Field Dressing

Great shot! Now what? If you’re an experienced hunter, you will roll up your sleeves and get to work. But if you’re a beginner, faced with this task for the first time, you may wish you had some instruction. The illustrations should clear up some of the mystery of how a deer is put together. Figure 1 shows a dead deer lying on its back in position for gutting. The organs, which are removed in gutting, fill the entire hollow interior of the body. At the top, the chest cavity encircled by the rib cage, holds the lungs and heart. Behind them lies the abdominal cavity which contains the liver, stomach, intestines and bladder. Note the tunnel-like hole through the pelvis, beneath the aitch-bone through which the rectum and urethra pass to the outside and form the anus and penis. At the other end of the deer notice the windpipe and gullet that descend through the neck. The windpipe joins the lungs in the chest; the gullet passes through the diaphragm to join the stomach. Knowledge of basic deer anatomy will help make the job of gutting easier, quicker and neater.

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Be completely certain that the deer is dead before drawing your knife. A deer normally dies with its eyes open and they begin to glaze almost immediately. If the eyes are closed or blinking it is probably just dazed and will need a finishing shot.

Before gutting the deer, turn it over on its back on the level ground or with the head slightly uphill. Some hunters remove the musk glands on the inside of each hock, peeling off the rough hair and hide in which they are situated. If you do this, wipe your hands and knife free of any contamination.

Begin the operation. Begin the gutting operation by lifting the penis with one hand cutting it and the scrotum free with the other, down to where it emerges from the pelvis. Here you extend the knife cut to encircle the anus, cutting deeply around both tubes to partly free them from their channel through the pelvis.

Now insert the knife point, edge up, under the hide only, ahead of the pelvis where the penis cut was begun and carefully split the hide to the point of the breastbone (you can feel it where the rib cage starts) and no further. This will make your taxidermist very happy and insure enough hide for a good shoulder mount. The hide will draw back as it is cut, exposing the sheet of muscles beneath and at the same time removing the hair from the proximity of the next cut. Carefully cut a short slip through the exposed layer of muscle, taking care not to puncture the bladder or intestines underneath. Lift the muscle sheet away from the intestines by inserting two finger of the left hand into the slit. The knife blade is inserted between these fingers, edge up, and the cut extended to the breastbone.

Notice the liver at the end of the cut. In front of it you will see the sheet-like diaphragm closing off the chest cavity. Carefully cut this membrane free of the rib cage until you can get both arms up into the deer’s chest. Reaching as far into the neck as you can, grasp the gullet (a smooth tube) and the windpipe (it feels like a gas-mask hose) and pull them back. While doing so, ease the knife up into the base of the neck with the other hand, being extremely careful not to cut your left hand in the cramped space, and sever both tubes. Pull them both back, bringing the lungs and heart with them.

Finish cutting the diaphragm free. With a little clipping of membranes you can now withdraw most of the deer’s innards, except the bladder and lower intestine which are still partly attached to the pelvis. In doing so, be careful not to damage the delicate, and delicious, tenderloins that lie against the underside of the backbone in the abdominal cavity.

Squeeze all the urine out of the bladder to avoid a spill, and push any droppings out of the last five or six inches of the rectum. Then, working from the inside, snip off the remaining attachments and pull the penis and anus forward through the pelvic arch to join the rest of the organs on the gut pile. The gutting is now complete.

Flushing the cavity. Flush out the body cavity by raising the deer’s shoulders and letting the accumulated blood run out through the pelvic opening.