How to Field Dress a Deer (Step by Step)

Breanna | |

You just put a broadhead right in the kill zone of the biggest buck you’ve ever seen. It dropped on the spot. Now what?

It’s essential to field dress your deer as soon as you’ve killed it. This process involves removing the internal organs of the animal in order to preserve the meat and keep it until you can get it home or to a processor. This can seem intimidating at first, but if you follow these tips and 15 detailed steps, you’ll find it’s a simple and fun part of the hunt that helps you get the most out of your kill.

A deer hunter holding a knife prepares to skin, dress and process a deer
Field dressing your kill is essential to presenve the meat until you get it home

Materials Needed

  • Field knife: You’ll need a good, sharp field knife to cut through the deer’s hide, connective tissue, muscles and certain organs.
  • Bone saw: Bone saws are specific instruments with tough serrated blades. You’ll need one at certain times during the field dressing process to cut through the deer’s bones.

Important Tips

Avoid Puncturing Digestive Organs

The most important principle to keep in mind when field dressing a deer is that you have to leave the digestive organs like the stomach and intestines intact. If you puncture any of these organs, digestive materials like undigested food, bile or feces could spill out into the carcass. These materials contain a lot of bacteria as well as chemicals that can spoil the meat. 

Leave Sex Organs Untouched

This isn’t true in every jurisdiction, but in many places, you’re required to leave evidence of the deer’s sex on the animal when transporting it. This is so authorities can verify whether it’s a buck or doe for hunting limit purposes. Check your local laws and keep this in mind. 

Cut Up Through Hide

When making incisions with your field knife, put the blade under the hide and then cut up. If you cut down through the hide, the blade is likely to catch hair and cut it, leaving bits of hair in the meat.

Field Dress As Soon After Death as Possible

After a deer or any other animal dies, decomposition begins to cause bloating in the digestive organs. This bloating will press out against the animal’s hide, making it much tighter and more difficult to cut without puncturing a digestive organ. 

Additionally, removing organs helps the carcass cool faster which prevents bacterial growth in the meat. For these reasons, start the field dressing process as soon as you can after killing the deer.

Keep Your Field Knife Sharp

Bushcraft Basics Ep14: Knife Sharpening

Before hunting, make sure you sharpen your field knife. A really sharp knife lets you make incisions more easily without using too much force. With a dull knife, you’ll have to press harder into the hide, and this could mean accidentally puncturing a digestive organ.

Field Dressing a Deer Step by Step

How to Field Dress a Deer with Steven Rinella – MeatEater
  1. Prepare the Deer and Your Materials

First things first, find your arrow if it’s still in the deer and remove the broadhead. Lay that aside and position the deer for field dressing. For the best results when field dressing a deer, place the animal on its back with its hind legs spread wide apart. Elevate the head if you can.

Ideally, you should try to move the deer to a clean area, on thick grass or smooth, clean rocks. This is because you’ll want to place off to the side certain organs that you remove during the field dressing process. You don’t want to get them dirty.

Finally, get your knife and bone saw ready. Have them organized next to the deer so you can move smoothly through each step.

  1. Cut Around the Anus

Use your field knife to cut a ring around the deer’s anus. Cut through the hide but be very careful not to puncture the animal’s colon. This could spill feces into the meat, spoiling it.

With your knife through the hide, separate the colon from the surrounding tissue by slicing through the various membranes. This will allow you to more easily remove the digestive organs later on. 

  1. Cut Up the Sides of the Pelvic Ridge

Between the deer’s anus and genitalia, you will notice a hard bone jutting up into the skin. This is the pelvic ridge. You want to cut through the hide making sure not to damage or cut the genitalia of the animal as authorities may need this to verify the sex of the animal. 

After cutting through the hide, cut down through the groin muscle itself until you expose the pelvic bone. Then, sever the skin from the pelvic ridge itself by cutting underneath it and cut up through the hide just under the genitalia. You can now pull the hide back from the pelvic ridge freeing up the colon.   

  1. Cut Through the Hide from Sternum to Pelvis

Once you’ve exposed the pelvic bones, don’t continue up past the genitalia. Instead, move to the other end of the animal. Starting at the top of the sternum, cut down toward the pelvis only cutting through the hide.

