Good paper on Field Dressing Deer. A friend, an avid Dove Hunter,
told me Sunday he often kept a sheet about how to field dress a deer
with him, while deer hunting. Enclosed is just such a sheet. Note
videos are available, and several web sites give you still pictures.
It might be good to see just how messy field dressing can be, to
prepare yourself. Paul
Field Dressing FAQ has good pictures.
(This file is NOT that website.)
offers videos providing in-depth coverage and "how-to" instruction on
Field Dressing and In-house Butchering Techniques.
I. CONTENTS OF A FIELD DRESSING PACK
A (sharp) hunting knife. Two knives are better in case one gets dull.
Surgeons gloves (two pair or more) to avoid getting infected with
animal disease that is found in the blood and fecal matter. Surgeons
gloves greatly reduce the risk of frostbite that can be caused by
contact with 'warm blood' in cold weather.
Several pieces of 3/8" rope for securing animal legs for dressing
operations and for hanging portions of meat after the butchering
A water container which is used for washing the carcass clean and for
cleaning yourself after completing the field dressing operation.
Two or three plastic bags with tie wraps. These are used for saving
the heart and liver of the animal. If you do not wish to save these
organs then one bag can be used for storing all of the other items on
the list. Large "ziploc" bags work great! 30lb trash bag is plenty big
enough for the liver!
A couple of clean rags should be included for wiping out the body
cavity and for keeping your hands clean in the process of field
dressing your harvest.
A piece of heavy string or twine or electricians wire should be
included for use in attaching your hunting license to the carcass of
the harvested animal.
A ballpoint pen of lead pencil which can be used for filling out the
information on your license tag.
Optional equipment could include a small axe, saw, or other tool for
cutting through heavy bone.
Marking tape can also be included so that you can re-locate your
animal if you have to leave to get transportation.
Include a large plastic tarp if you intend to skin and quarter your
animal in the field. The tarp helps to keep the meat out of the dirt.
Cotton bags large enough to hold quarters of the animal is also
helpful to speed the cooling of the animal parts and to prevent flies
from contaminating the meat with their eggs.
II. FIELD DRESSING BIG GAME (Elk & Deer)
Once you've successfully tracked down your game, the first thing you
want to do is make sure it is dead. Cautiously approach it. While
staying on your feet reach out and tap the eye with the end tip of
your weapon or a long stick. IF the animal is alive it will thrash
about, if it doesn't move, it is dead.
Next, take your weapon and put it safely away from your work area.
Always make sure the gun is no longer loaded.
Tag the animal to show that it is legally harvested and in your
possession. If the animal is male, simply tie a copy of your license
to the antlers by putting a string through a hole you've punched
through the license. If it is a female, you'll need to cut a hole in
one of the does ears, and thread a piece of electricians wire through
the hole and then attach the copy of your license.
Once the animal is successfully tagged, take out the contents of your
If you are working by yourself, handling the elk or deer is very
tough. It is best to have a partner with you.
Determine now if you want this animal mounted for your trophy room.
This decision will determine how you make your initial cuts.
Position the animal by getting the bottom end of the it downhill. By
positioning the animal this way you allow the innards to move in such
a way that a void is created between the breast bone and the paunch
behind the diaphragm of the animal where you can start your incision
in the belly. You will also want to ROLL the animal on it's back.
NOTE: Some people like to make the initial cut from the rectum to the
base of the jaw. In this INSTRUCTION the cut will be made at the top
end of the brisket located between the legs. To locate the brisket,
poke your fingers into the fur between the legs.
WARNING: Field dressing is not a speed competition. Take your time and
don't get excited! You'll end up with a better end product and more
meat on the table.
Initial cut: Get the cut started at the beginning of the brisket.
Follow the center line nice and smoothly, taking short strokes with
your knife to the end of the brisket so as to not cut into the
intestines. Spoilage of meat will occur if the intestines are cut
open. Taking care not to puncture the intestinal area, continue the
cut all the down to the mammary glands (female) or penis (bull).
NOTE: Remember that you must leave proof of sex. If you are dressing a
Bull, make your cut down along the side of the penis, and right
through the middle of the scrotum and testicles so that 1 testicle is
left with either side of the hide. If you are dressing a Doe, cut
through the mammary glands so that 1 gland will be left attached to
either side of hide.
TIP: Once you've successfully completed the initial cut from the
beginning of the brisket to the rectum, press down on the inside of
the animals legs to 'open' the carcass as wide as possible. To allow
for a wider opening, you can cut the muscles in the pelvic girdle,
very carefully so as to not cut into the abdominal wall, using short
strokes of your sharp knife. Then press down on the legs with good
Next, carefully skin the abdominal area first to ensure that minimal
hair is ends up in the cavity. To skin the abdominal area take short
cuts using just the tip of the knife being careful not to cut holes in
the hide. You'll want to skin back about 6" on each side of your
brisket to rectum cut. Once the abdominal cavity is fully exposed,
continue skinning the hide back away from the meat. This will save you
time and work once you're ready to remove the internal organs.
