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Field Dressing a Deer (Feature Article)

November 2004 Feature Article:

Field Dressing a Deer

Please use this area to post comments or questions about this feature article.

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Location: Idaho
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Posts: 1068
Field Dressing a Deer (Feature Article)

We take a very different approach. We set the animal down with backbone slightly uphill, go up/down the back with knife, then peel the skin down around the knee/elbow joints, and take the meat or quarters off the frame, the backstraps, flank meat, the neck meat, turn the animal over (back still uphill), repeat, then finally carefully cut under backbone and reach in and take the sirloins. Meat goes straight into bags where kept clean. Depending on animal and damage, we take rib meat. Then for heart and liver which we generally opt out of. We then can leave a meat-less deer. Obviously we also take out proof of sex / species adequately attached, and horns as appropriate. We may then take additional disposal measures depending on whether in a field, forest, wilderness, etc. Advantages: minimum weight carried out and no internal organ fluids on knife, hands, and ground while working. Disadvantages: none. Well, I guess if one were to inspect the internal organs, it would fall last in the process, after all the work. I feel an article coming on. When I was young (and less successful) I gutted and carried the critters out ... now that I am old and tired, I take out as little as possible.

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Location: Sunny San Diego
Joined: 09/02/2003
Posts: 165
Field Dressing a Deer (Feature Article)

everyone forgot... Take out your disposable camera for that "as it lay" shot, then a close up of the deer's head under your armpit, and finally begin to field dress ;-)

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Joined: 10/31/2004
Posts: 24
Field dressing

That article sorta skips through some of the finer points.

Point 1: Cutting downward and removing the lower digestive/urinary tract organs can be tricky without penetrating them and spilling the contents. Some folks will split the pelvis at the pubic bone (large ligament can be split midline with the average knife) and continue removing everything until you get to the anus at which point you cut arount the anus...others will cut around the anus and pull eveything up out of the pelvis. I prefer the pelvic split method, while harder, there is less chance of spilling digestive tract contents. A hatchet can make the splitting easier.

Point 2: Remove the musk glands on the back legs. Some do, some don't. This has been argued for years. takes 30 seconds a leg so I do just in case it does taint the meat.

Point 3: You don't need to cut the throat to bleed the deer...your bullet probably already did that trick. Opening the chest cavity will reveal this. If you killed with a spine shot, removing the heart/lungs will bleed the animal sufficiently. Cutting the throat can increase the work of your taxidermist by increasing the amount he needs to stitch back together.

Point 4: Don't forget propping the cavity open with a stick to speed cooling.

Point 5: A half serrated blade works best in my opinion...a sharp plain blade for cutting skin/membranes, and the serrated section for sawing though the sternum/pelvis.

Point 6: Use the field dressing as a opportunity to study the path of your bullet. Consider the angle at which you fired....downward, broadside, quartering... Use this information to improve your shot placement to put future animals down quickly and humanely.

Point 7: Try to warm up your hands prior to starting the task. For lack of anything better get started and stick you hands in the guts...you're gonna get bloody anyway. Cold hands don't control a knife well and you can't feel if you get cut. There are many people who've cut themselves with their knife or a buried broadhead multiple times because their hands were numb from cold and therefore couldn't feel the pain. Small nicks suck---cut tendons really suck!

Point 8: Eating the heart and lungs...ya'll are weird! Wink

As to Serious Hunter's method... do you leave the whole skeleton in the field?

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Location: Idaho
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Posts: 1068
Field Dressing a Deer (Feature Article)

Good points. I will argue a bit with Point 7, however. Our premise on premium tasting meat is that you must keep the meat as clean as possible - which, among other things, means NO contact with internal fluids, direct or indirect. ESPECIALLY internal fluids. While getting your hands into the guts gets them warm, it also gets them (as well as your sleeves, etc.) COVERED with a bzillion racy chasy germs. I guess if you touch the guts, then DON'T touch any meat, period, or anything that will touch meat. In our method we don't enter the internal cavity AT ALL until the meat is safe and sound in bags away from touch and contamination. And I only enter to get the tenderloins, and even then we enter from right underneath the spine and still avoid penetrating the membrane(s) containing the innards. One or two deer livers in a lifetime is enough for me - so I don't take them (anymore). Same with the heart. If a bullet has zipped through or near the tenderloins, sorry, I don't mess with them. Rib meat is kind of dilemma. The rib meat on a deer is nearly negligible - but I generally take some anyway, to avoid argument I'm wasting meat.

To answer your question, yes, essentially. If conditions are good we may not take out ANY bones (except, perhaps, for head and horns if a nice buck). If condtions are a bit awkward or if I'm in more of a hurry, I take off the leg and shoulder meat in whole groups still attached to the main bone(s). So, what's left in the field is basically a meatless deer, or, in some cases, a deer missing the four main leg bones. It's almost bizarre - the last deer I shot, when I was finished, I drug her under a tree, placed the forelegs next to her, pulled the hide back over the meatless frame, and left her be. Unless the coyotes come and scatter things (which they probably already have) - it would appear the deer just lay down under the tree and died.

In the spirit of the feature, I have sent in a full blown article to Company - maybe they'll publish.

The motivation of our method - carrying out only what we need to.
The reward of our method - premium tasting meat.
The method itself - get and keep the meat cool and CLEAN - with a passion.

