The road to a great venison-based meal starts well before you fire up the grill or turn on a stove burner. It begins with the pulling of the trigger, bow release or firearm. Once a deer hits the ground, the real work begins, and if you don’t field-dress your deer properly, family members may grimace at its place on the table.
The following field-cleaning tips are illustrated with a whitetail deer. But they hold true for pronghorn, elk, moose and mule deer or others like axis, fallow and blacktail, too. Follow these steps and turn that grimace from the chores of work into a big smile that says, “Pass me another helping, please!”
Quick Shooting Tips
To kick off your mealtime bounty, take an extra moment and aim for the vitals. Broadside is best. Quartering-away shots placed too far back on the animal may cause the spillage of intestinal matter. If that material comes into contact with meat, it can taint it. The same goes for a taking a walking-away shot. Fecal matter and urine could be released to contaminate meat — particularly beefy, rear quarters. If a nasty spillage occurs, use any fresh water to rinse off meat immediately and wash again when you reach a location with a water hose.
Related: Where to shoot a deer
Set-up and supplies
Before beginning, break out elbow-length, farm supply gloves and cover those with latex surgical gloves. You can even purchase them packaged together at sporting goods outlets like Cabela’s in “gutting kits.”
If possible, place the deer carcass flat or slightly downhill with the head facing up. This helps you roll entrails out and downward with minimal effort.
Now focus on the back end. Locate the circular anus and make an incision completely around it with deep slices to loosen it from the interior. Female deer require a larger, oval cut that includes the doe’s reproductive opening. For male deer, continue with prep by freeing the penis and scrotum by slicing along the outside edge. At the end you’ll find the attached urethra. Keep slicing around it all the way back to the anus while keeping intact. It should be lying between the legs now and unless sex identification laws prohibit, you can cut off the penis and scrotum where they connect to the urethra. Some tie off the end to prevent any drips that are small at best. Leave the urethra for now, as it can be pulled back into the body and removed whole, along with the anus, at the end of the field-dressing process. On a female, you can also remove the udder now. Spilt milk could also taint meat.
Move your attention to the bottom edge of the ribcage. Carefully make a downward cut just through the hide. Now begin slicing backward all the way to the pelvic bone. Use your index and middle finger to hold up the skin while you slice between them. Your goal is to not puncture the intestines, but to open the deer to remove vital and paunch contents.
Back at the pelvis, you have the option of splitting it with a saw or leaving it intact. Splitting it gives you more room to remove the anus, urethra and bladder, but a careful tug also pulls it through to the body cavity later. It’s your choice.
If the buck is headed to a taxidermist, do not cut the hide above the bottom of the ribcage. If you don’t have plans to mount the buck, you have the freedom to open the ribcage further to ease removal of vital organs.
Take your knife and slice open the diaphragm that separates vitals from intestines. Reach way in and grab the windpipe as far as possible. Now carefully take your other hand holding your knife and severe the pipe at the farthest possible point. Tug on the pipe and slice along the interior walls to loosen all vitals. Keep tugging and slicing the side as you reach the entrails. When done flop them to the side of the rear quarters. This is the time to sever the heart and liver if you plan on turning them into a meal.
You’re almost done. Reach into the pelvic region and pull back the urethra, anus and bladder through the large opening back into the body cavity.
If you have fresh water available wash out the carcass. Immediately move the carcass to a cool location and cover if traveling on a dusty road. When you get the deer back to home or camp wash it again, keep it cool and you’re ready to make it into the main course of many future meals.
For more information about Cabela’s field-dressing and processing products visit www.cabelas.com, and Hornady Ammunition at www.hornady.com.