How to Field Dress a Deer
How many successful hunters know what to do when they pull out their knives? Ask any local deer butcher, and the polite answer is likely to be, "Some don't." It may not be every hunter's favorite part of the hunt, but it's most definitely the hunter's job to know his way around the innards of a deer. Just in case you don't, or you want to learn how someone else does it, read on: Everyone does it a little differently. I've seen demonstrations at sportsman's shows. I've watched other hunters. And I've tried different ways myself. I don't claim to be the world's expert, but I know how to do a nice, clean job in minutes. Are You Sure Your Deer Is Dead?
It shouldn't be necessary to say this, but first be sure your deer is dead. If you think "ground shrinkage" of a deer's antlers makes the moment anticlimactic, think of the effect of a kick to your head from a deer that isn't quite dead. I begin at the back end, work my way to the front, and then return to the rear to finish the job. I recommend wearing latex gloves. People debate whether you can get diseases from deer tissues, but for me gloves make clean up easier. 1) Loosen the Plumbing
First I cut around what, in respectful company, we call the "vent." Here's the first place where you'll notice the difference a Havalon knife makes. The tissues of the deer in the anal area are very soft, and also very elastic. The blade tip of every other knife I've used tends to stretch the skin without cutting through. This elastic tissue offers no resistance at all to a knife as sharp as the Havalon. Just slip it in about an inch away from the orifices, and cut around them to loosen the plumbing. You'll be coming back to this at the end. 2) Separate His Buckhood
Next, follow the crease between the legs toward the abdomen. (If the deer is a buck, you'll need to separate his manhood (buckhood?) from his body, but don't sever anything - later you'll pull his sex organs through to the inside and out with the whole gut pile.) 3) Unzip the Abdomen
Then you open the abdomen. Again, with a Havalon blade, you barely need to touch the animal's skin to start a small incision. Insert the blade into that incision, sharp edge up, and put your thumb and index finger of your opposite hand on each side of the knife at the base of the blade. Using the backs of your other fingers, put light pressure against the abdominal organs to keep them away from the knife blade. At this point both hands will be together, and you can zip the abdomen open right up to the sternum, or breastbone. (Use a forward rather than an upward motion.) It's almost like the proverbial hot knife through warm butter. 4) Reach Inside for the Windpipe
With the abdominal cavity open, reach in near the last rib on each side and slice away the diaphragm. That's the thin wall of muscle that separates the abdominal organs from the chest cavity. Once you've severed the diaphragm, reach up inside the chest cavity and grip the heart and lungs. Pull them as far as you can without straining, and reach up farther with the knife to sever the windpipe, gullet and blood vessels. You're almost finished. 5) Strip the Innards
Go back to the posterior end where you started, reach inside the pelvis, and grip the urinary tract behind the bladder. Pull the vent and sex organs through the pelvis. Some hunters recommend tying off the plumbing so that you don't spill the contents of the bladder. That's not necessary if you pinch the tube and avoid squeezing the bladder. Now you can strip out all the innards. Finally, turn the deer right side up and spread the legs against the ground to open the cavity and let the blood drain out for a minute or two. Don't forget to tag your deer, and you're ready to drag. Follow these instructions and your butcher will consider you a pro at field dressing a deer. He might even point to your deer to show the next guy how it ought to be done.
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