Field Dressing a Deer:
For best deer meat, field dress the deer
immediately upon harvesting.
Minimum equipment: 7” sharp
knife with serrated tip. Tub of
moist hand wipes.
Nice to have: Latex or vinyl gloves.
Rope & pulleys. Strong tree limb.
The easiest field dressing is to hang
the deer by the hind legs, splayed wide.
But more important is to get the job
done soon, so, on the ground is fine.
Important Current Information:
Read up on the latest news and
Disease and you’ll be
safe in your harvesting and eating.
Don’t mess up the meat. If you
are hunting for meat, shoot your animal
in the head, neck or shoulder without a
lengthy chase or no chase at all.
shoulder shot is the safest and best bet
because it is a large area and hits the
heart or lungs and avoids damage to the
rest of the organ area, especially the
stomach and intestines. This is a
good shot, too, if you want a trophy
He be Dead! Be sure your deer
is dead before approaching to field
dress him. If in doubt, shoot him
again. Let this be your guide:
It is sure an embarrassing story to be
injured by a dead deer.
Cut and drain the aorta: At the
base of the deer’s throat, with your
finger, feel for the breast bone. (To
practice, feel at the base of your own
throat for the V. In the deer, it
will be an inverted C shape, an arched
bone.) Insert a long sterile
knife just above the bone into that spot
and make a 3” stroke, across the throat.
You know if you have cut the aorta
because the blood will gush. (If you
made a heart or lung shot, your animal
may already be bled out, but just assume
it’s not bled out and cut the aorta till
you get some show of blood.) It’s
ideal to have hind feet in the air, but
it is more important to bleed out
quickly. (The blood will go inside
the cavity or outside. That doesn’t
matter because you will pour it out
commercial operations in the field
(with non-native species), knives are
kept in a shallow Tupperware container
with a mat of cloth or paper towel and ½
“ or so of isopropyl alcohol to
[Commercially, after initial bleeding
out, the deer is ‘zapped’ by attaching
clips to one ear and the opposite hind
leg and ‘electrocuting’ it several times
from a charger. The deer will flex
and relax with each charge and this
squeezes out blood from tissues.
The theory is that this tenderizes the
deer and also makes it easier to
butcher. If you try this at home,
shout “clear” before the charge so
nobody is holding on to the deer and
gets ‘zapped,’ too!]
Remove Scent Glands:
for scent glands below the “knees” on
the hind legs. These will be dark,
bulgy areas. Cut them out and
throw away. Far away. Change
gloves or wash hands (moist wipes OK)
before going back to the carcass.
Open the skin:
the bleed-out hole or cutting a new hole
near the anus, cut only the skin from
the throat to the anus length-wise up or
down the belly of the deer. You
can lift up the skin, pinching it
between your fingers, to get your
bearings or initiate your cut.
Open the cavity:
meat thickness over the stomach varies
from thin lower down to thicker on the
chest. The variance is usually 1-2
inches. Cut open the deer along
the skin-cut-line to open to the cavity.
Use the serrated knife edge to cut/saw
the chest bones. Cut beside the
sternum. The cavity will have all
the organs neatly packed inside.
Your goal is to keep all the organs
intact and remove them from inside the
Removing the Organs:
Feel around the group of organs and
identify the tissues holding them in the
cavity. At the top, you’ll find a
couple of tissues securing the lungs to
the rib cage. Cut them next to the
Grasp and cut the trachea (tube to
stomach) and aortas (blood vessels) as
far up the neck as you can reach.
Work your way around the organs cutting
what secures them inside the deer,
scooping the organs out of the cavity as
At the rear end, depending on male or
female, things will work a little
differently. Primarily, you want
to cut around the rear orifices
(openings) from the outside leaving the
canals to those orifices intact.
That way, the whole irrigation and
reproduction systems will come out with
the other organs.
Cut around the male testicles, leaving
them attached to the organs. If
the deer is hanging, the organs will
fall out with gravity. If you are
working on the ground, simply scoop them
After removing the organs, retrieve any
primary organs you want to save, such as
the liver. Again, check latest
to see what is safe to eat. If you
cut into any offal stuff, be sure to
wash out the deer before hanging it to
Hang and Age the deer:
Hang the deer upside down by its legs
with its hind legs splayed out wide and
with the cavity wide open to the air.
Some people like to skin their deer
before aging. This speeds the cool
down of the meat. Other people
leave the hide on to age their deer.
Temperatures can range from 36-45
degrees F, the cooler the better.
The carcass can even freeze at night and
thaw during the day. A week is a
good period to age the deer.
Netting can be used over the carcass.
Be sure the carcass is out of reach of
[Note about Elk: Elk
carcasses are more temperamental to age
outdoors and spoil easier than a
whitetail or mule deer. Definitely
remove the hide before aging and cool
Removing the hide:
the hide before or after the deer has
been aged. On the internet there
are a million theories on how to remove
the hide easily. There’s even a
'YouTube' clip with the hide being
pulled off with a truck. Hmm,
maybe the truck exhaust adds a nice
flavor to the meat.
It may be easiest to cut the hide off
while the deer is hanging. It is
also easy to do on a table. Mostly, you
just want to take a sharp knife and
gently pull the hide away from the meat
and cut the connecting film.
Cut a circle around the neck like a
necklace or cape. Cut a circle
around the lower shank and straight up
Pretend you are a sculptor. Take
your time and you’ll be safe as well as
have a nice hide to cure.