“Like A Surgeon” Field Dressing for Girls*




Often when I teach Firearm Safety Classes to predominantly female students, I get the “ewww” reaction when we get to the section on field dressing wild game.  Overall I have found that women have a preconceived idea that field dressing is this sickening gag-awful ordeal that only a man can do.  My experience over the years has been that many if not most men not only dislike field dressing, but they also get the gags in the process of doing it or even watching it done by someone else.  So when I introduce the topic of field dressing to women, I make one noteworthy comment that has stilled the fear of many a lady - and that comment is this:

“Ladies, if you have given birth, and you have spent years cleaning up dirty diapers, booger noses and spit-up, as a mother or a babysitter, then field dressing a whitetail deer is a cake walk.”

I always get a lot of laughs, but I also see a collective sigh of relief in my students.  Field dressing is really not that bad.  I would agree that my fascination with field dressing is most likely because I was supposed to be a doctor in this lifetime but for various reasons that dream never happened.  Also, I was inducted early to eviscerating critters by spending summers at my maternal grandparent’s farm, and I helped take apart chickens after grandpa hacked their heads off.  I remember vividly the first time grandma had me out on the back porch to help dress freshly killed chickens.  Grandma was a genteel woman, a musician, college educated and ladylike and somehow made chicken gutting look regal and matter of fact.  I felt that gag reflex looking at chicken innards just one time.  However, when grandma guided me on removing the unlaid eggs from the chickens so as not to waste them, fascination replaced my disgust.   This article is going to be a very graphic “how to” on dressing a white tail deer.  The method is fast and relatively easy.

Preparation:  Have a gambrel, a heavy duty “S” hook or 300-pound rated snap D-ring if needed, a 1000 pound rated rope, and pulley or some sort of hoisting device to suspend the harvested deer off the ground upside down, so it’s head is at the height of a wheel barrow.  Have a wheelbarrow available.  This is key.  Have two very sharp hunting knives available. You will also need a rough serrated pruning saw.   Lastly have gutting gloves if you prefer them and at least a 5-gallon pail of clean water.

Step 1 – After the kill, transport your deer back to camp without dressing it in the field where it can get dirty or contaminated.

Placing ends of gambrel through the back legs of the deer

Step 2 – With your deer on the ground near your hoist, use a sharp knife and cut a 2-inch slit hole all the way through the back legs just above the knee joint, and place the two ends of the gambrel through each leg hole slit.  Using the S-hook or a snap D-Ring through the top of the gambrel,  attach the gambrel to your hoist or rope that is attached to a tree or other high structure.

Hoist your deer up to waist high First step - Cutting around the vent opening of the deer

Step 3 – Hoist the deer up so its hind quarters are waist high to you.  With your gutting gloves on, take a sharp knife and cut around the anus of the deer, taking care not to puncture the vent in order to keep droppings contained and off the meat.  This is a KEY step.   Make sure all connective tissue has been cut at least 6 inches past the vent opening and all the way around it.

Step 4 – If a buck, carefully remove the gonads and discard.  If a doe, make the same cut on the vagina of the doe and you did the anus.

Host the deer all the way up Place wheelbarrow under the deer

Step 5 – Have your wheelbarrow handy.  Hoist the deer up high enough so that its nose is 5-inches above the inside bottom surface of the wheel barrow with front hooves outside the wheelbarrow, and have the deer facing you.  I find it helpful to have a one-foot high steady stool to stand on.

Step 6 – Using a razor sharp knife, carefully make a cut through the belly hide and into the top layer of skin, from the pelvic bone at the top, all the way down to the sternum.  Brush away hair that gets in the way.  Be careful not to cut too deep through the myofascia and release the entrails yet.

Make first top to bottom cut just thru outer layer of skin and brush hair.

