"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
About Bayou Bill
Recent Rambles
DNR Doings
Wild Recipes
Recent Rambles
Copyright © 2006 by Bill Scifres

September is many things to many people, but to many outdoorsmen--and women--the preparation of game (seemingly mundane) it is a very important part of the hunt and it’s use as delicious food.

Contrary to the misconceived guidance of the so-called “experts,” field dressing animals and birds is not a mysterious, complicated operation. But it is just as important to good-tasting food on the table as the experts would have you believe.

By the same token, the importance of dressing small game and game birds (including waterfowl) in the field is almost totally the figment of somebody’s imagination. 

It is very important to consider big and small game when thinking 0f field dressing. I have carried small game from just after daylight to darkness over the years, but have never “lost” game because it spoiled due to heat of the day. Contrariwise, I have field dressed deer (the largest game I have ever taken) soon after they died on numerous occasions when I knew they would otherwise spoil and be lost. The answer seems to be: dress big game (field dress anything that would cool slowly) in the field, and keep it cool and exposed to a lot of cool air; forget field dressing for small game (let it cool whole).

Except for big game animals killed in other states, or elsewhere, that would tend to eliminate other big game species.

In reality, field dressing a deer is very simple. All the hunter is trying to do is separate the meat from the offal . . . without allowing the latter to taint the former.

The real reason for field dressing large animals like deer, is to give the meat a better chance to lose body heat and thus avoid spoilage.

In my view, the most important aspect of field dressing a deer will be found in the hunter’s field-dressing kit. This, of course, should be put together long before the season opens . . . at least before the hunter steps that first foot in the field on opening morning.

I know hunters who can field dress a deer with nothing more than a good, sharp pocketknife. I have done it with my trusty, three-bladed “Old Timer.” 

However, if you take a peek at my field dressing kit (housed in a clean five-gallon bucket), you will first notice a good assortment of very sharp knives. Most of my knives, not counting my pocketknife, are fish filet knives or favorite butcher knives from my kitchen.

My kit also includes a hacksaw, pliers, and hammer, although I can’t remember ever using the pliers in field dressing a deer.

Then, of course, there is a large roll of paper towel, and an assortment of plastic bags, a large one (doubled for strength) to take care of the offal, and several smaller bags for the liver, heart, kidneys, and tongue (if you save these organs). A rope is helpful at times.

A gallon or so of clean water is a big help in cleaning the hands when the job is done, but creek or pond water, or even water standing in puddles, will accomplish this. In the absence of water, the hands may be dried with paper towel, to be washed later.

The experts also point out that the hunter should wear some kind of moisture-proof gloves to avoid contact with deer blood, and consequently diseases. I would be inclined to buy that thinking if I were about to field dress a deer that did not look or act healthy. But I would not shoot such an animal and that makes the glove issue a moot point in my thinking.  

Frankly, I have not eaten tongue (beef) since my childhood, but if you ask me about venison tongue in the future, I hope to have answers from first-hand experience. This will depend solely on my hunting savvy.

Although most deer hunters field dress their deer close to the spot where the animals fall, moving the animal to a place that is more comfortable, or better lighted, is not a bad plan, especially if the deer has not been gut shot. A shot in the area of the vital organs (heart and lungs) will most certainly fill that part of the body cavity with blood, but it will not taint the meat if it is drained well reasonably soon.

Contrariwise, if the animal has been hit in the rear two-thirds of the body--gut-shot, as hunter know it--it is well to remove the entrails on the spot and clean out the body cavity with paper towel or rags. Then the body cavity should be washed well with cold water, under pressure, if possible.  It is a good idea to hang such a deer tail down while washing the body cavity. If water under pressure--say a garden hose--is not available, the body cavity can be washed by throwing small amounts of water on soiled areas and allowing it to drain. When the washing is done, the cavity should be thoroughly dried.

I bagged my monster buck in November 2003, about 5:35 in the afternoon, some 10 minutes after sunset. Darkness was closing in, so I descended my deer stand soon after my prize had dropped in his tracks--obviously dead before he hit the earth.

My plan was to get the deer across a small creek, over a fence, and into a field where I could bring my car. But one tug at the antlers made it obvious that I would have to have help to move this deer.

I hotfooted it to my car and drove to my host farmer’s home to get help

“Get a deer?” the farmer asked. He had heard my shots.

“A very big one,” I replied, “I will need help to get him out.”

