves to keep your arms and clothes clean. Latex surgeon’s gloves worn over the loose-fitting plastic gloves will help prevent punctures and give you better control when working by feel inside the body cavity.

Step 1. Roll the deer on its back with the head uphill so it will drain from the rear. Push the hind legs forward and carefully cut around the anus. Pull the rectum out a few inches and tie it off.

Step 2. Make a two-inch incision just below the breastbone and insert two fingers of your free hand into the cavity. Turn the cutting edge of your knife blade up and place it between your two fingers and use them to guide the knife from the breastbone to the pelvic bone to open the abdominal cavity without cutting into the stomach or intestines

Step 3. Cut around the genitals and remove them.

Step 4. Puncture the diaphragm and cut it away from the rib cage. You may have to roll the deer first onto one side, then the other, to cut all the way around.

Step 5. Reach up as far as you can into the chest cavity and sever the esophagus and windpipe, then pull them loose, along with the heart and lungs.

Step 6. Roll the deer on its side and dump out viscera and blood. Carefully pull the rectum back through the pelvic opening. All the viscera should now be in a pile outside the carcass.

Step 7. If the ground is clean or snow covered, roll the deer onto its belly, lift it by the head and drag it a few feet to aid in draining the body cavity of blood. Otherwise, lift the front half of the deer and drain the blood out through the pelvic opening.

Step 8. If any stomach, intestinal or bladder contents spilled inside the body cavity, wash the area with blood and wipe thoroughly with paper towels or dry grass.

Step 9. Prop the deer with its head uphill or over a log or brush pile, or hoist it head-first into a tree, and let the blood drain out. Prop the body cavity open with a stick to facilitate cooling.

Step 10. Unless the heart or liver are shot up, put these organs in a heavy-duty locking plastic bag and cool them quickly to preserve their flavor and freshness.