WARNING: ALWAYS be cautious of the fact that you have a deadly weapon
in your hand - YOUR HUNTING KNIFE - and it can kill you if you're not
Removing the brisket. The brisket is basically cartilage and it is
hard to cut it through the middle with the potential risk of injuring
yourself if you try to cut through it. It is best to handle the
brisket safely yet efficiently with minimal exertion. Locate the soft
cartilage on either side (depending on if you are right or left
handed). Choose which side you will cut into. Start your knife at the
end of the brisket in the soft cartilage and make your cut smoothly,
you'll have to work your knife a little, until you get to the spot
where the brisket begins near the inside shoulder area of the animal.
Once you've got one side cut away from the ribs, simply go to the
other side of the brisket and cut along the soft cartilage in the same
way. This will allow you to remove the brisket safely. You don't have
to straddle the animal or risk injury to your femoral artery. Removing
the entire brisket makes it easier to reach inside and finish
separating the internal organs from the backbone.
CAUTION: [At this point a lot of hunters do this procedure carelessly
and don't know that they could injure themselves, and quite possibly
kill themselves. While straddling the neck and upper chest area of the
Elk or Deer they try cutting right through the center of the brisket
and if their knife hits the bone and hard cartilage just right the
knife ends up in their gut or worse, their groin, and worst of all the
knife cuts the femoral artery, and by trying to 'save' time they end
up bleeding to death or dying from shock or the elements before anyone
Now that the brisket is removed, you're able to identify the internal
organs, lungs, heart, and the diaphragm which is a piece of flesh that
is a partition wall that separates the heart and lungs from the
'sewage treatment plant' - i.e. the stomach, intestines, liver, etc.
If you move the lungs to the side, you can see the windpipe and
esophagus which need to be separated from the backbone. You want to
carefully cut thought the bone that remains from where the brisket
used to be. This will allow you to sever the windpipe a little higher
and give you a better handle to work with. Sever the windpipe, and
notice that the lungs go down, as the air in them is removed. At this
point you will want to use your knife to separate the windpipe from
the backbone, making short cuts with your blade while pulling on the
windpipe to expose the backbone.
When you get to the diaphragm continue separating it from the rib cage
being extremely careful not to damage the intestine.
Next, give the windpipe a tug and pull the internal organs out of the
cavity to better expose the areas that need to be cut away from the
backbone. If you are doing this as a one man operation, it can be a
very strenuous job, time consuming and you might find yourself
breathing heavy. Just take your time and do it right.
Once you've successfully removed the diaphragm from the backbone,
you'll want to handle the anus (rectum). This part may be very messy
and bloody, but you want to be extremely careful not to cut into the
rectum. You risk meat spoilage if you cut into the rectum. Cut around
the rectum. To cut around the rectum you may need to put your fingers
inside it, and because you have rubber gloves on you needn't worry
Cutting through the pelvic bone. This is where some guys like to bring
in their saws, but you can cut through the pelvic bone with your
knife. No Rambo knives or Arkansas toothpicks are necessary. Just work
your knife through the pelvic bone smoothly and it will separate.
Once the pelvic bone has been split, continue separating the diaphragm
from the backbone. You won't have much room to work with, so you will
need to reach in and shift the diaphragm, so that you can see where
you need to cut. Keep working to free it, and keep all the fecal
matter outside of the body cavity. When the diaphragm has been
completely severed from the backbone you can remove all of the
internal organs and the animal will almost be completely field
With the internal organs removed, you'll notice blood inside the body
cavity, but NO fecal matter or hair. [IF the animal had been shot
through the abdominal cavity, you'd probably have to deal with that.]
Now you want to go through the entrails and retrieve all of the edible
organs. Get your plastic bags ready. Locate the heart which is in the
area of the lungs and is attached to a sac. Cut it away from the sac,
and place it in the ziploc bag. Locate the liver and cut it away from
the diaphragm tissue using short even cuts. Once it is completely
removed from the diaphragm place it in the 30lb. trash bag.
Now you are ready to remove the windpipe from the throat, because it
is one of the first places that spoilage occurs in big game animals.
Cut the neck following the centerline if possible. You'll probably
still be able to feel the heat of the animal. This is where it starts
spoiling. Cut up to the base of the jaw, feel for the larynx and cut
through it. Hold the windpipe up to get to the area beneath it and
continue cutting it away from the body. Once the windpipe is entirely
removed the neck is opened up so that it can begin to cool out.
To allow for room to drain the body cavity of fluids, you'll need to
move the pile of entrails out of your way. REMEMBER that not everyone
who uses the woods for recreation is a hunter! People don't always
appreciate seeing the remains of an animal. Move the abdominal pile
off and away from the trail and cover it, but leave it for the
'critters' that will eat it. By doing this you respect other people's
Now you are ready to drain the cavity. Lift it up by holding onto the
ears and shoulders (this part is a two person job, if you are alone -
you'll want to drag the carcass to a higher point so that enough of
the fluid can be drained out of the cavity). After the fluid has
drained, wipe the cavity clean with rags.
This step by step instruction can be seen in the hunter instruction
video, "A Comprehensive Guide to Big Game Field Dressing," and can be
purchased online or by mail-order from SportsmanVideos.com.
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