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How to Field Dress a Deer

By Scott Stankowski - November 1, 2012
Anytime you become a successful deer hunter, there is plenty of work to be done with the joys of the harvest. From the do-it-your-self processor to the person who takes his deer in for processing, the hunter still needs to gut out the deer in order to keep it from spoiling.

Over the years I have grown to learn from talking with processers that the deer do not all come in the same and that there are people that have no clue what they are doing. Bladders left in the deer, half of the organs, the heart and lungs still in place. Oftentimes, guys bring their deer in a week after it was harvested in these conditions. This certainly does not help with the table fare of the deer. I have been fortunate enough to have gutted out over 150 deer in our camp. I actually enjoy doing it. Hopefully this how to article and associated video will help you in the field. It is by no means the Bible of gutting, but it works for me and my family just fine.

Once the deer is harvested and tagged, take it to a safe place for gutting. Make sure you are not exposing yourself to another hunter that may think you are a deer. I usually like to find some sort of a slight slope when doing the job, but it is not necessary. If it is a doe, I remove the mammary glands commonly called the milk sack. If it is a buck I begin by cutting off the penis and testicles being mindful not to cut through the tube (the urethra) and keeping it in tact with the animal. Next is the part that has probably taken the longest to get used to. Cutting around the anus. If it is a buck you also need to include the urethra. If you do not cut around that, the bladder will most likely be compromised as you remove the guts and urine will spill all over the inner thigh meat. If it is a doe you will need to cut around the anus and the vagina. With a doe the urethra is included in this area. Make sure your cut is fairly deep, about 3 inches and circumvents the entire area. The goal is to free the tissue that connects the anus area to the body. There are a lot of muscles in this area as well as connective tissue.

Once the anus has been taken care of you can move on to the stomach or visceral cavity. The key here is to not puncture any of the already bloating intestines or stomach. The immediate release of bacteria on your knife or into the meat will result. Gut hook knives work well here, as long as they do not get caught up with hair. These knives are also difficult to resharpen once dull. Start as far back as possible and be as delicate as possible to start. I typically like to first go through the skin and hair and make my full incision up to the chest cavity followed by going through the muscular stomach and fat. Once you are able to get into the body cavity, I typically like to pull up on the stomach with one hand while cutting it with the knife in the other, making sure that the guts are away from my knife. After you have made it past the large stomach you will notice a membrane running across the deer. This is the diaphragm and is the muscle used to breathe. It is strong and separates the heart and lungs from the rest of the cavity. If you so desire you can know guide your knife through the rib cage in a zigzag like pattern through the cartilage to open up the chest cavity. If you have a trophy buck you can make your cut as far up as the armpits of the deer.

Split the chest open and reach inside cutting the esophagus and the trachea. Slowly back your knife and your hands back out. Keeping the deer on its back. cut the diaphragm away from the body cavity. I like to slightly lean the deer to the left to cut the right side and vice versa. Once the diaphragm is cut you should not need your knife any more.

Reach inside and grab a hold of the lungs and heart. I always pull straight back. I do this in case there is spillage of intestines from a wound or I did not cut the diaphragm properly. As you pull back, you will feel more resistance once you get to the intestinal area as the kidneys and organs are connected to the body cavity by tissue. The first point of emphasis is getting the stomach and intestines out of the cavity. The large intestines along with a few other unidentifiable parts will still remain in the deer. If your initial anus cuts were done properly it should come out easily by grabbing a hold of the intestines and pulling, the bladder should come out as well. If you sense that there is too much tension do not keep pulling as you will tear something. Go back and re-circle your anal cut.

Finally I make sure that the pelvic passage is free of any organ, debris or fecal matter. Some hunters like to cut through the pelvis with a saw but I steer away from that because all you are doing is exposing meat to the world, including leaves, dirt and bacteria. If you make a proper inspection of the passage, you will be fine. Turn the deer over and dump out all the excess blood. You should never spray the inside of the body with water. This will only result in pushing the bacteria around even further into the meat. A solution of water and vinegar on a cloth or paper towel can be used to clean up the mess. If you do have this issue, it is mindful to know that it is better to waste a little bit of meat rather than a lot. Finally do not forget a rag or towel of some sort in a color other than white or brown with a baggy to carry it in. Leaves and snow work but not as well. Here is to hoping to get to enjoy steamy gut piles and bloody hands.

Until next time...

Author Scott Stankowski
Scott Stankowski
Scott Stankowski is the senior outdoor writer for and produces weekly articles, typically highlighting getting kids active in the outdoors. His family prides itself on living off of the land. Scott also takes the mantra into the classroom where he teaches environmental science at Wisconsin Rapids Lincoln High School. Scott and his sons have won numerous titles in turkey and deer calling at the state level. Scott and his sons have a national outdoor television show titled Growin' Up Wild and can be found on Facebook.
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