Are you new to deer hunting and are worried about field dressing a deer for the first time? This final step is one that many hunters dread having to do since this is where the real work seems to begin. It can be difficult when you are first learning because it is not something that you do or practice regularly. Field dressing only needs to be done when you have killed a deer.
Field dressing a deer can be a challenge if you are unfamiliar with how it is done. There are a number of things that can go wrong and can potentially cause you to lose a significant amount of useable meat unless done properly. The good news is that once you have seen how it is done, the actual task of field dressing a deer is not difficult. It may take a few times to become as efficient as possible, but you should have no trouble cleaning you next kill.
However, if you follow these steps and have a little patience (and a sharp knife!) you will soon be able to properly field dress a deer with no problem. Once you sharpen these skills this is a quick task that becomes easier every time you do it.
What You’ll Need
Apart from a deer to gut, there are some key items you will need in order to make this process easy and efficient. While the items in this list aren’t the only tools used to field dress a deer, they are the ones you will find most useful when following the steps detailed below. There are also several tools that are designed specifically for gutting a deer that may make part of this process even easier. You can often find knives, saws, and kits that are built with cleaning a deer in mind.
Our Favorite Deer Gutting Kit
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This pack comes equipped with a caping knife, gut hook skinner, boning/fillet knife, wood & bone saw, tungsten carbine v-sharpener, steel stick/brisket spreader, and game cleaning gloves. Below are additional items you may need for field dressing a deer.
- Hunting tag with string already attached
- Recently sharpened knife
- Bone saw
- Disposable plastic gloves
- Dark colored rag
- Large plastic bag
Steps to Successfully Field Dress a Deer
To have the best chance for field dressing a deer, you should follow the following steps:
Ensure the deer is indeed dead. Approach the animal from the rear and look for any signs of life. If possible, poke the animal in the eye with a long stick in order to ensure it is actually dead. Deliver a killing blow at this point if needed. This is not typically an issue but for safety sake we want to make sure this is done properly.
After the kill is confirmed, make sure to unload and safely store your firearm or weapon. People get injured every year because of unsafe weapon handling, you don’t want to be one of those people.
Next position the deer on its back with the head pointed uphill if possible. If you shot a buck it is much easier to keep the head straight when the deer is on it’s back because you can rest it on the antlers. Positioning the head uphill from you will make each step in gutting the deer easier as well. It helps when you are pulling out the inside of the deer and draining it. The guts and organs inside of a deer weigh more than you may think so letting gravity help you is very beneficial.
Tag your kill according to local policy. You are then going to want to remove any clothing you want to avoid getting blood on. Mark your position in the field by hanging a blaze orange marker either above or close to your location. The orange helps with safety, especially during firearms season.
Next you should lay out your necessary tools in a place where they are easily accessible and won’t be misplaced. Put a pair of disposable gloves on prior to going any further. You will realize this once you begin working, but it can be a little difficult to hold and control all of the deer as you are field dressing it. This is why you should have all your tools in arms reach once you start. The deer will want to roll over and move as soon as you let go.
All cutting or gutting tools should be within arms reach to make this process easier. You also don’t want to be reaching into a hunting pack or your pockets with bloody hands.
Using your knife, make a small incision at the base of the sternum. Make sure the blade of your knife is pointed up to help avoid any unnecessary wear and tear to the blade. Only cut deep enough into the cavity to pierce the hide and the initial layer of fat. The easiest way to do this is to pinch a small amount of skin and pull it up and then cut across it rather than just pushing down through the skin into the stomach/sternum area. This helps it cut easier and avoids cutting too deep.
Avoid cutting any internal organs throughout this process unless otherwise instructed to do so. If you cut through the stomach you could end up ruining part of the meat and at the very least it will smell very bad.
You should also be sure to pull the hair back before you start cutting. This will help avoid tons of white hair ending up everywhere as you cut through it. Once covered in blood that hair will stick to everything.