My host said he would fire up his tractor (with front-loader bucket), and we would fetch him out.

On second thought--after I had explained the situation--he said we would drag my deer to his pickup truck so I could field dress the animal under the pole light near his milk house.

Still thinking--after I had emphasized the size of my deer--my host called a strapping young man who lived nearby. He joined us in his pickup truck, and we worked under the lights of the two trucks to bring my prize to the trucks.

Air temperatures that day had been above freezing and the forecast called for only slightly lower temperature that night--well above freezing. 

The best solution to my deer-processing problem would have been to get the animal (just as it was) to Archer’s Meat Processing shop, the meat packer near my home. There deer-skinner John Logan could field dress, skin and hang my prize at near freezing temperature to age a few days before it would be butchered and frozen in packages. 

Although it was the height of the firearms deer season and Archer’s was an official check station for successful deer hunters, there was no answer (everyone else was gone for the day and John was out to dine) when I called from my host’s kitchen. That left no alternative. I would have to take the deer home, field dress it by the light of my garage, and hang it there with ice packs to avoid spoilage until the next morning when I could take it to the locker plant.

I pulled into my driveway with my deer shortly before 8 p.m., resigned to handle the matter as described above. But before pulling the deer out of the truck, I decided to call Archer’s one more time.

This time John, the deer skinner, answered the phone. He assured me that he would be there for a while (he had five other deer to field dress and hang). To shorten an otherwise long story, I soon was headed home with my deer’s liver, heart and kidneys in plastic bags. At 10 p.m. I was feasting in my kitchen on strips of fresh fried liver and heart with onions and gravy on homemade biscuits.

It was a most fitting conclusion to an eventful day.

Ordinarily, though, I do not have my deer field dressed by a professional such as John. I do, however, take my deer to a professional meat processor for skinning and butchering.

But Phil Hawkins, a hunting friend, skins and butchers his own deer. He has agreed to help me learn the process. Incidentally, Phil turns a great percentage of his venison into pure deerburger (nothing added). His wife, Charlene, makes some great venison dishes.

So how does the successful hunter field dress a deer?

This pleasant task starts with putting together the paraphernalia that will make the job easier. I call it my “deer kit” and it is housed the same black five-gallon bucket that hosts my “ice-fishing gear” when ice comes to standing waters.

Oh, sure! I can--and at times do--field dress my deer with nothing more than my little (3.25-inch) Old Timer pocket knife. But I will be first to say that tools better suited for the operation will make field dressing easier.

Thus, my “deer kit” starts with an array of sharp knives, some of which also are favorite fish filet knives. It also includes a hacksaw, the hatchet my dad carried for many years on his trap lines, 20 to 30 feet of strong rope, plastic bags of several sizes, a roll of paper towel, and qa couple of bottles--say half a gallon or gallon--of potable water. 

Many hunters--probably more squeamish than I--also carry plastic or rubber gloves to avoid contact with fluids from a deer cavity. I find working with gloved hands cumbersome, so I dive in with bare hands. And, the old saw that says “a good painter gets no paint above the elbows” is somewhat apropos to my field-dress methods. When I finish field dressing a deer, I may appear to be the victim. But I get the job done.

If I have cuts or scrapes on my hands--as if there are times when I am not afflicted with assorted “ouchies”--I wash my hands, arms and other exposed spots with hot soapy water and apply rubbing alcohol generously.

I start with my deer on its back. Because it is not easy to keep a deer (even a dead deer) belly up, I straddle my trophy with one knee solid on the ground on each side. I am facing the deer’s head, well behind the rib cage.

With the big (two-inch) blade of my Old Timer, I make a fore-aft incesion from the trailing edge of the breastbone to the anal opening, bring careful not to cut the intestine. At this point I tie off the entistine at both ends to avoid spillage from the stomach. Then a cut is made around the anal opening to free the lower internal organs.

The deer is then rolled on the side (either side will work), the crosswise membrane that separates the heart, lungs and other vital organs and entrails is cut away, and all of the deer’s internal organs and loose-flowing blood is turned out on the ground.

The heart, kidneys and other saved organs kept in a separate plastic bag. The cleanup chores are started by wiping out the interior of the deer with paper towel. The deer is hung by the neck to drain, or taken in propped open to cool.  

Bookmark us and stay in touch . . . come back for next month's new "Ramble," a regular feature of this website.



All columns are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

Return to beginning of document
Return to Bayou Bill's Home Page