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Field Dressing a Deer (Feature Article)

Actually, unless hollow viscous is perforated (meaning colon, stomach, bladder, etc) there are no more germs in the abdominal cavity than on the meat. The inside of the abdominal cavity is a sterile environment. Despite that, if you cut skin then cut meat you are contaminating the meat by way of transferring bacteria from the skin to the meat. Technically speaking, the bladder is sterile too--only problem is the chemicals in urine itself imparts the foul taste.

I think butchering in the field would have a high chance on contaminating the meat - soil, skin, fur all contain bzillions of germs as well. There is no way to avoid "contaminating" the meat during the butchering process...hence the best answer is to cook the meat properly in all cases. I'm not saying your method is wrong or bad--simply different. I think it's probably more work than most people want to do in the field, especially in the dark and/or cold. I prefer to take 10 minutes to field dress and then transport the body whole and let the processor take care of the rest.

I would say that in case of a gut shot your method would be a better choice.

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Location: Idaho
Joined: 06/01/2004
Posts: 1068
Field Dressing a Deer (Feature Article)

I laid awake at night knowing you would say that ... and you did - you're right, correct, and right.

Probably the biggest motivator or our method is the outrageous terrain we hunt in. Even if we were willing to drag an animal - it's impossible in cases. It's nothing for a deer to roll a hundred yards and down into a ravine once shot. Sometimes it's HUNDREDS of yards, and occaisionally they roll all the way to the road, if there's a road. It's simply unbelievable - hunt at your own risk. One ravine is quasi-annually litered with not-shot animals that somehow got down in there - and couldn't get out.

The additional motivator is that I have had some bad experiences with butchers.

So, far, for all the contaminants - we are still ending up with our own fabulous meat.

Thanks for your comments ... doing it, and then batting it around on forums, perfects it.

maineguide's picture
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Location: Downeast, ME USA
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Posts: 330
Field Dressing a Deer (Feature Article)

About the picture: How many deer do you see with a dotted line to cut along on it's belly? lol 8) Wink

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Location: Idaho
Joined: 06/01/2004
Posts: 1068
Endnote

I just went back to the spot where I put to rest the `meatless' but otherwise whole deer I mention above. Amazing. Not a bone, piece of hide or fur, not even a bent blade of grass (figure that one out). Well, there was some fur on the barbed wire fence where the deer crawl under to go out to feed - but that's different. The creatures of the night (and day?) sure have a way of cleaning up.

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Location: Southeast Washington State
Joined: 09/28/2004
Posts: 117
Field Dressing a Deer (Feature Article)

Okay, I am a meat eater (native born texican with a penchant for red meat), and a thrifty scotsman (ie frugal), so anything I have to work that hard for, I generally don't like wasting any of it. I pack out everything I can, except for the marrow gut (as us old chuckwagon cooks referred to for making son-of-a-gun stew). Because of CWD, I no longer eat or handle brains, but I will take the head out since it is usually where I tag the animal, and if it is a mountable it only makes sense. In removing the head from the carcass, I cut the spine at the neck, which means if CWD is present, then I've contaminated the carcass further. Anyways, CWD is another topic for discussion.

So I leave the gut pile behind, sans the kidneys, the liver, and the heart. I suppose I could take more, only I really don't have much appetite for the rest, nor does anyone else I know that I could give it too. Besides, that leaves something for them pesky coyotes and crows and magpies to feast on, which makes for improved varmint hunting later on. Due to my exceptional appetite for red meat and my uncommon dental qualities, I really enjoyed gnawing on bones like a rottweiler. I also like making stock for soups and such, so I bring the bones along with. I've yet to knick a paunch or bladder open, but if I do, I make sure that I have plenty of water along to wash it out of the cavity. I don't like cutting through bones, and I try to get the animal cooled off as quickly as possible, so I work fast and as soon as I can I take the hide off. I keep a tarp handy to protect the meat from soiling. I find plastic tarps and cotton bags are not very insulating, so I use them even during transport as opposed to leaving the hide on.

On deer sized game, I don't worry about quartering the carcass as I am a big boy and can handle most game dressed whole that size by myself. A big Mulie or anything larger, and I will ask for help moving the carcass or go ahead and quarter it if help is unavailable. Again, I don't like cutting bones, so I don't use a saw.

I found out long ago that the butcher is cheaper and does a better job at turning deer into ingredients than I can. I just don't have the kind of patience it takes to sit and pick over the meat pile for loose hairs, run the grinder for hours on end, and pack casings. I might process the inside loins myself just because that's usually easy enough, but the rest I prefer to leave to the professionals. I can do it myself, and I have before, I just don't need to is all. I figure I done my job getting it home, I can pay someone to take care of the chore, just like I pay the taxidermist to take care of the hide.

I think the most important aspects of field dressing are keeping the meat clean and dry, avoiding tainting the meat with undesirable gut juices or those damned metatarsals, keeping the bugs away if the bugs are out, and keeping the meat cool enough till it gets to the butcher. Don't make unnecessary cuts, which means using common sense more than trying to follow imaginary perf lines, and try not to waste anything. If nothing else, someone in my neighborhood has dogs that will appreciate a few good bones.

maineguide's picture
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Location: Downeast, ME USA
Joined: 09/03/2002
Posts: 330
Field Dressing a Deer (Feature Article)

I have found out over the years that out in the field you can try to be as carefull as you can and you are still going to get dirt and crap inside of your deer and on the meat. But just as soon as you get back to camp or home wash your deer,bear,elk, or any other game out with either a hose or buckes of water and you will have no tainted meat and it will be clean.
It is also a good way to get the blood out.

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