Field Dressing a Deer the Easy Way
Field dressing a deer can be intimidating. There are many factors to consider, and a few critical tools that will help you get the job done with confidence. Caring for a trophy deer you plan to take to the taxidermist for a shoulder mount adds a couple simple details to the field dressing process. With just a little time and attention, you will be sure to provide your taxidermist with the best possible cape to create your trophy that will last a lifetime.
Hunters cherish their time in the deer woods, the tradition, the fellowship, and the deer. Caring for your trophy, and the wholesome meat you plan to feed your family, is a top priority when your deer hunt is a success. The crucial factors to taking the best care of both your deer meat and the trophy cape have a lot in common.
Getting Started Dressing Your Deer
Recovering your deer after a successful hunt is an amazing and fantastic feeling full or adrenaline and excitement. Ideally, after a clean kill, you are able to quickly recover your deer and start the dressing process.
Field dressing, gutting, or eviscerating your trophy deer is the first step in cooling down the meat and taking care of the cape. A deer that isn’t field dressed in a timely manner will build up heat in the abdominal cavity, providing a place for the deer’s gut bacteria to thrive, spoiling the meat and ruining the cape.
“Im not saying its the only way, I’m not saying its the best way, it’s just how I do it” – Michael
Tools for Gutting Your Deer
Like any job, using the right tools can make all the difference. The same can be said for hunting gear and dressing a deer. To effectively gut a deer, you must make an incision or cut to open the abdominal cavity of the deer to remove the internal organs. A few simple tools will make the job much easier.
- Knife – A sturdy knife with a keen edge and a sharp point is ideal for making the first cuts to open the deer’s body cavity. For that purpose, you can’t beat Havalon Knives. They’re durable and keep their edge well.
- Gambrel or Single Tree – Utilizing a skinning gambrel or single tree to hang up your deer vertically is an ideal situation. You can utilize a gambrel back at camp on the meat pole, in a barn, or even from a tree in the field to get your work up off the ground. Lifting your deer up off the ground accomplishes multiple functions. First, your work is up where you aren’t bending, stooping, and kneeling. Next, gravity will work to help you remove the entrails from your deer. Finally, getting your deer up off the ground helps it to cool faster and keeps the meat cleaner.
- Wash Pan, Mineral Tub, or Tarp – This one won’t apply if you gut your deer in the field, but if you have the ability to easily access and transport your whole deer from the field to a facility set up for dressing and processing, you’ll need something to catch the waste once you’re on-site during the gutting process. A metal washtub, or empty plastic mineral tub works well to catch the deer’s entrails as you pull them out. Laying down a tarp can help keep the area clean if multiple deer are being dressed in camp.
Gutting and Caping a Deer for the Taxidermist
When your successful hunt calls for a lasting trophy like a shoulder or pedestal mount, the name of the game is taking care of the cape along with the meat. A few simple details during the recovery and gutting process will ensure that your taxidermist has the best resources to complete your trophy mount.
- Taxidermy Care in the Field – A quick recovery and cool down will help preserve both the meat and the cape for your trophy, but a few other simple tips can ensure your deer’s cape is beautiful on the wall. Drag, pull, and load your deer head-first. Avoid pulling the deer against the grain of the hair. Look for burrs, thorns, and barbed wire before you move your deer in the field. Take care not to load your deer into the back of a pickup with grease or blood in the bed, and do your best to keep the hide in tip top shape (i.e., no dragging it behind the four wheeler).
- Gutting Your Deer for a Shoulder Mount – Many times, hunters hang harvested game animals from the rear hocks to dress the body cavity and process the meat. In the case of an animal destined for the taxidermist, hanging your trophy buck by the head allows all the entrails and blood to pull down and away from the cape you are planning to save.
“If I am going to mount a deer I usually hang them by the head, that way all the guts are hanging down and we will do what we call a bikini cut. The opposite if it’s a deer that we are just going to process and throw in the cooler, we will hang it by the hocks and rip it down all the way to the esophagus” – Michael explains.
- Saving the Deer Cape – Providing your taxidermist with plenty of cape to work with is the ideal situation, and should be top of mind when you begin your cut to dress a deer you plan to have mounted. Making a smaller “bikini” cut, below the deer’s sternum and brisket will save plenty of cape for the deer mount. Using a sharp knife, make the initial cut just below the deer’s sternum. Once you’ve started your cut through the deer’s hide, you can use a finger or two along the spine of your knife to protect the knife point from penetrating the deer’s stomach and intestines as you cut down. Once you’ve successfully opened your deer, gravity will help you pull out the internal organs and empty the body cavity. Now you can skin your trophy with plenty of cape intact, or transport it to a local taxidermist or locker to finish the caping process.
This season, when your shot finds its mark and you’re able to fill a deer tag, remember a few simple tips and tricks to help you dress your deer and care for both the meat and the deer cape. Pride in your hunt and in your trophy will show in the respect you give to the deer.