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
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
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
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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.