Field Dress Deer
Field Dressing Your Deer Safely and Efficiently
Author: Michigan DNR
Congratulations! You got a deer! Though the thrill of the hunt is over, the effort made now to safely and correctly process your deer will ensure tasty venison for your table in the coming months.
Many hunters have performed this procedure before, having learned by watching others or by trial and error. This year, whether you may be taking your first deer or have struggled to field dress your deer in the past, the Department of Natural Resources offers the following tips that will make the job easier.
The most important thing is preparation. Before leaving your vehicle or camp to go hunting, make sure you have these necessary supplies:
- kill tag
- sharp knife
- rags or paper towels
- rope to tie legs and/or to drag a deer
- several small pieces of string or twine
- plastic bag (self sealing) for heart and liver
- heavy rubber or latex gloves that fit snugly
Once you shoot the deer, you'll be excited. Approach the deer cautiously on the side away from its legs. Be ready to discharge a finishing shot, but don't do so unless necessary. Make sure the animal is dead before getting close to it. Unload your gun, secure your kill tag to the deer and take some pictures.
It is best to field dress your deer in the open. Drag it to a spot where you can work comfortably. Place the deer on its back with its head uphill, if possible, and tie its front legs behind the head.
Now, organize your equipment. A surprising number of hunters lose knives, gloves and other equipment at their field dressing site. Or they spend too much time looking for a misplaced knife in the snow or leaves. Select an area where you can keep track of, and quickly locate, your knife and other equipment.
Safety is very important. Many hunters cut themselves with their knives because they are in a hurry. In cold temperatures, when fingers may be numb, handling a knife takes extra care.
Always wear heavy rubber or latex gloves when field dressing wild game. With your hands, first locate the sternum of the breastbone. Insert your knife at the bottom of the sternum. Keep the blade edge pointing upward when making the first cut. The first cut through the breastbone will avoid damage to the internal organs. Then, cut through the abdominal wall. Keep the knife blade up toward the hide, not down toward the organs as you work from the base of the breastbone to the tail. Insert your non-cutting hand into the body cavity to guide your cut and to push internal organs aside as you cut.
Cut around both sides of the penis and testicles of a buck or the udder of a doe. Be careful not to cut the bladder. Reach inside the body cavity and remove the reproductive organs. Check the udder of a doe for signs of milk. DNR biologists may ask whether the doe was still lactating when you bring it to the check station.
Make a deep cut (about four inches) and two inches in diameter around the anus. Do not cut into the rectum, but pull it sideways in a circular motion, so you are cutting around the outside of it. If there is fecal matter present, use a piece of string to tie the rectum shut. Push the tied-off rectal and reproductive tract through the hole in the pelvis and toward the abdomen.
The bladder is a pear-shaped sack in the lower abdomen. Be careful in handling the bladder so that urine does not spill and taint the meat. Pinch off the bladder with one hand, or tie it shut with string and then cut the urinary tract about an inch beyond the base of the bladder. Once the bladder and urinary tract are free, toss them some distance away from the carcass so urine does not taint the meat.
Roll the carcass onto its side to allow the entrails to roll out onto the ground. Some cutting may be necessary to free the organs from the back of the deer. Cut connecting tissue carefully to avoid opening the intestines and stomach.
Now, cut the diaphragm that separates the chest and the abdominal cavity and holds the upper organs in place. Reach into the chest with your hands and follow the esophagus with your fingers as far as you can. Tie off the esophagus before removing it to prevent any contents from spilling into the abdominal cavity.
Next, cut the windpipe as far up as you can reach. Pull it downward, while cutting any attachments to the back of the carcass, and remove the heart and lungs from the chest cavity.
Turn the deer onto its belly to allow any remaining blood to drain, but be careful not to contaminate the body cavity with dirt. After a few minutes, roll the deer over onto its back and wipe the inside of the body cavity with a rag or paper towel. Remove any debris or large chucks of fat and body tissue. Do not use snow or water to clean the cavity, but dry the area as quickly as possible.
Now, it is time to tie and drag. Always drag the deer on its back to keep dirt from getting into the open cavity. Once you have gotten the deer home or to your camp, hang the deer in a shady area to drain it and cool down the meat. Most Michigan hunters hang their deer with the head up and tail down. But, most butchers will tell you its best to hang the deer with the head down, unless you are going to mount the head.
Hang the carcass out of the reach of animals and pets and place two sticks sideways in the chest cavity to allow air to circulate. It is not necessary to hang the deer for much time other than to drain the blood, cool the meat and make a final wiping of the cavity. Deer will keep for two-three days when temperatures climb into the 40s, but venison will spoil quickly when temperatures reach into the 50s.
Aging deer meat is not necessary. Get the deer to a processor or cut it up and refrigerate or freeze as soon as possible. A processor will have a range of cuts from which to choose. Roasts, steaks, stew meat and ground venison are popular choices, as are spicy sausage items such as jerky.
Many chefs relish cooking with fresh venison and there are countless wonderful recipes to tantalize your taste buds. Try exchanging venison for beef or pork in any dish. One favorite in the Upper Peninsula is venison pasties, where hamburger or chopped steak is replaced with cubed venison.
Proper care when you process your deer will ensure flavorful, healthy meals featuring venison as the star attraction.