by Naomi K. Shapiro

Well, you got your deer. The excitement. The adrenalin flowing. The satisfaction. Whoa! Now the REAL WORK begins. While I have never personally field-dressed a deer, guide Phil Schweik has done it innumerable times and his "words of wisdom" will give you some critical points on how to do it right. It's a step-by-step process, following a strict regimen.

With all the information about Lyme disease and other biological problems that can come from a wild animal, the first thing you must do is put on a pair of good quality latex gloves. You don't want to touch the animal unprotected. Then you must properly fill out your deer tag and attach to an ear or an antler. Roll the deer over so it's on its back (or on its side if it's too big and heavy (back is preferred if possible). And, while one experienced hunter can do the job, it's always better and easier if there are two – one to "balance" the deer by holding and spreading its rear legs while it's being worked on by the other hunter. The "buddy system" really helps in this situation.

Gutting or field dressing is very similar for either a buck or a doe -- just that some of the "plumbing" is different. But basically it's the same procedure for either. A critical rule --and we will keep harping on this -- is be careful in your "cuts," so as to not puncture the stomach, the bladder, or the intestines. It will simply ruin the flesh, and, according to Phil, the odor can be overpowering as well as very disheartening at any point in the field dressing process – especially when you're almost done, and you become anxious to finish and then, even inadvertently, puncture the bladder; oops, nothing worse than urine-soaked venison. So be careful, be slow, and be patient.

For sure, don't try to field-dress a deer if you're a "first-timer." Go with someone who knows what they're doing – and, while a class or seminar or video will help, nothing can substitute for seeing it done "in person" -- and not just once, either.

So here we go... (Remember, having a buddy or buddies helping you makes this work so much easier):

Grab the hair area around the groin or at the stomach and insert your knife just under the skin, making sure you don't puncture the stomach. Run your knife up from the groin to the to the very center of the rib cage, cutting the skin. This exposes all the "innards" -- stomach, intestines, and lower abdomen.

Down in the groin area, cut through the flesh in the middle, right down to the pelvic bone, opening the area in between the two hind quarters. Then you or your buddy press down on the two hind legs, so it opens up the entire lower chest cavity. Pull out the stomach and intestines (they will literally "roll" out), severing them from the chest cavity.

Now it gets a little tricky: After removing the stomach and intestines, you're going to have one strand of intestine that goes to the anal canal; be very wary of puncturing the bladder. There are two ways of handling the anal canal intestine. Many hunters will take a small hand axe or knife, and cut through the pelvic bone to expose the anal canal, and its entire section, which can then be removed after spreading the area apart. You will sever this anal intestine from the other portions of the intestinal tract near the anal canal.

The other way is to buy what is called a Butt Out Tool. You stick this tool into the anal canal and you turn it and twist, and then pull the entire intestine out through the butt. You'll have to sever the intestine near the anal canal from the other intestines and stomach.

Guide Schweik says he is experienced enough to use the Butt Out Tool, but the first suggested method is probably easier, although it does require use of an axe or knife to get the job done.

The next step is to work on the chest cavity and upper portion of the deer. The chest cavity is separated from the stomach cavity by a diaphragm – basically a layer of flesh. Cut through that diaphragm by going around the perimeter of the chest cavity. Remove that layer of flesh and toss it. Then reach up into the chest cavity as far as you can and locate the windpipe. Take a knife and sever the windpipe with the other hand. Then with both hands grab the windpipe and then peel everything out -- heart, lungs and liver. Everything will pull out in one piece. You can save the heart and liver if you wish, by cutting them apart and putting them in a solid plastic bag.

OK – you've pretty well gutted your deer. Prop it up so that any residual blood drains. And that's it. You're now ready to drag your deer out of the woods – via your own strength, or a four wheeler.

Don't be dismayed or daunted by this task of field-dressing your deer. It's critically necessary that you do it -- and do it first-time-right. There are no "second chances" if you make a mistake -- the deer you worked so hard to get will be ruined and all of your effort will go down the drain. The best suggestions that Phil Schweik has is to go to a seminar, buy a video, read articles like this one, field-dress with a buddy or buddies (the more help there is, the faster and easier it will be), and, for sure "look and listen" to an experienced hunter! There is no substitute for the hands-on experience.

After seeing it done, and after helping and practicing yourself (for instance, if you're "new to the game," you balance the deer while you carefully watch what is being done. You're still helping, but you're learning, too), you'll soon find a good comfort level, and you'll be on your way to becoming adept at field-dressing a whitetail. Just remember, it's a "work in progress" for the "new kid on the block." In the end you'll have plenty of stories to tell, and lots of great venison to enjoy.

Additional Field Dressing Articles:

How to field dress a deer

Meet Naomi Shapiro Minimize

Outdoor writer and hunter Naomi ShapiroNaomi K. Shapiro and Stuart Spitz write about hunting, fishing, nature, outdoors and travel for a variety of media. They lived on a lake in the middle of the Chequamegon National Forest in Northern Wisconsin for fifteen years (where the elk were reintroduced; a number of wolf packs exist; and that has the largest-per-acre black bear population in North America).

Deer Hunting Quotes

During cold or wet weather deer often seek cover under evergreen trees.
- Deer 101