This is easy as you cut along the sternum as the bone prevents you from going too deep, but you have to be careful when you pass the sternum and enter the belly. You should only cut the hide and not the abdominal lining. Do this by making small, deliberate incisions.

Continue making incisions down the belly until your cut meets the V you cut into the pelvis earlier. 

  1. Cut Through the Abdominal Lining

Just under the sternum where the abdominal lining is exposed, make a small incision in the lining itself. Be careful not to puncture the stomach.

Stick two of your fingers into the hole you’ve made between the abdominal lining and the animal’s stomach. Then, lift the lining up away from the stomach keeping your fingers between them. This allows you to continue cutting the abdominal lining without risking puncturing the stomach.

Finish cutting the abdominal lining until you reach the pelvis.

  1. Saw Through Each Side of the Pelvis

Now you’ll need to trade out your field knife for the bone saw. Use it to sever the bone on either side of the pelvic ridge. While doing so, use your other hand to hold the digestive organs and bladder out of the way.

Once you’ve sawed through the bone, remove the pelvic ridge itself exposing the intestines and bladder and making an easy pathway through which you can later remove them.

  1. Saw Through the Sternum

Starting at the bottom of the sternum above the stomach, saw through the sternum itself to open up the chest. Be careful when you start so that you don’t puncture the stomach, but as you move away from the digestive organs, you can be a bit more forceful.

  1. Remove the Heart

Once you’ve cut through the sternum, you can open up the rib cage to expose the heart and lungs. Reach into the chest cavity and find the heart. The heart is sheathed in a protective sac. Cut this sac with your field knife and remove the heart. Place it to the side somewhere safe as you’ll want to take this home with you.

  1. Sever the Windpipe

Reach into the chest cavity again and pull up the windpipe and esophagus. Now with your field knife, cut through these so they’re no longer attached to the deer’s head. This will allow you to easily remove all the organs later.

  1. Cut the Diaphragm

At the bottom of the rib cage just above the stomach, you’ll find the diaphragm, a thin muscle important for respiration. Cut this muscle on each side of the chest cavity all the way down to the spine. The chest cavity should be fully open now with all the internal organs loose and ready to be removed. 

  1. Remove the Organs

Now you’re ready to gut the deer. Reach into the chest cavity again and grab the severed windpipe. Use this as a handle to pull all the connected organs down toward the pelvis and out of the animal. In some places this may take a little bit of force or a few more incisions to separate it from connective tissue or muscle. 

The organs should come out the bottom of the pelvis where you cleared a way earlier by removing the pelvic ridge. Don’t discard the organs just yet as there are a few you want to save.

  1. Remove the Liver and Kidneys

The deer’s liver and kidneys will be attached to the big mess of guts you’ve just pulled out, but these are tasty and nutritious organs to cook and eat. Find these three organs and sever them from the main clump of organs. Set them aside with the heart you removed earlier to transport home. 

  1. Discard Unwanted Organs

If there are any other organs you want for any reason like the lungs, separate these as well and set them aside. You can then discard the rest of the organs like the stomach and intestines away from the animal.

  1. Remove Certain Cuts

If you’re processing the deer yourself, many hunters like to remove a number of cuts before transporting the deer. These include:

  • Tenderloins: These are the tubular muscles connecting the lower spine to the rear legs. You’ll find them just to the sides of where the kidneys were.
  • Backstraps: As the name suggests, the backstraps are the muscles above the tenderloins on the animal’s back. They make great steaks and roasts.
  • Neck cuts: These are the muscles of the deer’s neck that are long and thick.

Some hunters even go so far as to quarter the deer and remove its legs before transporting it. If you’re going to take your kill to a professional processor, you don’t need to worry about all this. Once you’ve removed the organs, you’re ready to transport.

  1. Transport the Deer

Using a deer drag or rope will be the easiest way to transport the deer carcass out of the woods to your home or truck. If you don’t have one, it’s best to pull the deer by the head keeping its back on the ground as much as possible to avoid damaging or dirtying the meat.

Once you’ve got it home, you’re ready to fully butcher the deer or take it to a processor so you can enjoy the fruits of your successful hunt.

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