Field dressing a deer is fairly simple and there are a few different ways out there to do it. I won't presume to tell you the following is the best way to do it, but this is a very easy and fast method which was taught by me by my father. On average it only takes about 10 minutes to field dress a deer and requires only a sharp pocket knife.
Note: Some field dressing methods start off with the cutting of the animals throat and windpipe. I have NEVER understood why this is. It not only looks very bad to people who may see the animal as you bring it home, it really serves no other purpose (other than having your taxidermist chew you out for nearly ruining the cape). The only way severing the jugular arteries would be of use is if the animal was still alive with it's heart pumping. If the animal is dead you can only drain out the small amount of blood in that localized region of the throat... hardly worth worring about as we will be severing this artery just below where it enters the body cavity. If you feel you absolutely MUST cut the throat, poke your knife into the neck and cut BELOW the skin to sever what you want.
Warning: The following pages contain actual pictures of field dressing a deer. If you do not wish to view such pictures click HERE to return to the main page.
Step #1) Orienting the Animal
Now then, first start by orienting the animal on it's back with the head uphill. Have someone help hold the rear legs spread apart or tie each leg to some brush to hold apart.
On the inside of each rear leg by the "knee" will be a dark patch of hair marking the tarsil glands.
It is a good idea to remove these glands, do so by cutting the skin around the gland area...
be very careful to cut well around the gland and not get anything on your knife or hands. A knife
contaminated by the glands will affect any meat it comes in contact with.
Step #2) Detaching the Testicles
Next take hold of the testicles and cut them off with your knife.
Warning: Some states require "proof of sex" to be attached to the animal. Antlers are a sure sign of an animals sex. If you are removing the head from the animals body, you must leave the scrotum attached to the body. To do so, Make an incision along the scrotum and squeeze out each testicle and cut it off.
Step #3) Detaching the Penis
Grab the penis and pull slightly away from the body, begin severing the penis from the body, working from the tip down around towards the anus. It should seperate fairly easily from the belly.
Once you have seperated the penis from the belly, cut the skin along side the penis the remainder of the way, stopping short of the anus. Keep pulling lightly on the penis and cut it free with your knife on each side of the thighs.
Step #4) Detaching the Anus
Once the penis is free from the outside of the pelvic region you will then need to cut around the anus itself. Give yourself some room to work by not cutting too close to the anus. Once the skin around the anus has been cut free, lay the penis backwards over the anus and very carefully cut the penis free from the inside of the pelvis area. It sometimes helps to pull the penis slightly down and out while cutting it loose. If done correctly, the penis
and anus will now be together, loose from the body and pelvic region. Be careful when inserting your knife too far as you may nick the bladder.
Step #5) Opening the Body Cavity
Now begin to open the body cavity down the centerline of the animal, between the ribs and pelvis. Be very very careful while making the initial incision that you do not puncture the stomach or intestines. Take very light strokes until you get through the stomach skin. Insert two fingers into the new hole to seperate the stomach and intestines from the outer skin by pulling outward on the skin. Slide your knife between your fingers, blade facing down but horizonal with the skin. This will allow you to cut the stomach skin without puncturing the internal organs as you pull up on it. Cut the skin from the pelvis up to the brisket.
Note: Some field dressing methods split the entire ribcage at this point to gain easier access to the lungs/windpipe. I do not like this for 3 reasons, #1) if you plan to mount the animal, cutting the cape in the brisket area will result in a noticeable line when the animal is sewn up. You *will* get chewed out by your taxidermist, plan on it! #2) it allows more dirt and debris to enter the animal. #3) Not splitting the ribcage is much faster
To give yourself more room for future steps, cut off the belly skin, following the ribs down around each side of the deer to the pelvis, it should be easy due to the initial incision down the center.
Step #6) Freeing the Diaphram
You should now be able to see the greenish bag of the stomach as well as intestines. In between the stomach and the lungs, will be a layer of muscle known as the diaphram. If you insert your hand at the top of the incision you just made near the ribs, you will be able to feel the diaphram. Carefully pull the stomach
slightly away from the diaphram and begin cutting it away from the ribcage wall. This must be done all the way around the ribcage (usually it will just tear free easily except where it connects to the backbone of the animal). At this point most of the stomache and intestines should "roll" out beside the animal.
Picture showing incision in Diaphram. Continue around both sides
With the diaphram cut free, you should be able to look into the chest cavity and see the lungs.
Step #7) Severing Windpipe/Esophagus
We are almost done at this point! The only thing left to do is to sever the windpipe and esophagus. Reach up into the ribcage as far as you can, feeling for the semi-hard windpipe. It is easy to feel where both the windpipe and esophagus leave the ribcage, running up into the neck area. Cut the windpipe/esophagus off at this point. (no picture available sorry!)
Pull on the severed windpipe and the lungs/heart/liver etc should easily come out and be rolled along side the animal.
Step #8) Removal of Penis / Anus
Take ahold of the lower intestine/colon where it passes into the pelvic canal. Carefully pull on the colon, if the penis/anus has been correctly cut free in Step #4 it should pull through the pelvic canal easily.
If it does not pull free easily, examine where it is still attached and cut it free. It must still be attached near the anus, *NOT* near the bladder! WARNING! Be extremely careful of the bladder! Take care not to pucture it.
Step #9) Final Care
Lift the animal by the head to allow and remaining blood in the chest cavity to drain.
If you have clean water available wash out the chest cavity and any exposed meat.
Keep the animal cool until you can deliver the animal, as soon as possible to a butcher. If you are going to cut up the animal yourself and choose to "age" it in a cool place, hang the animal by the rear legs to allow any excess fluids to drain AWAY from the hind quarters.
That's it! With practice, you can field dress your deer in a very short amount of time. On average I can field dress a deer within 5-10 minutes.
The best advice I can give is to study the pictures until you are familiar with the anatomy of a deer, then when in the field just take your time. The first time will be the toughest but after field dressing that first deer, you'll become a pro in a very short amount of time.
Special Thanks to my wife Heather who shot this buck while pregnant and helping me create this FAQ by taking pictures, she gave birth to our son only a few days later!