Insert two fingers into the incision to help guide your knife and keep the hide in a taut V. This makes it easier to cut and will also keep your fingers out of harms way. Go a few inches at a time and go slowly. This helps keep the incision straight and makes sure you do not cut yourself. There are also some knives that are built in a small hook shape to help with this. You just insert them into the original incision and pull down like a zipper.
Our Favorite Deer Gutting Hook
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Continue the incision down to either the base of the penis or the udder. If a buck, cut around the penis and down to just above the anus. If a doe, cut around the udder and down to just above the vagina/anus. Be careful to avoid cutting the bladder.
Now you will need to cut the esophagus to start removing the upper organs. There are two ways to do this. You can either reach up in the chest cavity as far as possible and cut through it, or you can use a knife or saw to cut up through the sternum to expose the rest of the chest cavity.
As long as it is not a trophy buck, the easiest way to to cut the sternum. To do this, start near your original incision and cut up on either side of the sternum. It will be tough but a strong knife or small saw will have no issues going through the cartilage.
Once the chest cavity is exposed, reach up as far as you can into the top/throat area and grab the esophagus. You will be able to pull it away from the wall of the neck to help cut all the way through. Once you have cut through it, you can start to pull. The esophagus will peel away from the sides of the deer as you pull it down.
Now you can cut through the diaphragm, which is the large membrane separating the chest cavity from the intestinal area. Make cuts to the connective membranes preventing the organs from being removed. At this point most of the organs should be loose enough to pull out. Grab a hold of the esophagus or any other strong membrane and start to pull or roll the guts out of the deer.
The lower organs will still be attached down near the pelvis and the anus. This all needs to be severed carefully to avoid getting waste or urine on the meat. There are several different methods for doing this.
One way is to make an incision around the anus and vagina (if necessary) from the outside. Once you have fully cut free these items, carefully push them back into the cavity of the deer. Both the large intestine and the bladder can now be successfully removed from the deer and be pulled out with the rest of the guts.
Another way is to just use a small bone saw to cut through the pelvic bone so you don’t have to pull anything back through that small cavity. This allows you to just rip or cut everything out as one piece.
If this last part doesn’t go well or gets messy, don’t worry. It takes everyone a few tries to figure out the best way to do it. In the end all that matters is that you got all the organs, guts, and bladder/anus pieces out as well as any waste. If you think you spilled any urine or waste on the inside of the deer be sure to clean it off.
There are many different techniques for field dressing a deer and everyone has their preference. Hopefully this gave you a great starting point to work from. We have included a video below to help show one method for field dressing a deer. Feel free to make small changes in the process to make it as easy for you as you’d like. The most important thing is that at the end everything has been removed and the inside is clean.
See How Steven Renella likes to field dress a deer. As you see, some of his steps are slightly different than ours but the principle is the same.
Once all the deer’s internal organs have been removed, use the large plastic bag to safely store the heart, liver, and other organs you wish to keep. Next, tip the deer on its stomach to help remove any remaining blood or other debris. If you have cut through the pelvic bone the lifting up or raising the front half of the deer will help any left over blood drain our very quickly.
After this, gather your belongings, secure a rope to the deer’s legs and drag it to a secure area to continue the butchering process. Here is a quick tip on dragging. When you tie the rope to the deer, tie it’s front legs up with the neck. If you just tie the rope around the neck then the front legs will keep getting caught on branches and logs as well as hit your feet and trip you. Tying them up with the neck makes it much easier to drag.
Check this article to learn about tracking wounded deer if you want to learn more about how to find a deer.
It is highly important that you process your deer as soon as possible in order to avoid damage to the meat. The steps needed in order to properly field dress a deer can vary based upon preferred methods, but the above steps are a proven way to do it safely and with minimal cuts needed.
We here at CaptainHunter.com hope that you found this guide to be of value to you as you pursue your hunting goals. We not only believe in what we post but practice it as well.
Have a different method for field dressing a deer or have more questions regarding one of the above steps? Let us know below and as always…feel free to share our posts with other dedicated hunters.