5 Steps to Field Dressing a Deer

While larger big-game species are often boned-out, it’s common practice for deer hunters to gut, skin, and hang deer. The procedure is a simple one, and if you follow our tips and tactics, the process will be headache-free.

Caring for your own meat is a rewarding process. Before you begin, there are some tools that will make the job much easier. A sharp knife is a must. If you’re good with a sharpening stone, a standard blade will do the job. I’m not good with a stone and prefer today’s replaceable-blade knife options.

In addition to a knife, I also recommend a Wyoming Saw. This packable, easy-to-assemble saw comes with wood and bone blades and can come in handy during the process if legs, horns, and the like need to be removed. Let’s dive in!

1. Prep for gutting.

The first mission is to get the guts and other organs out of the body cavity. This allows the meat to cool and prevents spoilage.

Position the deer, if possible, so the belly is up and the hind-end is pointed downhill at an angle. Let gravity work for you.

Next, cut a circular ring around the anus. This takes some time, but if you push the knife a couple of inches into the pelvic canal and take your time, you can get a perfectly circular cut around the anus. This step becomes important later on.

2. Carefully work your way to the sternum.

13-year-old hunter Anna Eaton begins to cut from the sternum; photo credit: Lindsey Mulcare

Go between the back legs and insert your blade just below a buck’s testicles or a doe’s milk sack. If your state requires you to leave evidence of sex, be sure to do so.

Next, cut just under the skin and run a straight cut clear up to the neck. Be extremely careful not to puncture the stomach or intestines under the skin. One method to do this is to make a small incision, then run your fingers inside the cut, pushing the guts away from the skin, while sliding the knife upward. Just be careful not to cut yourself as well.

If you plan to mount the deer, stop your cut at the sternum. Now, using your first incision below the milk sack or testicles, make another small cut to get through the membrane and expose the innards. Be careful not to puncture the stomach.

Insert your fingers under the membrane pushing down on the innards and run your knife slowly, with the blade facing up, and cut all the way to the sternum. If you don’t plan to mount the deer, you can split the sternum with your Wyoming Saw.

3. Release the diaphragm.

The diaphragm is a thin membrane that separates the chest organs from the abdomen. It clings to the ribs and must be cut to the spine to free the organs located in the chest. Now, run your hand up the neck and cut the windpipe.

4. Get the guts out.

A hunter guts a deer; photo credit: Lindsey Mulcare

Grab the windpipe and start to pull. You should be able to reach up above your hand and cut it as far as possible up the neck. Continue pulling, and things will start to move. Yes, you will likely have a few strands of tissue that want to hold things in; simply cut them away as you go.

Pull the innards out and over the deer and lay them on the ground just in front of the back right or left leg. At this point, you should have a big pile of guts outside the deer. It will be only attached near the anus, and barely.

Now grab the anal canal from the inside, being careful not to puncture it, and pull it through toward the gut pile. It should now be completely free from the rest of the carcass.

5. Drain the blood.

Grab the deer by its front legs and lift. This drains the blood from the body. I always carry a tarp with me in the woods, and if I have a long walk back to the truck, I spread the tarp and place the deer on it.

Next, I roll the deer over so that the cavity is open and resting on the tarp. This helps keep the meat clean and allows for cooling and further blood drain.

That’s it. You’re done.

The author and his friends with a gutted-out deer, ready to head home

When you get home, get the meat cold quickly. If temperatures allow (as in, they are near freezing), skin the deer and hang the meat in the garage or outside in a tree.

In warmer weather, get it to a locker — and quick. If you plan to process the meat yourself and temps are warm, just get immediately to work cutting and packaging the meat for the freezer. If it’s too warm to age outdoors, it’ll be much better eating if you just get it frozen right away.

And remember: The hide really holds heat in. Regardless if you hang the meat, process it yourself quickly, or take it to a locker, you must remove the hide.

Follow these instructions, and you’ll have a clean, cool carcass with no spoiled meat. Get it cut down and processed into burger, steaks, and roasts for a year of great eating ahead.