Field Dressing Your Deer

Make Sure the Deer is Dead

A deer down is not necessarily a deer dead. A wounded deer can hurt you, so reload and watch the deer from a short distance. If you do not detect movement after a few minutes, cautiously approach from behind the deer’s head. Set your firearm or bow aside only after you are certain the deer is dead. If the eye does not blink when touched with a stick, it’s yours.

Field Dress Immediately

Field dress the deer immediately to ensure a rapid loss of body heat. Hang the animal head-up or lay it on a slope with the rump lower than shoulders. 

Strong juices from the paunch will taint the meat and should be removed if the animal was shot in the gut or if you accidentally cut the paunch while field dressing the deer. A rag, a bunch of leaves, or water may be used to wipe away the juices. Some articles state the carcass should not be washed with water due to potential bacterial growth. However, washing with water and patting the cavity dry is the appropriate procedure when cleaning a punctured paunch. 

Wrap the Carcass Before You Drag it

Wrap a piece of cloth around the carcass to keep dirt and flies out of your future meal as you drag it out of the woods or transport it.

Don't Carry the Carcass on Your Shoulders!

The carcass should be dragged or carted out of the woods and not carried on your shoulders. Another hunter could mistakenly shoot at the deer on your shoulders. An easy way to drag a buck is by its antlers. Some hunters tie the front feet behind the head of the carcass to keep them from catching on brush. When dragging fawns or does, create a handle with a strong stick between the hind hocks. You can avoid the back pain from dragging your deer by using a deer cart. Deer carts are becoming a popular choice, and there are many commercially produced options.

Keep the Carcass Cool

The deer should be as clean and as cool as possible during transport. If you have a long trip home, place a plastic bag full of ice inside the carcass to keep it cool.

Field Dressing Tips

Step 1

Insert your knife point under the hide only and make one long, straight incision up the belly. The natural tautness of the hide will cause the skin and hair to pull away, giving you unobstructed access to the abdominal muscle tissues.

image of field dressing a deer carcass

Step 2

Using short, shallow, slicing strokes, open the body cavity by cutting through the skin, fat, and abdominal muscle tissue. As the tissue separates, use your fingers to enlarge the abdominal opening until you can fit your hands into the body cavity.

image of field dressing a deer carcass

Step 3

If you wish to have your deer head mounted, stop the incision at the bottom of the rib cage. Otherwise, continue slicing all the way to the fleshy, hollow junction of the neck and chest.

image of field dressing a deer carcass

Step 4

Using a saw, large knife, or small axe and sledgehammer, open the chest cavity by separating the rib cage. This will make it easier to remove the heart and lungs.

image of field dressing a deer carcass

Step 5

Sever the windpipe to easily to remove the stomach and lungs.

image of field dressing a deer carcass

Step 6

Carefully sever the connective tissue holding the interior organs to the diaphragm, and pull the entire mass of organs back toward the pelvic opening.

image of field dressing a deer carcass

Step 7

Using a saw, large knife, or small axe and sledgehammer, open the pelvis to help with the organ removal process. Lay the bulk of the organs outside the carcass. Guide the lower intestine through the pelvic opening, and then sever the anus and sphincter muscle from the carcass.

image of field dressing a deer carcass

Step 8

Prop the body cavity open with sticks and quickly cool by hanging the head up in a shady, airy place. Let it hang this way for about an hour before moving it to camp or car.

Tag it if you leave it

If you stay with your harvested deer, you don't need to attach your notched permit to the animal, but you MUST keep your permit on hand.  If you leave your harvest, you MUST attach your notched permit to the deer's leg.  We recommend sealing the permit in a plastic bag and attaching the bag with your string, wire, or tape.  You may transport your deer after telechecking it.