Few people truly want to field dress deer, but if you arrow one you’re obligated to clean it and eat it. Field dressing a deer means removing the animal’s internal organs to prevent the meat from spoiling. But don’t worry. This job need not be gory, scary, embarrassing, or whatever emotion you’ve conjured up.
Hunting provides many great benefits, of course, so don’t let field dressing a deer diminish the greater good. Anyone can do it. All you need is the right equipment and know-how, and a little grit.
I’ve shot many deer, but not until I moved from Wisconsin to South Carolina did I tackle the responsibility of field dressing deer. One morning I arrowed a deer near my new home on property I had permission to hunt. I had just moved in and was by myself, so I had no one to call for help. And I didn’t have a clue where to start!
After dragging the deer home, I called my dad back in Wisconsin. I didn’t have much equipment, but guess what? I had latex gloves and a sharp knife, which meant I had everything I needed. Through our 20-minute conversation, Dad walked me through the job step by step.
It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t difficult either. Besides, I felt motivated. I wanted the meat, and I wasn’t about to let that deer and all my efforts go to waste. I just did what I had to do, and I’m proud to say I’ve done it many times since. You can too!
To field dress deer you need latex gloves and a sharp knife. A bone saw is a helpful bonus.
Latex gloves keep your hands clean while you work. A sharp knife helps you make smooth, precise cuts. A bone saw gives you options like cutting the pelvis, removing the rib cage, and removing the skull cap if you must break down your deer in the field. It’s not necessary to cut the pelvis, but if you include that step when field dressing a deer, you can break this bone by pressing a strong knife to its centerline and applying pressure while rocking the blade.
With those tools, you’re ready to work.
Learning to field dress a deer is easier than ever, thanks to technology and many great online resources. Read Bowhunting 360’s article, “How-To: Field Dress a Deer in 10 Steps,” complete with pictures, to learn how to field dress your deer. If you prefer to learn by watching, check out the MeatEater video “How to Field Dress a Deer with Steven Rinella.”
Both resources teach you the skills, knowledge and techniques for field dressing deer. You can also ask mentors, family or hunting buddies for help. You could even ask the archery shop’s manager. After all, an expert who was kind enough to help you set up your equipment would probably teach you how to field dress a deer. It won’t hurt to ask.
– Keep Your Knife Sharp: Dull blades are dangerous. They mangle and tear meat, rather than cut it cleanly. Sharp knives make smooth, precise cuts and improve your blade control.
– Take Your Time: When field dressing a deer for the first time, make cuts and remove the entrails methodically, but don’t rush. You’ll be excited, so be patient and take care not to cut yourself. Take your time. Your deer isn’t going anywhere.
– Always Cut Away from Your Body: Never pull the knife blade toward your body when making cuts. It’s dangerous. If your knife blade slips, you risk injuries. Always point the blade so you must cut away from your body.
– Cut all Hide from the Inside: Do not push your knife blade into the skin. Instead, create a puncture hole and turn the blade so it’s facing out as you make your cuts. This keeps loose hair from sticking to the meat and reduces the likelihood of puncturing the stomach or intestines.
– In Case of Punctures … Bowel or stomach contents can taint the meat, but you won’t have a problem if you rinse the carcass after removing the entrails. You’ll probably struggle more with the smell at first, but odors from a deer’s interior seldom linger once you wash the cavity.
Field dressing deer might sound intimidating and undesirable, but it’s simple and provides great anatomy lessons. Don’t doubt yourself. You can do it!
Just give yourself a pep talk and “get ’er done.” In fact, your adrenaline will likely carry you through, and you’ll be done before you know it. Good luck!