Do-it-yourself venison from field to feast

Venison contains more protein and less fat than nearly all domestic meats. Most people who enjoy the taste of venison find it superior to the usual domestic fare of beef, chicken and pork. But, unlike the meat we buy in a supermarket — cut, trimmed and neatly packaged — venison comes to us still wearing its hair and hooves. You can pay a meat processor to butcher your deer, but with a little practice and a few simple tools, you can do it yourself and get exactly the cuts of meat you want in the sizes that will best serve your needs.
Good venison meals start with proper care in the field. Body heat, moisture and digestive juices promote the growth of bacteria, which can lead to spoilage and a strong, “gamy” taste. Once a deer is taken, your next goal should be to field dress it and cool down the meat to ensure it will reach the table in the top condition.
If you’ve never field dressed a deer, watch someone who knows how before you try it yourself. If you can’t do that, watch a video or read a brief guide on the subject (see the step-by-step guide that accompanies this article).
Transport a deer in the open bed of a pick-up truck, or strap it onto a car-top carrier or one of those deer carriers that fits into a receiver hitch. Never tie a deer over the hood of a vehicle because engine heat will harm the meat.
Hang the deer in the shade or an outbuilding so it will cool. If hung by the hind legs, body heat will escape more easily. If hung by the head, no rain or debris will fall into the cavity. A carcass can be hung for several days to age the meat if it is first cooled and the ambient temperature stays below 40 degrees. In warm weather, take it to a processor or cut it up as soon as possible.
Some prefer “aged” venison, while others like it cut up and frozen immediately. Aging tenderizes the meat and, if done properly, improves the taste. If you can’t cool the carcass and keep it between 32 and 40 degrees, skip the aging step.
Whether or not you age your deer, remove the tenderloins as soon as you get it to camp or home. They’re about a foot long and weigh a half-pound or so on an adult deer. They lie inside the body cavity on either side of the spine. If you leave them there, they will dry up and you’ll miss the most tender meat of all. Cut them loose with a fillet knife and lift them out. Broil or pan fry them whole, basted with garlic butter, or slice them into half-inch-thick medallions and saute them as an appetizer.
To skin a deer, you’ll need a sturdy knife with a fixed blade or a folding blade that locks open, and a saw. A meat saw works best. Saw off the forelegs above the knee and the hind legs below the hock. Don’t touch the scent glands on the hind leg, as the scent can taint the meat. If you get scent on your hands or knife, wash it off before continuing.
Cut just through the skin along the inside of each leg from the body out to the end of the leg. With the carcass hanging by the hind legs, peel the skin off the hind legs and cut off the tail, leaving it attached to the hide. Pull the hide loose from the carcass, using the knife sparingly. When you reach the head, cut through the meat and tendons close to the skull and twist it off.
If you plan to have the head mounted, leave it attached to the hide, otherwise, simply cut it off. Lay the hide flesh side up, sprinkle it liberally with canning salt and rub the salt evenly across the hide. A five-pound bag of salt will do one large hide. Let the salted hide dry overnight, then fold it flesh side in, roll it up and tie it. Now you can take it to a commercial tanner and have it tanned or trade it for credit toward a purchase. If you’ve come this far, you can complete the job yourself with a couple sharp knives and a meat saw. You’ll need a boning knife with a curved, six-inch blade, and a longer knife to slice large muscles into steaks. Work on a butcher-block table, a large cutting board or a sheet of clean vinyl flooring attached to a workbench or kitchen table.
With the skinned carcass still hanging, cut away all bloodshot meat and visible tallow. Unlike beef fat, which is marbled throughout the meat, tallow lies between and outside muscle layers. If left on the meat, it will turn rancid and add a strong flavor. Remove any loose hair stuck to the carcass. To do this, wrap some freezer tape around your hand, adhesive side out, and pat the carcass to pick up the hair.
Boning out the carcass will save freezer space and yield 100-percent edible meat. To begin, remove both forelegs by cutting through the tissue between the shoulder blade and ribs. Follow the muscle outlines with the boning knife to fillet meat from the bone. The meat from the shoulder and upper foreleg can be cut into stew chunks, sliced across the grain into thin strips for stroganoff or pepper steak, or ground for burger and sausage. Trim away the silver skin membrane from the shank portion and set the meat aside for grinding.
Fillet the loins (backstraps) away from the backbone and ribs. Remove the silver skin and cut each loin into chops, butterfly steaks or two-inch cubes for kabobs.
Now you can tackle the hindquarters. Locate the ball-and-socket hip joint on one side and cut down to the joint from the front and back of the leg to separate it from the rump. Repeat the process on the other hind leg. With a boning knife, remove both chunks of rump from the pelvic bone. Tender and free of gristle, the rump on each side will make a small roast.
Remove the sirloin tip by laying the leg flat and guiding a boning knife along the femur from the knee to the ball joint. The boneless sirloin tip also makes an excellent roast.
Bone out the rounds and remove all connective tissue, separating each round into three muscles. These can be left whole for roasts or sliced across the grain into steaks. Cut steaks an inch thick to keep them juicy. The calf muscle can be cut into stew chunks or ground. Trim the shank and set it aside for grinding.
Bone out the neck for stew or grinding. The ribs are layered with tallow. You can bone them out for grinding, or saw them into small sections for barbecuing.
Using plastic-coated freezer paper and freezer tape, double-wrap the meat in meal-size packages. Label and date the packages with a permanent marking pen and spread them out in your freezer so they freeze quickly. If you pile 50 pounds of meat in one corner of a chest freezer, it may take several days for the meat in the center to freeze solid.
You should have nothing left now but a pile of bones. Saw them up to make soup stock, or trim off the remaining meat for grinding. Grind the trimmings in a food processor for burger or sausage, or take them to a butcher and have them ground.
These steps will take you a few hours the first time, but your efficiency will improve with practice. Over several seasons, you’ll save hundreds of dollars. Use your savings to upgrade your hunting gear. When you sit down to a meal of venison, you’ll enjoy the satisfaction of knowing the entire process was your own doing, from field to feast.


Back home