Step 7 – Make a peace sign with your left-hand fingers, with your hand upside down and facing you.  Starting at the pelvis, carefully cut a slit 3-inches long into the myofascia, or the sinewy white layer under the skin with your right hand.  Using your upside down left-hand peace sign, slip your fingers under the miofascia and spread your fingers apart.  Carefully insert the knife between your fingers, blade out and upside side down between the entrails and the myofascia.  Keeping your peace sign fingers splayed, carefully cut open the body cavity from top to bottom.  If you need to stop and adjust, do it.  Be careful not to cut the entrails.  Do this step slowly.  Once this step is done, the entrails should be bulging out, but held in place by connective tissues in the body cavity.

Splay your 'peace sign" fingers and carefully begin your cut thru the hide layer

Step 8 – Starting at the top again, reach up and into the pelvic girdle and from the INSIDE now, do the same thing that you did from the outside when you made your cuts around the anus.  You are still working with the anus, but from the inside.  Carefully cut all around until your can easily pull the rectum out of the pelvic girdle INTACT and without spilling its contents.

Step 9 – Things are going to move fast now, so make sure your wheelbarrow is under the deer as noted above.  Working from top to bottom inside the body cavity of the deer, carefully cut all connective tissue and sinew that attach the entrails to the inside of the animal.  As you work from top to bottom, the entrails are going to spill out of the body cavity, sometimes quite suddenly and all at once,  and into the wheelbarrow.

Starting at inside top, begin cutting the myofascia and sinew to release entrails

Step 10 – Once you reach the sternum, cut away and pull out as much of the entrails as possible.  Next, take your second sharp knife, and cut the throat of the deer until it starts to bleed out.  Pull the rest of the innards out the inside neck area.  Then, take the pruning saw, and cut the sternum top to bottom until the rest of the fluids and entrails fall out into the wheelbarrow.  If you have cut the throat through as needed, the rest of the entrails will fall completely free.

Step 11 – Go dump your wheelbarrow of its contents and bring it back and place it back under the deer as before.

After entrails are removed and sternum is cut, this is what you should have

Step 12 – Take your five-gallon bucket of water, and using a smaller gallon sized container, slosh water into the body cavity of the deer from top to bottom until most of the blood and viscera are rinsed free.  Use all the water in your pail.  Let the deer drain for a few minutes, then go dump your wheelbarrow of the water.

Some notes:  Once you get this method down, you can dress a deer with little or no smell, in less than half an hour, and sometimes in just ten minutes.  Also, you can dress the deer alone and without help.  Rinsing the body cavity over the wheelbarrow serves the dual duty of rinsing out your wheelbarrow too.  Be very very careful to take your time and not cut yourself.  

Lastly, I have a technique that not all people can do, but try it.  The smell of field dressing is what is the downfall of most hunters.  Try to “block off” your nose and do not use it at all when you are field dressing.  I can do this voluntarily, that is, shut off my nose.  If you cannot, just practice it.  Some people just remember how they hold their nose breath underwater, or if you must, get some sort of nose plugs.  You will be very surprised at how calm, cool ,and collected you can be field dressing any animal, if you remove the smell factor.

Field dressing has some fascinating elements to it, besides it satisfying my unrealized passion to be a surgeon.  You can determine the trajectory of your shots in order to improve your accuracy in the future.  You can identify the cause of death by the organs that have damage.  You can better understand the “kill zone” of an animal so you can fine tune your shot placement in the future.  You can see where the animal has been feeding by examining the paunch which will help you find deer patterns in the future.  You can see the marked difference between a bow shot deer compared to a gun shot deer.  And eventually, you will also be able to butcher your own animals so you don’t have to pay to have it done by someone else.

If you have questions or would like clarification for terminology or anything in this article, please feel free to email the author.

* I would like to give credit to Brenda Valentine for the inspiration to write this article.  Several years ago I attended one of her Advanced Whitetail hunting events at her farm in Tennessee, and she showed our group the basic method of field dressing that I describe in this article.  I have changed a few things over the years, but I give Brenda the credit for the overall technique.

© November 2007