How to Field Dress a Whitetail Deer
This article explains how to correctly field dress a Whitetail Deer (Odocoileus virginianus). The method used largely depends on available transportation and how much work you want to do once you return to your Hunting camp. When hunting, often it is wise to carry as less as possible. Besides a good scent cover and your weapon of choice, most Deer hunters would rather leave everything but a few essentials back at camp. Be sure to pack a razor-sharp gut hook knife, a folding camp shovel and at least 20 feet of 1/2" - 5/8" braided nylon rope.
1. Bleeding the carcass, usually the first step most serious Deer Hunters take. This can be done effectively by hoisting the carcass feet-first by a rope thrown over a tree limb. It helps a great deal to notch a 12 inch long stick and tie it between the ankles, in the absence of a metal or fiberglass gambrel. Either below the carcass or close by, dig a hole at least as large as a five gallon bucket. Once you have secured the carcass, slit the throat. Cut through carotid arteries, esophagus, trachea and spine, allowing the blood to drain [into the hole]. You might want to tie the head back, to keep it clean & dry, if you intend on keeping a trophy. Less work for the Taxidermist could mean less money out of your pocket!
2. Cut around the anus, to separate it from the surrounding muscle and tissue. Then, using a sharp Gut Hook, slice downward from the anus to the center of the rib cage. If yours is a Buck, carefully remove the genitals and discard them into the hole dug previously. Continue by splitting the rib cage, ending the cut at the base of the neck. Avoid cutting into any of the organs, at all costs. Nicking the intestines, for example, can release and spread E. coli bacteria. And, take care not to rupture the bladder!
3. Spread the rib cage and gently roll out the organs. Be mindful of the rib cage, especially a broken rib, so that it doesn't tear open the bladder or intestines. Cut away any connective tissue attached to the organs, as they roll outward. Place the guts into the hole and bury them. At this point, you could haul the carcass a short distance over your shoulder, or drag it to your transportation.
4. Reduce the weight you'll have to pack out, if your Whitetail hunting trip included hiking out. Do this, after completing the previous steps, by skinning the carcass from the knees to the shoulders. Remove the Deer skin with the head still attached, and spread it out on the ground, fur-side down. If stopped by a Game Warden, you'd better have the proper Big Game tag pinned to one of the ears!
5. Avoid the 'Kernels,' or scent glands found on either side of the base of the neck, in the 'arm pit' area under front legs and in the groin. Grayish/white, about the size of a jelly bean. Cutting into them while butchering a Deer will give the meat a gamy taste.
6. Work your way up, as you bone the carcass, arranging the various cuts onto the center portion of the Deer skin. Remove the shoulders, separating and discarding the forelegs. Cut out the Tenderloins which extend from the shoulders to the lower back on either side of the back bone. Separate the rib cage, by cutting through the cartilage connecting both halves to the backbone. Don't forget the two strips of muscle along the inner side of the backbone, referred to by many as the 'tender tenders.' Separate the hams at the hip and knee joints, discarding the pelvis and lower legs. The entire back bone, from head to tail, can be sectioned and placed in the hole for burial. You will find many of the remaining bones easy to remove, in effort to lighten the load.
7. Fold the Deer skin from the bottom up, and side over side, to form a tight pack. Tie it into a neat bundle, using your length of rope, and secure it to your back pack. Or tie loops for your arms to pack it out. You will have reduced the overall weight of a full grown adult Whitetail Deer by at least 20-30 pounds.
* Always make sure your hunting knives are properly sharpened.
* Fleas and Ticks will usually dislodge and crawl off of the kill, as soon as blood flow stops and body temperature starts to drop. Be sure to check for them and brush them off, especially if you will be packing out as described in steps 4-6.
* Especially if you are deer hunting solo, be mindful of predatory animals tracking and following the scent of your kill. Be prepared to defend it or give it up. This means being able to shuck it off quickly! Carry a fully charged can of pepper spray, just in case!
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