Field Dressing A Deer

Guidelines on Field Dressing a Deer

            Hunting is a sport and passion of many individuals, and while the actual hunt and kill may be natural talents, field dressing a deer is an activity that requires knowledge and finesse.  Venison is a delicious food source, but if the proper methods of dressing the animal in the woods are not followed, the meat can be contaminated and unsafe for consumption.

            Venison can be a great alternative to beef.  Lower in fat, absent of additives or antibiotics as well as having a full balance of essential amino acids makes venison a lean and tasty meat.  And it is a healthier choice for many, as venison has less cholesterol than beef, chicken or turkey.  Some people will turn their nose up at a meal of venison, claiming that the meat has a strange taste called “gamey”.  While this flavor is more common in wild meat than in farm raised meat, much of the flavor of the meat can be attributed to the kill itself and how the venison was treated in the field.

            The best shot to kill a deer is, obviously, a clean one.  A shot that is on the mark, downing the deer immediately, is not only the most humane kill but also one that will preserve a good flavor on the meat.  Wounding an animal releases within it a rush of adrenaline; giving the beast the power to run.  The muscles swell with blood in order to fulfill the brain’s command to fuel the body for defensive measures.  When the deer eventually drops, these muscles remain engorged with blood, along with certain acids, and a strong, gamey flavor is locked into the meat.  Heat is yet another factor in the safe process of field dressing a deer.  Heat increases the bacterial spread through the meat, so fast action is needed in the field.  A clean shot that immediately drops a deer again provides the best scenario for quickly locating and beginning to dress the deer.

            After following legal procedure by tagging your deer, don rubber or plastic gloves to reduce exposure to any diseases as well as keeping the process cleaner.  Placing the deer on its back and using a sharp 4’ fixed blade knife, make an incision around the genital region.  Using your free hand to lift the cut skin away from the body, your knife hand will continue cutting upwards toward the breast bone, stopping at the base of the sternum.  It is crucial to be extremely careful not to puncture any of the internal organs, as their contents will contaminate the meat and render it inedible.  The entire cut will measure approximately 12-14”.  Pushing the deer onto its side, remove the stomach, liver and intestines.   Separation of the organs from the muscles inside may be necessary. Next, the chest cavity can be opened in order to reach up and remove the lungs and heart.  The heart and liver should be placed on ice if they are to be eaten to ensure their freshness.  The last steps are in removing the bladder and large intestine; each of which should be tied to avoid the emptying of their contents that would contaminate the meat.    

            The carcass is now ready to be transported back to your home or to a commercial processor.  Fill the cavity with bags of ice if possible to keep it cold during transit; if not, make sure that air circulation around the deer is possible.  Be sure to follow the specific requirements of your state to report your kill.

            Field dressing a deer can be a quick and efficient process when the proper methods are followed.  By ensuring the safety of the meat from the beginning, you will be able to enjoy the most of the bounty of your kill.