A deer must be field-dressed, or gutted as it is commonly called, immediately after being taken. The intestines will begin fouling the meat soon after the animal dies. Warm weather in particular will speed up the decaying process. Although it is necessary to gut the deer right away, it must be done carefully to prevent puncturing the paunch, cutting into the intestines or breaking a full bladder. Any of these accidents will spill contents onto the meat that will leave a foul taste no matter how well it is cleaned.
Lay the deer on its back with the front legs straight up. Pull the back legs apart as far as they will go.
Pinch the hide between the back legs with your thumb and forefinger. Turn the knife sharp side up, pull the loose hide up and poke the tip of the knife through it.
Slit the hide toward the head, following the center of the belly and rib cage. Keep the knife blade parallel with the deer's body, cutting just under the hide. Stop the slit between the front legs.
Peel both sides of the slit hide away from the intestine area. Run the knife blade over the membrane covering the intestines, cutting through it. Do not plunge the knife into the intestines, only cut open the membrane.
Follow the tube coming out of the bladder. Pinch the tube between your thumb and forefinger and cut through it above the pinch. Dispose of the whole bladder away from the deer.
Reach into the intestines with your hands and roll them out over the side of the open belly cavity. Go up into the chest cavity with the knife and cut completely around the membrane that separates the intestines from the upper chest organs. Follow the stomach intestine up into the chest cavity, cut through it and finish rolling the intestines out of the deer.
Separate the rib cage by using a hunter's saw to cut up the chest where the two sides of the ribs meet. Begin at the bottom of the rig cage and saw straight up to the top. Cut the heart and lungs loose and pull them out of the chest cavity.
Cut the rest of the way up to the head with the knife, opening the throat area. Pull out the windpipe and cut it free at the top of the throat. If the deer's head is to be mounted, protect the cape by skinning out the neck to the head and then open up the neck and throat.
Flip the deer over on its belly to let the accumulated blood drain out of the cavity. Turn the deer back over on its back. Saw through the pelvic bone between the back legs and cut out the colon and remove all remaining feces in the pocket between the legs.
Hang the deer as soon as possible so the body will cool. Prop the chest cavity open by forcing a stick horizontally between the two cut-open sides of the rib cage.
Items you will need
- Hunting knife, 4-inch blade
- Hunter's field saw
- If it is possible, move the deer to a mild incline so the head is uphill. This will help in removing the intestines, as their weight will roll them out and downhill.
- The bladder is visible upon opening the intestinal cavity. It is a soft gray sack the size of a billiard ball and will be full of urine. Remove it carefully without breaking it on the deer.
- Do not skin the deer in the field, as the hide protects the meat.
- Do not wash out the cavity while in the field, as this will speed up spoilage. Let the inside of the cavity dry out naturally.
- Do not use large bowie-style knives with long, wide blades for field-dressing. The blades are too big and clumsy to make the proper cuts in the hide and membranes without cutting into the intestines.
- Never cut toward yourself, as a slip of the knife can result in your being seriously cut.
- "Hunting North America's Big Game;" Bob Hagel; 1986
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